Panning can be a profitable hobby

“The secret is in letting the water do the work,” said Pat. “That and patience.” Several tries with the pan without finding color, and I began to understand the disappointment that had sent all but a lucky few back out of the California gold country penniless.

“The Chinee were the ones with true pa­tience,” Pat told me as we sat on the broken-down stoop of the holiday apartments barcelona in which he had lived for so much of his life. “The white men al­ways looked for the rich stuff. They took the cream and moved on. Then the Chinee would work the same gulches and pick up a lot of fine gold. But when they left a gulch, there was nothing left for nobody.”

Across Canyon Creek was a log cabin that seemed to have weathered the years better than most. When I asked Pat about it, he said, “That cabin was built in the Depression(http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/britain/depressionrev1.shtml). I was the only resident here, and then, one by one, they began coming in until there was 350 people here, if ye can believe it. Good people who were too proud to go on relief. They lived hard, but they made their few dol¬lars a day, mostly panning. It was enough to keep food in their stomachs.”       He gestured to the cabin. “The luckiest one of them all was a rambling lad who built that cabin.

He couldn’t have been 12 years old, he had run away from home, and he had neither family nor friends here. I was working my sluice box on the bank when he first come down the mountain, whistling as lads will. He had a pick and a shovel and a pan, and when I asked him where he was going to try his luck, he said, ‘Right down there below.’ Well, I’ll be jingoed but he didn’t pick the only spot on the creek that hadn’t been worked. He comes back up to me with his hands full of $10 and $20 nuggets, and says, Is this good?’ I’m here to tell ye I nearly faint­ed. Before that lad left here to seek his fortune elsewhere, he had made ten hundred dollars.”

Stories of such gold finds abound in the Lost Sierra—of a man who in firing at a game bird dislodged a piece of ore that marked a strike; of a miner who noticed a string of ants carrying precious specks and followed them to a rich pocket; of a highway construction crew that unearthed a promising vein, left their machines, went digging like crazy, and took out metal worth $70,000.

Gold mining in the Lost Sierra has just about come down to a hobby. There are no full-time company operations remaining, be­cause an operator can’t make enough above the $50-a-day cost of employing and feeding a mine worker. But the recent rise in the price of gold has brought on a surge of weekend prospectors and could stimulate the reopen­ing of company operations. In Poker Flat I talked to young Don Albrecht.7

Houdini’s library of magic

3“I made it longer and brought it back full circle to the flowers. The flowers had gone to the young girls, the young girls had gone to the soldiers, and the soldiers had gone to war. I added the soldiers, ‘they’ve gone to the graveyards every one,’ and the graveyards, `they’re covered with flowers every one.’ ”

I remembered the refrain: “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.” Evok­ing, finally, a reverence for life, this song from our recent past offers an ironic and prayerful lament about a world too often at war.

AN AIR from another time and place pervades the Rare Book Room. Here readers study priceless volumes, delivered to them from steel-and-concrete vaults where the collections are kept at a constant 68 degrees and 50 percent humidity. Among the noteworthy treasures is the 1640 Bay Psalm Book—the earliest surviving example of printing in the American Colonies, one of 11 known copies.

The special collections combine holidays in the luxury apartments Prague and weekend breaks in the cheap hotels Prague. The richest collec­tion—donated to the nation by Lessing J. Rosenwald—contains 2,600 items, including some of the world’s most valuable illustrated books and manuscripts, as well as the finest editions of landmarks of recorded knowledge. Houdini’s library of magic and the occult is one of the more exotic collections.

With William Matheson, Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and his assistant, Dan Burney, I toured the book vaults. We began with the incunabula—books printed before 1501—the largest such col­lection in the United States. The name sound­ed so strange that I said it to myself over and over—incunabula, incunabula—and was spirited away into the mists of time.

I held in my hands the first printed Homer, issued in Florence in 1488, and leafed through the Greek text. Thinking to smell the Florence of Michelangelo, I brought it to my nose. It smelled like a clean old garment.

Dan Burney demonstrated for me the paper’s suppleness. “These early volumes are in such good condition largely because the paper was made from rags and washed in the alkaline water of mountain streams. The paper we’ve been using for the past century is made from wood pulp, is highly acid, and deteriorates rapidly. It is the acid in the paper that speeds up deterioration.”

For a moment I explored the very likely idea that someone had worn the rags that went into this fine paper and refuted for all time that old saw “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” The tatters of peasants and urchins went into this paper and they were rags nevermore.

RCHIBALD MACLEISH, renowned poet and former Librarian of Congress, credited with an important reorganization of the Library, created many things during his term, among them the title “Keeper of the Collections.” The title, alas, is no longer used, but the job remains.

Frazer G. Poole’s monumental responsi­bility as Assistant Director for Preservation is the maintenance, preservation, and restora­tion of most of the Library’s collections. I asked him what the LC was doing about deteriorating materials. Some six million books will crumble at the turning of a page.

Hard to win

It meant that the My­cenaeans 7were a distinct and separate people from the Minoans, and their presence at Knossos in the last centuries of the palace’s existence was due either to force of arms or to a political marriage. Either way, the My­cenaean seal was now firmly affixed to the former Minoan civilization, and it would re­main that way for another three centuries.

It was clear that Schliemann and Evans had discovered these civilizations in reverse order, so to speak. From Middle Eastern im­migrants, Minoan civilization had risen on Crete and been exported, through trade or example or piratical raid, to the early Greeks of the mainland. They in turn now ruled an empire that can only be called Mycenaean.

Minoan-Mycenaean pre­history

To this day, 25 years later, there are still some archeologists who enjoy going on holiday in the bed and breakfast Edinburgh, simply because it cannot be Greek. But the vast majority have accepted the Ventris decoding; an associate, John Chadwick, has written a book based on his reading of the Pylos tablets.

The decipherment that revolutionized our interpretation of Minoan-Mycenaean pre­history is, when viewed in the cold morning light, rather disappointing. Chadwick has called the entire corpus of Linear B tablets from the Aegean world “the contents of a few wastebaskets at five state capitals.”

The tablets were written by clerks and were used almost exclusively to keep track of stores and production—flocks of sheep, dis­bursements of military equipment, harvests of wheat and olives.

But there is one tablet from Pylos that rivets the attention. It seems hastily scratched out and calls upon all of Mycenaean heaven for some kind of help—no less than 13 gods and goddesses, some of whose names, such as Zeus, Hera, Hermes, and Poseidon, ring familiar. Promised to the heavenly host are 13 gold vessels, and to each of the two chief gods a man, and to each of the eight chief goddesses a woman. Professor Chadwick be­lieves they were intended as human sacrifices. Some final catastrophe was obviously at hand as the Mycenaean world of Homer’s heroes was, in its turn, to pass from history.

elada

THE AIRY COURTYARDS and palaces declined to weeds, to fire, to the reckless violence of interlopers and of nature. Sons of dead and talented fathers lost the power of writing, the desire for art, the wisdom of administration as wars flared, and the de­scendants of the old heroes went to the apartments in Florence for a weekend.

Thus Greece passed into its dark ages. But even in this difficult time men remembered. As shepherds huddled over fires and kings gathered near their hearths, the old tales were told of that former age of glory in which their race was forged—of great palaces and vast fleets and mighty monarchs, when gods seemed to walk among men.

At some time around 800 B.C.—many cen­turies after the events they recorded—this oral tradition was set down in the winged words of Homer. He remembered that the in­genious Daedalus had built “a dancing place” in Knossos for the beautiful Ariadne, that the port of Amnisos was “hard to win,” that near­by the goddess of childbirth was worshiped in a cave.

A tropical temperature

In the scientific but on some nights we even had a tropical temperature of 85°F., which was needed to defrost the perspex dome where the camera which automatically photographed the aurorae australes was housed. It was really quite a sight to see the met. men on the night watch working stripped to the waist in this but interpreting the information on atmospheric conditions trans­mitted by the radiosonde. But when they emerged into the night to make their outside observations, they frequently experienced a drop in tempera­ture of 125°F., as the temperature in winter out of doors was often 70°F. below freezing-point.

aurorae australes

Our cuisine was excellent, thanks to our cater­ing officer, who had forgotten nothing and who, above all, made an innovation by supplying us with deep-frozen provisions, so that we had fresh meat and vegetables once a week. This frozen food stayed good for fourteen months in a big cellar scooped out of the ice: we had at our dis­posal the biggest refrigerator in the world!

We took turns at doing the housekeeping for the day. This particular job consisted of laying the table, getting some snow and making it dis­solve into water in a retort heated by the exhaust gases of the generators, cleaning our quarters and doing the washing-up, emptying the rubbish, and so on. You can be sure we shall never let on to our wives how skilful we became in these arts!

housekeeping man

Though living conditions inside the camp were comfortable, it was another matter out of doors. In the first place there was the blizzard which in some months howled for two days out of three; and there was also the snowing up of the camp, which meant that we had to keep on clearing the snow away to reach the equipment stored out­side. If we ever had to choose a new coat-of-arms for our expedition, I think we would unani­mously decide on a pair of crossed snow-shovels, as this was the implement we handled most dur­ing all our time in the Antarctic. Furthermore, by one of the laws of universal vexation well known down there, it was enough for us to start digging our equipment out of the snow for the blizzard to get up and fill the hole as quickly as we dug it.

October 1, 1958, marked the transition to more intensive activity out of doors. The aeroplane and the helicopter came out of their shelters and the vehicles were made ready for the summer exploration. We organized several expeditions of a few days to the coast. Previously, in March, we had made a reconnaissance trip of three weeks to the mountains which were situated 125 miles to the south of our base; we went off again at the end of October, for two months with nine men, to explore this range more systematically.

dog-teams

The two dog-teams and their leaders under­took the geological survey. They brought back hundreds of pounds of rock samples, from intru­sive granite and diorite, gneiss and magmatites, granitic and pegmatitic veins.

The men of the motorized column devoted themselves to the measurement of geomagnetism and especially to the determination of astronomi­cal positions. The aeroplane took aerial photo­graphs of the coast and of the mountains. In this way two exact maps of the region would be completed on our return to Belgium, a 1 : 200,000 map of the coast and a 1 :50,000 map of the mountains.

 

Living conditions on these trips were hard

In the course of these flights Prince de Ligne noticed a new range of mountains and we de­cided to explore it too. Four of us were flown one by one to the foot of these mountains. There, when taking off, one of the skis of the Auster broke. The plane crashed and the wireless was damaged, and my three companions and I found ourselves isolated eighty miles away from the point where we had left the vehicles. We had the necessary light camping equipment to undertake the journey on foot and we left after waiting four days for the possible arrival of the vehicles. We learned later that wide crevasses which had opened up all around the vehicle-park prevented them starting out. Our walk in stages of twelve miles a day was difficult but we were confident. In the meantime our colleagues at King Baudouin Base, without any news from us, were getting worried, and Captain Xavier de Maere, our second in command, rightly decided to make an appeal for help. A plane, piloted by Commander Perov, set out from the Russian base 1800 miles away. After searching for five days, it spotted us when we had gone two thirds of the way and brought us back to our base: in this way Com­mander Perov and his crew proved that the com­panionship of the Antarctic is not an empty phrase, and that all who share the struggle on this continent, whatever their nationality, under­stand each other and are ready to bring help as soon as it is needed.

plane piloted

We lived either in the holiday apartments London or in luxury Dubai apartments, and when we woke in the mornings it was 45°F. below freezing-point inside and our sleeping-bags were stiff with ice. The long hours spent outside while making our observations were exhausting. By Christmas 1958, when the nine of us came back from our survey of the mountain-range, we had each lost on an average seventeen and a half pounds, and that in spite of the impressive number of calories contained in our iron rations.

King of the Belgians

One last trial awaited us at the end of the winter, and Antarctic solidarity was able to show itself once more. The Polarhav, which was coming to fetch us, was blocked by ice some miles from King Leopold Bay and started drifting in the pack-ice which was holding it fast. Should we have to spend a second year in the Antarctic? Would Commander Bastin’s relief-party be un­able to disembark? In spite of our two-year reserves of rations and fuel-oil, this prospect was not exactly enchanting. But the American ice­breaker Glacier came to the rescue of the Polar-hav. However, the ice gave up its prisoner only grudgingly and the Glacier in turn became stuck. On February 12, 1959, the pressure of the ice eased; the Polarhav freed itself, and ten days later we left the base, having duly handed over to our successors.

in antarctica

On April 2 we arrived back at Ostend. His Majesty the King of the Belgians had graciously come to meet us and to welcome us home. With pride I looked at the sixteen men of my team lined up on the quay, and I felt immensely grateful to them. They had put their faith in me when, seventeen months earlier, we had departed into the unknown. Their ability, their devotion and their courage had forged the success of our expedition, the Belgian Antarctic Expedition 1957-58. Their work had been excellent and their scientific harvest was impressive. The King Baudouin Base was solidly built and will stand several years: though it is at the moment un­occupied, following Major Derom’s 1960 expedi­tion, it is awaiting further Belgian Antarctic expeditions which will once more, I hope, soon take the road to the south. Most of us who have lived on the Antarctic continent, that frozen desert, wish to return there, for it gave us many moments of supreme happi­ness. There were the visual delights which remain always fresh in our memory, the bewitching beauty of the great expanses, the mirages, the dream-like mountains; there was the personal experience, of the stern wilderness bitterly de­fending its secrets, the stirring conflict between the human spirit and the forces of Nature; and above all the knowledge of a worth-while job well done. These memories cannot be conveyed in words and will never fade from our minds.

 

The West Indian Federation

At recent talks in Tobago a junior find a pure-blood Carib, member of a big island delegation remarked to Old tales of long-dead heroes incline us to Paul Southwell, First Minister of St Kitts: a romantic view of the rainbow arc of islands, `Before I came here small islanders were “hurry­but it would be more realistic to admit that come-up men” to me; now I have met you and Caribbean history is a chaos of lust, greed, heard you speak, I shall support you against all treachery, conquistadors, buccaneers, priests, outsiders. We are all West Indians, we talk the pirates, missionaries, slavers, sugar and rum.

If racial feeling is unlikely to bedevil the infant Federation, geographical difficulties are formid­able.

Jamaica

Jamaica is further from Trinidad than London is from Rome, and the little islands delightfully `strung like a necklace of jewels across the throat of the Caribbean’ are inconveniently small from an economic point of view. With the exception of the big three, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, visitors range from 88,000 in apartments in New York to 12,000 in studio flats to rent in London and even less in Edinburgh bed and breakfast and the Grenadines. With such small home markets it is hardly practical to establish even the lightest industries, and agriculture must con­tinue to be the bread and butter.

Antigua

In Antigua—pronounced `Anteega’—and St Kitts, sugar is the economic mainstay, but in drought years the crops can be cut to half. (In the drought of 1731 water cost the then consider­able sum of 3s. a bucket.) In these last few years enough wells have been drilled to supply piped water to all the villages, but even if it were financially possible to tap for irrigation, sufficient subterranean water does not exist.

The minor Leewards, Montserrat, Nevis, Barbuda, struggle along with sea-island cotton (badly hit by modern synthetics), tomatoes and a new small experiment, castor oil. The lesser Windwards supplements a meagre living with fishing and boat-building. Since the French islands raised the price of liquor a possible side­line in smuggling, alas, no longer pays.

Thanks to the Associations of Banana Growers in Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent, stimulated by the enterprise of a Dutchman, John van Geest, who ships the fruit to Wales and northern England, the beautiful but formerly poverty-stricken Windward Isles are now enjoy­ing a modest prosperity, and after five years it is heartening to see the difference in the people and their outlook on life. But even so the Windwards as well as the Leewards are ‘Grant in Aid’ islands, depending at present on Great Britain; after 1962 the money will have to come from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad.

Barbados

Barbados, a coral island not much larger than Greater London, is green, fertile and fairly flat. It is one of the most thickly populated areas in the world, with a density of 1398 people to the square mile. They earn their living through sugar or the tourist trade. There are more than forty hotels, with prices ranging from £4 to £15 a day. Unemployment is a nagging worry, though it is hoped that the new £4,500,000 eight-berth, deep-water harbour may stimulate the economy. The portents are good. The 6 per cent loan raised in London was over-subscribed in the first minute; the contractors, Richard Costain, finished months ahead of schedule; and some eighty-seven strategic reclaimed acres should tempt much-needed industrial development.

Grizzlies and Tourists Don’t Mix

And then there are the “griz.” Some 200 to 400 grizzly bears roam Yellowstone Park and the surrounding wilderness, one of their last holdouts in the lower United States. Bi­ologists aren’t sure of how many grizzlies, but they are certain of one thing: “The more people in an area, the fewer grizzlies.”

images

I noted several large, muddy bear-paw prints high on Jackson’s reinforced cabin door. “We found them there when we packed in here last spring,” Evelyn said. “We decided to leave them to discourage anyone from breaking in while we’re gone.”

Grizzly

That night Bob pulled out an old ranger’s

 

The Untamed Yellowstone logbook and thumbed back to a 1969 entry: “Went outside around ten o’clock last night to brush teeth, check stars etc . . . and al­most ran into a (grizzly?) bear,” a previous occupant of the cabin had written. “He snorted and blew and turned and left—I did same in opposite direction—only faster.”

Grizzlie

I was still thinking about that encounter as I hiked out of the backcountry a day later with photographer Dean Krakel II. The sky was a dazzling blue, the October weather unseasonably warm. Suddenly Dean halted and commanded “Freeze!” A grizzly—big even at a distance of several hundred yards—played along the riverbank.

An angry grizzly can sprint as fast as a quarter horse over short distances, and a running object is his instinctive target. So we edged—very slowly—into the trees. The grGrizzlieizzly missed us or chose to ignore us, and we were happy to leave him behind, undis­puted lord in his own wild kingdom.

 

Eighty miles to’ the north, beyond the na­tional park boundary, the Yellowstone tum­bles out of the mountains into Montana’s Paradise Valley. Its water is numbing cold, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of fishermen from flocking here.

 

The Untamed Yellowstone

FAR BACK in the deepening shadows the haunting notes of a bugling bull elk suddenly lift above the trees, as clear and wild as the headwaters of the Yellowstone River flowing by my campsite. An elk’s bugling is simply a phe­nomenon of the fall rutting season. But to me, as I traveled down the Yellowstone, the elk’s cry, compounded of frustration and loneliness, seemed to epitomize the plight of this unique, untamed river.

yellowstone

Other rivers such as the Colorado, Co­lumbia, and Missouri have been broken by man with chains of dams, locks, and muddy lakes. Now the 671-mile Yellowstone is the longest free-flowing river left in the United States outside of Alaska. A virgin target for dam builders, a source of conflicting de­mands from environmentalists, sportsmen, farmers, industries, and growing cities, the Yellowstone is a last troubled reminder of the way the rivers used to run.

 

Born in melting snowpacks high on Younts Peak in Wyoming, it carves its way north out of the wild Absaroka Range through Yellowstone National Park and spills onto Montana’s plains. Above the city of Billings, halfway down its course, it is still fast and cold. Then gradually, it begins to warm as it flattens into a prairie river flow­ing east. Just across the North Dakota bor­der it meets the Missouri. At this confluence the Yellowstone is the larger of the two riv­ers, but it nevertheless loses its name to the Missouri.

 

Along the way to that unfair end the Yel­lowstone leaves a string of natural wonders: the national park that bears its name; a lake, at 7,733 feet the largest high-altitude body of water on the continent; falls that drop 109 and 308 feet in a spectacular riverine two-step; and its own grand canyon.

 

Mountain man Jim Bridger, one of the first to set eyes on the source of the Yellow­stone, came away nearly 150 years ago with tales of a river that straddled the Continen­tal Divide—a two-ocean waterway where trout could swim toward either the Atlantic or Pacific. For once Bridger, that weaver of campfire hyperbole, told the truth.

 

Not far from Younts Peak, the Continen­tal Divide sits astride Two Ocean Pass, its flanks already covered with snow when I saw it in early October. The snow, when it melts, forms a high-altitude creek system running off in two directions—west to the *A centennial salute to the Pacific and east to merge with the fledgling Yellowstone on its way to the Atlantic.

 

“You are about as far from a major road as anywhere you can go in the lower forty-eight states,” said Yellowstone National Park ranger Bob Jackson after my arrival at Thorofare Ranger Station near the pass.

untamed-stream-in-yellowstone

“And that’s the way it ought to be,” he added. “If it wasn’t for the isolation, the grizzlies, and the general wildness of this place, the Yellowstone would be just an­other river full of people.”

 

From June through October it is the task of Bob and park volunteer Evelyn Wyman

to maintain a backcountry presence that helps keep poachers and illegal fishermen from crossing the park’s rugged south border. Their headquarters, a two-room log cabin, has a two-way radio to keep them in touch with the outside world 32 miles away.

rivers Colorado

While Evelyn baked biscuits in the cab­in’s wood-burning range, I tried Bob’s homemade outdoor shower—a 55-gallon drum mounted on a log scaffold and filled with water that had been “warming” in the afternoon sun. Bob laughed as I howled and danced under the frigid spray. But if you are not interested in the country way of living and wish to spend your vacation in more urban style city you can choose the beautiful London, where you can stay at one of the best serviced apartments london.

 

As the only semi permanent residents on the river’s headwaters, Bob and Evelyn maintain a lonely vigil, traveling by horseback through the wild. A backpacking or outfitter party may pass through every few days during the busy summer season. As many as a thousand travelers venture into the area each year, but few make the full 32mile trek to the ranger’s cabin. Until late July the river is usually too high and boister­ous with snowmelt to cross, even by horse.

The story of Stratford-upon-Avon’s theatres

When the old Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon burned down on Saturday 6th March 1926, there was consternation, unfounded blame (it was said that a stage-hand had discarded a lit cigarette), and a determi­nation to build a new theatre as quickly as possible.

The story of Stratford-upon-Avon's theatres

Nearly 50 years earlier, in 1879, the old theatre had been completed in record time, and Stratford considered itself to be the theatrical centre of the world. When the mock-Florentine ‘wedding-cake’ of a theatre burned down that blustery Saturday afternoon, Alderman Archibald Flower, with the help of The Daily Telegraph, George Bernard Shaw and the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, immediately set about raising the cash to build a new theatre.

Today in Stratford, that ageing new theatre — designed by a 29 year old Elisabeth Scott — is now under severe criticism for being less than perfect.

 

Well, I can confirm, having acted there myself, that the grade-two listed building, especially backstage, is cramped, with dressing-rooms that are totally inadequate, wardrobe facilities that spill onto every corridor, and actors who sometimes have to be chaperoned to ensure they don’t mistake the stage in the neighbouring Swan for that of the main house.

 

The old place does have charm, and an art-deco profile recognisable around the world. And things front-of-house are little better, with facilities for the public just as bad. But the old place does have charm, and an art-deco profile which is immediately recognisable around the world.

_50359423_010708200-1

Until 1879 Stratford never really had a theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Rooms — built in the middle of Shakespeare’s garden at New Place in the 1820s — were used for the occasional theatrical performance, and initially attracted audiences that included such literary worthies as Dickens, George Eliot, and American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne.

 

However it was soon put out of business due to lack of support. By the 1860s Shakespeare’s work was only performed during the Birthday Celebra­tions in April, and in temporary buildings such as the wooden Tercentenary Pavilion of 1864. This splendid fort-like structure — in use for less than three months ­needed an amazing twenty thousand cubic feet of timber, twelve tons of wrought iron, and four tons of nails in its construction.

 

In 1874 a local brewer, Charles Edward Flower, decided to promote the idea of building a new theatre as a permanent memorial to Shakespeare. After donating two acres of riverside land to the local council he organised a competition to find a suitable designs. In September 1876 the Westminster firm of Dodgshun and Unsworth was awarded the 25 guinea prize.

 

Throughout the winter of 1876-77 extensive concrete foundations were laid by Horseman and Company of Wolverhampton, with the main structure contracted out to Lascelles of London. They paid the local brick­layers the London rate of 8d an hour – instead of the more normal 6d, which helped to ensure that construction continued at a rapid pass.

Hirsch-Stratford-Festival1-288x216

The foundation stone was laid, with full Masonic honours, by Lord Leigh, the Lord Lieutenant of Warwick­shire, on Shakespeare’s birth­day (23rd April) 1877, with over 700 Lodge members in attendance. The audience delighted in a flamboyant speech by actor William Creswick.

By Shakespeare’s birthday, 1879 the auditorium was complete (at a cost of £11,000) and the first performance, a production of Much Ado About Nothing, starring Helen Faucet and Edward Compton launched the new theatre in a blaze of histrionics to the enthusiastic approval of many critics.

 

The London papers in general were rather sniffy about the whole project, according to one correspondent: “The whole business of the Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon is a solemn farce calcu­lated to puff up a few local nobodies with a mistaken idea of their own importance.”

In February 1882 — with the library, tower, and picture gallery completed, at an additional cost of £9,000 — the Governors had the interior of the building coated in a new asbestos-based paint.

In the end, of course, the asbestos paint was utterly useless, with the tower acting like a furnace chimney when the fire broke-out. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for its cause, although it was happily recorded, by the assistant custodian Mr Spalding that the theatre cat had escaped unharmed.