The full article from edition 7

Perhaps only its adherents truly understand yet the rest of us have an intrinsic appreciation of Steampunk, which is why a dozen or more acolytes-of-the-splendid are added to this burgeoning movement every day, drawn to the fashion, the philosophy and aesthetic for any number of probably deeply personal reasons. Our task here is not to psychoanalyse the steam-faithful, we’ve neither the pages nor doctorates, but merely to describe them, physiologically and sartorially, and to consider their customs as a means of coming to terms with their possible sociological impact; or something like that. The terrain is vast and full of unexpected turns – our exploration gets underway here.

Our trusted guide hails from Corfe Castle, appropriately within a stone’s throw of the Victorian steam railway. Will Bligh (pictured, watercolour by anthropologartist, Ivy van Hulst) came to the fashion with a model-maker’s eye and revels in the weird and wonderful world of steam-paraphernalia. Most of all he loves the inclusiveness; ‘Anyone can be a steampunk and everyone is – from toddlers to teens to great grandparents. And you can steampunk anything, from pencils to computers; I’ve seen steam-punked mobility scooters. It’s a complete flight of fancy and everyone is equal.’ He explains how the fashion spans the time zones – ‘Past, present, future; it can all be mixed up. It’s retro-futuristic… No one can tell you what steampunk is because it cannot be defined,’ he rambles. So it’s a do-your-own-thing, thing. Intolerance will not be tolerated. There is, however, a discernible thread of characteristics uniting the sub-tribes which PURBECK! attempts to identify here, staring with the basics.

And so to our illustration: Exhibit 1,
Steam Western

Steam curious? This will get you among the pack.

This look was popularised late in the 20th century by the third instalment of the Back to the Future and, to a larger degree, Indiana Jones film franchises. This says ‘adventure’ as opposed to the statement Will’s tea duelling couture makes elsewhere on these pages. It’s ‘relaxed but ready’, differing from Standard Attire in that he is wearing neither brocade waistcoat nor tie (this will be covered in future editions). As an easily assembled ensemble for dissembling, it’s ideal for the steam-curious seeking acceptance without first forking out for the vintage Chesterfield. Here are the essential elements:

  1. A Floppy Fedora. Worn at a slight angle, not rakish.
  2. B Goggles. Maintains vision by keeping floppy fedora on head.
  3. C Mono-goggle; like goggles, only half so. Worn to discombobulate viewer and viewee alike. Frees one eye to aim weaponry (see E).
  4. D Beard. Almost obligatory. According to Beards, A spotters Guide (Frost-Sharrat, 2010) this belongs to the Chillius chinnus sub species with echoes of the ‘Franz Josef’ but remains otherwise formally unidentified.
  5. E Time Gun – domestic manufacture. If you’ve read this sometime in the future, now you know why, then.
  6. F Satchel. It’s just a satchel – or is it?
  7. J Braces. Adds to the suspense.
  8. K Utility Belt. Water, gas, electricity… Sold privately.
  9. L Utility Pouch.
  10. M Long Coat. Long admired western style with shoulder flaps.
  11. N Long Boots. Long gone.

Steampunk Culture: Tea Duelling

Steampunk society is fastidiously polite, meticulously correct and will stand on ceremony at the flimsiest of excuses. This is nowhere better exemplified than in the sport of Tea Duelling. Like croquet, the rules appear simple but the Devil is in the detail. Will refers us to the oracle, Major Tinker, whose resources we have plundered; pay attention.

Your ‘cup of brown joy’, says the Major, should be 650 at the time of dueling and contained in a ‘keg’ not more than 3¼” in depth – ‘toddies’ may be added provide the temperature is not significantly altered. The ‘Pot Master’ (in this instance, your correspondent) is responsible for the provision of tea and suitable biscuits. Malted milks, known as ‘Cows’, or Nice, called ‘Nickies’, are the preferred medium – others are forbidden ‘fancies’. At a pinch, i.e. this photo-shoot, ‘Rugetifs’, or digestives, are permissible. ‘Dunkers’ should be accompanied by ‘seconds’ (sold separately) who may be required to step in, with full honours, should their protagonists falter; this is a nerve wracking pursuit after all. Pot master’s duties performed, the contest begins when the Tiffin Master (your correspondent) signals with the predictable refrain – Dunk! Biscuits are simultaneously submerged in the liquid for an average of five seconds then called to withdraw; this is where the real action takes place.

1 The ‘Tiffin Party’. Tensions run high as the duelists consider their strategies. Nick aspects The Decrepit Vicar, foreground, Will is inscrutable.





2 The Dunk – Biscuits go in to the Brew Martial (tea). Delaying the dunk is known as ‘bagging’ – do it twice and you forfeit. Tiffin Master’s word is final.





3 Biscuit out; A clean dunk, removed only after the Tiffin Master counts to 5.





4 Will keeps a practiced eye on his fellow duelist. It would be ungentlemanly to admit that winning was important.





5 & 5a Scenario 1. The vicar’s droops and Will takes the biscuit.





6 Scenario 2. This time, Nick goes in too early. Will knows he still has a few seconds before the wobbles set in and looks boastful. If the moistened Rugetiff drops now, it’s a draw – he must consume to win. He did.

There is a combination of outcomes but ultimately the winner is the competitor able to ‘Nom’ the dunked section of biscuit after their opponent, without any of it departing from the main-biscuit before consumption. There is many a slip ‘tween cup and lip, which is truly the crux of the game. Failure has three names: ‘Splash’ if the crumbles fall in the tea, ‘Splatter’ if on the table or floor and ‘Splodge’ if on the person – recorded in the annals as a ‘defeat with credit.’


This article is the first of a series, the next will appear in the spring/summer edition of 2015. In the meantime, a fuller explanation of the highly complex rituals of tea dueling are found at the website of the revered Major Tinker – apply your cursing device to this sentence for a speedy transition to his domain!