Following in the footsteps of Harley documents our research and travels in writing my latest book, The Adventures of a Black Edwardian Intellectual, The Story of James Arthur Harley. It is a wry look at our experiences, including the sublime, funny, unbelievable, poignant moments in realizing what Harley had undertaken and achieved.
So, who are we? I am Pamela, the author, as my mother calls me, and my mother, my fellow researcher and traveller in arms. We, tongue in cheek, refer to ourselves as the dilapidated duo, half-dead and bruk up. Why? I have a hereditary blood condition, sickle cell anaemia. The condition has taken its toll on my body, which I describe as the Taj Mahal - crumbling slowly. Most noticeably, I walk with a very pronounced limp. My mother suffered a heart attack in 2013 and, as a result, lost a tremendous amount of weight. We pride ourselves that we're still going and will get there in the end.
It's not a cowshed!
It's an annexe
Our research took us to rural Kent and Marshside's windswept flat land. Marshside is a small rural hamlet in East Kent where Harley held his second curacy under the supervision of Rev Reginald Arthur Kent. I had never heard of Marshside; why would I? I learned it was located approximately eight miles from Canterbury. I had heard of Canterbury. I have even visited the city and the cathedral.
We would be visiting Marshside, Deal, the location of Harley's third curacy, and Chislet. I planned our research visit for mid-March, my rationale based on the previous year; the corresponding week had been glorious, and I had hoped we would get a repeat of the weather.
We drove down to Deal on a sunny Wednesday morning. I had planned a two-day research visit to meet with the local historical society and the Reverends at both churches Harley served and to visit where he resided while a curate. As we drove down the M20 and entered Kent, the climate changed. Notions of walking along the seafront and taking pictures soon evaporated when we opened the car door and felt the wind cut us in two. Bundled up like two arctic explorers, we headed to the Dunkerley's Restaurant and Hotel on the seafront.
Finishing a well-deserved cooked breakfast, I heard from locals taking morning tea and coffee in the hotel lounge that the weather was unseasonably cold and that if we had come last week, it was almost tropical.
We met with the Reverend at St Leonards Church in Deal. The large stone church on a mound had the winds coming off the sea, cutting through us. I could feel all my joints tingling and thinking, not now; I cannot afford to go into crisis.
We had booked bed and breakfast accommodation in Marshside – Reynolds Farm. I explained I required ground floor accommodation. Frieda, the proprietor, said she would accommodate us in the annexe. Mother was convinced that the 'annexe' was a nice way of saying cowshed or barn.
We had booked bed and breakfast accommodation in Marshside – Reynolds Farm. I explained I required ground floor accommodation. Frieda, the proprietor, said she would accommodate us in the annexe. Mother was convinced that the 'annexe' was a nice way of saying cowshed or barn. Her overreaction was based on an unfortunate accommodation incident when I was studying 16mm filmmaking in Nottingham. The course organizer assured me that they had arranged accessible accommodation, only to find that the accessible accommodation was a breeze block-built dirty garage with no heating and a put-up camp bed upon arrival. There were no pictures of the Reynolds Farm on its website, only a recommendation. Going on blind faith, I booked the 'annexe'.
Blankets, a portable heater and hot water bottles packed, we set off for our research trip. Driving around B roads asking for directions, I doubted this place existed. Deploying the old-fashioned Sat-Nav – winding down the window and asking for directions, no one seemed a) to have heard of Marshside or b) had heard of it in passing but did not know how to get there. Missed turns, reversing out of farm lanes, we finally found and reached our destination; Reynolds Farm.
Frieda greeted us warmly and showed us to our quarters; the annexe was a purpose-built, single-storey, self-contained accommodation. It was wonderful. Clean with a good-sized bedroom, ensuite shower room, a small kitchenette, a lovely lounge with television, board games and the most crucial aspect for me – heat.