Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What am I bid?

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.

14 comments:

mutterings and meanderings said...

Damn! I wanted some of their India tree dinner service.

Those antlers once fell on my head. It hurt.

The Grocer said...

I think you can dive on some of those wrecks, I look forward to reading about your underwater adventure as I just know you will be up for it.

dollshouselin said...

I'm so happy that you contact strangers too.

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Dear Wifey, very moved on reading your blog this morning. And I have hanging by my bed a very old, hand-framed illuminated text, which reads: "Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small." It is given as the "Breton Fisherman's Prayer."
What a lovely coincidence.
Best regards, Margot.

Winchester whisperer said...

That's very moving. Some people believe that sailors' souls become seagulls which is why it's bad luck to shoot them

botogol said...

Now, I'd like to see a picture of that map! Don't you have a digital camera to point at it and small child to hold it steady?

@themill said...

Did the antlers still have tinsel on them?
M&M were you swinging on them?

mutterings and meanderings said...

@themill, I was sitting underneath them talking to some rugby players (many moons ago... )

merry weather said...

That makes a good tale and it's lovely that you've brought it to light.

Nunhead Mum of One said...

There's a historic theme running through several blogs of late.......and I love it! I went to Hastings Fisherman's Museum over the summer and it was amazing to see all the handwritten reports "five lost at sea during storm, may God take their brave souls". Fair brought a lump to my throat.

I heard that about seagulls too WW.....hard not to want to shoot them when they fly down and steal your chips!

mutleythedog said...

It is wrong to buy stolen goods at boot sales you know? Just thought I would mention it...

Frog in the Field said...

Shiver me timbers!! What a deck swabbing tale!
Brilliant to phone the man and ask him about it, talking to strangers is fab, don't know why I've been discouraged from it all these years!

rilly super said...

went to a concert a few years ago. It was a perishing cold late autumn night. A couple of chaps there were from the lifeboat crew and had been out that day looking for a trawler that was lost with her crew. I suppose a map of north sea wrecks will sadly never be up to date

rosierainbow said...

the antlers are lying flat and dejected on our spare bed at the moment - waiting to stand proud again on the wall of our farmhouse when we move back in January.

We've lots of old wrecks in this area - probably some of the rugby chaps that M&M was chatting to fall into this category. I know they won't mind my saying so - many of them try to get wrecked most weekends and are now trying to find a new local watering-hole to drink from.