BIG READ: A Victorian-inspired counterculturepower revolution

DAVID GEORGE delves into the world of steampunks and finds out what makes them tick '“ from tea duelling to fancy hats

Saturday, 23rd September 2017, 2:10 am
Updated Saturday, 23rd September 2017, 2:22 am
Members of the Gosport Steampunk Society gather outside the fighting Cock Pub. Picture Credit: Keith Woodland PPP-170917-194054006

Imagine a world which was stuck in the Victorian era, powered by steam.

With water and heat the driving force behind all technological and cultural advancements.

This may send shivers down the spines of those who cannot part with their iPhones and digital televisions, but the concept has sparked an entire cultural movement that is rapidly growing in popularity.

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Members of the Gosport Steampunk Society. Picture Credit: Keith Woodland PPP-170918-094544001

Steampunk is a form of science fiction born from this idea, driven by the vintage era of 19th century Victorian England.

Those who are vaguely familiar with it may be aware of the eccentric clothing that comes with it.

But it is about much more than just making a fashion statement.

For many, it is a way of life, and all aspects of their lives revolve around it.

Head Case Curios - South Coast Emporium Credit: Anthony J Duke

One facet of steampunk is the literature. Initially, steampunk started as a sub-genre of other media such as science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Think HG Wells. Now, slowly but surely, it has become a genre in itself, taking centre stage in many new book releases.

William Sutton, pictured above, is the man behind the newly-released Lawless and the House of Electricity, the third book in a steampunk series following the adventures of Lawless, a police officer in a Victorian-esque London.

William says: ‘I rather ended up stumbling across steampunk, in all honesty.

‘When someone told me that my novels had a great steampunk setting I didn’t really know what they were talking about.

Stuart Markham from the Gosport Steampunk Society PPP-170920-153039001

‘It was only when I did some more research into it that I realised that my story ideas and the steampunk culture ran in almost perfect tandem.

‘What I like the most about it is how inclusive it is.

‘I have spoken to members of the Gosport Steampunk Society and been to a few larger meet-ups and I honestly love it.

‘Everyone is so welcoming of newcomers and I think that’s what is making it grow in popularity so quickly.

William Sutton at the launch of his new book, Lawless and the House of Electricity. PPP-170920-153423001

‘This third novel is a greater reflection of the culture because I’ve been able to take the culture into further consideration.

‘Steampunk is such a versatile genre, it can take many forms and tones.’

The music associated with the steampunk genre is rustic with a focus on acoustic sounds.

Guitars are often accompanied by the double bass and other string instruments.

William performed a steampunk set at his official book launch at Blackwells Bookshop earlier this month.

All of this and more will be coming to the forefront at the Subaquatic Steampunk Weekend at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport, next weekend.

Members of the Gosport Steampunk Society. Picture Credit: Keith Woodland PPP-170918-094544001

Organiser Mark Winterford says: ‘We have been working on organising something like this for quite some time now.

‘My father was interested in the aesthetic associated with steampunk so I suppose that inspired me to take an interest in it, following in his footsteps.

‘The aesthetic is a big appeal to many, with Victorian-era fashion reimagined into a newer style, based on the continuation of steam as the driving force behind our lifestyles.

‘It questions what our lives would look like if we had stuck with steam, but adapted our lives around it to the extent we have with electricity today.

‘There are some who simply enjoy dressing up for steampunk events and others who completely centre their lives around it.

‘I think that’s what is great about it really, that people can take as much or as little interest in it as they like and still enjoy it for what it is.’

The Subaquatic Steampunk Weekend will showcase the best of steampunk culture in the region – from live music to literature, fancy dress and tea duelling. The latter is a quintessentially British game about finding out who is the best biscuit dunker.

Mark says: ‘We have four musical acts – Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer; Alice’s Night Circus; Captain of the Lost Waves and Victor and the Bully – all four will be performing on both days of the festival. In between the acts, members of the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub will be reading out some of their poetry and short stories, which of course take up the steampunk theme.

‘We will also have a steampunk market, fashion show and artwork dedicated to the genre, so it is going to have a really authentic feel to it.

‘This is the first year we have done this and there are larger steampunk events across the country, but perhaps this one will grow to a similar size.’

There will be a gin and beer tent andVictorian history talks.

‘You don’t even have to dress up’ adds Mark.

‘This event is about opening up the world of steampunk to the masses, so we’re just excited to share something we are passionate about with everyone.’

The Subaquatic Steampunk Weekend is in association with the Gosport Steampunk Society, which formed almost a year ago.

The Society already has more than 200 members, each with varying levels of engagement with the steampunk culture.

Stuart Markham, also known as Stuart Steampunk, was the man who initially set up the group.

‘It feels as though steampunk is in my blood’ he says. ‘It is something I have always been fascinated by, from the literature to the music and the fashion.

‘This is something that I have been able to adopt as part of my lifestyle, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.’

To book tickets for the Subaquatic Steampunk Weekend at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, go to


Tea duelling is considered by steampunk lovers to be an elegant sport, for the more sophisticated individual.

The game is played between two people who have a hot cup of tea and a packet of malted milk biscuits.

Once armed with a biscuit, contestants must hold it in the tea for five seconds before the game becomes a battle of wits.

Whoever can last the longest before eating the biscuit – without it disintegrating – is declared the winner.

Mark Winterford, from Gosport Steampunk Society, says: ‘Tea duelling is a fantastic game for people to take part in.

‘The game itself is a lot more complex than it actually sounds – and significantly more challenging.

‘It is a game of wits, and I think that plays a major part in why it is so popular among steampunk fanatics – myself included.’

Tea duelling was played at South Coast Emporium in Elm Grove, Southsea, as Head Case Curios, dealers of steampunk ephemera, celebrated turning two years old.

Go to


Steampunk is accessible to people of all ages and interests, according to Tony Duke.

People walk into the popular South Coast Emporium wanting to get involved with the steampunk scene, but are not sure where to begin.

Many only go in for a few trinkets, seeing their interest in steampunk as something more casual.

But Tony says this is the point where their curiosity gets the better of them.

‘Initially people come in looking for trinkets,’ he says. ‘In fact, the first thing they find themselves drawn towards are hats.

‘The key is pointing people in the right direction from the very start.

‘After that, people may do research of their own and even come to me asking if I can craft items, which of course I am happy to do.’

Tony says that the reason steampunk is accessible to the masses is because of how welcoming and inclusive it is.

He says: ‘You could turn up to a steampunk event in full attire, or just in jeans, a shirt and a top hat, and nobody would judge you for it.

‘That is what I love about this the most – the freedom to express yourself as much or as little as you like. It makes it a completely different culture to that of reenactments or historical fancy dress.

‘It is this freedom and acceptance of one another that is why steampunk is so easy to get involved with, and why it is growing.’

Head Case Curios - South Coast Emporium Credit: Anthony J Duke
Stuart Markham from the Gosport Steampunk Society PPP-170920-153039001
William Sutton at the launch of his new book, Lawless and the House of Electricity. PPP-170920-153423001