The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in review

2016 has earned a reputation for taking away a large number of celebrities. Read on to be reminded of a few.  But bear in mind that the number mentioned here is only three more than the celebrity deaths I reported last year. You can count them if you like!

2016 begins with terror warnings across Europe. New Year celebrations cancelled in several cities.
Women in Cologne subjected to sexual and violent assaults.
Flooding continues across north of England and Scotland.
N Korea claims to carry out successful H bomb test.
Mumbai schoolboy cricketer Pranav Dhanawade scores 1,009 runs in one innings.
North Scotland beats January rainfall record in just six days.
Australian bushfires.
Environment Agency chairman Sir Philip Dilley resigns for holidaying while England drowned.
UK astronaut Tim Peake completes his first space walk.
Serious injuries, including one brain dead, in French drug tests.
26 killed and 56 injured in terrorist attack on Burkina Faso hotel.
England beats South Africa in the cricket Test.
New York and Washington DC brought to a standstill by snow.
Five whales beach on UK coast.

Crossed the Styx
David Bowie starred in Labyrinth
MASH star Wayne Rogers, 82. (Trapper John)
Singer Natalie Cole, 65.
Music producer Robert Stigwood, 81. (Bee Gees, Cream)
Composer Pierre Boulez, 90.
Sussex fast bowler Matthew Hobden, 22.
Warwickshire County bowler Tom Allin, 28. (fall)
Actress Sian Blake, 43, and her children Zachary, eight, and Amon, four. (murdered)
DJ Ed "Stewpot" Stewart, 74.
Singer David Bowie, 69.
Actor Alan Rickman, 69.
Bergerac writer Robert Banks Stewart, 84.
Grizzly Adams actor Dan Haggerty, 74.
Mott The Hoople drummer Dale Griffin, 67.
Eagles vocalist and founder Glenn Frey, 67.
Vietnam's good luck symbol, Yangtze giant softshell turtle, Cu Rua, age unknown.
Antarctic explorer Henry Worsley, 55.
Tory politician Lord Cecil Parkinson, 84.
Singer-songwriter Black (Colin Vearncombe), 53. (Wonderful Life)
Broadcaster Sir Terry Wogan, 77.
Actor Frank Finlay, 89.

UK scientists given go-ahead to modify human embryo DNA.
More whales beaching on UK east coast.
New York crane collapse kills passer-by.
Magnitude 6.4 earthquake hits southern Taiwan.
Gravitational waves detected in space. 
At least nine killed and scores more injured when two passenger trains collide in Bavaria.
Stephen Fry quits Twitter (again) after BAFTA hosting row.
Virgin Atlantic plane returns to Heathrow after 'laser incident'.
Seven shot dead in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Pound plummets amid Euro membership debate.
Building collapse at Didcot power station.
Tony Blackburn sacked by BBC over evidence he gave child abuse inquiry.
Ceasefire in Syria.

Over the rainbow bridge
Michelin starred chef Benoit Violier, 44.
Bugs Bunny voice artist Joe Alaskey, 63.
Earth Wind & Fire frontman Maurice White, 74.
Actor Raphael Schumacher, 27. (hanging accident on stage.)
BMX star Dave Mirra, 41. (self inflicted gunshot wound)
London marathon co-founder John Disley, 87.
Churchill's navigator Air Commodore John Mitchell, 97.
Indie band Viola Beach: Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin and manager Craig Tarry, aged between 19 and 32. (car crash)
Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 93.
Police Academy star George Gaynes, 98.
Novelist Harper Lee, 89. (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Novelist Umberto Eco,  84. (Name of the Rose)
British cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, 103. (The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Indiana Jones)
Father Jack actor Frank Kelly, 77. (Exactly 18 years after Father Ted co-star Dermot Morgan.)
Actor George Kennedy, 91.

Heavy snow hits the North of England
Total solar eclipse in Indonesia.
Northern lights visible as far south as Wales.
Car bomb in Ankara.
Gunmen attack Ivory Coast hotel. 
Massive "St Patrick's Day" meteor seen across southern England.
Ian Duncan Smith resigns from cabinet over budget details.
England Rugby win the Grand Slam after beating France in Six Nations.
55 passengers and seven crew die in Russian plane crash.
Eddie Izzard completes 27 marathons in 27 days for charity.
Terror attacks on Brussels airport and metro station.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic sentenced to 40 years in prison for war crimes.
New Zealand votes to keep its flag.
Taliban suicide bomber at a Lahore, Pakistan park kills more than 70.
Police shoot armed man in US Capitol building visitor centre, Washington, DC.
Storm Katie wreaks havoc across the south of England.

Gone beyond
Coronation Street creator Tony Warren, 79.
Former US First Lady Nancy Reagan, 94.
Ray Tomlinson, email inventor and selector of @ symbol, 74.
'Fifth Beatle' Sir George Martin, 90.
Prog rock legend Keith Emerson, 71. (self inflicted gunshot wound)
"Lady Penelope" Sylvia Anderson, 88.
Broadcaster Cliff Michelmore, 96.
Frank Sinatra Jr, 72.
Magician Paul Daniels, 77.
Kes author Barry Hines, 76.
Netherlands footballer Johan Cruyff, 68.
"Larry Sanders Show" Garry Shandling, 66.
The Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr., 92.
Belgian sports cyclists Antoine Demoitie, 25 (motorcycle collision) and Daan Myngheer, 22. (heart attack)
Actress Patty Duke, 69.
Comedian Ronnie Corbett, 85. "And it's goodnight from him."

UK National Living Wage rises to £7.20 an hour.
Record £35.1m UK Lotto win.
PM David Cameron faces rising anger over tax avoidance.
Mississippi passes controversial 'religious freedom' bill allowing businesses to discriminate against gay couples.
Singer Bryan Adams cancels Mississippi tour dates in protest at new law.
6.4 earthquake hits Japan.
7.3 second quake hits Japan.
7.8 earthquake hits Ecuador
Extensive Roman villa found in Wiltshire.
Record breaking floods hit Houston, TX.
Queen's 90th birthday.
Retailer BHS files for administration.
Junior doctors strike, including emergency cover.
Hillsborough inquest decides fans were unlawfully killed.
Heavy snow hits Scotland and northern England.

Joined the choir eternal
ITV agony aunt Denise Robertson, 83.
Author Howard Marks, 70.
Paddington illustrator Peggy Fortnum, 96.
Singer Tom Jones's wife, Melinda Rose Woodward, 75.
Playwright Arnold Wesker, 83.
Singer songwriter Merle Haggard, 79. (died on his birthday.)
Entertainer David Gest, 62.
Blake's 7 actor Gareth Thomas, 71.
London Underground 'mind the gap' announcer Phil Sayer, 62.
Everybody Loves Raymond actress Doris Roberts, 90.
Comedienne Victoria Wood, 62.
Musician Prince, 57.
The last PG Tips chimp, Choppers, 48.
Hi-de-Hi! actor Barry Howard, 78.

Leicester City win the Premier League (from being 5,000 to 1 outsider)
Wildfires sweep across Canada making many homeless.
BBC news team expelled from North Korea.
London elects Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan.
Queen filmed calling Chinese diplomats 'rude'.
1,000 homes evacuated in Bath following WWII bomb discovery.
18-year-old Max Verstappen becomes youngest ever F1 race winner.
State opening of Parliament.
Massive storm hits Europe with multiple lightning strikes.

Passed on
Astrologer Jonathan Cainer, 58. (heart attack)
Neighbours producer Reg Grundy, 92.
World’s oldest person Susannah Mushatt Jones, 116.
Actor Burt Kwouk, 85.
Ballroom dancing legend Peggy Spencer, 95.
Gorilla Harambe, 17, shot at Cincinnati zoo.
Archers actor Alan Devereux, 75. (Sid Perks)
Scriptwriter Carla Lane, 87.

World's longest tunnel opens under the Alps.
Floods hit large areas of western Europe.
River Seine reaches 30 year high.
Pre-EU Referendum rows.
Damage closes Gatwick airport runway.
England and Russia threatened with expulsion from Euro 2016 after street violence.
Gunman kills 49 people at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Sir Clement Freud accused of abusing two girls.
US divided over Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
Labour MP for Batley and Spen Jo Cox shot dead after advice surgery.
Hair raising ride 
Glass slide opens 1,000ft above Los Angeles.
Massive queues as mud prevents Glastonbury revelers accessing site.
Britain votes out of EU. Chaos ensues.
Deadly floods hit West Virginia.
Gudni Johannesson wins Iceland presidential election.
Suicide bomb attack on Istanbul airport.
Wettest UK June on record.

No longer present
Fairport Convention fiddler Dave Swarbrick. 75.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali, 74.
Playwright Peter Shaffer, 90.
Voice US contestant Christina Grimmie, 22. (shot)
Wings guitarist Henry McCullough, 72.
MP Jo Cox, 41. (Murdered after a constituency surgery)
Star Trek actor Anton Yelchin, 27. (car accident)
Film music composer Harry Rabinowitz, 100. (Chariots of Fire, Reilly Ace of Spies)
Former NI secretary Lord Patrick Mayhew, 86.
NY Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, 87.
Trumpton creator Gordon Murray, 95.

100th anniversary of Battle of the Somme marked by re-enactors in uniform across the UK.
Estimated 10,000 plus rally in London in opposition to Brexit vote.
Labour Party in chaos as MPs attempt to oust leader Jeremy Corbyn.
280+ dead in suicide bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq.
Juno around Jupiter 
NASA's Juno probe enters Jupiter orbit.
Wales reach final four in Euro2016.
Oscar Pistorius given six years for Reeva Steenkamp murder.
Chilcot report on Iraq War.
Five police officers shot in Dallas, Texas in protests against police shootings of black men.
Sharp rise in UK hate crimes blamed on Brexit vote.
Chris Evans quits Top Gear.
Mersey Ferry runs aground.
Theresa May moves in to Downing Street.
Bastille Day truck attack in Nice kills 84.
Three police officers shot in Baton Rouge.
Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary.
Axe attack on train in Wuerzburg, Germany.
Nine dead in Munich shopping centre attack.
Long delays at Dover as French border security tightens.
Brexit blamed for steep drop in UK business turnover.
Suicide bomber kills himself and injures 12 in Ansbach, Germany.
19 killed in attack at care centre in Sagamihara, Japan.
Priest Father Jacques Hamel killed in church attack near Rouen.
Solar Impulse plane completes round-the-world journey.
Two car bombs explode at Mogadishu airport.

But not forgotten
Comedienne Caroline Aherne, 52. (cancer)
Film director Robin Hardy, 86. (Wicker Man)
UK's oldest resident Gladys Hooper, 113,
Matador Victor Barrio, 29. (gored by a bull.)
Jockey JT McNamara, 41. (fall)
Actress Vivean Gray, Neighbours' Mrs Mangel, 92.
Actor Jerry Doyle, Babylon 5's Mr. Garibaldi, 60.
The voice of Postman Pat, Ken Barrie, 83.

64-year-old Darlene Horton killed, and six injured in stabbing near British Museum in London.
Bank of England cuts interest to its lowest ever rate.
Olympics held in Rio.
     - US tops medal table.
     - UK beats 2012 medal haul.  
     - Jamaica's Usain Bolt wins three golds for third time.
     - UK's Nick Skelton overcomes broken neck to win showjumping gold.
     - Engaged couple Laura Trott and Jason Kenny dominate track cycling for UK.
     - Mo Farah wins two golds to become UK's best ever track athlete. (Total 9 golds)
Series of bomb blasts across Thailand.
Cannes mayor bans "burkinis".
Three dead and thousands need rescue in Louisiana flooding.
Labour Party turmoil continues.
London Transport introduces tube "night trains".
China opens world's highest and longest glass bridge.
Unseasonable weather brings lethal high waves around UK.
     - Father and daughter Rudy and Mckayla Bruynius die in Newquay.
     - Mother and son Julie and Lucas Walker die off Aberdeen beach.
     - Woman's body recovered from sea off Jersey.
     - Man dies in rough seas off Dorset coast.
6.2 earthquake hits Italy. 120+ dead, hundreds more injured.
6.8 earthquake hits Myanmar. 1 dead. Many tourist attractions destroyed.
World's longest aircraft, Airlander 10, crashes.
Scientists discover earth-sized planet orbiting Proxima Centauri.
Italian earthquake death toll rises to almost 300 because of aftershocks.
Five friends die in quicksand accident at Camber Sands.
The last BHS stores close.
Russian SETI scientists detect unidentified signal from outer space.
Scientists say early hominid fossil 'Lucy' died from a fall.

Breathed their last
Actor David Huddleston, 85. (Santa Claus the Movie)
Actor Barry Jenner, 75. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
Gerald Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster, 64.
R2D2 actor Kenny Baker, 81.
Comedy actor and charity campaigner Lord Brian Rix, 92.
Backstreet Boys and *N sync founder Lou Pearlman, 62.
Architects guitarist Tom Searle, 28. (cancer)
Yes Minister writer Sir Antony Jay, 86.
Backpacker Mia Aycliffe-Chung, 21, stabbed in Queensland.
Tom Jackson, 30, who tried to protect Mia from her attacker.
Cookie the cockatoo, 83, world's oldest parrot.
The only proper Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder, 83.

7.1 earthquake off New Zealand
Hurricane Hermine hits Florida.
Government approves Hinkley Point power plant deal.
Rio Paralympics:
   - Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad killed in race crash.
   - UK ends in second place with 147 medals (64 gold).
   - Kadeena Cox is first Briton to win gold in two sports at same Olympics (athletics and cycling).
   - Dame Sarah Storey wins record breaking 12th gold medal.
David Cameron resigns as MP.
Political boundary changes threaten Labour MPs seats.
29 injured in New York bomb attack.
Second bomb in New Jersey.
Aid convoy bombed in Syria.
plastic fiver"Brangelina" announce marriage break-up.
Great British Bake Off sold to Channel 4.
Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership campaign.
Labour Party internal conflict continues.
Plastic fivers hit the streets.
Collector sells three new £5 notes for £460.
Alton Towers operator fined £5 million for Smiler crash,

Paid the debt of Nature
Actor John Polito, 65. (Homicide: Life on the Street)
Iranian paralympic cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad, 48. (crash during road race)
Actor Hugh O'Brian, 91. (Wyatt Earp)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? playwright Edward Albee, 88.
Oscar-winning film writer and director Curtis Hanson, 71.
Actor Bill Nunn, 62.
Golfer Arnold Palmer,87.
Former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres, 93.
Boxer Mike Towell, 25. (fight related injuries)

Hurricane Matthew hits the Caribbean.
  -  More than 1000 dead in Haiti
Diane James quits as UKIP leader after just 18 days.
Fracking given go-ahead in Lancashire in spite of local objections.
US election campaign increasingly acrimonious.
Trump 'groping' tape released.
Gorilla Kumbuka escapes from London Zoo.
Bob Dylan wins Nobel prize for literature.
Missing toddler Ben Needham died accidentally, police decide.
50th anniversary of Aberfan disaster.
European Schiaparelli probe crashes on Mars.
MPs call for BHS boss Philip Green to lose his knighthood.
France closes Calais migrant camp, the Jungle.
Titanic locker key sells for £85,000.
Fire devastates cathedral close in Exeter.
     - 18th century Royal Clarence Hotel destroyed.
6.6 magnitude earthquake hits Italy

Beyond the veil
Jia Jia's 37th birthday party
British conductor Sir Neville Marriner, 92
Songwriter Rod Temperton, 66. (Thriller)
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, 88.
Coronation Street actress Jean Alexander, 90. (Hilda Ogden)
Oldest panda in captivity Jia Jia, 38.
Dad's Army creator Jimmy Perry, 93.
Comic book artist Steve Dillon, 54.
Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns, 57.
60s pop singer Bobby Vee, 73.
DJ Dave Cash, 74.

Gymnast Louis Smith suspended for three months over racist behaviour.
High Court says parliament must vote on Brexit.
Tennis player Andy Murray becomes world number one.
£2.5m stolen from Tesco bank accounts.
Donald Trump wins USA presidential election.
     - Asian markets drop overnight
     - Canadian immigration website collapses
Seven dead and 50 injured in Croydon tram crash.
7.5 earthquake and tsunami hit New Zealand.
Second quake hits New Zealand. (Magnitude 6.3)
Drone near-miss with Airbus A320 in London.
US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper resigns.
Strictly dancer Gorka Marquez attacked in Blackpool.
Jenson Button retires from F1.
Brazilian football team Chapecoense in air disaster.

Bought the farm
Robert Vaughn in The Magnificent Seven
Actor Don Marshall, 80. (Land of the Giants)
Broadcaster Sir Jimmy Young, 95.
Singer Leonard Cohen, 82.
Man from U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn, 83.
Musician Leon Russell, 74.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 90.
Actor Ron Glass, 71. (Firefly)
Actor Andrew Sachs, 86. (Fawlty Towers)

Nico Rosberg retires from F1.
Three feet of snow falls in Hawaii
Football abuse scandal continues.
6.5 earthquake in Indonesia. 100+ dead.
Kirk Douglas 100th birthday.
Bomb blast in Cairo.
Ceasefire in Aleppo fails in less than 24 hours.
Riot at HMP Birmingham.
Len Goodman retires from Strictly Come Dancing.
Lorry drives into crowd in terror attack on Berlin Christmas market.
Driver later shot dead in Milan.
Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov shot in Turkey.
Explosion at a fireworks market outside Mexico City.
First Sahara desert snow in 40 years.
7.7 earthquake off Chile.
Severe cold prevents Queen from attending Christmas Day church service.
Cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins retires from sport.
Russian President Vladimir Putin brokers peace agreement in Syria.

Joined the great majority
Porridge actor Peter Vaughan, 93.
Green Hornet actor Van Williams, 82.
Prog rock musician Greg Lake, 69.
Astronaut and US senator John Glenn, 95.
Sunday Times restaurant critic AA Gill, 62.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord (Jim) Prior, 89.
Weatherman Ian McCaskill, 78.
Shergar jockey Walter Swinburn, 55.
To Sir With Love author E R Braithwaite, 104.
Heimlich manoeuvre inventor, Henry Heimlich, 96.
ITN war correspondent Michael Nicholson, 79.
Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99.
Broadcaster Rabbi Lionel Blue, 86.
Status Quo's Rick Parfitt, 68.
Wham frontman George Michael, 53.
Actress Liz Smith, 95.
Watership Down author Richard Adams, 96.
Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, 60.
Actress Debbie Reynolds, 84. (Stroke while planning daughter Carrie Fisher's funeral.)

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Amy Johnson: aviatrix

January 1, 2017 marks the start of Hull's reign as UK City of Culture, As part of the celebrations Hull is currently home to a flight of moth sculptures that commemorate one of the city's famous offspring - Amy Johnson.

Amy was a renowned aviatrix who was the first woman to fly solo from the UK to Australia. Born July 1, 1903, she attended school in Hull before studying at the University of Sheffield where she gained a BA in economics.

While working as a solicitor's secretary in London she took up flying as a hobby. She gained her pilot's licence in 1929 and her father helped her to buy her own aircraft - a second hand De Havilland Gipsy Moth.

Two years later, working with co-pilot Jack Humphreys, she completed the first ever flight from London to Moscow in less than a day. Other records she set included solo to Cape Town, Britain to India, and non-stop to New York.

During WWII she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary. In 1941 she flew an Airspeed Oxford from Prestwick to Oxford via Blackpool, but went off course and ditched in the Thames Estuary in freezing conditions. Her body was never recovered.

A Moth for Amy will be on show in Hull until the end of March.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Very Grand

One of the most prominent buildings on the seafront at Scarborough is the Grand Hotel. When it opened in July 1867 it was the largest brick building in Europe.

Rear view showing V plan
It is undoubtedly tall. It has 12 floors, including two attic levels, rooms in the eaves, and three basement levels. It is constructed on the side of the Valley cliff so the basement levels descend down the hillside.

The building was designed by Hull architect Cuthbert Brodrick (who also designed the Corn Exchange in Leeds) and took four years to complete. It is constructed in local Hunmanby bricks, hence its distinctive tawny colour.

The ground plan is V shaped, to commemorate Queen Victoria, and the building has 52 chimneys, representing the weeks in a year, its 12 floors represent the months, four towers represent the seasons, and originally had 365 rooms - one for every day.

Detail from the upper floors
It was a luxury hotel, costing more than £100,000 to build, and once attracted rich and upper class clientele. Among its customers was Winston Churchill, who stayed there during a political conference. During WWII it housed RAF service personnel who underwent drill training in the square below. These days it's very much a budget place to stay.

It's still stunning to look at. And it has a special place in my heart. If you read my other blog you might remember the photo of my Dad perched outside the Grand during his national service.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Coal carving

Coal has been used as a carving material for many years. The earliest known examples date from the 17th century, but you can still buy examples as souvenirs today - even though coal mining is almost extinct in the UK.

Although large and ornamental pieces were often made by professionals, many small, personal items were carved by miners themselves. The National Coal Mining Museum for England, near Wakefield in Yorkshire, has many examples of carved coal.

Snuff boxes were common items - miners were keen snuff users because it was a great way to clear coal dust from their noses at the end of a shift - but other regularly made objects were ornamental shoes, or small pieces of jewellery.

The material used for carving was cannel coal, a fine-grained variety that was used to produce coal gas. It was cleaner than domestic coal, and took a high polish. In Scotland they used another type called parrot coal, which got its name because of the noise it made when it was burned.

Parrot coal was also very strong and was often made into furniture. The Wemyss Coal Company had a table that weighed 5cwt (250 kilos)

The items in the photo were made by miners in Nottinghamshire and date from the late 19th century.

Incidentally - this is my 100th post on this blog.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Object in focus: majolica pharmacy jars

Majolica pharmacy jars dating from the 18th century. On display at the Museum of the Order of St John in London.  Sang dracon means dragon's blood, and refers to a deep red plant resin used for many centuries in medicine for intestinal and respiratory problems. These days it's mainly used to varnish violins.

The Order of St John grew from a group of 11th century religious soldiers who cared for the sick and wounded in Jerusalem. Its modern day equivalent is, of course, St John Ambulance.  The Anorak is descended from two generations of Serving Brothers of the Order, and the current Mr Anorak is a regular first aider in the same organisation,

In the early 11th century a hospital was set up by a group of monks in Jerusalem. The monks cared for travellers on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The monks became known as the Hospitallers and their new religious order was officially recognised by the Church in 1113. They cared for anyone, regardless of race or faith. During the Crusades the Hospitallers took on a military role and eventually became known as the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

In 1291 Palestine was recaptured by Muslim forces so the Order was forced to move, first to Cyprus then, in 1309, to Rhodes. The Order stayed there until 1522, when Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the island and they were forced to move again.

The Order moved to Malta and took an active part in its defence - including during a siege by Suleiman in 1565 - until 1798, when Napoleon took control of the island.

In the 1140s the Order set up an English headquarters in Clerkenwell, but when Henry VIII split up from Rome the lands and property were seized by the crown. Henry's daughter Elizabeth I dissolved the Order completely.

Following the dissolution the abbey buildings had many different uses, including the office of the Master of the Revels during Elizabeth's reign. Thirty of Shakespeare's plays were performed there.

Artist William Hogarth's father Richard ran the gatehouse as a coffee house in the 18th century. Samuel Johnson was employed there to write for the Gentleman's Magazine. The gatehouse later became a pub called the Old Jerusalem Tavern and Charles Dickens was among its customers.

The current Order of St John was established by Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1888. It operated the first ambulance transport system as well as offering first aid services to the public.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Giveaway - canal books

Hello all

I'm assuming if you read this blog you have an interest in history. Well, I've been clearing out the bookshelves (it has to be done!) and sorted out these two that I'm offering as a giveaway.

Canal Walks South, 1994 Sutton Publishing 178 pp featuring a number of canalside walks across the south of England, and a small patch of Wales. Everywhere from Bude to Rye; Kennet & Avon Canal to Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation. Each one has a history of the area and details of things to look out for along the way.  Some are quite long (14 miles plus) but you don't have to do them all at once. In fact you don't have to do them at all. The book is a good read in itself, if you are interested in transport and trade history.

The Grand Union Canal Walk, 1997, Aurum Press. 168 pp including maps. This one covers the length of the Grand Union Canal from Paddington to Birmingham. Again you've got history as well as a geographical description of what you'll find along the way. It's broken up into short lengths, and there are even options for very short, circular walks along the route.  Lots of lovely colour illustrations for browsing at home.

All you have to do is add a comment to this post telling me which book you'd like and why. On November 21 I will choose two winners to receive the book of their choice. UK only, I'm afraid. It costs too much to post books overseas!

Saturday, 8 October 2016


Imagine you're a 17th century toff and you want an uninterrupted view of your grazing herds over in the park, but you don't want the beastly animals trampling your manicured lawn.  Well, have no fear your lordship. There's a newfangled design just been brought across from France that will solve your problem in one simple move.

The idea is that you dig a ditch around the boundary of the lawn. The far side slopes gently, so as the cows won't break their legs by falling in, but this side is a sharp drop, supported by a wall.  Of course, some of your lordship's children might run off the end of it, and perhaps a couple of the servants, but all-in-all it'll be better than a dirty great fence across the vista, won't it?

Monsieur Guillaume Beaumont (known to his mates as Bill) created one for Levens Hall up in Cumbria. They're laying out new gardens and he put one in right from the start when he began planning in 1694. They say he's the first to have done it in this country.

And back to the present day......

The innovative structure is today known as a ha-ha, believed to have earned its name from people coming across it unexpectedly in the landscape. One of its keenest users was Lancelot "Capability" Brown (1716-83), because it helped him create truly bucolic scenes without the need for walls and fences, but obviously that was some time later than Levens, owing to the fact that he wasn't born till 1716.

The top photo is the view along the ha-ha, but it's not easy to understand immediately. The wall is at ground level. You are standing to the right of it. It might not be obvious but the grass on your left slopes down towards  you. You can see the angle if you look into the distance in the pic. Please excuse the photo because I get nervous when I'm balancing on the edge of a six foot drop. The darker green you can see by the wall is a nettle bed - just to add to the fun.

So that brings us to photo 2, which shows the effect of having a ha-ha. The trees in the distance are the ones you can see on the left in photo 1. What you can't see in either photo is the fact that there are cows out there too. They are free to roam where they wish, but they can't get up and over the ha-ha wall to trample your lovely herbaceous borders. In fact, the ditch is so deep that you wouldn't be able to see the cows, even if they were right up against the wall.

And this last photo is a closer view of the urn that you're supposed to see in the view. It's a typical decorative feature of the time. Gardens around this date often had long views between flower beds, or hedges, with a classical urn or statue acting as a focal point at the end.

The shadow is, of course, where the ditch is. The fact that you can see it is entirely due to the direction of the sun when this photo was taken. Normally it would just be green, as far as your eye could see.  Ha-ha!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Blackpool Tower

*Blackpool Tower is one of the iconic images of northwest England. At 518 feet high (158 metres) the Grade I listed structure is the 103rd tallest free standing tower in the world. It was inspired by the Eiffel Tower.

It's nationally known as the traditional home of ballroom dancing, and it is currently the venue for a highlight of the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. It also houses a circus ring, a high-rise observation deck with a glass floor, a 'house of horror' dungeon attraction, and the flagship branch of fish and chip chain Harry Ramsden's.

The architects were James Maxwell and Charles Tuke, two Lancashire men, but the structural engineers in charge of the project were Worcester-based Heenan and Froude. Construction took five million bricks, 2,500 tonnes of steel and 93 tonnes of cast iron.

The Tower opened on May 14, 1894 and on that day more than 3,000 people rode lifts to the top. By the 1890s seaside holidays were becoming popular. The 1871 Bank Holidays Act had created official public holidays throughout the year, and the growing railway network made travel easier and affordable for working families.

Blackpool had had a railway connection since the 1840s and by the time the Tower opened the town already had a promenade and many other seaside favourites: fish and chip shops, pubs, donkey rides, and gypsy fortune tellers. All three piers were complete, the South Pier opened just a year before the Tower. The world-famous illuminations opened in 1879.

The Tower was just the latest attraction designed to encourage holidaymakers and day trippers to part with their money. It cost sixpence (2.5p) to go inside, sixpence to ride the lift to the top, and another sixpence to watch the circus in the building below. The average wage at the time was £1 a week. A Blackpool Tower Circus ticket would cost you the best part of £20 today.

* As promised a couple of posts ago - more about Blackpool.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016


Blackwell, widely known as The Arts and Craft House, perches on a hillside above Lake Windermere in Cumbria. It was built as a holiday home for Manchester brewery owner Sir Edward Holt and his family. Designed by architect M H Baillie Scott, and with gardens laid out by Thomas Mawson.

It was built between 1898 and 1900 at at the time was the height of design fashion. Today it's open to the public and many of its original details are still in place.

There are lots of signs all over the place that say you can't take photos, so sorry, this is a little drab. Best thing I can suggest is that, when you've read this summary, you visit the house's website.

Baillie Scott had gained a reputation among designers by publishing sketches and ideas in The Studio magazine. It was this reputation that arned him the commission to create Blackwell. His design ideas created a spacious, comfortable, light and airy building with plenty of nooks and crannies for relaxing in.

Visitors today find the building unencumbered by any restrictions (except photography) and it's possible to sit in the many alcoves and inglenooks and contemplate the rooms in more detail than traditional don't-pass-this-rope tours that most houses offer.

The Holt family enjoyed Blackwell for several years, but began to make fewer visits after their son died during WWI. Various tenants stayed there, but when WWII broke out Blackwell took in evacuees from Huyton College in Liverpool. It became a full-time school after the war, and continued in that function until 1976.

When the school closed the house was taken over by the English Conservancy Council - later to become English Nature - and much of the decorative detail was boarded up to avoid damage from office wear and tear.

English Nature moved out in 1997 and the Lakeland Arts Trust began a campaign to buy and restore the house. Fund raising, donations and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Trust saved the house and enabled its preservation as a visitor attraction. It is now listed Grade I.

It's a delightful place to visit. Blackwell has been on my wish list for several years and didn't disappoint. The wonderful interior decoration offers something new around every cornr, up every staircase, and in every window. It's hard to choose a favourite room.

The white drawing room is exquisite, but I couldn't help thinking how soon it would look shabby in normal use. We have two black cats, and white is the least practical colour if you own pets. Not to mention the Lakeland weather. Wandering in from the garden would bring its own mud and grime and inevitably some would transfer to the furnishings.

The dining room is almost too intense to be comfortable. Think of a set for a medieval production of Morte d'Arthur: high-backed oak chairs; a magnificent inglenook fireplace made of huge chunks of local stone; ornate, painted hessian wall-covering in shades of dark green and earthy browns; wrought iron candlesticks; the complete works.

Photo borrowed from 
So perhaps I'll choose the main hall: not so much a room as a suite. It is entered from a pillared corridor and there are many corners to explore. There is a wonderful peacock frieze around the walls of the main section, above dark oak panelling, and the whole is lit with copper light fittings so typical of the arts and crafts style. But it's not the design that makes this the best room - it's the minstrel's gallery. A delightful extra cubbyhole, based on a tree house and reached by means of a winding stair. It would be the perfect place to sit snugly and read a book, while the Cumbrian weather lashed the surrounding countryside.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Garden features: topiary

Topiary at Levens Hall
Topiary -  or curious greens as it was once called - was imported to England from the Netherlands, where it was a passion of Dutch gardeners. The first designs were simple, geometric shapes such as spheres and pyramids, but ambitions grew gradually until all manner of strange shapes were created from box and yew.

One of the most important topiary gardens in the UK is at Levens Hall in Cumbria. The garden was first laid out in the 1690s and has changed very little since. It is believed that some of the trees there are from the original planting. It was designed by Guillaume Beaumont, believed to have trained under Le Notre at Versailles, and one time gardener to James II.

Victorian taste at Elvaston Castle
The elaborate tree shaping soon went out of fashion, however, making way for complex planting schemes, parterres and sweeping vistas, and did not return to favour until Victorian times. The grounds at Elvaston Castle in Derbyshire were given a topiary revival in the 1830s.

Today topiary is mainly restricted to a few extremely elaborate structures in smaller gardens, designed to create one showpiece, rather than a large display.

A modern example (Not my photo. Used with thanks.)

Friday, 9 September 2016


Mr Anorak and I are on holiday.  Guess where?

The Lion and Albert
by Marriott Edgar

There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That's noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
'E'd a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle
The finest that Woolworth's could sell.

They didn't think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin' and small
There was no wrecks... nobody drownded
'Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.

So, seeking for further amusement
They paid and went into the zoo
Where they'd lions and tigers and cam-els
And old ale and sandwiches too.

There were one great big lion called Wallace
His nose were all covered with scars
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face to the bars.

Now Albert had heard about lions
How they were ferocious and wild
And to see Wallace lying so peaceful
Well... it didn't seem right to the child.

So straight 'way the brave little feller
Not showing a morsel of fear
Took 'is stick with the'orse's 'ead 'andle
And pushed it in Wallace's ear!

You could see that the lion didn't like it
For giving a kind of a roll
He pulled Albert inside the cage with 'im
And swallowed the little lad... whole!

Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
And didn't know what to do next
Said, "Mother! Yon lions 'et Albert"
And Mother said "Eeh, I am vexed!"

So Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Quite rightly, when all's said and done
Complained to the Animal Keeper
That the lion had eaten their son.

The keeper was quite nice about it
He said, "What a nasty mishap
Are you sure that it's your lad he's eaten?"
Pa said, "Am I sure? There's his cap!"

So the manager had to be sent for
He came and he said, "What's to do?"
Pa said, "Yon lion's 'eaten our Albert
And 'im in his Sunday clothes, too."

Then Mother said, "Right's right, young feller
I think it's a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we've paid to come in!"

The manager wanted no trouble
He took out his purse right away
And said, "How much to settle the matter?"
And Pa said "What do you usually pay?"

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone
She said, "No! someone's got to be summonsed"
So that were decided upon.

Round they went to the Police Station
In front of a Magistrate chap
They told 'im what happened to Albert
And proved it by showing his cap.

The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame
He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

At that Mother got proper blazing
"And thank you, sir, kindly," said she
"What! waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy lions? Not me!"

Written some time in the 1930s and made famous by Stanley Holloway. More about Blackpool to follow.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016


Larwood bowls to Bradman
In the early 1930s Australia's cricket team had some very impressive batsmen and the most feared of all was Don Bradman. With him playing it was pretty near impossible to beat the Aussies, so the English team invented a new form of bowling especially to beat the great man. It was called Bodyline, also known as fast leg bowling, and involved delivering the ball directly at the batsman on the line of leg stump. (That's the upright of the wicket that's closest to the batsman's leg.)

The tactic was seen as aggressive and threatening, and certainly 'not cricket, old man'. No-one was injured during the run up to the 1932 test series, but the Aussies saw the whole event as offensive, and feelings were running high. In the opening Test in Sydney England bowler Harold Larwood took 10 wickets using Bodyline.

Aussie captain Bill Woodfull refused to retaliate, saying he would never use tactics that would bring the game discredit. Australia won the second Test, much to the delight of the home nation.  But in the third Test in Adelaide Woodfull was hit in the chest by a ball from Larwood, and spent many minutes doubled over in pain. The crowd was incensed and a riot narrowly avoided. The next day a ball from Larwood, delivered conventionally, struck wicket keeper Bert Oldfield on the head, fracturing his skull.

Bradman at the wicket
An official row broke out, with Australia calling for an end to Bodyline bowling and saying it was dangerous,  and England claiming the tactic was not designed to injure anyone. England continued to use Bodyline for the remainder of the series and eventually won 4-1.

The row rumbled on, however, and in 1935 the MCC (cricket's ruling body) brought in new laws that meant captains had to play in the 'spirit of the game' and made it clear that Bodyline breached that spirit.

Indirectly, the 1932 debacle led to an increase in protective clothing worn by batsmen and wicket keepers. Threatening and body-close bowling is used in the modern game, but the consequences are less severe because of the armour.

So what made me choose this topic? Well, for reasons I won't go into, I had to be in Kirkby in Ashfield in Nottinghamshire this week, birthplace of Bodyline bowler Harold Larwood. The event is commemorated (if that's the right word) by a sculpture outside the town library.  A full length wicket (22 yards) with life-size figures in bronze.

For some reason Larwood emigrated to Australia in the 1950s where he was welcomed and even asked to commentate on matches between the two countries. He died, aged 90, in 1995

The sculpture was created by Neale Andrew and erected in 2002.

Anyone who knows anything about cricket will have realised by now that I don't know much. Apologies to those who understand it - and care about it. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

Garden features: stumperies

Entering the stumpery at Biddulph
A stumpery is a garden feature similar to a rockery, but made from the remains of dead trees. They have been a part of large and show gardens since Victorian times. The first was created in 1856 at Biddulph Grange, but they became popular after that and are still made today. Interestingly, within a fortnight of my visiting Biddulph I saw a second stumpery just a few miles down the road at Trentham Gardens. This one is modern, however, and nowhere near as large as the original.

Tree stumps and root systems, often collected from land clearance across a country estate, are piled up, or set into a wall, and secured with posts and metalwork to create an unusual, often unearthly, but effectively natural, structure.

The idea behind a stumpery is to create an attractive backdrop for greenery, and they are usually the home of ferns, mosses and lichens.  They rose to fashion at the same time as ferns were being introduced into English gardens, around the era of the Romantic Movement - the 'natural' backlash to the Industrial Revolution. Coincidentally they are also great places for wildlife, because the rotting wood attracts various insects, which attracts birds and small mammals, and so on.

More ferny stumps
The largest stumpery in Britain was constructed in 1980 by Prince Charles. (I always like that expression, when people say a member of the royals 'built' something. It's unlikely that he ever got his hands dirty - the gardeners would have followed his instructions - but he probably talks to the trees.) It's at his country home, Highgrove, and is a display area for hellebores and hostas.

If you fancy creating one in your own garden it's extremely possible and there are plenty of DIY helpers online. They suggest you can even use old railway sleepers if you can't get hold of dead tree roots. But wouldn't that be a sleepery?


Wednesday, 24 August 2016


You can find some strange things in people's gardens. Mind you, the gardens at Biddulph Grange are quite strange in themselves. They were originally designed to hold the collections of renowned plantsman James Bateman (1811–1897), who owned the property. They were drawn up with the help of seascape artist Edward William Cooke, which might explain their completely unpredictable nature.

The grounds are divided into many sections that represent different species or even different areas of the world. The two most well known are China and Egypt. When you've paid your National Trust entrance fee you're handed a map and waved off on a voyage of exploration. Other than "this way to the tea shop" and "you can buy plants here" you'll find very little signage - so you're on your own - and you'll be passed many times by visitors who have their heads facing down to a rather bedraggled piece of paper, wandering endlessly and muttering "I know China's around here somewhere" or "I think it's supposed to be near Egypt".  Meanwhile they're missing the magnificent dahlias and the unearthly 'stumpery' or the very tall trees in the pinetum.

We can be sympathetic. Each of the miniature gardens is well hidden behind intervening rockeries, banks of topiary, or a myriad other kinds of feature that obscure, entrance, and otherwise distract from the original destination.

But I digress. I was planning to discuss the oddest thing (well - I thought it the oddest) to be found in the gardens, and that's a rather squat statue of a baboon that sits hunched inside the dark catacomb of a replica tomb in the Egypt garden.

Hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas) held a significant place in Egyptian society. They were often kept as pets, and there's some evidence that they could be trained to pick fruit, such as figs. This is gleaned from tomb paintings, so it's a matter of interpretation, but it's not unlikely. Since the earliest, pre-dynastic, era they were considered sacred and the god Baba might be how they came to get their name. They were admired for their intelligence and their lustfulness. I'm not sure I wanted to know that their faeces was used in aphrodisiac potions. (These Egyptians wrote everything inside their tombs because they needed all the trappings of life to survive on the 'other side'.) By the time of the Old Kingdom baboons were associated with the god Thoth, who controlled wisdom, science and measurement.

So it's not odd in itself that there's a baboon in the Egypt garden, but it's not the first Egyptian god that springs to mind. He sits in an alcove underground (I had to use a flash to get a decent photo.) with just a red skylight over his head to crack the darkness. A lot of people walked straight past him without noticing.

That's all of Biddulph I'm giving you for now. I might eke out its wonders over a few posts, because there's a lot of it.

Wikipedia ( and Ancient Egypt: the mythology ( for supporting information.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Who slept here?

Miles out in the wilds of Leicestershire, close to Coalville, is a lovely little village called Donington le Heath and the delightful manor house has recently undergone a transformation to turn it into The 1620s House. It has a pretty little garden (I'll return to that in a later post.) and a collection of authentic, but not necessarily original, furniture from the early 17th century.

This fine piece is known as King Dick's bed. It was brought to Donington from Leicester, where it stood for many years in the Blue Boar Inn. According to its previous owners it's the bed that Richard III slept in on the eve of the Battle of Bosworth. (Where he died for want of a horse and ended up buried under a council car park.) However, it's just the base and the rope supports that might have even a distant connection to the king. The canopy and tester all date from the mid 17th century. (And the curtains are only a couple of years old.)

Beds like this pre-date spring mattresses, of course, and bedding was supported on a web of ropes that could be adjusted by pulling hard on them from the sides. (You can see the loops in the photo.) This is supposedly the explanation of the expression "sleep tight".

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Kirby Hall Gardens

Kirby Hall was an Elizabethan show house, designed with the aim of attracting the attention of the monarch. Sadly, the Virgin Queen never visited, in spite of the efforts of two consecutive owners Sir Humphrey Stafford and Sir Christopher Hatton. The Hall passed through the hands of various members of the Hatton family and it is believed that Sir Christopher I's cousin (Sir Christopher II) laid out the original great garden alongside the house. However, it is his grandson (Sir Christopher IV) who indulged his interest in plants and developed the grounds into what became known as ‘the finest garden in England’.

That garden has been recreated by English Heritage, the current custodians of the property, but between the time of Sir Chris IV (1685 and beyond) and the 1930s, when the site was taken into state guardianship, it fell into disrepair, and eventually disappeared.
The view from the state rooms

But in the 1980s English Heritage began an archaeological investigation under the leadership of garden historian Brian Dix. The team gathered as many clues as possible to the garden's original layout, for example considering the colours and texture of soil across the site. During the excavations a spread of bent nails was found, indicating the positions of boards used to create the geometric patterns of the lawns and paths. Coupled with written texts, the evidence allowed developers to recreate the Great Garden as closely as possible to how it would have been in the 1690s.
Statue of Neptune

The garden is a fine example of 'cutwork', which consists of carefully manicured lawns separated by coloured gravel walkways. It is divided into four quarters or parterres. (From the French 'on the ground'.) The symmetrically-laid patterns of curves and straight lines reflect the symmetry of the house.  In contrast to the pattern on the floor there are carefully positioned statues, urns, seating, topiary and other features to give height to the composition.

The mount
The overall pattern was designed to be viewed from above and to the South end there is a grassy mount, where visitors could walk to the summit and look down on the garden. To the North is a red brick wall where a floral border incorporates flowers and plants typical of the era, including fruit trees trained along the brickwork to maximise the light they receive.

The view from the mount
Originally, beyond the mount was an area called the Wilderness. It was a heavily-planted area with trees and many, intersecting paths where visitors could stroll. It's not a wilderness in the current sense, rather a place to wander and to be offered many choices of direction, from the old English verb 'to wilder', which is also the stem of the word 'bewilder'.

In the late 17th century a garden was a definite status symbol and only a chosen few would have been invited to see it; but the design and planting were aimed at impressing them. Tantalising glimpses could be seen from the state rooms, so even those who were not escorted around the garden and shown the latest new species to be planted there would be well aware of its owner's importance.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Kirby Hall

The North front of Kirby Hall from the forecourt
In 1575 Sir Christopher Hatton acquired the house and lands at Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire. He was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I and hoped that she would grace him with her presence at his new home. (As Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, did at Kenilworth.)
But it was not to be. Hatton waited in vain for her visit, and died deeply in debt because of the money he had spent on the grand house.

The loggia archway
Today it is a mostly roofless wreck, although much of the rich decoration can still be seen in the remains. It must have been a magnificent place, and Her Maj missed out by being such a spoil sport. (Of course, when royals visited in those days they brought a huge retinue with them and you were expected to look after them all for as long as it pleased Majesty to stay. You could still end up penniless, even if she did turn up!)

The Hall is listed Grade I and the surrounding lands Grade II*. This is an important place, in spite of its current state, and there is much to see. It was built that way. This is a show home, with the stress on 'show'. The house dates from a time when many - at least among the rich and gentry - were travelling abroad for the first time. Architecture was leaving behind the old, rambling, medieval 'build as you need' and moving towards classically influenced design. Much of Kirby Hall is clearly based on Roman and Greek buildings, including its symmetrical construction, its columns, and decoration.

Decoration including the Stafford Knot
Work on building the house began in 1570, by Sir Humphrey Stafford, and the knot from his coat of arms appears several times in the decoration. The knot is also part of the Staffordshire County badge, of course. I'm not sure whether the area or the family had it first. Poor Sir Humphrey died only five years later, so Sir Christopher continued the development after he obtained the site. And he built for spectacle.

The house was entered through a complex set of structures designed to extend a visitor's journey to the front door. Each stage more lavish than those before. Firstly there was a forecourt, entered by means of a number of ornate archways. That led to the North Front, behind which was the loggia, or covered gallery. Within the loggia were a series of rooms that would have been used for attending to guests' needs on arrival or departure.

Beyond that was the inner courtyard, leading to a grand porch at the entrance to the house proper. Throughout the approach, visitors would be reminded of the importance of their host by the ornate carvings depicting historical scenes and heraldic symbols.

Inside the house, guests entered through the great hall, two storeys high, with a minstrel gallery to one end. Stairs leading up to the state rooms were decorated with thick paint and sand to make them look like stone.

The bay windows
Among the other delights were the huge bay windows. Glass was an expensive commodity in the 17th century and so the two-storey, curved windows would have astounded visitors, whether they were viewed from outside, or the guest was able to look out through them. Even today they are impressive.

Sir Chris died in 1591 (still Queen-less) and the property passed to Sir William Newport, who changed his name to Christopher Hatton, and then, in 1597, to a cousin (called Sir Christopher Hatton!). More generations of Sir Christopher Hattons inherited until we reach SCH the Fourth. He was a great plantsman and he began to remodel the gardens when he moved into the Hall in 1685. It eventually became known as "ye finest garden in England".

Most of those gardens have recently been recreated by the now-owners English Heritage, although a huge area known as The Wilderness no longer exists. I'll do you a full post about the gardens in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, make do with a photo.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The Little People

Richard Dadd's vision of the Hidden Folk
Fellow blogger Mike at A Bit About Britain recently did a post about Pentre Ifan, a Welsh ancient monument, and some of the stories associated with it. One of them is the belief that the site is visited by The Little People. He used the F word (F***y) but that's something I try to avoid at all costs. Here's a little something I wrote a while ago that explains why. (Yes, that is yet another blog under my influence!)

I grew up with a taboo on that word but I have never really thought about the reasons for it. So I've been doing some research. All the learned scholars I've been reading seem to bandy the word around with no care for the potential pitfalls.  However, Simpson and Roud (2000) state that the original English term was 'elf' and the F word arrived with the French influence of Middle English. There is also mention of a 17th century belief that saying the word would enable people to identify a witch.

There is no doubt that the Fae are seen as something not quite trustworthy. From the ancient stories of changeling babies to the more recent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Clarke) it is clear that any dealings with the Fair Folk must be carried out with extreme care. And wherever possible, carry a piece of iron. Various explanations exist for the idea that iron helps protect against the Fae. You can find one attached to the story I gave the link for in paragraph one.

Ashe (1990) links the idea to a possibility that belief in the Hidden Ones stems from a time when Iron Age peoples took over Britain from the Bronze age dwellers. He posits that in the early days of the Iron Age influx the indigenous people would have moved out of the way of the invaders with the sharp, iron weapons. They might have remained separate, but close to their old monuments; the mounds and stone circles they had erected for their dead and their religious rites. Hence the new Britons would have viewed them as rarely, and fleetingly, seen other-worldly creatures, associated with ghosts and the uncanny.

In their Field Guide, Arrowsmith and Moorse state that they have avoided using the F term because of its frequent misuse. They do not cite any potential harm from using it, but they do give a number of euphemistic terms, including the Fair Folk, the Forgetful Folk, the Night Folk, the Good Neighbours from the Sunset Land, Little Darlings and Mother's Blessing, among others.

Reader's Digest is more straightforward. In a 1973 encyclopaedia it states that few people chose to talk about their experiences with elves because they were believed to be fiercely private creatures. "Cautious believers," it says "prefer instead to use names such as 'The Good People', 'The Little People', or 'The Hidden People'."

Arrowsmith, Nancy & Moorse, George, (1977) A Field Guide to the Little People, Macmillan London Ltd.
Ashe, Geoffrey (1990) Mythology of the British Isles, Methuen, London.
Clarke, Susanna, (2004) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Bloomsbury Publishing
Reader's Digest (1973) Folklore, Myths and Legends of Great Britain, The Reader's Digest Association Ltd.
Simpson, Jacqueline & Roud, Steve (2000) A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press

Sunday, 10 July 2016


The Birdcage Arbour
There's a rather obscure hall and garden on the edge of South Derbyshire, which is very little known in spite of its architectural and historic importance. It's called Melbourne Hall, and it's in the village that ultimately gave its name to the Australian city, albeit via a rather roundabout route.

One of the reasons so few people have heard of it is because it's not open very often. Weekends and Wednesdays, April to September, with occasional extra days in August. and then only for four hours at a time. I live five miles from it and it's taken me 10 years to get there. I tried a few weeks ago but there was a blackboard at the entrance with "Gardens closed. Flood." chalked on it. Second attempt was more successful.

For anyone who bothers to check, Melbourne Hall has one of the most unspoiled gardens of its era - the very early 18th century. The original design was drawn up in 1704, but it was already becoming out of date by the time it was finished a couple of decades later. The likes of Lancelot "Capability" Brown and his ilk were doing away with the French style of geometric ponds, regimented lawns, classical statuary and long vistas by the 1730s, to make way for a more 'natural look'. (Of course their kind of nature frequently required re-routing streams and rivers, and the removal of whole villages if they spoiled the view. A most unnatural form of nature.)
complex wrought iron
Looking up through the dome

The view back to the house
But the then owner of Melbourne Hall, the Rt.Hon.Thomas Coke, decided enough had been spent on his gardens already, and he was unwilling to waste any more money bringing it up to date. Subsequent generations have followed suit, so Melbourne is now acknowledged as one of the best preserved examples of the style.

It's packed full of statuary, almost all of which is listed Grade I, but its crowning glory is undoubtedly its Birdcage Arbour, which stands by the pond at the southern end of the garden. It's exquisite.  It was designed and built by local blacksmith Robert Bakewell and is extremely ornate wrought iron, topped with a cupola rising to a tall finial. It is decorated with leaves and scrolls, caricature faces and sun disks.  Bakewell was paid the then princely sum of £120 for his work, but its production left him penniless. However, it vastly increased his reputation and he managed to find other work in and around Derbyshire, including the chancel screens at Derby cathedral and Staunton Harold church.

And how did Melbourne pass on its name to the Down Under town?
Well, in the mid 19th century it was the home of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne and Prime Minister of the UK. It was named in 1837 by Governor Sir Richard Bourke to honour him. Clearly the scandal caused by his wife Lady Caroline's affair with the poet Byron in 1812 had been forgotten by that time. A week is a long time in politics, as they say. Twenty five years is obviously even longer!