The December Reprint has arrived!

Thanks to everyone who has bought Jersey: Secrets of the Sea or Jersey: The Hidden Histories as a Christmas gift. I hope the JSS recipients enjoy discovering the astonishing maritime history of Jersey, from the legend of the lost manor of La Brecquette to the tale of the St Ouënnais Quartermaster of RMS Titanic. The JHH readers can look forward to Charlie Chaplin’s appearance at the 1912 Battle of Flowers, where it is believed he was captured on cine-film for the very first time.

As the author, it has been wonderful to see so many positive reviews and comments on social media. The demand for Jersey: Secrets of the Sea has been so strong that the book was even sold out on Amazon for 8 days! My publisher has dashed off a reprint and the book is now back in stock on Amazon and on the shelves of Waterstones Jersey. It’s also available at Maison de Jersey and WH Smith on King Street, amongst other locations.

Best wishes to all my readers for the festive season.

Jersey: Secrets of the Sea – JEP Review

I was delighted to read the Jersey Evening Post‘s generous review of Jersey: Secrets of the Sea this month. The JEP remains (in the words of its venerable slogan) “at the heart of Island life” and, in its original incarnation as the Evening Post, it has been a fixture of the Island since Victorian days. In fact the newspaper has been an important primary reference source in my research; notably when I wrote Summer of the Mumming Birds – about the August of 1912 when Charlie Chaplin visited the Island and the first aeroplane landed in St Aubin’s Bay.

An extract from the JEP’s review of JERSEY: SECRETS OF THE SEA is below:

“Jersey is shaped by the sea in every sense…. This warmly welcomed follow-up to his Jersey: The Hidden Histories once again takes a selection of characters from history and legend and retells their story in lightly fictionalised style and with cinematic vividness.

As well as being a fine writer, Mr Darroch is a natural storyteller and a sensitive historian. It is a rare combination of talent which, this new volume now confirms, has earned him a special niche in the currently blossoming worlds of Jersey arts and heritage. In short, he has the ability to bring history to life“...

(c) Jersey Evening Post 2019

The story that builds is that of Jersey itself and in a brilliant scene-setting device, Mr Darroch opens with the catastrophic wreck of King Henry I’s White Ship off Normandy in 1120, without the dynastic ramifications of which this tiny bailiwick may never have enjoyed its fruitful constitutional peculiarity.

This salty landfall of merchants, smugglers, fisherfolk, privateers and explorers owes a debt of gratitude to Paul Darroch for so entertainingly recounting how Jersey became what it is”. JERSEY EVENING POST review of Jersey: Secrets of the Sea – October 16th, 2019

I was naturally honoured and delighted by the review. Meanwhile, it’s a busy month ahead on the writing front… In November 2019, my articles will feature in Our Island and Jersey Life magazines. In addition, Jersey: The Hidden Histories is being reprinted again so another 1,000 copies will be hitting the shelves locally. I understand the price is also going up – so it could be worth purchasing one of the copies from the current print run before they are all gone! Both my books are ideal Christmas presents for anyone who loves Jersey and its history.

Please follow @HistoryIslands on Twitter and Facebook.

New Jersey book coming soon…

Jersey: The Hidden Histories launched in 2015 and continues to sell across Jersey and on Amazon UK. It can be found in Waterstones, WH Smith on King St and the Airport, Lovebird at Jersey War Tunnels and the Jersey National Trust bookshop at 16 New Street, among many other places. Or you can always borrow it for free from Jersey Library!

Meanwhile, I’ve set up a group called “The History Islands” on Facebook, Twitter and now Instagram (@HistoryIslands). This seeks to celebrate the incredible history and beautiful landscape of the Channel Islands.

My second local book – a sequel to Jersey: The Hidden Histories – is now nearing completion. This will be published by Seaflower Books in 2019. Watch this space for future updates.

Elinor Glyn – Jersey’s Hollywood Queen

Elinor Sutherland was born in Jersey, at No. 1 St Saviour’s Road. After a terrible childhood shipwreck, she dreamed of escape. She succeeded. As Elinor Glyn, her romantic novels would eventually sell by the million and make her an Edwardian household name. When she moved to California in 1920, she became friends with Charlie Chaplin and invented the concept of the “It Girl”. Her motion pictures struck gold at the box office, and at the brief pinnacle of her success, Elinor Glyn helped to define the legend of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

In the very beginning in California, there was only dust. Beverly Hills had the ambience of “an abandoned real estate development”, recalled Charlie Chaplin in his autobiography. “Sidewalks ran along and disappeared into open fields”. California was a “a paradise of sunshine, orange groves, vineyards and palm-trees, stretching along the Pacific coast for a thousand miles”. America’s great trek west, the Manifest Destiny that had guided the nation for decades, had at last reached its final frontier.

First men came west for God, then for gold. Now a new breed of technical pioneers colonised the Promised Land, in search of the aura of pure clear light. Farms became studios. The merciless Californian sun proved the ideal medium for the magicians to conjure up their ghostly moving pictures on magic lanterns. An obscure and ramshackle country roadhouse, the Hollywood Hotel, suddenly became deluged with celebrities.

 

The allure of the West Coast sucked in a swarm of writers and swindlers, moneymen and showgirls, tycoons on the make. This was a gold rush as fatal and alluring as the mad old days of 1849; the spell of California promising the bounty of untold wealth to the ferociously ambitious with nothing to lose but their souls. For a very few, the dream came true.

This was the world that Elinor Glyn would rule like a dowager empress.

“Her British dignity was devastating”, recalled Gloria Swanson.“Her hair was the colour of red ink, and she wore it wrapped around her head like an elaborate turban. She was something from another world”.

At Jersey Library on Saturday January 20th, Paul Darroch, author of Jersey: The Hidden Histories, will be telling her story.  

 

(c) Paul Darroch 2018

Jersey’s Atlantis – The Lost Manor of La Brecquette

The Lost Manor of La Brecquette is perhaps the Island’s most compelling medieval legend.  In this December’s edition of Our Island magazine, I told its story.

Today, La Brecquette is a bleak shelf of rock, battered by the Atlantic. The waves roll in from the vast and cold ocean, the void that stretches to Newfoundland thousands of miles west.  The Chemin de la Brecquette runs straight towards the sea, then plunges down into it. Only at low tide is the pockmarked and jagged terrain of an ancient landscape revealed.

Yet in medieval times the chronicles record that a great manor house once stood here. It was nestled in a rich and fertile valley of cider orchards, nourished by the gentle brook in the sea-meadow of La Haussière.  Then on one fateful night this world was drowned beneath the waves, lost in a sudden cataclysm.

This is the moment when everything changed:

“That was when I saw the great black line on the horizon, unfurling like a scroll, erasing all the stars. A towering ocean wave, the king of tides, was sweeping in at speed towards Jersey. The dreadful wall of black water was five times the height of the tallest man. For an instant, it hung poised, hanging like a curtain over the doomed manor of La Brecquette.

A scurry of lanterns; a frantic welter of men saddling up horses, of servants darting like insects in the courtyard. And then that world suddenly drowned, as violently as a burning brazier ducked into a pond. The water smashed over the tourelle and all the candles went black…

I speak not of the gold, buried long ago like the fruit of those drowned orchards. The treasure still lies deep beneath the earth, waiting to be remembered, waiting to be found”.

In December 2017, the second print run of JERSEY: THE HIDDEN HISTORIES was published by Seaflower Books. It is available widely throughout Jersey, and subject to stock can be found in Waterstones on Queen St., WH Smith on King St, LoveBird Shop at Jersey War Tunnels, the National Trust Bookshop at 16 New Street and at a variety of other Island retailers.

It is also available at Amazon UK in both printed and Kindle varieties.

This month, Seaflower Books also published the latest addition to their Jersey range, CHEERS! by Alasdair Crosby, who also publishes Rural Jersey Country Life magazine. He hosted a very enjoyable launch party for his book on December 7th at Jersey Library!

(c) Paul Darroch 2017

Lillie Langtry – The Beauty’s Story

“I would rather have discovered Mrs Langtry than have discovered America” – Oscar Wilde (attributed)

The American West, 1883

Last night I was dreaming again of home. The images were so incredibly vivid. I was larking again in our old rectory at St Saviour, waiting for my father the Dean to return from some urgent business in Town. The air was heavy with high summer. I was running wild and free around the great stone cider press in the courtyard, jostling with my brothers and smiling in the warmth of the gentle Jersey sun. O happy childhood days! The memories trickled back from this honeyed lost world, long before this cascade of fame and champagne and pearls swept me away for ever.

Lillie Langtry

(Source: Wikimedia Commons public domain)

Those were simpler, larrikin days. We would rampage in the streets and steal brass door-knockers. At night we would drape ourselves in white sheets and lurk in the graveyard, scaring the living daylights out of the local bumpkins stumbling back from the tavern. So in my mind’s eye I was laughing myself hoarse, japing and prancing in the sweet sunset of the Jersey summer, when I was jolted from my reverie by the sharp whistle of a steam engine. I smile as I wake.

How the world has changed. Our glorious steam folly, the Lalee, is rapidly gathering pace across the empty desert. The gossipmongers in the press speculate that this luxurious rail barge has cost half a million dollars, and to be fair I could trade it tomorrow for a neat little street in Knightsbridge. Yet that wouldn’t be half as much fun.

It has been a glorious adventure over here in the Promised Land. I dreaded that first tedious rat-infested voyage on the SS Arizona, but the frightful sixteen-day transit was soon forgotten just as soon as the bright lights of New York City winked into view off our starboard bow.

America is simply a revelation. Manhattan is a blazing whirlwind of energy and optimism. New York really is a great and growing adolescent of a city. We transferred to the decadent splendour of the Albermarle hotel, toured Central Park by carriage and dined at Delmonico’s, the most famous restaurant in the city. Dear Oscar joined us that evening to trade a few bon mots with the creme de la creme of New York society. Millionaires and courtesans, stuffy New England squires and Wall Street bucks raised their glasses in unison to toast my health. The champagne flowed as freely as rain.

Read more of Lillie Langtry’s imagined recollections in Jersey: The Hidden Histories. 

You  can read the Historical Novel Society review of the book here; in summary, “The book is well-written, expertly researched and interesting to read”

 

 

Jersey to Newfoundland: The Shipmaster’s Story

“We are as near to Heaven by sea as by land” – Sir Humfrey Gilbert (last words, 1583)

The sickening tremor of a giant Atlantic wave explodes onto our little ship and sends us reeling and lurching like drunkards across the deck. As we pitch headlong, a black wall of water the size of a house rears up ahead, thundering and bellowing high above us like a wounded beast. The prow takes the full brunt of the impact, but our battle-hardened vessel holds firm. I scream an order from the deck and my crew scramble to check the halyards and the jibs. We mutter prayers and oaths. We plough on.

The first fingers of light are staining the eastern horizon and the storm front is now close to its tail end, smothering itself out like the dripping wick of a candle. It has been a savage night. My Jersey woollen smock is deeply stained with congealed layers of vomit and I am drenched in the bone chilling spray of the northern seas. Below deck, it is far worse; exhausted men are slumped on filthy lice-infested pallets; a foul pigsty reeking of sweat and dirt, with space for barely half of us to hunker down at once. Our little world spins one last time like a child’s wooden toy and regains an even keel as we finally burst through the growling weather front and stay on our restless course for the Newlands.

We are still a week away from landfall.  Thousands of miles of desolate ocean lie behind us with hundreds still ahead, with unfathomable deeps falling away below, and the stars burning above us in a cold heaven.

From Jersey: The Hidden Histories (c) 2015, 2017

 

History is breaking in

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.