Harbour Head

Peter Anson
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ISBN 9780571241835 Format Paperback
Published 29/05/2008 Length 240 pages

About Book

The first of two volumes of memoirs by monk, writer and artist Peter Frederick Anson, Harbour Head was published in 1944 and deals with the first part of the author's unsettled life, trying to balance his religious vocation and his love for the sea.

Born in Southsea, the son of a rear admiral, islands, ships and sailors always exerted a strong hold on Anson. His memoirs combine his distinctive talents for writing and drawing to create a unique record of the two great loves of his life: the sea and the church. Anson's meticulously observed line drawings (thirteen in this volume) have an inimitable character, informative and touching, gossipy and camp. Many of Anson's drawings of ships are preserved in the National Maritime Museum.

Anson lived for some years at Harbour Head on the Baffshire shores, hence the title of this volume of his memoirs, and became involved with burgeoning Scottish Nationalism. In Harbour Head Anson chronicles the constant changes of direction that were the defining feature of his eccentric character, from a peripatetic childhood taking trips to sea with his father, through his early training as an architect and his first foray into the monastic life with the Benedictines on Caldey Island and subsequent trips researching the lives of fisherman in Italy, Canada, France and Scandinavia.

Anson himself wryly described his life of extreme vicissitudes as 'a long life on a choppy sea'. The skill of Anson's writing and his draftsmanship make Harbour Head an invaluable portrait of a world of seafaring that all but disappeared in the late twentieth century.

  • About Peter Anson

    Peter Frederick Anson (1889-1975) was born in Southsea, the son of a Rear Admiral with strong ties to the Church of England and the monarchy and on his mother's family's side, strong ties to Scotland. Throughout his life Anson would live out the tensions between these early influences of the sea, the Church and Scotland and his attempts to reconcile them led to a restless life of constant travel and upheaval. His talent for drawing was apparent from an early age and by this time he had begun to display the obsessive interest in churches and ritual that continued all his life. He could be described as an oddity, a combination of Nikolaus Pevsner and Ronald Firbank, in being at once rigorous and yet eccentric. In 1913 he joined the Anglican Benedictine monastery at Caldey Island near Tenby and almost immediately he and the majority of its members converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1920 Anson tried to unify his disparate interests by establishing 'The Apostleship of the Sea' - a Catholic organization for seafarers but, and not for the first time, ill health intervened and forced him to give it up. By 1927 he had also given up the monastic life and turned full time to writing, publishing forty books ranging from specialist studies of fishermen in Scotland to works on churches and ecclesiastical history. In the 1930s he lived at Harbour Head in Scotland for several years and became involved in nascent Scottish nationalism, befriending Neil Gunn and Compton Mackenzie among others. His two volumes of memoirs published in the 1940s provide a unique record or an unusual life and talent. In 1960 he published his unsurpassed masterpiece, Fashions in Church Furnishings 1840-1940. In the final years of his life Anson rejoined the monastic life first at Caldey and subsequently at the Sancta Maria Abbey at Nunraw, East Lothian.

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