Going on a Summer Holiday? 10: long distance shopping

This series is now one of the longest serving on our blog; I wrote several posts ago that I hoped it would not take as long to reveal as the journey which William Harris undertook around Europe between 1821-1823. Well, I have a feeling that I may have already broken that record, but at least it’s given us all a sense of the length of time which this journey from Dover, through France to Italy and then to Sicily actually took!

William continued to number his letters for his father.

William continued to number his letters for his father.

In the last post, William had just scaled Mount Etna with his band of architect friends, and found the undertaking rather easier than he had expected. By August 1822, however, William was lodging in the Franciscan convent of S. Vito, near ‘Grigenti’, alone. From my initial reading of this letter, I got the impression that William had been ill, but a second look shows little evidence of this. The group had intended to stay at a monastery before, at Taormina, but their plans were foiled when they discovered it to be full of priests awaiting the election of the new superior. So the fact that he was alone at a convent could simply be that it was a suitable location for his exploration of the ‘pure’ architectural remains of Sicily. In any case, perhaps he would not like to tell his father, so far away, that he was ill. After all, William Harris Snr., back in Norton Street, London, would wait months to receive the letter and then be unable to do much to help his son.

Of the remaining members of William Junr.’s group (two had left before the ascent of Etna), one certainly was ill: Brooks (who I described in an earlier post as the comedy partner) seems to have had bad sea sickness after the crossing from Catania. Thomas Angell and Mr. Atkinson were, however, made of sterner stuff, and had set out to explore Malta. William’s delight in the architectural remains in Sicily had been his reason, he told his father, for remaining alone. In any case, the friends were expecting to reunite, William thought, around the 21 August.

I suppose one of the other reasons why I suspect that all may not have been well with William is the brevity and directness of this letter. In the past, he had written very eloquent descriptions of places he and his friends had visited, and offered opinions on local habits. This letter, however, offers no description of his surroundings, nor of any of the ‘architectural’ (probably archaeological) sites which he visited.

William sent his letters home via his friend Mr Hunter, who lived in Paris.

William sent his letters home via his friend Mr Hunter, who lived in Paris.

Instead, the letter focuses on news from home, in London, which he had left more than a year earlier. We have already established that William’s mother did not enjoy the best of health; William considered that his parents’ removal to Peckham (at this time outside of London) would offer ‘cheerful society and a change of air’ which he was sure would be ‘very beneficial’. As well as his parents, William had a sister, Margaret, married to another architect, Thomas. In an earlier missive, he had learned that, for reasons of economy, they were removing from their home in order to let it. Because of this, he opens his letter having enclosed a letter for them, too, since he did not know where they could be reached. Again, the realities of the distance between William and his family, in terms of both time and miles, must have been playing on his mind. It had been 16 weeks prior to his sister’s letter since he had heard any news from ‘Old England’, having had no reply from his previous letter (no. 8, from Rome). Of course, he writes, his father may have replied to Naples, expecting William to be there, but the change in his plans meant at least a two month stay at Gingenti, rather than returning straight to Italy.

In spite of his desire to hear from home, time was obviously pressing: “As post time draws nigh I will now proceed to business and fill up the leisure if any remains afterwards”. This business consisted of a shopping list of materials and supplies, which William asked to be sent out to Sicily. Including pencils (from Brockman and Langdon’s, Bloomsbury), paper and watercolours, William explained that such drawing materials were ‘not to be obtained of even tolerable quality on the Continent’. Aside from these artists’ supplies for his sketching of classical ruins, William also requested that his father send out ‘a 2 feet parallel rule’, recalling that he had left it ‘either in my library table…or in the lower closet of the study’, paper ‘for memorandas’ and, from his brother-in-law Thomas, ‘tracings of the Temple of Theseus at Athens’. Finally, he asked for ‘4 day shirts…as those I have with me are nearly worn out.’ Unlike his friend Brooks, who had insisted on trunks of the latest fashions being sent out to Rome, William seems to largely have made do with that he had taken with him. Architecture and adventure seem to have been a much higher priority, for him, than clothes and supplies!

William's shopping list.

William’s shopping list.

This is the first instance of William requesting a significant amount of material from home, although he had previously mentioned in passing the cost of his travels, particularly his own frugality when living off his father’s allowance. Evidently, William had been able to spend some free time looking at his father’s responses, as he adds:

I now subjoin a list of the bills I have drawn on different bankers as they do not appear to agree with the memoranda you forwarded me

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1787)

Lady Elizabeth Foster (1787), Duchess of Devonshire 1809-1824

Although far from home, William clearly moved in circles of society which spanned the whole of Europe. Having previously visited contacts professional and personal, he asks for a letter of introduction from a mutual friend for the Duchess of Devonshire who was to stay in Rome over the winter. This was Elizabeth Christina Cavendish, who had married the fifth Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, in 1809 and retained the title of Duchess after the succession of his son to the title in 1811. The fifth Duke had been married to the celebrated Georgiana, but Elizabeth had lived with them since 1782, having separated from her husband Lord Foster, mystifying polite society. Elizabeth certainly had two children by the Duke prior to their marriage, and some whispered that she was lover to both the Duke and Duchess. In any case, she developed a love for the continent, even accompanying Georgiana during her exile designed to hide her illegitimate pregnancy from polite society. Following the death of the Duke, Elizabeth moved to Italy and developed an interest in antiquities, even financing the excavation of the Forum for eleven years. It is likely that this interest in classical architecture, and the circles in which she moved, were the main draw for William’s hopes of an introduction, but there must still have been a touch of scandal around this 65-year old widow as well.

The tone of this letter seems, to me, to be one of stocking up, preparing to start work again after a period of inactivity. Rather than tell his father about his exploits, as in previous letters, William is anxious to make sure he has the necessary materials to continue his adventure, but is also eager to hear more from home. He mentions ‘Jane’ once more, whom his father had removed from his house in the previous autumn, noting that he had given her the key to the drawer in which his shirts were kept. Perhaps the answer to this mystery is than Jane was a servant, presumably a long term and respected servant, since William had been sorry to hear of her departure. Thinking of home also led William to think of the horses: a favoured mount, Dick, had undergone an operation in the summer of 1821. ‘Pray let me know if Dick has recovered his lameness’, William writes in his closing paragraph.

William had plenty of recourse to bankers during his trip - including to collect his post!

William had plenty of recourse to bankers during his trip – including to collect his post!

In spite of the time it took to journey around Europe in the early 19th century, it was evidently not an insurmountable exercise – at least not for those with the funds to support it. Postage, bankers and even letters of introduction to the seemingly web-like networks of society brought together like-minded individuals right across the Continent. But even with those modern developments, the distance from home could indeed feel great, and leave the intrepid traveller in danger of isolation. Yet William’s thirst for adventure took him still further in his discoveries – right into one of the biggest antiquarian scandals since the exploits of Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, at the beginning of the century.

A happy 2015 to you all; perhaps this year will see the closure of William Harris’ adventure!

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The Gulbenkian Theatre opened on the Kent campus in 1969. In its forty five year history it has seen numerous productions, from Shakespeare to musical extravaganzas such as AC/DC and Steeleye Span. The tradition of Christmas performances, including productions aimed at children, runs strongly through the history of the theatre. A fine example of this genre is ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,’ staged in 1979, ten years after the Gulbenkian first opened its doors to the public.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ was put on by UKC Dramatics, adapted from the epic poem, and directed by Paul Hodson. Hodson is still hugely involved in theatre today, and is currently adapting ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby for a tour in 2015, having previously adapted works by Bill Bryson, and put on plays at the Edinburgh Fringe,  (more information on Hodson’s work can be found at http://blakefriedmann.co.uk/paul-hodson).

Play Poster

A variety of documents and ephemera relating to the ‘Sir Gawain’ 1979 performance can be found in the Gulbenkian collection. This includes posters, a theatre programme, stickers, local newspaper cuttings and a teacher’s booklet, provided by UKC Dramatics for local schools to study the story before seeing the play. In every item, one can see evidence of how the UKC Dramatics society was involved in every aspect of production, from acting to outreach to the local community.

It is interesting how, in a time when school trips to the theatre were not as common as they may be now, the University of Kent was working hard to have a positive effect on theatre in the local community, and fantastic to see just how successful they were. One unidentified newspaper cutting, dated October 12th 1979, is a small article concerning the production, informing the reader that ‘Paul [Hodson]…has contacted East Kent schools to encourage children to take part in his illustration scheme.’ An exhibition of local children’s artwork relating to the play was produced, and could be viewed in the Gulbenkian prior to each performance. Another cutting from the Kent Herald, dated December 11th observes that ‘the play has captured the children’s imagination, for all seven performances have sold out.’ This shows not just how successful the play was in terms of acting and production, but also how keen the local schools and the University of Kent were to work together. In fact, the play and the involvement of the local schools worked so well that two extra matinees had to be scheduled to fulfil demand.

Article from the Kent Herald featuring a picture of cast members with school children's artwork

Article from the Kent Herald featuring a picture of cast members with school children’s artwork


The item that shows UKC Dramatics dedication to outreach to the local schools most is the teacher’s information booklet. Produced by the director, the booklet firstly provides an abridged version of the old poem, complete with illustrations, that teachers could read to their classes. Following this is information on the background of the poem, and then a section containing a series of suggestions of projects that could be employed in school in the run up to seeing the show. The idea of putting on a small in-class production of the play is proffered, using the provided story as the play text. Art projects are also suggested, along with comparisons of different areas of the story, and a more in-depth look at the themes running through it. This booklet must have taken a long time to produce, and the amount of work that has gone into it shows Hodson’s dedication to the production, education, and the wish to have the local community as involved as possible.

Two illustrations from the teaching booklet, featuring Gawain and the Green Knight themselves

Two illustrations from the teaching booklet, featuring Gawain and the Green Knight themselves

Why are Christmas productions so popular? Obviously, as in this case, there is an element of people wanting to see a well-produced show, but be they Christmas plays such as this, winter themed ballets such as The Nutcracker, or a good old-fashioned panto, Christmas seems to be a time for special performances that everybody wants to see, including those who would not necessarily go to the theatre the whole year round. It seems a huge part of the appeal is that Christmas is generally recognised as a time to be with family, and productions such as this provide entertainment for all ages. As the Gazette, dated December 14th, observed about ‘Sir Gawain’ ‘children (and adults) loved it,’ referring to the whole audience ‘roaring our approval,’ and all ages finding the jokes hilarious.

‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ is just one of many student led productions that have graced the boards at the Gulbenkian Theatre. The items within all these collections show clearly the amount of effort students put in to produce such great shows, and are fascinating from the perspective of local and theatrical historians, or those wishing to put on such a production themselves. The Gulbenkian collection can be explored via the Special Collections and Archives website. It has yet to be completely catalogued, so look forward to more opportunities to learn about Kent’s past in the future.

To discover more in this collection go to the Gulbenkian Collection.

Rachel Dickinson.

Beyond the trenches

On 11 November 2014, Armistice Day, Special Collections & Archives was involved in an outreach event which explored the themes of the First World War through the theatre of the time, going beyond the trenches to discover how theatre can tell us more about the past. Starting off with the sources (as we always do), we then had a great opportunity to explore the theory and get to see some World War One plays of various kinds. This event was a new and exciting opportunity for us to talk to researchers, from school age to retirees, interested in all kinds of disciplines.

The event’s leader, Dr. Helen Brooks, tells us more:

“It is easy to get bogged down (excuse the pun) in the Battles of Trench Warfare, but now I see that plays of the time are an insight into the culture of the time, which to me is equally as important in understanding the reasoning behind the Great War. This new insight has opened up a whole new perspective”.

Lindsay Kennett, who wrote these words in an email to me last week, was just one of the 30 plus participants who took part in our public study day on First World War theatre, on Tuesday, 11 November at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. The aim of the day was to raise public awareness about how looking at theatre can shed new light on ideas about, and responses to the war: for Lindsay and the many other participants who echoed her sentiments in their feedback, it was clearly a great success.

SONY DSC Over the course of the day we got stuck into a diverse range of activities, all of which were facilitated ably by a team of fantastic student, and ex-student helpers from the Drama Department in the School of Arts – Rebecca O’Brien, Rebecca Sharp, Kinga Krol, and Charlotte Merrikin. Beginning with a brilliant workshop run by Jane Gallagher, from Special Collections at the Templeman, participants had a chance to get ‘hands on’ with sources from Special Collection’s archives (including newspaper clippings, scripts, programs and playbills) and to interrogate them in order to answer questions such as ‘how did the theatre “do its bit” for the war effort?’, SONY DSC‘what impact did the war have on the theatre industry?’, ‘in what different ways was the theme of war treated in performance?’, and ‘how did audiences change during the war?’. This last question then led us into Professor Viv Gardner’s (University of Manchester) stimulating talk about audiences during the war. Reminding us that audiences were made up of diverse groups and that their responses changed depending on the context of the performance, Viv also drew on some moving stories about individual spectators which brought to life the experience of theatre-going during the war.

After a delicious lunch, courtesy of the Marlowe, and an opportunity to chat to each other about our diverse interests and backgrounds (participants included students from the Langtons schools, members of the Western Front Association, and local historians, to name but a few) the afternoon began with rehearsed readings of three First World War one-act plays: The Devil’s Business by J. Fenner Brockway (1914); God’s Outcasts by J. Hartley Manners (1919); andSONY DSC A Well Remembered Voice by J.M. Barrie (1918). It was quite something to see these plays brought to life, the first two quite probably for the first time ever. The actors, including three current Drama students, Zach Wilson (PhD) , Alexander Sullivan, and Louise Hoare, all did an excellent job, especially as the plays were quite distinct in tone and style, and as the actors had only had two and a half days rehearsal in total. After a stimulating discussion about the plays, with some excellent insights from audience members, the day was then rounded off nicely with a thoughtful talk by Dr Andrew Maunder (Reader at University of Hertfordshire) about his own experience of staging ‘lost’ WW1 plays, and in particular A Well Remembered Voice.

This wasn’t the end though! After just a few hours break – during which it was exciting to see our pop-up exhibition on WW1 theatre in the Foyer attracting a lot of attention from audiences waiting to see the RSC – many of us were back at the Marlowe for the evening rehearsed readings. It was great to see an almost entirely SONY DSCnew audience for this. As well as a number of Kent students people came from as far as Dover to join us for this exciting performance. Three of the one-act plays we shared were the same as in the afternoon (although the performances were quite different in energy, something the actors reflected on in the questions afterwards) and we also added an unpublished short play about the Belgian experience during the war entitled There was a King in Flanders (1915) by John G. Brandon. With these four pieces we therefore covered not only the chronological breadth of the war but also a number of different responses to this world event. From The Devil’s Business (1914), a biting satire on the arms trade and its place in fuelling conflict, which was banned in London during the war; to There was a King in Flanders (1915) with its focus on a dying Belgian soldier; and finally to God’s Outcasts (1919) and A Well Remembered Voice (1918) both of which offer sharply different responses towards grief, the plays as a whole offered new insights into the diverse ways in which theatre treated the war between 1914 and 1918. And with insightful comments and an enthusiastic response from the audience, it seems there’s certainly potential to hold similar events in the future.

SONY DSC If you’d like to find out more about Theatre of the First World War, contact Dr Helen Brooks at h.e.m.brooks@kent.ac.uk. Our pop-up exhibition on Theatre of the First World War is available for free loan to theatres, schools and other public institutions. If you would like to host this exhibition simply get in touch with gateways@kent.ac.uk. There is no charge for hosting or delivery.

This study day was one of a series of events being run by Gateways to the First World War, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded centre for public engagement with the First World War. To find out more about Gateways and how we can help you with activities, advice and expertise, visit www.gatewaysfww.org.uk.

With thanks to Leila Sangtabi for provision of photographs.

A Thoroughly Modern Man: digital exhibition

Wood in 1911 from 'Thrift'.

Wood in 1911 from ‘Thrift’.

I’m delighted to announce that a digital version of our exhibition about Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, A Thoroughly Modern Man? (1881-1924) is now live. To learn more about Wood’s early life and work, check out the Special Collections & Archives exhibition webpages.

A Thoroughly Modern Man? was our last physical exhibition in the level 1 gallery space and ran for six weeks earlier this summer. This coincided with the publication of the first part of historian Hugh Gault’s biography of Wood, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the Possible, which has been significantly supported by Wood’s scrapbooks, held in Special Collections & Archives.

A Methodist, lawyer and politician, Wood had a keen eye for detail and a strong sense of moral duty. This led him to champion causes of health and insurance for the less well-off in society. His times also coincided with radical change, including the First World War, the first enfranchisement of women and the increase in state support. Wood himself was a key player in the implementation of National Insurance, and proposed the Ministry of Health in 1918.

With concerns about European relations, levels state support, the reputation of politicians and the status of Ireland, many of the issues which Wood and the Coalition government dealt with are familiar to us today. The exhibition considered this earlier portion of his life to ask whether Wood was, in fact, a modern man, despite working almost 100 years ago.

You can explore the exhibition through tabs on the website above and follow the blog tags for more posts about Wood. If you would like to know more about Wood’s scrapbooks, please take a look at our Collection pages.

Going on a Summer Holiday? 9.2: in the shadow of the mountain

In the last post, I split William’s letter from Syracuse in two, since he (and I) had spent so much time talking about the delights of Taormina and the ‘original characters’ he discovered en route. As I mentioned, there was more than a little daredevil in these Georgian travellers, and the rest of William’s ninth letter is taken up with his ascent of Mount Etna. It seems this was one of the things which intrepid travellers tended to do at this period, but William has such an evocative writing stlye, I thought it would be a shame to cut the post short.

The shadow of Etna, stretching along in two distant lines meeting in a point might be plainly traced in the tranquil bosom of the ocean and slowly and majestically erecting itself in air, appeared embodied on the vapours and clouds suspended between earth and heaven, as the glorious luminary sank into the horizon.

Illustration of 'Etna Chestnut trees'

Illustration of ‘Etna Chestnut Trees’ from ‘Picturesque Europe’, p.200

As I mentioned last time, William had a journal with him, the entries from which he transcribed in his letter to his father – which we have in our collection. It’s unusual in that it offers a rather blow-by-blow account of the trip, including the specific dates. So we know that the group set off on 31st May 1822 at noon, having left Taormina for Nicolosi the day before. At this point, the group passed through a rather desolate area beneath a clear sky; finding that the sparse trees had been rather mutilated and were not particularly ‘fine’. Comparing the mountainside to the ‘Cultivated Regions’ lower down, which William had been singularly unimpressed with, he now considered those wooded regions ‘a paradise’. After meeting the obligitary mountain goats and being entertained with music from their herder, the group continued on:

The ascent gradually became more rapid and the keenness of the air became more sensible. Continuing our way through a country – perhaps ages long past smiling and fertile but now the empire of gloom and desolation, we finally lost all trace of vegetation and found ourselves every moment envelopped in the mist and clouds, which hastily swept along the sterile surface until they attained the loftiest ridgeof Etna, when they were instantly hurled away by a stronger and continuing wind to the mountain plains below, to commence another attempt equally futile to pass the forbidden ridge. The summit of the mountain (the grand crater) was occasionally visible through the clouds crossing each other in various directions. It was casting forth huge volumes of thick white sulphureous smoke.

Not to be put off by the obvious danger, nor the sudden cold and snow, the group went on to the ‘Casa Inglese’, a small house constructed, apparently, by a subscription of British officers in 1811. One can only assume that the ascent of Mount Etna was part of the package tour even in the early 19th century! Compared with today, however, the accomodation was basic:

It contains 3 chambers, the door opening into the centre room. Here the floor was covered with thick ice and in a closet was a mass of frozen snow at least 3 feet in height. We were lodged in one of the side rooms which had been divested of such benumbing companions and found a good charcoal fire which our avant-courier had prepared.

Leaving a man to prepare their dinner, William and his friends then went walkabout, to see the sunset and also marvel at the mysterious ‘Philosopher’s Tower’;

Some suppose it to have been erected for the reception of the Emperor Hadrian, when he visited this mountain; others imagine it to have been the mausoleum of some capricious being who wished his remains to be deposited in a place far remote from the haunts of man, but nothing is known with certainty.

Extract from Stockdale's 'Geography'

Extract from Stockdale’s ‘Geography’, published in 1800 and perhaps an inspiration for William’s travels.

On their walk, it became clear how recently eruptions had been taking place; craters from the 1669 eruption were visible near Nicolosi, while the route to the Case Inglese was marked by a stream of lava from 1787, less than 50 years prior to William’s visit. The effect of the white snow alongside this ‘rich brown hue’ offered ‘a scene at once grand and perfectly novel’. The last eruption prior to their visit, it seems, was in 1819, but the dangers clearly did not concern the travellers as they enjoyed the scenery:

That side of the crater towards the Casa Inglese has two horns or points with a deep valley between them running down the side of the crater and partly filled with snow. In our lofty position we were the last human beings to whom the sun lent his rays in the same longitude and we were deprived of them a considerable time before they bad a short adieu to the towering pinnacles above. The shades of evening gradually stole along the plains till every remote object became indistinct. The clear silver moon shone in silent majesty and seemed to give token “of a goodly day to-morrow”. The air now became so piercingly cold, that we were glad to take shelter and close around our fire.

After a brief meal, and after the mules had been sent to the lower ground (to be watched over, presumably, by local guides), William and his friends tried to sleep. Using their saddles as pillows and wrapping themselves in their cloaks, in spite of all their adventuring spirit, did not work well. In any case, they rose at daybreak on the 1st June but found thick clouds swarming around the summit, so were unable to start the climb until 6am. In fact, William seems to have felt it rather less of a struggle than he had anticipated; ‘deceived by various exaggerated accounts we imagined it to be an Herculean task’, so losing the good weather they might have enjoyed had they begun the previous evening.

It took around an hour for the band of intrepid travellers to reach the summit, which was covered in thick smoke, with the cloud having rolled back in so that they ‘could distinguish only a few yards around us’. Reaching the ‘ne plus ultra’ seemed rather an anti-climx:

…thick vapourous smoke from every part which has so suffocating an effect that I scarcely hoped to be enabled to remain a single minute but on changing my position and thus getting to windward of it, the difficulty of breathing immediately left me. In some parts the ground was so hot under our feet it was impossible to remain there long. The sulphurous vapours were so dense and copious in the water, we could merely discern it had a rapid declination and judge of the distance by listening to the protracted noise occasioned by masses of stone rolled into it by the guide.

Of course, being men of the Enlightenment, it was not just the views which they had come to see. At the height of the volcano, they noticed a ‘varied grandeur of effects’, including the speed with which the clouds passed by, wrapping the little band in thick fog, unable to see one another while the land below was drenched in sunlight. From the summit, it also seemed as though the ocean ‘appeared to rise to our own level’.

We here observed a very curious effect produced by the sun beams, when now and then they shone through the clouds. Our shadows were cast on the vapours of the water and each of us saw his own enriched by a faint Iris of the hues of the rainbow and eccentric rays darting from it. We had observed a similar effect, but no Iris, from the shadow of the mountain on the vapours of the preceding evening, that is to say the eccentric rays alone.

1930s postcard of Mount Etna

1930s postcard of Mount Etna, on which the volcano is described as “past all desription – BEAUTIFUL – early in the morning – with a blue sky & almond blossom”. From the Hewlett Johnson Collection.

After two hours in the thin air and cold, the band descended to reach the Casa Inglese in half an hour, but were far from finished with the mountain. They decided to return to Nicolosi via the Valle di Bove so that they could see ‘the celebrated Chestnut of a Hundred Horse’ – the oldest known chestnut tree in the world. The cloud remained heavy during the descent, when they found themselves walking over the remains of two earlier eruptions – 1811 and two month long eruption of 1819, which had destroyed a significant portion of farmland. This area, William wrote, was ‘covered with ashes and wrapt in silence’, with the going hard, each footstep sinking them ‘a foot deep’ – ascent via this route was impossible, but the sights seem to have been worth the struggle. They passed a stream of lava from the latest eruption which were still smoking with sulphur. A little further on, the group paused to admire the view (and no doubt to get their collective breath back), but the guide warned them:

not to loiter on – as the masses of strata are apt to detach themselves and roll into the narrow valley below

After four hours, they came in sight of their goal, and another hour brought them to the Chestnut of a Hundred Horse – an impressive but apparently not entirely impressing sight.

It consists of 5 distinct trunks all very much decayed…but however one might be inclined to believe these several huge masses to have been formerly united (each…forms a noble tree) it required a greater degree of reliance on the tradition than we could summon…to feel convinced of such an apparent impossibility.

In spite of William and his companions doubting, the several thousand years’ old tree is apparently still connected to a single root system below ground, even though the trunks are now seperated above ground.

After their ‘day of contrasts’, William and his friends found lodgings in a nearby village for a well-earned rest, although they discovered their host ‘a profligate steward of our purses’ after presenting the extravagant bill. On returning to Nicolosi, their host was delighted to hear of their exploits and advised them that ‘our excursion…had never been undertaken by foreigners in his recollection’. From Nicolosi, the group journeyed on the Catania, then to Syracuse, where William and fellow architect Thomas Angell went back to their favourite task of measuring, this time the local Temple of Minerva and an ancient Greek theatre.

Illustration of 'Syracuse, from the Greek Theatre'

Illustration of ‘Syracuse, from the Greek Theatre’ from ‘Picturesque Europe’.

William closes his letter with an assurance that his expenses fall well within his allowance, and a plea for news from ‘Old England’. One of their number, Mr Butts, had returned to England earlier and William asked for news of his friends to be passed on, recalling their trip across the Mer de Glace at Chamonix and commenting that climbing Etna had been much easier. Perhaps he had become used to the excitement and hardship of travel, after a year roaming the Continent. From Syracuse, William and his friends journeyed on across Sicily, looking for adventure. I suspect that what they found was not what any of them were expecting… But that’s a tale for another time, and with three letters still left in this series, hopefully I’ll finish the story before it’s actually taken the length of William’s long trip!