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the beginnings ...

Family Roots ...
Musgrave Home Town of Folkestone - thumbnailMusgrave Home Town of Folkestone
With a rich and diverse past reaching back in time to around 650 AD, the town of Folkestone probably began as a small settlement of fisherman living along the shore. A Market charter was granted in 1215 and over the next two hundred yeras or so, the town flourished to become an important fishing, farming and trading centre. Accompanying its continuing commercial growth through the second half of the 19th century, Folkestone also enjoyed an extensive building programme providing the community with homes, schools, churches, public buildings, a theatre and a number of grand hotels. Enterprise, affluence and refinement were the watchwords of the Folkestone into which I was born and, here, it is appropriate to review some of the important events that influenced the first twenty years or so of my life in the town where my family roots were established ...

The Musgraves in Folkestone ...
Musgrave Shops Folkestone - thumbnailMusgrave Shops Folkestone
In the early 1800s a harbour and a pier for commercial shipping were built. These facilities opened up increased access and trade opportunities but it was the coming of the railways in 1843 that proved to be the main agent of change. With the railway came the tourist trade, and these two industries contributed to Folkestones's prosperity, creating the ideal environment for astute tradesman to invest in new businesses and meet the demands of a growing population. One such enterprise was that created by my father, Joseph John Musgrave who, with commendable forethought, identified the westward expansion of the town and acquired a number of ideally located premises in High Street and in Sandgate Road for his drapery, millinery and mantle making business. By the 1870s the name of Musgrave had become inextricably linked with Folkestone's Drapery and Fashion industry, which was soon to become a cornerstone of the town's success ...

Early Years ...
Musgrave Drapers delivery van - thumbnailMusgrave Drapers delivery van
By any reasonable measure, my early years in Folkestone should have been amongst the happiest of my life. My parents were hard-working and successful and the comfortable lifestyle that my family enjoyed was a credit to their industry - but there was always something missing. My childhood memories are a little sparse but I do recall that on my thirteenth birthday, my father called me to his study and told me that he now considered me sufficiently mature to take a formal position as an assistant in the family Drapery business. Starting a career in this way was a common route to adulthood for many of my age, so this announcement came as no great surprise. In truth, though, this imposed formalisation of my future at such an early stage of my life filled me with what I can only describe as a mixture of resentment and trepidation. I had no real idea of what I wanted to do but I knew that I was not destined to be a Draper's Assistant. In the event, however, family loyalties, respect for my father and a lack of other options kept me in place for the the next three years or so - but this was a place made tenable only because I could escape to the life that I really longed for through a rolling kaleidoscope of pictures that I was able to paint in my mind ...

The Army ...
George Clarke Musgrave Royal Artillery service - thumbnailGeorge Clarke Musgrave Royal Artillery service
My pictures grew and took form from my insatiable scouring of the London Illustrated News, a journal delivered to my father each week by courier. He said that this should be read by all established and aspiring businessmen because it covered the world's political, social and domestic issues better than any other. For me, though, it was the stories of heroes and battles and glorious victories; it was the mystery of far-off exotic lands; it was Empire; it was Britain; it was the Army. I had not a shred of doubt that this was where I belonged but, still short of the minimum age for full enlistment, my only other option was to join the ranks of the volunteer reserve and to proudly play the role of soldier. It took many family debates, much reasoned argument and a great deal of obstinacy on my part before I eventually wore down my parents' resistance. To say I had their blessing would be something of an exaggeration but, at least, there was no great family rift when I left home for Woolwich Barracks and signed as a gunner in No. 2 Field Battery, Royal Artillery. Just six months later, though, it was cruelly, catastrophically over. What had started as a simple enough training exercise for the day of 26th April 1894 turned dramatically from order to chaos with a wildly spooked horse - a runaway gun carriage - and my leg shattered from ankle to thigh. I have since felt the vicious heat of bullet wounds, the debilitating spasms of dysentery and the shivering ravages of yellow fever. I have known my share of pain - but none so intense as the shattering of my dreams on that fateful day. Over many weeks of recuperation and physiotherapy in the military hospital at Aldershot, the medical staff worked with me and did everything they could to bring me back to full fitness but to no avail. The subsequent Court of Inquiry took only a few miserable minutes to find me unfit for further service and to decree a medical discharge. Finished. Just a year and 47 days after I believed that my future had opened up in front of me, bitter chance had closed the circle and I was once again in Folkestone ...

An Awakening ...
Illustrated London News - thumbnailIllustrated London News
Despite the tribulations of this sorry year, I still held an unshakeable certainty in the facts that circumstances always change and that a man is the maker of his own destiny. Both of these adages of life were brought into a sharp focus for me as I was woken by the morning sun filtering through the window of my room on 1st May 1895, the day of my 21st birthday. I lay there for some moments, with the dark clouds that had fogged my thoughts for months rapidly clearing to be replaced by a shockingly simple and obvious idea. If I could not serve my country, fight the battles and travel the world as a soldier - then I would walk in the footsteps and write the stories of those who did. It was as though one of my pictures had become a blueprint for action and with this sitting clear and sharp in my mind, it took me less than an hour to dress and walk to Radnor Park where I boarded the train to St Pancras. By 2 o'clock I was in the foyer of the Illustrated London News offices and at six, just before the doors were locked for the day, the editor, Clement King Shorter, agreed to see me. I was not at all sure what sort of response I would receive to my announcement that I was seeking a commission as a foreign correspondent. His two subsequent questions, though, were similarly brief and to the point. He wanted to know only whether I was free to travel and whether I could write. My answer of "Yes" to both was followed by an equally straightforward instruction to submit samples of my work for review. And that was that. Interview over. I did not have my commission but, for me - buoyed with my re-discovered confidence, the process was now underway and it was merely a matter of time ...

To Liverpool ...
SS Loanda Liverpool to Africa - thumbnailSS Loanda - Liverpool to Africa
It was now in my hands and all that I had to do was demonstrate that my writing was up to the standard required by the Illustrated London News. I was reasonably comfortable with the mechanics of putting pen to paper but my first pieces were something of a challenge because I had no idea what to write about. I reasoned, though, that with sixteen full size pages to fill each week, quantity of material would be an editorial factor, so I wrote about everything that, to me, seemed even remotely interesting. Each week my packages to London became bigger and heavier, crammed with my local news reports, social sketches of the notaries, the businessmen and the people of Folkestone and comparative essays of five hundred or so words in which I tried to crystallise opposing views on the political and military matters of the day. Each week I received a formal acknowledgement for my submission but not a word of criticism, encouragement or rejection. I was beginning to wonder whether I should enquire about what the next stage would be - but then the letter arrived. Together with a Safe Passage Passport that I had to sign and have witnessed and a money order for £15 to cover the fare, the instructions were clear. In a somewhat terse, almost shorthand, tone (with which I would soon become familiar), I was told that I had just eleven days to prepare and travel to Liverpool, where I was to report to Elder, Dempster & Co. of 14 Castle Street to confirm my passage on the SS Loanda, sailing for West Africa on 30th November. I was also informed that, apart from the funds for the fare to Cape Coast, I was required to meet all other expenses and that I would receive payment for articles only if they were published. Onerous terms, some might say, thrust unkindly upon a novice correspondent - but, even upon reading the letter through for perhaps the fifth or sixth time, such trivialities were of no consequence to me. This was my ticket and I grasped it eagerly ...

... a week later, I was in Liverpool .

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