When Douglas Reeman decided to write a series set during Nelson's time in the Age of Sail, he had been smitten with England's 'wooden world' since he was a boy visiting HMS Victory in Portsmouth.
It was 1968 when the first Richard Bolitho story, To Glory We Steer, was published under the pen name Alexander Kent. The author's protagonist in this debut novel was Captain Richard Bolitho of the British frigate Phalarope. Over the next forty years, Alexander Kent chronicled the life and times of Bolitho, from midshipman to admiral.
The Bolitho saga continues with the life and times of Adam Bolitho, Richard's nephew.
This section is dedicated to the world in which Richard and Adam Bolitho live within the pages of Alexander Kent's novels. Over time, photographs documenting primary sites in the novels will be added to those already online.
The Duchy of Cornwall was to play an important role in the Bolitho series, especially the port of Falmouth, with its vast bay and Carrick Roads, on Cornwall's south coast. It was in Falmouth that the author placed the Bolitho family home, the 'big grey house'.
"Taking up residence in Cornwall was part of the preparation," explained Reeman. "I started at once after I'd gone down there, getting a feel for the whole area, places of historical note ... I'd already done a lot of research on the period because I was always interested. I combed the local churchyards around Falmouth, St. Mawes and the Roseland Peninsula collecting names. Even the name of Bolitho's wife Cheney came from the church of King Charles the Martyr in Falmouth.
"I've always liked Falmouth, used to go there as a child with my family, and again in the navy, and when I started writing I went there in my boat.
Douglas Reeman's approach to Falmouth Bay and Carrick Roads from the sea could have been described in To Glory We Steer (chapter two): "The Phalarope was anchored well out in Falmouth Bay, her sleek shape black and stark against the sea and watery sunlight ... The ship had made a slow approach towards the headland ..."
And then readers are introduced to Pendennis Castle: "By his side, hudled in his boat cloak, Lieutenant Thomas Herrick sat in silence, his eyes watching the rain-soaked hills beyond the town and the grey, timeless bulk of the Castle above Carrick Roads."
In the Kent novels, the family home had been in Falmouth for generations of Bolithos, who had gone to sea in the service of their country.
"The Bolitho house isn't really in Falmouth at all - I just saw it one day, and I knew it was Bolitho's house," said the author. "The only trouble was, it was in the wrong place, so I had to move it from its real location in a peaceful rural hamlet in deepest Cornwall, not far from the King Harry ferry. Right house, right period, everything, so I relocated it."
The first description of the Bolitho house readers encountered as in chapter two of To Glory We Steer, 'Beware, the Press!': "Bolitho halted below the church wall and looked up the familiar street which ran beside the churchyard. At the top of the road was the house, its square, uncompromising shape, the familiar grey stonework, as enduring as his memory of it."
So much was said in that spare sentence that would forever tie readers to Bolitho's Falmouth ... the Church of King Charles the Martyr
It was a scene that would appear again and again in the books to follow from Alexander Kent, though in varying seasons and weather conditions.
"You may ask, why was Bolitho Cornish?" queried the author. "He arrived being Cornish in my mind, and I was happy about that.
And when my American publisher, Walter Minton, said, "What are we going to call this guy?" I said without hesitation, "Richard Bolitho," which was the name of a distinguished old chap I'd met some years earlier in the Channel Islands when I'd sailed my boat there. He was the brother of the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, and it is a very Cornish name - you can't open a phone book down there without finding a whole lot of them. He lived to know that I'd borrowed his name, and he was, I think, quite pleased about it.
And when I returned to Surrey from my stay in Cornwall, I moved into the house I had been having renovated, and renamed it 'Bolitho Cottage'.
Portsmouth Royal Dockyard
As a lad, Douglas Reeman visited Portsmouth Royal Dockyard with his grandfather. It was here that he he first glimpsed Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, HMS Victory.
Visitors today enter the Dockyard through Victory Gate, formerly Main Gate, which was completed in 1711. Passing through the gate, you follow the footsteps of kings, queens, admirals, seamen, soldiers and dockyardmen who served their country during trying times.
Strolling down Main Road, one's imagination can lead back to the days of Nelson and Bolitho, with the Mast Pond on the right and Storehouses 9, 10 and 11, with 10's clock tower, on the left, and HMS Victory's masts in view.
These same scenes proved to be an inspiration for Douglas Reeman years later when, after serving in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and beginning a carer as an author, he launched To Glory We Steer and Richard Bolitho was born.