‘Nothe Fort and beyond: in defence of Weymouth & Portland’, (2017) by Susan Hogben

Weymouth loves its local history. Books about aspects of it abound. I reviewed another of them recently (Philip Browne’s The Unfortunate Captain Peirce …). Those I have read are characterised by meticulous research and a love of quirky detail. So it is with this book on the creation of Nothe Fort.

The author, Susan Hogben claims this is ‘history that’s not just for historians’, which I think is bang on. Although these days woe betide the historian who attempts to get away with a dry book! Hogben has done the hard work (the research) so you don’t have to. And the result is anything but dry. She has immense affection for the area in general and Nothe Fort in particular. She has a goodly knack for seeing parallels between the era in which it was built and the present day (such as escalating costs, grumbling locals, lack of amenities for summer visitors, bust-ups in the Council chamber) which all sound very familiar.

Hogben has delved into all manner of public and private records for her story and tells it with enthusiasm, interesting segues, vignettes of human suffering and achievement, and plenty of amusing asides. Hogben’s knowledge is worn lightly and the writing style is popular: the saga gallops along (rather more quickly than the construction of the Fort, it must be said).

There is some colourful preamble to the building of the Victorian fort, which skips through the episodes of pirates and privateers, the Civil War, George III’s love of Weymouth and its resultant popularity. Then we arrive at the original reason for south-facing coastal defences being deemed A Good Idea: the French. Relations between France and the United Kingdom blew hot and cold long after Napoleon’s final defeat.

Hogben explains the prodigious role of the Royal Engineers in the construction of the fort. Nothe headland and its adjacent coasts are soft and prone to land slips. Trying to create a fort which would stay where it was put (on top of the cliff) and be strong enough to mount a shore-based battery of guns, which kept increasing in size as technology improved, was no easy task. And became increasingly expensive. That Victorian engineers were able, in the end, to build a thing of strength and beauty on the site and enable local folk to continue to use it for pleasure, piloting and weather watching, is a testament to common sense and co-operation.

Because of the ongoing building works undertaken by the army, there was a constant coming and going of soldiers during the years of the fort’s construction. In the main Weymouth’s citizens were glad of them. They provided husbands, a steady income for publicans, entertaining military bands and an extraordinary number of amateur dramatic shows. I have often been heard to mutter ‘what is it with British men and cross-dressing?’ when confronted with Monty Python, Dick Emery, Les Dawson et al. I believe Hogben has the answer: military amdram. Many soldiers stationed in Weymouth were or became skilled performers. In periods of idleness for the military (of which there were a surprising number) occupation of this kind was encouraged. And, of course, only one gender was available to take part. I understand now where that peculiarly unlovely, generic type of shrew was born which insisted, ‘he’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy’ …

The story so far ends with ‘Palmerston’s Follies’ considered obsolete following the defeat of France in 1871. But Nothe Fort and its sister, Verne Citadel, on Portland do come into their own. That story is, I understand, to be told in a second volume, to which I look forward very much.

I was provided with a proof copy for the purpose of this review. It contains a number of typos, occasional inaccuracies and some malaprops. Hopefully these have been rectified in the published edition.

You can obtain a copy of the book here: Nothe Fort and Beyond

 

Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed. BTW - it says the link to Facebook is broken. I dispute that. Click it and see, why not?

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