(Making) Underwater Billiards – The Whitaker-Wright Story

With the kind permission of Gar Shanley, publisher of Courageous Mayhem, I’ve been allowed to print my strip therein, Underwater Billiards, with the purpose of pulling back the curtain on it some.

Courageous Mayhem was a satirical take on the boy’s adventure comic. My own drug of choice was the 1980s Eagle, and the photographic Tales
of Suspense stylings of The Collector. So, we have The Archivist, played by myself aged 25, aged to look closer to my current years, and then called Reverend Hal F. Wallis, a satire of Frederic Werthram. Throw nothing out!

The story came out of my study of white collar crime in England from 1870-1940, and was first teased out of me by Stephen Downey for a (sunk) project about the Titanic. This is where we get the mention of Lord Prirrie, the chairman of Harland and Wolff, who later bought and lived in Witley/Lea Park, and there are parallels between both projects that amuse my inner ghoul.

Lord Prirrie

underwaterbilliards1

Looking at the similarity between my art and references, I may as well have done a photo comic! I especially like how the aerial views swirl in the same way as the staircase.

Spiral Staircase - Map A

Map A – The Spiral Staircase

Searching Flickr for Witley Park or Lea Park turns up a lot of images. It’s bad practice that I can’t credit authorship to the ones included here for I just didn’t index as I collated. You can find a lot of good image links at the bottom of this Hegarty Webb blog post, The Gentlemen of the Lake, as well as a lot of the textual detail on this case.

Billiards Room - Map B

Map B – Billiards Room

Had it been convenient for Gar, I’d have constructed this as a double-page spread, and explored the Witley Park island layer by layer. Time was getting on though, and I’m quite pleased with this strip which I put out quite fast.

underwaterbilliards2

Boathouse - Map C

Map C – The Boathouse

In the centre of the page 2, we have Whitaker-Wright and one of his visitors Lord Dufferin. Dufferin once owned most of Bangor, County Down, where I spent many a year. Many parts are still named after him, including the bedsit bowels Sufferin Avenue. Further down the page, Sir James Reid, physician to Queen Victoria. Wright was Reid’s financial adviser and a close personal friend.

wright and friends

Above: James Whitaker-Wright, Lord Dufferin and Sir James Reid

Whitaker-Wright earned his fortune much like Bottomley, through a series of investments and bankruptcies. He set up companies in America, Canada and Australia, taking advantage of the mining rushes of the 1880s and 90s. Using dodgy tactics and slipping his creditors, the odd success gave him enough to go ahead.

Island - Map D.png

Map D – The Island

My favourite reference was the Guerilla Exploring Blog, where a bunch of extreme archivists snuck in through ‘closed to the public’ to capture the goodies. This was really the only way to gather information on the park, and the commentary they provide allow me to connect all the photographs that I have to form a significant map of the place. See?

The House to The Island - Map E

Map E – The House to the Island

underwaterbilliards3.jpg

I’m surprised looking back on this that I try to reign myself to telling the story details over this last page, and the scandal of Whitaker-Wright in just two panels! There’s a lot more detail to the man and I recommend you use this post as a jumping off point for some further reading. I certainly appear to be a lot more interested in the visuals, and I like how the patterns on panels 1 and 6 repeat.

Mersey and Isaacs.png

John Bigham (Lord Mersey), and Rufus Isaacs (Lord Reading)

And of course, there’s a return to the Titanic theme. Cos that’s what boys want, right? Eight years after Whitaker-Wright died, Isaacs, Lord Mersey (who tried Bottomley on several occasions), headed up the official inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic. The chance to include Rufus Isaacs was  also especially delicious I’m sure, as he formed a focus for another of these scandal cases.  In 1912, as Attorney General, Isaacs was embroiled deep in the Marconi shares scandal. His brother Godfrey was Managing Director of Marconi US. Rufus bought shares cheap before markets opened, selling some onto Chancellor Lloyd George and Master of Elibank Alex Murray in on the deal. The three sold their shares only days after The Titanic sank, as Marconi share prices went through the roof, netting themselves a small fortune.

Newspaper journalists Hillaire Belloc, Cecil and Gilbert Chesterton got wind of a scam and used their newspaper to pursue a war against Isaacs. There was a full parliamentary white-wash which let the Chestertons be sued for libel, Rufus Isaacs got a promotion and the scandal ruined Britain and Marconi’s chances of a global domination of radio. That’s just by the way.

You can buy a copy of Courageous Mayhem in ebook format from this link ere.

The story of Horatio Bottomley is recounted in To End All Wars; a 1st print softcover has been published recently.

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