Dover Harbour

picDover Castle

A review and synopsis of a 1942 novel by Thomas Armstrong (1899 - 1978).

About the author
Born into a mill owning family in Leeds in 1899, Thomas Armstrong was educated at Queen Elizabeth School, Wakefield before entering the Royal Naval College at Keyham and serving with the Royal Navy as a midshipman during the first world war. He later entered the wool trade and married Una Bray in 1930 before becoming a full time novelist after his first successful novel "The Crowthers of Bankdam" established his reputation as a popular writer. He spent most of his later years in the dales of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
His works:
The Crowthers of Bankdam (1940); Dover Harbour (1942); King Cotton (1947); Adam Brunskill (1952); Pilling Always Pays (1954); A Ring Has No End (1958); Sue Crowther's Marriage (1961); The Face of the Madonna (1964); Our London Office (1966).

Main Characters
John Fagg - shipowner and regular free trader.
Polly Fagg - his wife
Charles Fagg - their son
Minnie Fagg - their elder daughter
Lou Fagg - their younger daughter
Susan Rochefort (nee Fagg) - John's younger sister
Horatio Rochefort - Susan's young son
Keziah Hart - Governess and housekeeper to the Faggs
Valentine Pepper - John Fagg's incorrigible assistant and partner in crime
Henry Rochefort - banker and local dignitary
Elizabeth Rochefort - his wife
Louis Rochefort - their son
Caroline Rochefort - their daughter
George Rochefort - Henry's younger brother
Martha Teddiman - Governess and housekeeper to the Rochefort's
Matthew Godspenny - the bank's chief cashier
The Reverend Nathaniel Woodgate - minister of the church
John (Jack) Woodgate - the ministers son
Armand Saval - a smarmy and plausible French emigre
Fran├žios - Saval's assistant and resourceful Mr Fixit
Various others - including sea captains, town and harbour dignitaries

This book is very difficult to categorise as far as the type of readership taste it might appeal to. Set during the Napoleonic Wars between 1803 and 1815 it is an historical novel, with an eclectic mix of thrilling adventure, tragedy, smuggling, intrigue, espionage, treachery, romance, and a fascinating insight into the naval and military matters of the time as well as some finer details of civil engineering. It includes a guest appearance by William Pitt the younger as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and later Prime Minister, presumably the historical detail is well researched and accurate, and readers familiar with this area of Kent will recognise the landmarks mentioned. I am curious to know though, if the village of Barham actually did have a racecourse on Barham Down. Although this lengthy but eventful page-turner will not appeal to all tastes, I found it very entertaining and was thoroughly gripped and enthralled from the early chapters, and despite not being particularly well qualified to judge, was greatly impressed by the way the author has captured the quirky nineteenth century language and the convincing nautical terminology, perhaps hardly surprising considering his naval service. If this is your type of book, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

        pic Napoleon is rampaging through Europe pursuing his empirical ambitions, and although the British Navy is the dominant force on the high seas, the Country is woefully unprepared for any sort of military intervention on land, and over the period covered by the storyline there are a series of small unsuccessful expeditionary probes by the military into Europe, against a background of a constant threat of invasion. However the main thrust of the novel focusses on Dover itself and the day to day mundane lives of its inhabitants.
        The novel relates the fortunes of the Rochefort and Fagg families, who are very good friends, involved in banking and shipping respectively. The friendship between the heads of the families Henry Rochefort and John Fagg becomes strained and turns into enmity when they disagree about the future of the town's greatest asset, the harbour. Partly because of unfair distribution of passing tolls and mis-management by the harbour commissioners, the harbour is silting up and larger ships can no longer enter the port, increasing costs, with ships having to anchor offshore and transfer their cargos to smaller vessels. Indeed the port is losing traffic and the larger Fagg ships are operating out of Chatham and various other ports. Naturally John Fagg with a few of the local businessmen who fear for their future in the town start a campaign to encourage investment in the Harbour, without which the town would potentially become impoverished. However, the proposed haven improvement is contentious and the community is divided into opposing camps, on one hand supporting the traders of the town and on the other, the harbour commissioners at the head of which presides Henry Rochefort, who sees the harbour as a lost cause. The dispute between the two factions which becomes increasingly acrimonious and bitter therefore forms the backdrop for the story which runs throughout the period covered. Luckily other members of the two families are not involved in the feuding and are able to maintain relationships, previously formed between the two wives and the sons and daughters since childhood.
        As a regular sideline John Fagg with his faithful assistant Captain Valentine Pepper indulges in smuggling activities, much to the delight of the local community and encouraged by the complicity of local dignitaries in turning a blind eye and their enthusiasm to benefit. There are regular clandestine processions as local volunteers and vehicles transport the contraband between the beach and various local distribution points within the town and further afield. Things get a bit tense however when the local excise officer retires and a new broom takes over, reputations are at stake and a battle of wits ensues between the new excise officer and the shipowner making free trading activities infinitely more hazardous.
        Charles, John Fagg's son has his own boat and after many trips to the French coast has made friends there. When the threat of invasion becomes more likely with every day that passes, Charles' familiarity with, and contacts in northern France comes to the attention of William Pitt, at the time Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, who persuades the shipowners son to undertake regular secret fact finding missions to France and provide intelligence about military activities. Whilst making several extended visits to the enemy shore, using a ferry service provided by Valentine Pepper to deposit and retrieve him as required, tongues in the town start to wag and he acquires a reputation for being unpatriotic, not getting involved with local militias people assume him to be still engaging in smuggling activities at the height of the threat of invasion.
        As the story unfolds romance develops between John Fagg's sister Susan and Henry Rochefort's younger brother George, a poet and dreamer with rather radical views, who applauds the French Revolution and finds it difficult to believe that Bonaparte poses any sort of threat to England. At first the relationship is a little shaky and uncertain but matures with time. When George finally decides that there is a threat from the French he delivers himself into the hands of a naval press gang to fight for his country. Whilst on a period of leave from the navy, George arranges a secret wedding using the services of a mutual friend as a go-between, and marries Susan before returning to his ship which is part of Nelson's fleet. Fighting at the battle of Copenhagen, George is mortally wounded and maimed, and although repatriated to a Kent military hospital he unfortunately dies, having lost both legs. Susan, pregnant with their baby at the time of death, returns to the Fagg family home to raise their son, christened Horatio, idolised by both the Faggs and the Rocheforts as he develops. By this time Henry is a widower, his wife Elizabeth Rochefort having died quite young from cancer.
        The passage of time aslo sees a childhood friendship between Charles Fagg and Caroline Rochefort turn to romance, again rather uncertainly at first, threatened by Charles' secret espionage activities and by the unwanted attentions of a plausible and handsome French emigre in the town who has befriended her father. This romance is a bit of a roller coaster ride as Charles' reputation suffers due to the increasing suspicion within the community despite his attempts to cover his tracks under the cloak of smuggling, and the smarmy Frenchman Armand Saval, who undaunted by several previously failed attempts, pulls every trick in the book of charm to win Caroline over before resorting to intimidation and threats. However the attachment with Charles is cemented when Caroline, heroically and single handedly takes Pepper's craft to rendezvous with Charles' French pal's boat on the Goodwin Sands, returning "her secret agent" from one of his missions behind the front lines, replacing the noble Captain in an emergency when he is beaten up by hooligans whilst on his way to the haven. It is during this trip that Charles realises M Saval is spying in England when he spots him in France obviously reporting to his superiors on the conditions in England and the potential for a meaningful response to an invasion by Bonaparte. He subsequently witnesses troops and transport craft previously built up on the coast being withdrawn, an indication of a change of heart in respect of the threat of an imminent invasion. On his arrival back in England Charles writes two reports to be delivered to the authorities, the first about the French troop movements, the other exposing Saval's treachery. Unfortunately the second letter is mislaid and is not delivered as planned with profound consequences which play out in an exciting climax later in the book. In the meantime Charles joins the army as resources are being poured into preparations to confront Bonaparte on land, and returning home to Dover on leave after being involved in the glorious victory with Sir John Moore's forces after the retreat to Corunna, he is greeted as a hero, all previous suspicion, misunderstanding and ill feeling forgotten as he seeks to be re-united with Caroline.
        Through his long standing friendship with Caroline, Valentine Pepper also finds romance with Martha Teddiman, the Rochefort's housekeeper, although naturally with many difficulties arising from suspicions and mis-understanding, mainly caused by his apparent heavy drinking in the period of his involvement with Charles' missions to France and the many surreptitious night-time rendezvous at sea. Valentine Pepper is one of the most likeable characters in the story and is both entertaining and amusing with his special brand of nautical language typical of an old salt with many years experience on the high seas. You will be pleased to learn that his efforts to comply with Martha's high expectations are finally successful and his charm triumphs in the end. Lou Fagg is another lovable character who plays a major part as the story unfolds. a good friend to Caroline Rochefort, she finding romance with the ministers son Jack Woodgate, who by this time has become a valued and respected member of his majesty's army. Older sister Minnie also marrying a soldier and going off to live in Wales.
        picWhilst all this excitement has been going on, the question of the future of the harbour and the controversy over its viability in the long term has been simmering away in the background, without decision or progress either way. However at this point, things are about to change dramatically with heartbreak for Henry Rochefort and a surprising epiphany. A navy ship has arrived to take cash from the bank to Malta, the ship cannot enter the port because of its size and has to stand offshore, the money to be transported there in the Rochefort cutter the "Elizabeth Rochefort" by Henry's partner in the bank, son Louis. A storm arises whilst the cutter is being loaded, but undaunted, Louis courageously continues with the plan according to his father's instructions, and puts to sea. Disastrously the cutter is caught up in towering seas and is dashed against the harbour entrance with tragic consequences when Louis is thrown in the sea and drowns. At the height of the storm the harbour wall is breached bringing about an urgent need for repairs, and John Fagg taking up the cudgels once more and getting himself elected mayor, again raises the issue of repair and improvement of the harbour. Perhaps because of the guilt following the tragedy of his son's death or for whatever reason, after a long period of grief and mourning, Henry has a massive change of heart and not only begins to favour Fagg's ideas for the future of the harbour and the modifications needed to accommodate larger ships, he becomes a positive zealot with his eagerness to drive forward the project.
        At this point final scores are to be settled and we must pick up again on Charles' return to Dover to be re-united with his family and Caroline. No one is at home when he arrives, he is told that everyone is at the assembly rooms celebrating the famous victory at Corunna. At some point In his preparations to join them there, he goes to his bureau and is surprised to discover the letter disclosing the Frenchman's real reason for being in England and realises it hadn't been delivered. At the assembly rooms Caroline is again being stalked by M Saval, he has lured her into an ante-room and pours out his heart in a last desperate attempt to win her hand. This time however he is not going to take no for an answer and has made plans to abduct her if she is still unwilling. Fran├žois is waiting outside the ante-room window with a chaise and drivers, and when the inevitable happens he bundles her kicking and screaming through the window into the carriage, destined for Canterbury, Faversham or beyond. When Charles arrives at the assembly rooms Lou Woodgate his sister, notices Caroline is no longer to be seen and neither is Saval. When the alarm is raised, the open window is discovered and someone reports having heard a carriage drive off at speed. Fearing the worst, Charles rushes to the Antwerp's stables, and with the help of his friend Jim Page the hostler, borrows Lord Poynte's fast horse "Rosy" and gives chase. Guessing which of the three possible directions they could have taken, Charles discounts the Deal and Folkestone Roads and rides in the direction of Canterbury, pausing at toll gates for information about earlier travellers on the road, enquiries confirming he had chosen well, he was on the fugitive's trail.
        Overtaking the chaise near the racecourse at Barham Down, Charles confronts Armand Saval and after ordering the chaise drivers to take Caroline back to Dover the two rivals face each other with pistols in a duel on the racecourse. Only one of them survives, but so as not to give away the ending I will refrain from relating further. Suffice it to say the Harbour survives all the excitement of the story and goes from strength to strength, as we now know to become the premier gateway to the continent.

Palfreyman 24th October 2022

picFarthingale Publications: ..... picIs a hobby web site containing articles of local interest to Lancastrians, some favourite walking and cycling routes, selected words and poetry, and some writings of more general nature as well as the authors own picture gallery. Access is available via the homepage and menu at the head of the page or via one of the direct links below.

Local Interest: Richmond Hill Dairies; Mind Your Language; John Lancaster Wigan MP; Thomas Aspinwall Miners Agent; Thomas Aspinwall Obituary; Upholland Telephone Exchange; Thomas Linacre School Wigan; God's Choir; Scot Lane School Wigan; The Lindsays of Haigh; Dust Upon God's Fair Earth; The Nurburgring 1960; Wigan Advertisements 1960; Wigan Soldier Missing in Action; It's a Funny Life; Private Thomas Whitham VC; Isaac Watts 1674 - 1748; Wigan Old Bank 1792; The Brocklebank Line; John Byrom 1692 - 1793; The Holy City Liverpool; Jubilee Park Memorial, Ashton in Makerfield; Little Ships at War 1918; A Cricket Calypso; Not Much of a Warrior; Peveril of the Peak.

Walking & Cycling: Moss Eccles Tarn; Abbey Lakes to Coppull Moor; Chorley Ice Cream Walk; Douglas Valley Dawdle; Three Counties Cycle Ride; Haigh to Borsdane Wood; A Lancshire Linear Walk; Blackrod or Bust; Cycle the Sankey Valley; Cycle the Monsal Trail; Wigan Circular by Bike; Freshfield to Crosby; Irwell Valley Trail (Bury to Rawtenstall); Irwell Valley (Bury to Salford).

Words & Poetry: Wisdom; Only a Cranky Owd Foo'; Martin Chuzzlewit; Dover Harbour; Rogue Herries; The Heart of Midlothian; King Cotton; The Family Man; The Pickwick Papers; The Fair Rosamond; The Fair Rosamond Comic; A Legend of Montrose; When Winds Breathe Soft; The Wreck of the Hesperus; God Bless these Poor Wimmen that's Childer; Dombey and Son; Aw've Turned me bit O' Garden O'er; On Th' Hills; Four Favourite Poems; The Darkling Thrush; The Glory of the Garden; The Rolling English Road; The Antiquary; Hymn Before Action; Dust upon God's Fair Earth; Mind Your Language; Jeff Unsworth's dialect poetry; Martyrs of the Arena; Th' Coartin' Neet; Boat Song; Toddlin' Whoam; A Lancashire Mon; Calm is the Sea; The Bride of Lammermoor; Redgauntlet; A Tale of Two Cities.

Wallgate Chronicles: pic Little Dorrit; Hugo Boss comes to Wigan; In the footsteps of the Manchester Rambler; Fun with Trigonometry; Surprise at the Philharmonic; The Marriage of Figaro; Cat Bells; A Walk in the Hills; Eay Times Uv Changed; Fidelio; The Ravioli Room; Desert Island Discs; Travels in Time 1960; Travels in Time 2010; The Spectroscope; The Bohemian Girl; Bookcase; Barnaby Rudge; Romance on a Budget; The Battle of Solferino; The Getaway Car; The Switchroom Wigan; The Force of Destiny; Adolphe Adam; The Fair Maid of Perth; Ivanhoe; Semele; Lohengrin; The Old Curiosity Shop; Hard Times.

Selected articles from the above listed:
pic Richmond Hill Dairies - Pemberton - These pages contain some personal memories from my youth and my association with Richmond Hill Dairies, a local business I grew up with and remember with some affection. A well known and important feature of the local community in its day and part of the heritage of Pemberton, this is my attempt to commit some small snapshot of its history to print, I hope these pages paint a worthy picture.
Mind Your Language - A humorous poem by "the bard of Haydock" George Anderton, inspired by memories of a trip to Bad Canstatt, Stuttgart Germany with the Haydock Male Voice Choir in 1975. This publication will bring a smile to the faces of not only those members who were there at the time and know the people involved but the wider population of Haydock as well who speak the language.
Wigan and the American Civil War - Wigan Coal and Iron Company, The Right Honourable John Lancaster MP for Wigan, the Confederate Raider Alabama, USS Kearsarge, Cherbourg and the yacht Deerhound all feature in the last great sea battle of the American Civil War.
Wigan Old Bank 1792 - A tragic boating accident on Windermere and a surprising journey through the social history of Wigan during the reign of Queen Victoria, highlighting the relationships between four families who played an important part in the commercial development of the town.
The Brocklebank LineDaniel Brocklebank (1741-1801), shipbuilder and mariner, a brief biography, and some background detail of his family and the shipping line he founded.
Little Ships at ZeebruggeAn account of a heroic attempt to block the port of Zeebrugge during the first World War, to protect supply routes into the UK by denying enemy submarines based there access to the open sea.
A Cricket Calypso - A short biopic of cricketer Cyril Washbrook and a snapshot of his career including his role in the West Indies tour of 1950 recorded in the lyrics of the Cricket Calypso.
Not Much of a Warrior - Wigan RLFC in the fifties and sixties, through rose coloured glasses. A golden age of legendary players and memorable moments, along with some personal memories.

picLyme Hall, Disley, Cheshire