The Latrobe Guide to the Coast, Caves and Bays of Sark has long been an essential part of holidaying on the island and now, a hundred years after it was first published, it’s back. JEREMY LA TROBE-BATEMAN explains how he and fellow Latrobe enthusiast Rob Pilsworth have breathed new life into the little book with the big title.
Rob and Lynn Pilsworth first visited the island of Sark in 1976, and have returned regularly ever since. They had absolutely no idea what to expect on arrival but were captivated by Sark from the moment they set foot on the island to the time they left. The Latrobe Guide was in print then and, like many visitors at the time, they purchased one. They were enchanted by the slightly quirky, antiquated but very charming prose, more or less intact from the Edwardian edition first published in 1914, and by the use of black and white photographs, which seemed like an echo from another era. But more importantly, the Guide led them to some of the most beautiful locations on the island and, like many before them, they had great fun following the routes, making new discoveries at every turn.
The Latrobe Guide has slipped in and out of print since 1914 but has now been out of print for nearly twenty years. For the past five years or so the Pilsworths have spent their time on Sark renting our self-catering annexe and have become friends. Sharing a dinner together (and the inevitable bottle of wine!) Rob and I raked up the old chestnut of previous years; how sad it was that the Latrobe Guide was no longer available. We agreed that one day we would try to have it republished. The meal ended, the holiday ended and no doubt the promise would have remained just that, until the following year when one event changed all that, as Rob remembers. “In an act of bewildering generosity, Jeremy gave me one of his old editions of the Latrobe Guide published in 1914. Once I realised that this was the centenary year of its publication, I knew that there would never be a more fitting time to resurrect this amazing little book. I contacted Jeremy and said that, if he was ‘up for it’, we should try and get the book republished this year. Despite being in the middle of building a new house, getting to know a new grandchild and acting as Seneschal for the island, to his eternal credit Jeremy agreed.” In order to get the project started Rob set up a small publishing enterprise, Lazarus Publications NFP. This is a ‘not for profit’ arrangement, with a separately held community bank account to ensure complete transparency of all financial dealings. The aim from the start was simply to get the Guide published and we felt that this would require the goodwill of many other people that might be compromised if a profit motive were implicated.
I grew up with the Latrobe Guide but, when a new edition became a reality, I discovered that I had never actually read it through as a whole book. Doing so stiffened my resolve that it should be done and, luckily, Rob agreed that it was time to stop talking and get on with it. And that’s just what he has done – finding a sympathetic printer, doing the research, badgering us in Sark (the ‘Pilsworth Prod’) so that we could meet the deadline of publishing in this centenary year. It quickly became apparent that, although the island is very much unchanged since the production The centenary edition of the first Guide a hundred years ago, some of the more detailed directions would no longer be accurate. Meadows have become vineyards, some footpaths have closed and the incessant coastal erosion has altered the topography of the coastline. To publish the new Guide we were going to have to recheck each of the 21 routes and make alterations where appropriate. To help with this daunting task we recruited volunteers to do some of the routes. Jan Guy kindly walked, modified and re-described the route to the Harbours and Les Laches (Route 5). Paul and Jane Armorgie re-walked Route 8 that fittingly ends at the beautiful Stocks Hotel, the hotel Paul manages. Rob and Lynn checked out Route 3 to the Banquette landing, one of their favourite locations, and who more fitting to check the ‘Round the Island in a Boat’ route than the skipper of the Non Pareil, George Guille himself. In a burst of enthusiasm, I managed to re-walk all of the remaining routes in the space of two or three weeks when the tides were favourable, and some of these are pretty extreme! It was great fun, if hard work. Those teenage Latrobes clearly had nerves of steel and there were a few places where I thought this is a young man’s game! Fantastically rewarding, though, to discover little nooks and gullies on the tideline I had never visited before. For example, Blakemore’s Bath (Route 12) was a revelation, being in an enchanting, if difficult to get to, spot, and big enough to swim in. The only downside has been the tally of closed paths that has resulted in some of the routes becoming harder than they were with the loss of ‘escape’ routes. Something for us islanders to consider, I feel.
This new edition is based very heavily on the sixth edition of the Latrobe work. To get this into an editable format so that the changes to the routes could be made it was first scanned to produce a digital format. Each double page spread then had to be converted to a Microsoft Word document to allow editing and this was done using Optical Character Recognition software. Each of the ‘route checkers’ was then provided with the text of their route on which to make amendments and notes. These were fed back to Rob, who made the necessary changes to the text. Correcting the text was relatively straightforward but changes were needed to some of the detailed shoreline maps and this was going to be more difficult. In the end I had to completely re-draw them by hand so that they could be included.
The fourth edition, published by Guernsey Press in 1964, included black and white photographs of the island like the original produced in 1914 and both Rob and I felt that it would be nice to repeat the inclusion of photographs in this centenary edition. Using modern digital scanners it has been possible to reclaim photographs from both this 1964 and 1914 editions. Attempts have been made to locate the copyright for some of these photographs to no avail so we hope that, with all proceeds of the new edition going to the Professor Saint Trust, if we have infringed anybody’s copyright we will be forgiven!
Towards the end of the production of the book, and having read the text in detail from both the first and later editions, we became increasingly intrigued with who the Latrobes actually were. My only recollection was that my father told me they were both over six feet tall and were distant cousins of his. Rob went to work researching on the internet and came up with almost nothing. A request was sent to the Guernsey Museum to see whether they had any information, to no avail. They did however recommend that the publishers contact the Priaulx Library in Guernsey to see if they could cast light on these enigmatic characters. A researcher there, Dinah Bott, agreed to take on the task and exceeded our wildest expectations in coming back with a detailed biography of the brothers. Although using the nom de plume of ‘the Latrobes’, the Sark Guide was in fact written by two young brothers, Geoffrey and Leslie La Trobe Foster. They were the children of a barrister from Eccles in Lancashire, Arthur La Trobe Foster, and his wife Amy Constance Carter. The family had moved from Lancashire to Dover on Arthur’s retirement. The boys spent three successive holidays on Sark between 1911 and 1913 with their mother. They would have been 15 and 19 respectively on their first visit and were clearly keen explorers of the Sark coastline.
In the late Victorian era, hiking and scrambling in the countryside became very popular. The boys would almost certainly have had access to a previous work on the outdoor exploration of Sark, Scrambles in Sark which was published in 1861 by W B Woolnough. When they published their own guide in 1914 Leslie would have been 23 and Geoffrey 18 and this comes across in the freshness and charm of the prose. The book was printed just as the world was about to change forever with the outbreak of the Great War. Both brothers signed up for military service, Leslie in November 1914. He served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines. Geoffrey signed up in 1916, became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers, was wounded in February 1917 and demobilized in 1920. Both brothers survived the War. Lesley served for a second time in the Royal Marines in the Second World War, and died in 1952. Geoffrey became a teacher, later headmaster of the Bow School, Durham. He last visited Sark in 1971 and met my father. He lived to the ripe old age of 88, dying in 1984 in Claro, north Yorkshire.
Once Dinah Bott had established that the brothers were in fact extremely young at the time they wrote the book, it became clear that the figures in the photographs used in the first edition p u b l i s h e d in 1914 may actually have been of the La Trobe Foster family. The same people did recur over and over again in the photographs and very often one young man is photographed and presumably the other is doing the photographing. But which brother was which? I went back to a first edition of my father’s which was signed by the authors. On close inspection I found underneath the photographs in my father’s hand in very faint faded pencil the names of the people in the photograph. So now we had some photographs of the authors of the original guide. Having established that Geoffrey became head teacher of Bow School, Rob made enquiries to see whether they had any further information on him. By coincidence the Bow School has also recently celebrated its centenary and to mark the occasion had published a Centenary Record. This included detailed accounts of the tenure of Geoffrey La Trobe Foster as Headmaster but more importantly some photographs of him which we were able to re-use in the book.
The final touch to the book was the decision to include some advertisements. Although this is seldom done these days in books, it was common in Edwardian times and the original Guide includes what have now become rather quaint advertisements. Rob and I were keen to retain the flavour and charm of the original text that reflects the youth, vigour and freshness of approach of its young authors. “We asked the advertisers if they could try to retain a similar format to the advertisements used in the first edition and avoid more modern production techniques,” Rob explains. “We think that they have succeeded admirably in this and are sincerely grateful to them, both for supporting the publication financially and for joining in with the spirit of this resurrection of the Latrobe Guide. All of the advertising fees have been paid directly to the Professor Saint Trust.”
For Rob republishing the Latrobe Guide has been a mixture of excitement and frustration in almost equal measure. “Excitement at the prospect of having this wonderful little book in existence again in its centenary year and frustration that I was stuck here in Newmarket, unable to help with re-walking the routes, which was such a vital part of the exercise. Jeremy has been absolutely heroic in tackling most of the routes, including the more physically demanding ones, a massive contribution.” For my part, along with the continued pleasure in exploring Sark’s coast, the most rewarding aspect of this enterprise has been putting faces and lives to the original authors who I hope are looking down with approval on what we have done. The fact that the two young brothers would have gone straight from publishing this account of their carefree exploration of their own idyllic island paradise to the horrors of the First World War in the space of a few short months, lends the text an intense poignancy which still resonates today a hundred years later. Here’s hoping this little book continues to give as much pleasure to visitors and locals as it has to past generations.