East Anglian woman unveils maritime collectable cards

Cathy Shelbourne pictured with designer Andrew Oliver Picture: Cathy Shelbourne

Cathy Shelbourne pictured with designer Andrew Oliver Picture: Cathy Shelbourne - Credit: Archant

Maritime historian Cathy Shelbourne has spent lockdown creating an illustrated 52-card deck - showcasing some of Norfolk and Suffolk’s sailing heroes

Monumental Maritime Heroes - Cathy Shelbourne's 52-card deck that explores some of the Britain's mos

Monumental Maritime Heroes - Cathy Shelbourne's 52-card deck that explores some of the Britain's most iconic nautical figures Picture: Cathy Shelbourne - Credit: Archant

While lockdown has meant many of us have had to put our projects on hold for the time being, one Suffolk woman has managed to finish something that she’s been working on for the past four years – with some incredibly fascinating results.

Cathy Shelbourne, who was born in Norfolk but now lives in Ipswich, is a lover of all things maritime, and when the sudden coronavirus pandemic meant she was unable to continue giving historical talks aboard cruise ships – she did the next best thing, and has dedicated the past six months to finishing off a long-term research project.

Having spent years gathering masses of information and photographs while on her travels around the world, Cathy has finally been able to produce Monumental Maritime Heroes – her 52-card playing deck that features some of history’s most iconic and influential explorers from the Age of Sail. But where did the inspiration to create something so unique come from?

Cathy, who is the owner of Ipswich-based marketing agency Seashell Communications, has been fascinated with both history and sailing from a very young age. “Growing up in East Anglia, obviously this is a strong seafaring area, and I learnt to sail as a teenager and developed an interest in maritime matters from there really.”

Monumental Maritime Heroes, pictured in the Admiral Vernon pub, Over, Cambridgeshire. Admiral Vernon

Monumental Maritime Heroes, pictured in the Admiral Vernon pub, Over, Cambridgeshire. Admiral Vernon lived at Orwell Park, Nacton, Ipswich and is buried in the church there Picture: Cathy Shelbourne - Credit: Archant

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After completing an arts degree at Durham University, Cathy soon began travelling, where she uncovered more about the intriguing world of nautical history - but it was one man in particular she met who really piqued her interest.

“I have an apartment in Montenegro that I let out for holidays, and when I was out there, I came across Tim Layton, the skipper of the yacht Monty B, and he told me about an Englishman called William Hoste who had rescued the Montenegrins in the 1800s.

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“He was from Norfolk, and was a protégé of Admiral Nelson. I began to think ‘My goodness, how interesting.’ One thing led to another and I eventually wrote an article on Hoste, and other maritime heroes, for Norfolk Magazine and Anglia Afloat. Then, by great fortune, I landed a PR job for Fred Olsen, accompanying a BBC film crew on a round-the-world cruise.

“I realised I loved being at sea, so I started to develop my knowledge of maritime heroes, and experience as a public speaker, into a series of talks for cruise ship passengers. I signed up to the Peel Talent Agency, and began going on cruises several times a year, all over the world, talking about maritime heroes.”

Things were going swimmingly well for Cathy – until 2020, when the global pandemic hit, and the world was unfortunately put on hold.

However, not one to rest on her laurels, Cathy soon got to work and found the time to turn her knowledge into something that people can enjoy safely from the comfort of their homes.

“Because of lockdown and the inactivity that followed, it really helped me put my pack of cards together. There’s a huge following for maritime heroes, and at the moment there’s such an interest in heroes full stop.”

But why cards, why not a book? For Cathy, an avid collector, there were two reasons behind this. “Firstly, everybody has written a book - but not everybody has produced a pack of playing cards. Secondly, I’m a collector, and I collect all sorts of things, including playing cards. When you collect something, you inevitably think ‘well, I could do this’, and that’s what I’ve done with my Monumental Maritime Heroes.”

Cathy aboard the Monty B with skipper Tim Layton, off Perast in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro - exact

Cathy aboard the Monty B with skipper Tim Layton, off Perast in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro - exactly where William Hoste would have sailed in to relieve the siege of Kotor then Cattaro Picture: Cathy Shelbourne - Credit: Archant

By working to a standard deck of cards, Cathy was able to stick to a prescribed formula, and narrow down the number of historical figures to include.

“I then realised that I needed to put them into suits. My heroes are the hearts, the pirates are the spades, the clubs are the navigators and explorers, and the ships, without which nothing is possible, are the diamonds.

“Doing the research was like a treasure hunt, really. Because I’m not commissioned by anybody other than myself, and I had the suits which gave me a structure, I could follow my own path.”

While working on her cards, the past six months of intensive research, combined with Cathy’s previous findings, have led her to make a number of interesting discoveries – with many stemming from right here in East Anglia.

The Sir William Hoste card - the first figure that inspired Cathy to create her deck Picture: Cathy

The Sir William Hoste card - the first figure that inspired Cathy to create her deck Picture: Cathy Shelbourne - Credit: Archant

“I would turn up in one place, notice something else, research it and then suddenly I’d be finding out something new that would then lead me to my next figure or piece of information. For instance, when I went to Lowestoft to photograph Columbus’ ships on the Columbus building, I walked along the esplanade where I noticed these incredibly colossal statues of Triton on the sea front - and Triton became one of my jokers in the pack. You just need to look around – so much history is out there at your fingertips.”

Just some of the figures with East Anglian connections featured in Cathy’s deck of heroes include William Hoste, Lord Nelson, circumnavigator Thomas Cavendish, and Sir Philip Broke who commanded the HMS Shannon in the War of 1812.

“Cavendish grew up overlooking the Orwell in Trimley St Martin, Broke was born in Nacton and while Nelson never actually lived in Ipswich, his wife bought a house there, and a lot of the street names are named after him or Trafalgar.”

Interestingly, Cathy even managed to uncover her own nautical ancestry while putting her cards together – further reinforcing a deep-rooted connection to the world of seafaring and exploration.

“I discovered some of the people lurking in my family tree sailed with Nelson. One of my cousins has recently found a James Harvey who was a purser, which is brilliant, as my mother too was a purser for the Orient line in the 1950s.

“I also found out, on another branch of the family tree, a relative who was a Governor of Gibraltar. He had in his possession some letters from Nelson, and while these were uninteresting letters about provisions, they were letters nonetheless. This ancestor also wrote a history of Gibraltar, and was the first person to publish some of these letters. It’s quite satisfying considering I’m now sailing around the world. It’s good to know it’s in my blood, and it was a really thrilling moment when I found out.”

Equipped with a plethora of information, all Cathy needed was someone with the right design skills to help her bring her creation to life – and she knew just the person for the job.

“Many years ago, I worked for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers as their publicity officer, alongside graphic designer Andrew Oliver. We worked well together as a team, but inevitably went our separate ways.

“But when I came back to these cards, I needed somebody who would produce something very artistic and colourful - and Andrew was the man. He is also very passionate about pirates, and over the years he had collected all sorts of backgrounds, so we used those in the cards to great effect.”

That, coupled with an assortment of statue, column and pub sign photographs that Cathy had taken over the years, paved the way for her colourful 52-card deck.

Incredibly proud of her deck, Cathy hopes these cards will bring people as much joy as they did to her when she was busy putting them together.

“Firstly, I hope people will be entertained. When I buy a pack of cards, I pour over the detail in them, and there’s a lot information on these cards. For instance, I’ve put the birth dates on them as I’m interested in star signs. I’ve included the actual day and month, as I think it’s quite astonishing how many maritimers were born in September, as was I.

“Secondly, I’m also very keen that people will really open their eyes, and look around more - particularly in lockdown when we’re not travelling as much. We’re going out into the countryside, visiting towns, villages and coastal areas, and I always like to think ‘What did go on here three or four centuries ago? Why did that happen, and why is this place important?’

“I hope these cards will raise awareness of our maritime past here in East Anglia. There’s long been a desire through the centuries for people to recognise the hero, and their connection to the local surroundings, and make that part of the fabric. Everyone’s seen a Lord Nelson pub, and there’s any number of them across Norfolk and Suffolk – and now people will know why. Also, the pub in Bucklesham, for example - why is it called The Shannon? Well it was named after Sir Philip Broke’s ship. He lived at Broke Hall in Nacton, and Broke Hall Primary School is also named after him. These everyday things around us really can be traced back to our ancestors, and I find that absolutely fascinating.”

To find out more about Cathy’s Monumental Maritime Heroes playing cards, visit www.seashellcommunications.co.uk. Her Instagram can be found at @monumentalmaritimers

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