Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tricky Script: Finding Woolacombe Beach

One of the banes of an historian's existance is historic script. Especially in pencil, which fades and smudges. Reading it can be slow and involve a lot of guesswork and sighing. Thankfully, Alice Livingston had reasonably clear handwriting, like this:

"S.S. Rotterdam/Plymouth 24 June 1921" Nevertheless, when I come across a word I don't know (which seems to be all the time in the photo albums that involve travel and exotic place names), I honestly tend to skim over it unless it is vital to my research. I've been skimming over this word for a while: but today I guess I was feeling bold. I was pretty sure I could read W-O-O-L-A-C-O-(?)-(?)-E. Is that even a word? Well, thanks be to Google's autocomplete, because when I got halfway through typing, it finished the word for me: Woolacombe, a seaside resort on the north coast of North Devon, England. I even found their current tourism website.

Well, don't I feel smart?

From the dates on Alice's pictures, it looks as though the family got on their steamer (the S.S. Rotterdam, pictured at left) at the end of June in 1921 and steamed over to England, where they went to see John Henry's eldest daughter Katharine and then off all together for a seaside holiday to Woolacombe in July.
This would have been the first time that Honoria and Janet would meet their neice and nephew Theodore and Katharine (who were actually 6 and 8 years older than Honoria, respectively). They also met up with their niece and nephews along the way. In the picture at right, you can see Honoria and Janet with three other children, three of Katharine's children. They are all pictured again in the photograph below.

John Henry in his dignified suit looks a little out of place on a sunny beach, but his daughters have certainly made themselves comfortable; either Janet or Honoria has stripped off her shoes and flopped onto her back to soak up a little sun. You can just see her bare legs sticking out from behind his chair.

Woolacombe was just a short stop on their tour of England (which was of course just a piece of their six-years in Europe). From there they visited the sites: Wells, Clovelly (the photo at left shows them on the way to Clovelly), Fairford, even Stonehenge (and plenty of other places I haven't yet decoded the handwriting on). Photos show that they staid in England until about September, before heading south to Florence, Italy. Later trips back to England would take them to even more of England's countryside and cities.

Decoding Alice's handwriting can be tricky at times, but clearly it's worth the effort. We managed to fill out a travel itinerary for the first part of the Livingstons' European adventure! Three months exploring England before they were to find a longer-term home in Italy.

Now if only I can get better at reading John Henry's and Chancellor Livingston's dreadful scrawls, then I will feel accomplished...

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