Monday, 9 May 2016

Auden's Paid on Both Sides performed

Last night I attended my first ever performance of an Auden play. There's 5/6 to choose from. All rarely performed. They are a challenge to do. Paid on Both Sides on the hard side, Hadrian's Wall probably the easiest. Was it worthwhile? You bet. The energy and drive Prudhoe's Sixth Form dramatic students put in was powerful. With people in all corners, things happening everywhere, it was an immersive experience. If you approach this work expecting to understand it all, you won't "get" it. It is a wild, even haphazard romp.A ripping yarn, a reiver's tale written by somone who understood our Borderlands and their heritage: "Some say that handsome raider still at large, A terror to the Marches, in truth is love" . Despite the drive of love, this was a broken society, crashed out: if you want to get a feeling for what the inter-war period and specifically the roaring twenties was like down to the actualness of 1928, then this is powerful stuff. This was chaos envisaged for a country house charade. A place of toffs and public school boys, drunkenness, ordinary people trying to go about their business, all conducted under menace. And it does not have a happy ending. It did not have a happy start "For where are Basley who won the Ten, Dickon who tarted the house". Dead Sedburgh School boys from World War One?

The performers offered a warm up act reprising (and singing) their way through some short better known pieces of Auden. One choice was especially apposite September 1st 1939 "the low dishonest decade". A poem Auden distanced himself from, but one people keep returning to. Because it is appropriate. 20 years of "peace" became another World War in which millions died. I have just been reading about the awfulness of Yugoslavia then (not in the 1990s). The power of the ancient rivalry, the feud that would not let go, overwhelmed ordinary lovers by the million.

I always think that all work read or understood by viewers acquires its own interpretation (what the writer means is in an odd way secondary). Approach Paid on Both Sides determined to take what you need and not to try to fathom all of Auden's allusions. Respond to its energy, remember the tragedy that composed it. Remember our landscape and its own tragedies behind it. For a well respected understanding of the work, John Fuller's discussion in W. H. Auden: A Commentary is recommended. Two more chances to see this performed this week. See .

Monday, 18 April 2016

EU and Chancellor's forecasts

Two from my Facebook today

1 The problem with the Chancellor asking me to believe him today is that many of his previous forecasts have been woefully wrong (vide the amount of borrowing) so I am left scratching my head (and that is before a wider history of the Treasury e.g. their views on ERM). However if I follow some convoluted speak, he is saying that in 2030 each household might be £4,300 p.a. worse off (not against their income today but against what it might otherwise be (inflation vectored in? and what otherwise might it be in toto?)). This is hardly telling stuff and it is certainly very biased. How much do you value your independence and the democracy of saying our Parliament ought to be our supreme governor (under our constitutional monarch of course)? Words, words, Wordsworth.

2 The EU debate figures don't really seem to me to run conclusively either way. So why are so many of the big boys like the IMF, the French Economics Minister Macron, Obama, leaning on us so heavily? It has been suggested on my wall (scroll down) that all sorts of shennagins will take place to turn back our No vote if we head there. I don't know about that, I would prefer evidence rather than assertion. But it does occur to me that the sense of desperation by the stay campaign and from these big voices comes down to this? Is Europe sanguinely confident it will prosper without us? Is it going to be unphased at our departure? Perhaps the issue these big boys and elites are not keen on facing is whether our departure exposes the Emperor's new clothes of Europe. It exposes the EU as the fundamentally undemocratic operation it assuredly is, it reveals the weakness in its finances, its fundamentally uncompetitive nature. Germany basically carrying the rest. In other words a No from Great Britain really would precipitate a wider European crisis in "the project". Perhaps it is this prospect (more than whether Britain would really be worse or better off which seems very difficult to call) which is the absolute driver in propelling the remain camp to utter its strident warnings and to seek to involve the American President in our affairs. At some point on this logic, (and following the last Referendum Precedent) our Monarch may be discretely called upon to utter some words. What they are and whether they are issued will be so telling. If She refuses to say anything, I might conclude She thinks the British Commonwealth is worth more to the United Kingdom than the Europundits reckon.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Iain Duncan Smith

My radar has been sufficiently off that I did not see the IDS resignation coming. But I was baffled at how the Chancellor twice (first was Working Tax Credit) has utterly misread what "We'll all in this together means". It now seems entirely possible that a period of deep Tory division will follow. So for the benefit of friends (and I mean friends) as diverse (sincerely meant too) as Brian Bennison, Guy Opperman and Douglas Fox (and many others)), I shall try to set out what I make of the last 24 hours. "We're all in this together" is the litmus test. Regular readers will know I hate labels and I am not keen when people use vilifying langauge about their opponents, one case being when all Tories are simply derided as vile. The reality as with the Labour party is nowhere near as simple. What I want from good government should be capable of being offered by all sensible people. I am impressed by government which can properly defend national interests anywhere, which can live up to the demands of world leadership which having a UN Permanent Security Council seat demands. At home I value politicians who genuinely will share pain (redistributive economics do not worry me (not to make us all the same but certainly to ensure that the extremes of wealth and poverty are outlawed)). Good business and growth are at the heart of prosperity, but with a growing elderly population, we are all in this together suggests soaring social justice bills for decades to come. These bills a wealthy country can afford. The wealthy should rejoice at living in a nation where they can so readily through taxation support these services and in another jibe at current Tory attitudes (so the schools) the best way to deliver many of these things is through strongly resourced and democratically accountable local authorities. Today the Tory party is divided about far more than just Europe, I hope those within it will think carefully about the way ahead, They need to hold as all politicians often should a very diverse hand, for instance I maintain two seemingly divergent strands, in people's own lives libertarianism draws me (theocracy frightens me) but I also strongly feel that the best of the British character which draws on many influences should be rooted in understanding our Christian heritage.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Reginald Perrin approach to Industrial Archaeology by Robert Forsythe©

(offered to but not accepted for a conference at Ironbridge in 2009)

This is an auspicious occasion when the luminati of a rather small and specialist profession have assembled. Three anniversaries lie at the heart of this gathering. The 300th anniversary of coke smelted iron, the 50th anniversary of the Museum of Iron and the 30th anniversary of what would coelsce into the Ironbridge Institute are all being celebrated. I was a member of one of the earliest Diploma in Industrial Archaeology cohorts in1983/84 and brought to the subject the background of two degrees in Theology.

Many of us here today will, through the age range suggested by a 50th and a 30th anniversary, have fond memories of the cultural milestones of the 1970s. One such made a great impact then and now upon your speaker. This was David Nobb's series of books and TV programmes called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin starring Leonard Rossiter.

Reggie was a moderately successful participant in the world of dessert manufacture and sales located with many of the trappings of middle class life in south west London. However he found no satisfaction in this lifestyle and supported by an adoring wife abandoned convention and "disappeared".

After numerous adventures Reggie and his wife create a business called Grot selling Rubbish imagining it doomed to failure. The reverse happens and Reggie finds himself a success who is able to employ various tormentors from his previous existence.

Now, no analogy should ever be taken too far and made too exact. But there are parallels both at the macro (the profession) and micro (my own experience) between Reginald Perrin and Industrial Archaeology. Classical archaeology may be dealing with decay, ruins and rubbish but very often they have been romanticised. They involve heroic empires and tales of daring do like Harrison Ford and Raiders of the Lost Arc. Marine archaeology with its rubber wet suited glamour pusses takes the whole tale of archaeology and fashion to new levels.

Industrial Archaeology evolved as a supremely unfashionable activity promoted at times by individuals characterised by their fraught relationship to society. Contemplate L T C Rolt or Robert Aickman. They were "alternatives" before that word had been coined. How and whether industrial archaeology has become fashionable is another debate. Suffice it to say that the preservation of industrial structures or machines beyond their sell by date tends to be a grotty activity. Investigating an abandoned coal mine complex like Wet Earth Colliery (one of the classic sites) is emphatically about dirt and mud.

The politics of industrial archaeology have triumphed by demonstrating to budget holders that these antics can actually bring value back into the economy. Graham Palmer and the Waterways Recovery Group are an iconic instance active in the 1970s. Operation Ashton and ASHTAC were seminal occasions when rebellious youth willing to be very dirty indulged in what appeared to be utter acts of folly but became pivotal moments in what nowadays is the posh act of canal or waterside regeneration. Canals were an instance of rubbish (literally full of rubbish) having their potential unravelled to sceptical authority.

I grew up in a relatively respectable version of this. My childhood home was not Greater Manchester but the Norfolk Broads. My father was aretired army officer and solicitor. He loved the Broads and they were not "typical" industrial archaeology. But he knew that the trades of Broadland, the Millers, Smithies, the Reedmen, the Boatbuilders (in the 1930s he had worked at Hickling Broad and in Hunter's yard at Ludham) were facing inthe 1960s an era of total change. In fact he had already acted. Even before the Talyllyn Railway was preserved; way back in 1949 my father was one of the founding trustees of the Norfolk Wherry Trust. He was associated with this heritage body until he died in 2004 and Albion is a living testimony today to the vision that individuals had some 60 years ago.

It took for me the move to Durham University and the encounter with a totally different "northern" world, for industrial archaeology to really enter my mind. I think we bought Neil Cosson's classic The BP Book of Industrial Archaeology in 1978. I spent easily as much time at Durham University involved in industrial archaeology as I did studying theology. I think this caused some of my theology tutors considerable consternation. In retrospect this fed a healthy disregard for the norms of academia which I maintain to this day.

There came a certain point when I was undertaking a Theology MA and it was suggested that I study W. H. Auden. I duly did so but at no point in 1982/83 was any link made between Auden, Industrial Archaeology, Theology and the Durham hinterland. I was actually in my IA life exploring the very environment which underpinned Auden's theology and no links were made. Nor was there any interpretation on the ground. It was Grasmere without Wordsworth.

It would be many years before those links were made but one of the wider points of my testimony (which industrial archaeology should appreciate) is THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. This is not a lecture about Auden and Industrial Archaeology (much as I should like to give it). It was about a decade ago that those links were made leading to a book, an exhibition, TV and radio programmes and there remains a long way to go in the full understanding of this major aspect of one of the 20th century's greatest poets. As he said in 1972 in Lullaby "in boyhood you were permitted to meet beautiful old contraptions, soon to be banished from the earth, saddle tank loks, beam-engines and overshot waterwheels. Yes, love, you havebeen lucky" . Auden was not ashamed to admit the romantic attachmentan engine of the Weardale Iron Company could excite.

I had quite some experiences to get through before I met that side of Auden and I truly think that had I encountered it whilst studying theology at Durham (as I should have done), my life might have been quite different. Instead I left Durham and theology and realised I needed to try to make some money, although like Perrin the prospect of doing it in any conformist manner was unappealing.

Instead in 1983 I turned up at Ironbridge. Paul Belford's own words resonate "Many people have passed through the Ironbridge Archaeology unit during this time, some have turned into alcoholic wrecks and others have become glittering stars in the firmament of historical archaeology. Some of course are both". We were a motley crew whose general attitude was that life in a suit did not appeal.

The course passed relatively uneventfully and then there came the matter of finding work. This was 1984 and Thatcher's clash with Scargill. I found my first salaried job with West Yorkshire Metropolitan County and the West Yorkshire Transport Museum in Bradford. What a mistaka to maka. For the first few months it seemed as if long held dreams were fulfilled. I even had access to a County Hall canteen, bliss. Then we were abolished in 1986. I had a job at the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry for two days before my old job was offered back again.

Frankly, between 1986 and 1991 employment, although it had its highs, was pretty turgid. I met my wife on the Firth of Clyde which was to prove very handy. But my working life was spent just jumping through hoops to stay afloat. I had read Rolt's account of being on the streets of Stoke on Trent after Kerr Stuart failed about 1930. This happened to me on the streets of Troon and Irvine (already in a fairly desperate state with the collapse of local shipbuilding) when schemes like Community Programmewere collapsed. I found myself in a job needing to use highly skilled classic tradesmen and unable to secure them. Job no. 2 in Scotland therefore failed and I moved to Job no. 3 in a quiet English market town to discover on my first day that my new boss sat me down and advised me he had paid off one of the two members of staff I had met at interview "in order to pay my wages". This unhappy gentleman was now leading a one man sit in in one of the facilities and it would be my first task to deal with this.

I endured this regime for a year before in a heart to heart with my wife we decided that self employment beckoned for me. Before leaving this brief career account, why does my story hold any interest to this conference? Because in the spirit of the confessional we should all accept that the heritage and museum professions are more often than I rate as acceptable not model employers. There are many tales that I have heard from others to place beside my own. Museums are certainly not and are unlikely to be institutions of perpetuity. Names like Exeter Maritime Museum, Lound Hall(now a care home), Chatterley Whitfield or the Bolton Mining Museum may send some shudders around this room. There are many others[1].

Can I offer three thoughts for why I think industrial archaeology and the heritage world in general can tend to be abusive employers? There is the perception that museums are about enjoyment and pleasure. Ergo, those who work in them enjoy it. That is the first step to employment abuse. The second step is the utter mismatch that can so easily arise between the wish list and what can actually be done. Politicians often carrying trustee
responsibility can be the worst offenders. The result is that the paid officer finds himself heaped upon with good ideas and has to fend off well intentioned suggestions to try and achieve anything.

In the world of industrial heritage the sheer nature of the objects re-inforces this dangerous cycle. Certainly 20 years ago and perhaps in places today,there were industrial museums operating in a very parlous relationship to Health and Safety. Ships, trains, buses, all moving objects, large lumps of metal or wood subject to decay. One of my seminal experiences, probably in 1987, took place on the hatch covers of the Clyde Puffer Spartan. I was holding forth to some movers and shakers including the Director of Planning from Central Region (imagine calling a local authority that) when my life collapsed or so it felt as a hatch cover broke in half and I started to plummet 15 feet into a ships hold. This quick thinking Director managed to grab me and save my life but not my dignity.

From that moment on and allied to the uncertain nature of employment that I had already experienced, a considerable degree of scepticism about industrial archaeology as a profession accompanied my enthusiasm for it. Those of you actually employed in the sector today can tell us whether itis still like this with short term contracts, poor conditions of service and raving ambitions not allied to rigorous funded business planning. By
contrast another seminal experience - positive this time - was playing a key role in the relocation of the Linthouse Engine Shop to the ScottishMaritime Museum. This is a contender in the title for the largest building saved in Britain by relocation.

I moved on in 1991 and elected for self employment in which I would identify subjects that I felt had mileage in them and which I couldcontribute too. My own agenda for life and not others. For a process like that to work some self-examination came up. Initially two subjects came forward. A third which is the Auden and Industrial Archaeology theme introduced itself later. The first two subjects were model railway history and transport publicity ephemera. I shall not say too much about the first although it remains a major research area for me. Enough to mention that Irealised that a quintessentially history based hobby like model railways actually knew, then, very little about its own history. Since then, and I can claim some role in this, a lot more has been recorded. Even so, for a hobby that was established in the last years of Queen Victoria's reign vast swathes of activity have gone into history unrecorded. A basic question might be posed like: narrate the models that have been made on a commercial basis of Stephenson's Rocket. At present the best answer lies
on my computer.

The other subject I turned to was transport publicity ephemera. I shall quote from a paper delivered to the Institute of Railway Studies at York in 2000. The paper was called "Is collecting railway ephemera an archaeological task?" and I stick by that analogy. I quote "Back in 1970 a Cheltenham bookseller Roger Burdett Wilson was the author of Go GreatWestern, a truly pioneering volume in studying one railway's publicity, A book that has not been surpassed in its field. He wrote however something of a cop out when it came to possibly looking at GWR timetables "The history of railway timetables, an intricate and fascinating subject, has yet to be written, and like the evolution of maps, is outside the scope of the present survey". That history of railway timetables as a whole genre has still not been published although I have now written "Are we on time? British Railways Timetables 1948-1997" and have a publisher.

Why the neglect? Another paper "Time and the Timetable" is on the Railway Print Society's website. There I say " My personal response has also been driven by notions of rubbish and (un-) fashionableness. The timetable was an ephemeral item in concept; it was intended for use anddisposal. It has been the butt of humour and is not something that OK or Hello make space for. Yet I have always felt driven to be interested in what is neglected especially if the potential is immense. So it is with timetables. A vast publishing operation has accompanied their production yet in the past all of the breeds of librarian, museum curator and archivist have made their excuses and left. "It does not have an ISBN or ISSN (often)", "It's not a unique manuscript" or "I'm a museum curator and only interested in three dimensions" are all tempting excuses to do nothing.

Never being one to accept these sorts of explanation and always being one who thinks that Catholic and Protestant should be put in the same room and told to sort their differences out, I started collecting timetables. 25 years later, one librarian married and one daughter created, we have a collection of about 250,000 printed pieces of travel and transport ephemera. I use the fuller description there as against the shorthand timetable. Ephemera stands for a whole genre which is now receiving wider recognition in heritage circles. So this helpful definition from Studying Camden a student's guide to Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre, March 2005 page 25:


Ephemera is any kind of apparently trivial item, often produced for a particular event or activity (such as cards, tickets, handbills, even beer mats), that actually reflects very clearly and individually the time, place or event it represents. These bits and pieces add another element to our understanding of the past."

We sign up to that whole heartedly and that is why we have done what we have done”. Of course the result is much more than timetables, important though I think they are. A major base source for history, period. Rather as the ephemera definition suggests I have become interested in a wide printed field which is not being properly archived. This will mean that understanding even recent history like that of the de-regulation of buses will become challenging. Digital resources as opposed to print just adds to the challenge.

Perhaps you think that Industrial Archaeology is immune to this? Well, you must not. A recent Time Team shown in late January 2009 investigated the Rise Hill navvy camp on the Settle Carlisle Railway. It spoke of navvying as if no material remains were left. Yet a restored navvy's hut in its original location remains at Catcleugh Reservoir in Northumberland in the care of the Newcastle and Gateshead Water Company. And one of the reasons I know about this is because we have assiduously collected the ephemeral rubbish of industrial heritage interpretation.

Fortunately one of these items refers to the restoration as does Harold Bowtell's magnum opus Reservoir Railways from Durham Dales to the Border. Our own collection grew greatly through the 1990s as we gave it time that working for oneself could afford. The genesis of it all had been schoolboy activity back in 1972 in Norfolk. As a museum curator it was not the forefront of my work agenda but I became well aware that a stream of resources whether in the narrow field of timetables or in a broader sense of interpretational literature was appearing all around me and which was often never given value in its own right. A consequence of this is interesting examples of the re-invention of the wheel. Short dated projects can demonstrably be shown to have undertaken work already done by a different agency only years before because no-one recorded the publicity.

By 2008, our own collection was long overdue a proper institutional home. Up to 250,000 pieces occupying 275' of shelving in a semi is not a comfortable lifestyle. It is therefore with great pleasure that I can conclude this rather personal account of a life on the margins of industrial archaeology over the last 30 years by revealing that early in 2009 the National Railway Museum at York bought the Forsythe Collection of Transport and Travel Ephemera and it has now relocated to the Search Engine archive facility there. Surely Reginald Perrin would be thrilled to know the happy outcome that has befallen this vast pile of waste paper? In all this, although not here today, I must thank my wife Fiona who as a professional librarian (one who undertook the Aberystwyth distance learning Masters whilst working in Newcastle and living with a new baby) has been totally supportive of what we have sought to do and I can absolutely say without her the Forsythe Collection would never have been saved for the nation.

[1] Some others: Hunday National Tractor and Farm Museum, Irvine’s Big Idea, the West Yorkshire Transport Museum, the National Army Transport Museum at Beverley.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016


RUGBY: I speak as someone who went through the entire British private school system and never played a game of Rugby 1967-1978. That took some doing. But these doctors have completely missed the proper point and in so doing reveal so much of what is going wrong in our nation. The proper point is not safety but permission. No-one of whatever age should be forced to play a game of Rugby, it is dangerous. I had worked that out when I was 8. I wanted nothing to do with it. Of course children should be free to play Rugby and run the risks of death. So long as the child makes that choice. And it is no good saying wait until you're 18. As a Rugby player said today, it is about discipline, camraderie and the adrenaldine of risk. We need our children to be able to learn this. Rugby is organised brutality. That appalls me, then and now. But nations need well organised and disciplined forces of brutality. You are naive if you think this world will function without brutality. It is why we in Britain should be proud of our armed forces (which need to be much larger (the Australians are re-arming (Britain needs to re-arm))). And if you disagree that a responsible nation needs to know how to conduct itself in a disciplined and brutal manner then you will find yourselves on the end of Islamacist or Russian brutality. In each case I would rather be dead, because (certainly the former) they glory in causing pain. Rugby does not glory in causing pain or even death. it is the unfortunate but accepted risk of performing in a nobler cause. Those who have signed this appeal completely fail to appreciate the reality of the world they are in, a world that if we lose our ability to defend ourselves and our ability when necessary to be brutal, will eat us for breakfast.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Tynemouth Market 20th February 2016

Every now and again we get to Tynemouth market. Just over 20 miles away, today the excuse was the need to deliver and pick up daughter Clare for Young Archaeologists Club at the University. Normally I slip in and out of the market with under a tenner spent. Today it went a bit different. The heady total was £88.76 which we will break down. Models were all brand new state.

En route we confirmed that Rolling Stock in North Shields has new owners (several years ago) and is very much open. Full on shop premise model railway shops are often said to be a dying breed but the North East has several.

Bachmann 38-678 BR Loco. Dept. Black shunting truck                                                      £12.99
Hornby R6639 Blue Spot fish yan SPV livery (a Mark One coach model)                             £10.99
Corgi OM41401 Tees-side Rail Traction Board trolleybys                                                     £13.99

At the market
Matchbox MOY Y10 LT 1934 AEC Trolleybus                                                                    £6
Matchbox MOY Y8 1917 Yorkshire Steam wagon William Pritchard                                     £2.50

2 Camilleri Montalbano novels Excursion to Tindari The Voice of the Violin                              £3
The Towpath Erie Canal 1945 hardback Merrill                                                                     £1
Haltwhistle and Beyond Parker TUPS                                                                                     £5
Railways on the Screen  Huntley   Ian Allan                                                                              £4
Traction Engines Past & Present D&C 1974                                                                                  £1
7 diecast model catalogues                                                                                                      £7
Edocar 1988 Corgi 1977 1984 1985  Matchbox 1986 Solido 1991

1 savoury carrot and sweetcorn scone                               £1.20
2 cheese scones                                                         £1
1 rye loaf                                                           £1.80
2 filled muffins                                                  £2.40
2 x tea                                                                     £2.40
1 Malteaser traybake                                            £1.50
5 x O'Donnell of Tipperary crisp packets                                                £1
1 tub crabmeat                                                                            £1.80
1 almond milk load                                                                         £2
1 tub cashew nut butter (from Swarland)                                       £4
2 Pork & Apple burgers Moorhouse Farm Stannington                             £1.67

Shiny Sink 6 tablets                                                                        £0.50

                                                                                                                  Total                         £88.76
And four free re-usable plastic bin bags.

Friday, 19 February 2016

John Brown ! Not a shipbuilder, not an American, but a South Shields Leftist author


Another title: From the backstreets of South Shields via the LIBRARY to an Oxford College and the Royal Geographical Society. All before a Russian Nuclear Reactor.

(The collected bibliography will conclude the entry. This entry relies heavily on joint input from Andy Williamson, Support Services Librarian, South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council library service. Fionn Consultancy (Robert & Fiona) have since December 2015 been engaged in intense work on their local studies collection in advance of the opening of The Word see ).

A heads up John Brown ! Not a shipbuilder, not an American, but a South Shields Leftist author born 1907, worked as a Journalist on the Shields Gazette and really well overlooked. No Wikipedia entry, the digital trace requires considerable work. 3 of his 10 books we had catalogued at South Shields library in January/February. Their appearance stimulated more work. Here are some more notes (initially they were headed to some one else) "If you go here you will find a few listings for The Road to Power by John Brown. This is the one that includes the Moscow Metro I think. However I have bought the first listing (the cheapest).

The books prior to 1945 are "I was a Tramp" 1934 (and made it to a third impression), "I saw for myself" 1935, "The Road to Power" 1937 and "Trooper North 1944" about World War Two. On line reviews can be found. I was a tramp in the Sheffield Independent 8th October 1934 p11c3 which reveals more on his life, also the Gloucester Citizen 22nd May 1934 p4c2, the Gloucestershire Echo 28th September 1934. Trooper North is reviewed in the Liverpool Evening Express 2nd May 1944 p2c5 and Aberdeen Journal 9th August 1944 p2c7. From one of the various catalogue records I am digging into I have a Christmas Day 1907 birth date.

Here is a relatively cheap I was a Tramp in the USA.  However the John Mason Brown the hyperlink goes to in that listing goes to a different (American) author I think. This book being his first has certain autobiographical details. Inter alia we learn he was born Christmas Day 1907. His great great grandfather came from Rothesay, his mother was a daughter of an Irishman from Cork. He managed to pick up a Diploma in Economics and Political Science from Ruskin College around 1933. In South Shields he talks about his grandmother's house near the Roman Fort and overlooking the river.

Throughout the thirties and forties Selwyn and Blount was his publisher. The Shields Gazette between the war is also likely to offer a considerable amount under his name. Work into this link . It is one of the few online discussions I have traced about him." Andy Williamson at South Shields has sent me a list (and there probably will be more) of inter-war features and editorial related to John Brown. Most of them require a little bit of websearching as they come from PDFs: Terror Spreads through the Saar 3rd January 1935 Dundee Evening Telegraph p2 c4-6; John Brown in the Saar 7th January 1935 Yorkshire Post p8 c5; Judd School and the League Kent and Sussex Courier p17 c4  22nd February 1935;  Germany's Interest in Peace 6th April 1935 Lancashire Evening Post p5 c2.

As I will keep saying :) I am sure this gentleman represents a great Shields story long forgotten. From my friends perhaps any of Jennifer Hillyard, Sean Matthew Smith, Alastair Fraser, Chris Phipps, Brian Bennison and Mark Benjamin may have leads?

Images are the front and back covers of the 1937 The Road to Power and the author portrait inside (which is SO 1930s). And for a sense of the gems within on page 168:

“On across the desert to Palmyra, the dead city of Zenobia, guarded by dark towers, and looking like an ivory carving. I had always wished to see the city, for not far from my own  home in northern England had been found the tomb of a Palmyran woman, wife of a Roman legionary who had helped guard the frontiers of the empire against the barbarians. What had she thought as she shivered on that northern coast of cold sea-fog and icy  wind and rude strength?”. The Palmyra links to South Tyneside can be explored from and . The problem of interpretation is she becomes a British woman who MARRIES a Palmyran and John Brown is wrong. Which begs the question: what did the guidebook in the 1930's say?

And in another gem John Brown interviews Lord Tweedsmuir AKA John Buchan in Government House, Ottawa in 1937! He refers to an anticipated trip of the Governor's. The photo album of that journey is displayed in the John Buchan Centre in Peebles .

After the war he seems to be away from South Shields. The title Trooper North suggests he had served in an armoured unit in World War Two. Although it seems incongruous, he clearly was writing fiction in the 1950s. Study the cover below, it makes clear this is the same John Brown.

Death in the Silver Ring: Background Books, London & Edinburgh 1950.

His wanderlust remained and in his later life he was involved with the Royal Geographical Society in London. And with the explorer Sebastian Snow he is down as finding the true source of the Amazon. Whilst Brown is Wikipedia light Snow does have an entry here. Both became Fellows of the R.G.S. as this cutting from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 28th August 1952 shows. This also reveals there was a Mrs Dorothy Brown aged 30 at the time.

The later books continue to pose questions! Next will follow the covers for the Amazon and then the following South African expedition books.


Then the inside flap of Two Against the Amazon in which note the appearance of UNESCO.


Then two pages at the start of The Thirsty Land.

Here we have references to boredom at home and being employed by the US Third Air Force in England and evidently doing a lot of globetrotting as a result. What sort of person was John Brown becoming. Because by 1959 he was heading back to the Soviet Union and Russian nuclear reactors. This sounds like something from Boys Own or even Bond? So enjoy the cover of Russia Explored and a very telling extract.


The above brings in a Yale scholarship! Possibly introductions to the US Military. "Produced with War Office approval a book on Armoured Corp Training" should be read with the ACTUAL reviews cited above on Trooper North. It was not a technical manual.

The clear follow up in this is the reference to "thirteen reports.......... for UN agencies". This needs understanding.  A person of this interest should have a wikipedia entry, a blue plaque in their birth town and must at death have left some obituary material?

The Collected Bibilography


I was a tramp
Selwyn & Blount, 1934
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

I saw for myself
Selwyn & Blount, 1935
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

The road to power
Selwyn & Blount, 1937
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Trooper North
Selwyn & Blount, 1944
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Journalist of South Shields, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Death in the silver ring
Background, 1950
(author listed on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Death gets a place
W.H. Allen, 1951
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Writer of Detective Novels, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Murder each way, etc.
Mark Goulden, 1952
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Writer of Detective Novels, and on COPAC as John Brown 1907-)

Two against the Amazon
Hodder & Stoughton, 1952
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Explorer, and on COPAC as John Brown 1914- (sic))

The Thirsty Land
Hodder & Stoughton, 1954
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Explorer, and on COPAC as John Brown 1914- (sic))

Russia Explored
Hodder & Stoughton, 1959
(author listed by British Library as John BROWN, Explorer, and on COPAC as John Brown 1914- (sic))