Giles’s Trip to London

Grandad Noted in His Diaries the Books He Read and the Films He Saw

In his diaries, grandad sometimes noted the books he had read. He did this very methodically from 1917 to 1923. He did something similar with films he saw.

Initially I Skipped This Material

When I first went through the diaries, I skipped over this material, partly because I did not think it was particularly interesting but also just because there was so much of it!!

More Recently I Decided to Catalogue the Books He Read and the Films He Saw

Relatively recently, I decided to catalogue this material. So far, I have gone through from 1914 to 1925 inclusive. I have catalogued the films he saw and the books he read.

Silent Films

All the films I have documented so far were silent. Many of them no longer exist, i.e. all copies have been lost. I am extremely grateful to members of The Silent Film Facebook Group who have helped me track down details of various films based on grandad’s entries in his diaries, some of which were extremely hard to decipher!

Books and Favourite Authors

In the seven years between 1917 and 1923, grandad noted reading around 260 books. He did appear to have favourite authors, in that he read multiple books by these writers. These included William Harrison Ainsworth, R M Ballantyne, George A Birmingham, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Marie Corelli, Zane Grey,  H Rider Haggard, Josiah Henry Harris, Joseph Hocking, Samuel Horton, Victor Hugo, C J Cutliffe Hyne,  Charles Kingsley, William H G Kingston, Jack London, Thomas Miller, Edward Phillips Oppenheim, William Macleod Raine, Sax Rohmer, Walter Scott, Jules Verne, George John Whyte-Melville and Mrs Henry Wood. While he read a large number of authors, both male and female, he seems to have had a preference for classic and adventure literature.

Giles’s Trip to London

One book he noted reading, in May 1923, was “Giles’s Trip to London”. This book intrigued me because it relates to Norfolk, in general, and the Norfolk dialect, in particular. What I found particularly intriguing was that grandad was interested in this some forty years before he moved to Norfolk.

Front cover of my copy of Giles’s trip to London
Title page of my copy of Giles’s trip to London. This shows it was written by James Spilling and published by Jarrolds

James Spilling

The book was written by James Spilling, the editor of the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) in the 19th century. According to an article by Keith Skipper in the EDP, in October 2020, James Spilling lived from 1823 to 1897. He was known for penning Sketches in Dialect in Eastern Counties which Skipper describes as perhaps the most extended use of that vernacular that had been attempted. “Giles’s Trip to London” was the first and perhaps most successful in this series.

The Book Was Widely-praised and Sold Well

A London newspaper commented that it was “not only the best example of the Norfolk dialect ever given to the world, but also an admirable and spirited piece of farcical humour.” It sold hundreds of thousands of copies. One reason for its success included the humour of an innocent abroad. However, Skipper notes that Spilling also sought to dispel the myth of the simpleton image of the rustic.

Described in Joseph Mason’s Blog

Perhaps the most detailed description I have found of this book is on joemasonspage which is a blog by Joseph Mason about East Anglian life. He starts off by explaining that the book’s attraction is not so much the Norfolk speech but the picture it gives of life in the nineteenth century. The journey to London is described in some detail. Giles travelled to Norwich by cart and described the city, many features of which remain. Then, he continued his journey by train. He mentioned some stations that no longer exist, e.g. Haughley. He changed train in Ipswich and ended up spending a day there. In Ipswich, he was impressed by ploughs at Ransomes factory shop and he also went on a paddle steamer on the river Orwell. He also noted “the big black hole” of a tunnel which still adjoins the station. This is known as Stoke Hill Tunnel.

Ipswich station and Stoke Hill tunnel © John Sutton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

A Picture of James Spilling

Although Joseph Mason’s blog includes a picture of James Spilling, he does not describe him in any detail. I have not found such a picture elsewhere online and the blog does not state its origin.


The copy of the book I have contains three illustrations. The first of these is also included on Joseph Mason’s blog although the title has been deNorfolkised as “Giles asks his master for a week’s holiday“.

First illustration from my copy of Giles’s Trip to London. The heading means “Giles asks his master for a week’s holiday“.
While in London, Giles is arrested by a policeman for passing what he believes are counterfeit coins. As a result, Giles is brought in front of an “owd gentleman
During this visit, Giles visits London Zoo but there is an incident where a baboon takes the hat from Giles’ head and puts it on his own head.

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