Jersey Local History Fayre 2016

I am looking forward to speaking at the Jersey Local History Fayre at St Helier Town Library on Saturday 23 January at 10.30am. I will be reading an extract from Jersey: The Hidden Histories, focusing on the visit of Charlie Chaplin to the Island in 1912. Then I will share some insights into the creative process and the significance of Jersey’s rich and immersive history.

Jersey proved to be a crucial turning point in Chaplin’s life. It marks the moment when he was captured on film for the very first time. As I write in Jersey: The Hidden Histories:

The Battle of Flowers changed everything. Chaplin looked at once for a chance to break into the intoxicating and fledgling world of celluloid film. First, the vistas of an American vaudeville tour beckoned. Within eighteen months of wowing the crowd at the Jersey Opera House, the cloudburst of fame broke open. The West Coast producer Mack Sennett watched the acclaimed Mumming Birds show, smelt raw talent, and immediately signed Chaplin up to Keystone Pictures. Soon the horizons of California unfurled in an endless paradise of orange groves and ocean blue and shimmering sunshine…

Jersey Opera H

 

 

The Beauty’s Story – Lillie Langtry

Jersey: The Hidden Histories is an ideal Christmas present for anyone who loves the history of this beautiful Island. I was delighted that the story of Lillie Langtry was reprinted in this month’s Our Island magazine, which reaches nearly 16,000 homes in Jersey across several parishes. The drama and energy of the Victorian age has passed into deep history, but the legend of its greatest beauty will not fade.

Lillie Langtry by Millais (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Lillie Langtry by Millais (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“She rose like Venus from the foam, a rare jewel of grace chipped from the rough granite of her homeland. She was born Emilie le Breton, they say, a Dean’s daughter from the Channel Island of Jersey, best known for its lowing cows and sturdy potatoes. From this unpromising turf, and after a marriage into minor money, she burst like a hurricane upon the London season.

Her alabaster shoulders; her divine chin, her strikingly short hair; she was an angle clad in a simple black dress. Men were stupefied and their wives could merely seethe and cringe. Before long great artists were scrambling to idolise her, her photographs were hawked on every street corner; men would scramble onto chairs or queue for hours merely to catch a passing glimpse of perfection”.

From Jersey: The Hidden Histories by Paul Darroch (c) 2015

 

 

 

Jersey The Hidden Histories – News from the book launch

Courtesy www.albion-prints.com
Courtesy www.albion-prints.com

I am pleased my talk at the inaugural Jersey Festival of Words was so well received. I also enjoyed my interview on BBC Radio Jersey today with Sarah Bailey discussing Jersey: The Hidden Histories. This Saturday 17 October 2015, a book signing will be taking place from 11am to 2pm at Waterstone’s on Queen Street, St Helier. This venue is particularly evocative as this is just a short walk from Royal Square, where the Battle of Jersey unfolded in 1781. The cover of Jersey: The Hidden Histories is of course a detail from Copley’s masterful and compelling painting of this event.

Jersey - The Hidden Histories

Let me set the scene as de Rullecourt’s armies make silent landfall in that bitter winter of 1781…

“Midnight has come and St Helier lies dumbstruck under the heart-stopping spell of a freezing January night. The foul breath of the Jersey winter congeals on the lintels of a hundred homes, its raw bite insinuating itself deep into the wood, the harbinger of a cold and bitter morning. The embers of their dying fires throw a smoky orange pall over the deserted streets where the good townsfolk of St Helier simper fitfully in their flea-ridden beds. The skies high above them blaze fiercely with the icy blue stars of winter…”

(From Jersey: The Hidden Histories (c) Paul Darroch 2015. Available at Amazon UK and booksellers in Jersey, Channel Islands)

 

 

Jersey: The Hidden Histories – Festival Talk

Excited to be speaking at the inaugural Connections – Jersey Festival of Words next week on my new book, Jersey: The Hidden Histories. I look forward to sharing some “immersive history”, discussing the creative writing process and answering some questions during the talk at Jersey Museum.

Here’s my publisher’s summary of the book:

“Panoramic in scope, Jersey: The Hidden Histories is a spellbinding journey into the life and times of this entrancing Island. It is painted on a canvas that stretches from the primeval hunters crossing the tundra to the arrival of the first aeroplane in the magical summer of 1912, on the eve of the Great War.

Imaginative and vibrant, this is history seen through the eyes of those who witnessed it; an unknown Charlie Chaplin exploding onto the stage of the Jersey Opera House; Queen Victoria travelling to Gorey Castle in the sultry September heat; Sir Walter Raleigh strutting into the States Chamber. This is the story of Karl Marx supping in St Helier; the fugitive King Charles II seeking sanctuary in his loyal Island, and Lillie Langtry treading the boards in her prime.

Jersey: The Hidden Histories is the biography of an Island perched on the frontier between clashing kingdoms, brimming with a rich cast of iconic characters. Paul Darroch brings history vividly to life, as the narrative sweeps from the green parishes of home to the distant shores where a New Jersey would be born”.

The book is available from Seaflower Books, Amazon UK and a wide variety of book retailers in Jersey.

 

A Royal Day Out – Queen Victoria in Gorey

September 2, 1846

Queen Victoria is coming and the Island is on fire. It is a hot night for fireworks, and some fool at Noirmont has set the entire hillside ablaze. The flames rage uncontrolled for hours, burning bright like a wild beacon from Norman days. The sleek Royal Yacht, the Victoria and Albert, is safely anchored far below in the darkness, nestled deep in the black embracing reach of St Aubin’s Bay. The immaculately liveried crew note the fire raging onshore and silently resume their duties. Suddenly the sky above is drenched in light again, as welcoming rockets explode like meteors over the bay. It is eleven o’clock and the royal couple stay out on deck, feasting their eyes on the extravaganza.

Philip John Ouless (1817-1885) artwork. Image source: (c) That Was Jersey, courtesy of Jersey Library and Jersey Archive at www.jeron.je

The hot September morning finally breaks. Twenty-seven year old Victoria awakes to sunlight sparkling over the deep ultramarine waters of St. Aubin’s Bay. The young Queen is astounded by the view; it is as beautiful as the Bay of Naples, she remarks to her husband. Albert, no stranger to the charms of the Neapolitan Riviera, dutifully agrees.

The energy and feverish optimism in the Island is contagious. Delirious crowds surge forward at the harbour, ready to throw flowers before their Sovereign. Parish Constables are fervently adding the finishing touches to magnificent floral arches. Destiny is calling little Jersey, if only for a day. The British Empire is ascending to greatness and the Queen commands the Workshop of the World, where a new era of Progress and Peace is self-evidently dawning. She is Defender of the Faith and Mother of the Nation. And best of all, she is our beloved Duc de Normandie, coming home to her oldest realm and surely its most beautiful Parish.

The Royal carriage is on its way to St Martin now, charging at a gallop through Five Oaks and making good time on the country roads. “It is extremely pretty and very green – orchards without end”, the Sovereign will note in her private diary later that evening.

Queen Victoria at last crosses into our tiny, loyal parish of St Martin-le-Vieux. The Royal carriage speeds downhill through Faldouet, shielded from the hot sun by the natural arch of trees over the road. And as the carriage clatters to a halt in front of Mont Orgueil, cheers erupt like fireworks. The parishioners of St Martin erupt in loud and loyal acclamation: “God Save Victoria!”

The arrival of Her Majesty at Mont Orguiel

Philip John Ouless (1817-1885) artwork. Image source: (c) That Was Jersey, courtesy of Jersey Library and Jersey Archive at www.jeron.je

Text from A Royal Day Out: Young Victoria in Gorey (published in Les Nouvelles de St Martin, May 2014)

The Glass Church – Where the Sand Dunes Met the Potato Fields

 The Glass Church is an astonishing, sublime masterpiece. But in the very beginning, in the place where the mill brook flowed into the open sand dunes of St Aubin’s Bay, there was just an empty field. It was on 17 February 1840 that this was purchased by the Rectors of St Lawrence and St Peter for the fine total of 62 pounds, 8 shillings and sixpence. They had purchased a vergée of land for the express purpose of “building a chapel of ease, to celebrate divine worship following the rites of the Anglican church”.

The fledgling church is mentioned, just in passing as a landmark, in guidebooks from the 1840s. So in the Victorian age before the glass, before the masterpiece, there was just a nondescript chapel with a mixed school attached, to serve the burgeoning community of Millbrook. So let us begin the story of St Matthew’s Church as the headmaster’s logbook opens in the distant Jersey summer of 1894.

Photo Source: The IslandWiki

It was an age of transition. In 1894, the British Empire was at its zenith, but the world was changing fast. This was the year that Gladstone relinquished the keys to Downing Street for the last time. Thomas Spencer decided to join his friend Michael Marks in a new retail venture. Meanwhile, a vigorous Nottingham entrepreneur named Jesse Boot, at the height of his powers, opened a swathe of his eponymous chemists’ stores across the Midlands. Death duties were passed into law on the mainland, the first of the New Liberal social reforms that would eventually transform the old Victorian order.

Steam locomotives, the marvel of the modern world, now snaked across the coasts of old Jersey, Where Victoria Avenue abruptly ended and petered out into the sandy scrubland, Millbrook railway station stood at the heart of the bay, a stone’s throw from the church and the school.

The St Matthew’s school logbook, painstakingly completed by the incumbent head teacher for 26 years, is a treasure trove of insight into the hard times of a scrappy, struggling school, clinging to the skirts of its mother church, striving to educate generations in this harsh land where the sand dunes met the potato fields.

From the forthcoming guidebook to St Matthew’s Glass Church (2015)

 

A Jersey Girl in Hollywood

In the very beginning out West, there was only dust. Hollywood presented a virgin land of ranches, fig trees and snaky canyons. Beverly Hills had the ambience of “an abandoned real estate development”, Charlie Chaplin recalled. “Sidewalks ran along and disappeared into open fields”. California’s promise glimmered like the Promised Land.

First men came west for God, then for gold. Now a new breed of technical pioneers colonised the frontier in search of the aura of new clear light. The merciless Californian sun proved the ideal medium for these magicians to conjure up ghostly moving pictures on their magic lanterns. Farms became studios, turning celluloid into riches. An obscure and dilapidated roadhouse, the Hollywood Hotel, suddenly became the eye of the storm.

The allure of the West Coast sucked in a swarm of writers and swindlers, moneymen and showgirls, tycoons on the make, hunters and their prey. This gold rush proved as fatal and alluring as the mad old days of Forty-Nine; the spell of California promising the bounty of untold wealth to the ferociously ambitious with nothing to lose but their souls.

The early movies were lucrative but their style was unpolished. In a bid to embellish his artistic credentials, the studio supremo Jesse Lasky invited over a brace of established writers from old Europe. Many eminent names failed utterly to grasp the “screen angle”, and were duly sent packing. Elinor Glyn, in contrast, proved a natural. For seven years, her romances would rule the Hollywood roost.

From Elinor Glyn – Jersey’s Hollywood Queen published in Our Island, March 2015

 

 

Elinor Glyn – Jersey’s Hollywood Queen

 “We live as we dream, alone”. Tonight a savage wall of waves is closing in on Jersey. The ebb tide drained the bay like a cup, leaving only shells glittering in the sand like memories. Now the full flood has roared in, and black mountains of water are hurling themselves against the jagged rocks of La Collette, where the slope plunges down like a knife into the bay. “The vision of them comes back to me in nightmares even now”, this dreamer will one day confess in her memoirs. It has been thirty-five torrid years since she slipped free of her island prison, and yet Elinor Glyn will never truly leave.

She wakes up with a start, emerging into the gratifying, dulcet warmth of her luxurious California suite. The night terrors of her home Island recede into her distant memory, and the turbulent waves in her mind slowly subside. She catches a glimpse of her flamboyant ink-red hair and glinting green eyes in the gilded mirrors of her lavish Hollywood boudoir.

Who is Elinor Glyn, this lady in the mirror? 

From article published in Our Island magazine, March 2015

File:Elinor Glyn birthplace plaque Jersey.jpg