In Victorian Portsmouth a bright young doctor and budding author walks down the street, his mind perhaps preoccupied with thoughts of an eccentric and brilliant character he has recently created.
The distinctive detective has unrivalled powers of deduction and astounding success in outwitting and collaring the villains of the day.
Passing this new writer in the Portsmouth street is a young lad, his imagination also running wild. He is just 14, but his thoughts might already be full of the fantastic possibilities of science fiction – people travelling through time or becoming invisible and the human race being attacked alien life.
It is the early 1880s and this man and boy, living in the same area of Southsea, will become two of the brightest minds in English literature. The doctor is Arthur Conan Doyle, still a few years away from publishing his first Sherlock Holmes mystery and working as a GP in Elm Grove. The boy is Herbert Wells (better known to us as H G Wells), working at a drapery shop in Southsea and years away from writing classics like The War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man.
There is no evidence to suggest these two met while they lived in Portsmouth and, had they passed each other in the street, there would have been little to catch each other’s notice.
But the fact that they were here at the same time illustrates how the city has been a hub of creativity over the decades.
Blue Badge guide Barbara Glancefield highlights Portsmouth’s impressive literary heritage to visitors and residents on her walk Authors of Southsea, taking them to important locations from the writers’ lives and discussing their time in the city.
She says: ‘People are often amazed by how many people we’ve had living and working here. There are a lot of surprises even for the people living in the city.’
Portsmouth’s roll call of literary greats is long and she can’t talk about everyone, although locations not covered in the walk can be found on the city council’s Literary Map. And Charles Dickens – whose bicentenary is being celebrated this year – gets a whole walk of his own from another Blue Badge guide.
Barbara takes her groups of literature lovers to, among other places, the site of Conan Doyle’s practice in Elm Grove, Southsea where he lived for a while and the home of a spiritualist he visited as a member of the spiritualist community. Also included are the site of the drapery shop where Wells worked and the road where Kipling went to school.
She tells lots of stories about the authors. While this might be a celebration of their lives, it will strike her audience how some of them had a particularly unhappy time in Portsmouth. Wells hated his work and Kipling was bullied by the woman who fostered him.
But their experiences inspired great writing. In Wells’ Kipps, the character is an apprentice at a drapery shop.
Birthplace of Charles Dickens
The man who would one day create all manner of waifs and strays and oddly-named villains began life in Old Commercial Road, Portsmouth.
You’d have to have been living under a rock, or perhaps be a Miss Havisham-style recluse, to not have noticed the nation is celebrating Dickens’ 200th birthday this year.
It’s a great time to visit the house and museum, which is furnished in the style of 1809 when his parents John and Elizabeth Dickens set up the first home of their married life there.
School of James Clavell
The novelist, screenwriter and director was educated at Portsmouth Grammar School. He joined the Royal Artillery and became a prisoner of war in the Second World War. During a prolific writing and movie industry career he wrote among others The Asian Saga of six books including King Rat and Shogun.
Home of Michelle Magorian
Now living in Petersfield, the writer behind children’s classic Goodnight Mister Tom lived in Victoria Road North, Southsea. She spent her teenage years in Portsmouth and locations in the city were turned into the fictional setting for her 2008 title Just Henry.
Home of Rudyard Kipling
Kipling was famously born in Bombay, but was sent home to England for his education. His time in Portsmouth between 1871 and 1877 wasn’t particularly happy as he suffered at the hands of his foster family while living at Lorne Lodge in Campbell Road, Southsea. Kipling’s most celebrated works include Kim, The Jungle Book and story and poetry collection Rewards and Fairies.
Workplace of H G Wells
Considering the fertile imagination of the boy that would go on the write The War of The Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine and Kipps, it’s no wonder 14-year-old Herbert George Wells didn’t enjoy the menial tasks handed to an apprentice in a drapery shop. The writer worked in a shop in St Pauls Road (was Grigg Street), Southsea for a while and apparently detested chores like sticking stamps on envelopes.
Wells was reportedly so unhappy he walked 17 miles to Uppark near Petersfield to beg his mother, who was a housekeeper there, to take him out of the place.
Birthplace of George Meredith
George Meredith was born in High Street, Old Portsmouth in 1828. The son and grandson of naval outfitters, at the age of 14 he was sent to school in Germany. He read law and was articled as a solicitor, but abandoned that profession for journalism and poetry. He is best known for his novel The Egoist, published in 1879.
Birthplace of Olivia Manning
Journalist and novelist Olivia Manning was born in 1911 at 134 Laburnum Grove, North End. The daughter of a naval officer, she produced her first novel The Wind Changes in 1937 but is best know for her series of novels The Balkan Trilogy and The Levant Trilogy.
Birthplace of Percy F Westerman
The children’s author was born in the city in 1876 and as a child lived in Campbell Road, Southsea. His first book was entitled A Lad of Grit (1908) which was inspired by the idea of the Scouting movement. He wrote historical and ocean-going adventures and ended up with more than 170 titles to his name.
Birthplace of Richard Aldington
The poet and novelist was born in High Street, Old Portsmouth. After the First World War, during which he served on the Western Front, he published several volumes of poetry including Images 1910-1915, Images of War, A Fool in the Forest and A Dream in Luxembourg. His successful novel Death of a Hero was a psychological study of a young officer in the First World War.
Home of Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle began his professional career as a GP at No 1 Bush Villas in the summer of 1882. His home is no longer there but the flats on the site in Elm Grove have a plaque. He had arrived in Portsmouth in the June of that year, from Plymouth, with no job, nowhere to live and little more than £10 to his name.
It was while he was living here that he gave literary life to his eccentric, brilliant and slightly shadowy super sleuth Sherlock Holmes in A Study In Scarlet.
Home of Fred T Jane
Jane lived for the majority of his life at 17 Elphinstone Road, Southsea. An illustrator who drew warships from his teenage years, his book All The World’s Fighting Ships was first published in 1898.
Home of Nevil Shute
Nevil Shute Norway lived at 14 Helena Road, Southsea between 1936 and 1940. His best-known novels are the Australian set On The Beach (1957) and A Town Like Alice (1950), which he wrote after emigrating.
A pilot and aeronautical engineer, he co-founded the aircraft construction company Airspeed which was based at Portsmouth airport in Hilsea.
Home of Roy Horniman
Roy Horniman was born in Southsea in 1868. He attended Portsmouth Grammar School and lived in Cottage Grove. He became an actor, playwright and tenant and manager of London’s Criterion Theatre. In his later years he wrote and adapted for the screen. Among his notable works is Israel Rank (1907), on which the film Kind Hearts and Coronets was based.
Map and app
The Portsmouth Literary Map is available at visitportsmouth.co.uk/home-of-great-writing.
It is also available as an app for iPhone and Android. The app features a guided tour of the city, an audio tour of Charles Dickens’ Birthplace Museum and other information.
The app is available for iPhone at http://tinyurl.com/7jzo266 or for Android at http://tinyurl.com/74npnfh
GO ON THE TOUR
The Authors of Southsea guided walk begins at 2.30pm on Sunday. Meet outside the City Museum. The walk costs £3 and tickets are available from the museum.