Thought I might try to save some money by going to an auction in the village. (A hotel was closing down; the owners have plans to develop the site.) I thought about equipping the kitchen with 13 small stainless steel teapots or a double basket electric fryer but decided against it. I toyed with the pair of ornamental stag's antlers and the pool table but I ended up bidding for an old Ordnance Survey map of Northumberland and a print of the wrecks off the Farne Islands. I took a little time to figure out my bidding strategy. A couple of lots had come up, a tent and a blackboard. Tucked away at the back of the bidding, panicked by the auctioneer's song of "DoIhearfiveIhavesixonmyleftsevensirthankyoudoiheareightninetenonmyrightten
tensoldtotheladyonmyright", my nerve failed me and I ducked out of the bidding. I decided on the "I want it" approach for the maps. I stood at the front and nodded decisively at every opportunity. I thought it might psyche out any opposition although I think I may have been bidding against myself at times. I paid £25 for the OS map; tonight I realised it is marked with railway lines which were closed down more than 50 years ago. I paid £50 for the framed print of the wrecks; I suspect you can buy it for £2.50 in the local lifeboat station but it was worth every penny.
It is a work of art, put together by a lifeboatman of 20 years who doubled up as the local funeral director. The map has a little scroll in the bottom left hand corner telling you his name: "For Those in Peril John Hanvey 1976". I rang him. (Life is like that in Northumberland.) I said: "I love your map". He told me he spent seven years researching the wrecks, using information from the logbook of the Longstone lighthouse keeper as well as RNLI records, Lloyd's, a local museum and newspaper. He said: "I carried around a pocketbook. Any old fishermen I met up and down the coast, I would say 'I have the name of a ship I suspect was wrecked, what do you know about it?'." When he had the information together, he drew up around 50 of the maps; each one taking him a week at a time. Later, he had the prints made up.
The names of the ships and the small hand-drawn crosses remind you this is a map that charts bravery, smashed hopes and the graves of drowned men. The earliest wreck: November 2 1462 "Two French caravels" in the area off Bamburgh sands. Another early disaster ("vessels foundered...positions doubtful"): November 1774 six ships and "100 souls perished in one night". Some of the losses are more modern. East of Longstone, January 25 1940 the steamship Everene of Latvia sunk by torpedo with nine drowned. Cobles, sloops, ketches, tankers; the hungry sea will take what it can. Occasionally, it will lose its grim and salty battle and the ship can be refloated. More often though, they are lost and there are deaths like those on October 11 1840, the steam ship Northern Yacht with 22 passengers and crew, or again on July 20 1843, the steamship Pegasus with 54 passengers and crew (both around Goldstone Rock midway between Holy Island and the Farnes). In the worst cases, they are lost with "all hands".
The map of the wrecks is in blue with the rocky islands brown and lapped by a dangerous and broken green. The sober columns of dates and black inked names are broken by the picture of a seagull aloft, a ship in full sail and a lifeboat breasting stormy waves. Underneath the lifeboat are the words of the sailer's prayer: "Oh! Lord the sea is so large and my ship is so small." These lost ships and sailors are not forgotten: their names still sail on a paper sea. John Hanvey made it so.