The History Anorak

The History Anorak

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 review

2017 was a year when terror attacks became less organised, more random, but just as deadly. The celebrity death toll was lower than in 2016 but still claimed some dearly-loved figures. Politics took an unpredictable and sometimes unpleasant turn.  

39 killed in new year gun attack on Istanbul nightclub.
Queen misses church through ill health.
3.9 magnitude earthquake off Scarborough.
Four earthquakes in Italy trigger avalanche that buries hotel.
Protests across USA after Trump brings in 'Muslim ban'.
Six dead and eight injured in shooting at Quebec mosque.
Demonstrations across the UK against Trump Muslim ban.

Gone beyond
M.A.S.H.'s Father Mulcahy, William Christopher, 84. (New Year's Eve)
Bollywood actor Om Puri, 66.
John Hurt
Singer songwriter Peter Sarstedt, 75.
Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 82.
Ex-England football manager Graham Taylor, 72.
Lord Snowdon (Princess Margaret's husband), 86.
Last man to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan, 82.
Former England women's cricket captain Rachel Heyhoe Flint, 77.
Actor Gorden Kaye, 75.
Mott the Hoople bassist Pete Overend Watts, 69.
Actress Mary Tyler Moore, 80.
Actor Sir John Hurt, 77.
Nazi propagandist Goebbels' secretary Brunhilde Pomsel, 106.
Scottish politician Sir Tam Dalyell, 84.
Perry Mason actress Barbara Hale, 94.

UK Parliament votes to leave the EU.
Black Sabbath play their farewell gig in Birmingham.
Avalanches in Afghanistan and Pakistan kill more than 100.
House of Commons Speaker John Bercow opposes POTUS Trump addressing MPs.
Queen celebrates record 65 years on the throne by taking a day off.
UK Government rejects 1.8million petition against POTUS visit.
Lots more anti-Potus activities.
Introduction of "Scrotus" (So-called ruler of the United States)
NASA announces discovery of earth-like planets 40 light years away.
Metropolitan Police appoints first female Commissioner. (She's called Dick.)
Storm Doris causes damage across the UK.
Oscars chaos as wrong film named as best picture.
Record snowfall in Reykjavik.

Through the veil
Sir Ken Morrison, supermarket supremo, 85.
Broadcaster and actor Desmond Carrington, 90.
Radio 4 newsreader Howard Philpott, 63.
Battlestar Galactica star (Captain Apollo) Richard Hatch, 71.
Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, 45. (Brain tumour)
Steptoe and Son writer Alan Simpson, 87.
The Archers star Sara Coward (Caroline Sterling), 69.
Singer Al Jarreau, 76.
Singer Peter Skellern, 69.
Miffy creator Dick Bruna, 89.
Britain's tallest man Neil Fingleton, 36. (Heart failure)
Aliens and Titanic star Bill Paxton, 61. (Complications from heart surgery)
Labour politician Sir Gerald Kaufman, 86.

East African countries face famine.
Brexit gets the go ahead after delays from House of Lords.
Huge snow storm hits North East US.
Muirfield golf club finally admits women members.
Mount Etna eruption.
Gun attack at Orly Airport in Paris.
Terrorist incident outside Houses of Parliament. 5 dead, 28 injured.
Dozens injured in Wirral gas explosion.
PM starts Brexit process.

Joined the choir eternal
World champion motorcyclist John Surtees, 83.
Singer Jonie Sledge, 60. (Sister Sledge)
Character actor Tony Haygarth, 72. (Emmerdale, The Bill, New Tricks, Casualty)
Nobel Prize winning poet Sir Derek Walcott, 87.
Father of Rock n Roll Chuck Berry, 90.
Irish Republican politician Martin McGuinness, 66.
Inspector Morse author Colin Dexter, 86.

Mudslide in Colombia kills 250+
Explosion on St Petersburg Metro.
Lorry driven into crowd in Stockholm. Four dead.
United Airlines forcibly removes passenger in over-booking fiasco.
US drops 'mother of all bombs' on Afghanistan.
PM May announces snap election.
Britain goes 24 hours without needing coal to generate power.
Political relations failing between US and North Korea.

In memoriam
Broadcaster, writer, and civil liberties campaigner Darcus Howe, 74.
Actor Tim Pigott-Smith, 70.
Radio presenter Brian Matthew, 88.
Jamiroquai keyboard player Toby Smith, 46.
Guitarist J Geils, 71.
Theatre director Michael Bogdanov, 78.
Actress Erin Moran, 56. (Happy Days)
Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme, 73.
Bash Street Kids and Minnie the Minx artist Leo Baxendale, 86.

Prince Philip announces his retirement.
Emmanuel Macron
Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron wins French presidential election.
Trump sacks FBI head James Comey.
Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Legoland close water rides following death of 11-year-old at Drayton Manor.
Cyber ransom attack threatens UK hospitals as well as businesses worldwide.
Rape allegation dropped against Julian Assange.
Rolf Harris released from jail.
Trump: 'No politician in history has been treated more unfairly'
Historians reply to Trump's claim. Cite Gandhi, Mandela, Kennedy, among others.
22 dead in terrorist attack on Manchester Arena.
80 dead and 350 injured in Kabul car bomb attack.

Shuffled off this mortal coil
11-year-old Evha Jannath dies after falling from a ride at Drayton Manor Park.
Catweazel actor Geoffrey Bayldon, 93.
Moors murderer Ian Brady, 79.
Chris Cornell, Audioslave and Soundgarden singer, 52.
Former Wales First Minister Rhodri Morgan, 77.
The Saint and James Bond star Sir Roger Moore, 89.
Blue Peter presenter John Noakes, 83.
Musician Greg Allman, 69.
Panamanian politician Manuel Noriega, 83.
Zoo keeper Rosa King, 33. (Killed by tiger)

Seven dead and many injured in terror attack at London Bridge and Borough Market.
General election ends in a hung parliament. Chaos ensues.
Phil Collins abandons tour after a fall.
Scottish Episcopal Church approves gay marriage.
French President Emmanuel Macron wins landslide in parliamentary elections.
Estimated 79 dead in fire at Grenfell Tower, London.
Van drives into Ramadan worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque.
Portuguese forest fires. 62 dead 132 injured.
China landslide: 15 dead, more than 100 missing in Sichuan.
Actor Sir Daniel Day-Lewis announces his retirement.
Queen’s Speech delayed two days for Tory/DUP alliance to be arranged
Jeremy Corbyn appears at Glastonbury.
HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier begins sea trials.
Brexit negotiations begin.
Trump cancels the annual White House Eid celebration.
Fallout from Grenfell Tower disaster continues: 60 tower blocks fail safety checks.
Six people face charges over 1989 Hillsborough deaths.

Only resting
Brian Cant
This was the month that stole my childhood: Wallace,
Bodger and Badger, Batman, Playschool and Paddington.

Coronation Street actor Roy Barraclough, 81.
Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace, 96.
Children’s TV star Andy Cunningham, 67. (Bodger and Badger)
Batman star Adam West, 88.
Model Anita Pallenberg, 73.
Astrophysics professor and telescope designer Jerry Nelson, 73.
Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, 87.
Playschool's Brian Cant, 83.
Paddington Bear author Michael Bond, 91.

Canada's 150th anniversary.
Fire hits Camden Lock Market in London.
Lake District given UNESCO World Heritage status.
A “quarter size of Wales” iceberg calves from Antarctica.
Humber Bridge given Grade I listing.
The new Dr Who is female.
Actor Paul Nicholls breaks both legs in Thai waterfall accident.
Flash flood hits Coverack in Cornwall.
State pension age will rise to 68 in 2037.
Largest rise in crime figures for 10 years.
North sea cod is officially sustainable again.
Two dead and 100 injured in Turkey/Greece earthquake.
BBC wages revealed as unfair to women and BME presenters.
Buddhist temple in Magway, central Myanmar washed into river by rising floodwaters.
Courts rule terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard must be allowed to die.
Met Office warns of potentially dangerous rainfall levels next winter.
Y Not festival in Derbyshire cancelled due to excessive mud.
N Korea runs missile tests.

Gone to meet their maker
Film critic Barry Norman, 83.
Actor Martin Landau, 89.  (Space 1999, Mission: Impossible)
Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, 41. (suicide)
Dr Who assistant Victoria, actress Deborah Watling, 69.
Home Alone actor John Heard, 71.
Baby Charlie Gard, 11 months.

Mo Farah ends his career with gold and silver medals.
Usain Bolt's last race ends with cramp.
Trump threatens North Korea with "fire and fury". And "frankly power".
Norovirus devastates World Athletics Championship.
Heavy rain causes floods and land slips in Nepal.
North Korea threatens Guam as tensions rise.
White supremacy march in Charlottesville, VA. leaves 1 dead and 19 injured.
Trump under fire for not condemning Nazis.
Sierra Leone mudslide.
Terror attack in Barcelona kills 14 and injures dozens more.
Hurricane Harvey brings 'catastrophic floods' to Houston Texas.
North Korea fires missile over Japan.

Pushing up daisies
All Creatures Great and Small actor Robert Hardy, 91
Shelley actor Hywell Bennett, 73.
Country music great Glen Campbell, 81.
George Medal hero Bernard Kenny, who tried to save Jo Cox, 79.
Doctor at Large author Richard Gordon, 95.
Sir Bruce Forsyth, 89.
Comedian Jerry Lewis, 91.
Author Brian Aldiss, 92.

One of the last Cassini images of Jupiter
Yellow Pages to stop printing directory after 51 years.
The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant again.
Hurricane Irma devastates Caribbean and Florida Keys.
8.2 quake hits Mexico.
Archaeologists discover tomb of Egyptian goldsmith Amenemhat.
Cricket commentator Henry Blofeld retires.
Operatic Dame Kiri Te Kanawa announces retirement.
Jane Austen £10 note released.
District tube line bomb attack at Parsons Green.
Cassini probe crashes into Jupiter.
7.1 earthquake hits Mexico.
Hurricane Maria adds to devastation in the Caribbean.
Travel chaos as Ryan Air cancels hundreds of flights at short notice.
Remains of 6,000-year-old dwelling found in Ayrshire.
Radio One is 50 years old.

Passed on
Senior Roman Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, 85.
Holby City star John Michie's daughter dies at Bestival.
Steely Dan guitarist Walter Becker, 67.
TV presenter Mike Neville, 80.
David Shepherd painting
Theatre director Sir Peter Hall, 86.
Actor Harry Dean Stanton, 91.
"Raging Bull" boxer Jake LaMotta, 95.
Former MP Sir Teddy Taylor, 80.
Quiz host William G Stewart, 84.
Animal artist David Shepherd, 86.
Comedy actor Bobby Knutt, 71.
Coronation Street actress Liz Dawn, 77.
Till Death Us Do Part actor Tony Booth, 85.
Playboy Hugh Hefner, 91.

Monarch Airlines collapses.
"Biggest evacuation since Dunkirk" to rescue Monarch passengers.
More than 50 dead in Las Vegas shooting.
London museum road crash deemed 'not terrorist'.
Catalonia votes for independence from Spain.
Harvey Weinstein accused of sexual harassment.
Wildfires in northern California.
Red sun and yellow skies over UK. Saharan sand blamed.
Ex-hurricane Ophelia hits Northern Ireland.
Round pound taken out of circulation.
Kevin Spacey comes out as a gay man after child molesting accusation.
Terror attack in NY kills 8.

Through the Pearly Gates
Former general secretary of Unison Rodney Bickerstaffe, 72.
Actor Roy Dotrice, 94.
Comedian Sean Hughes, 51. (cirrohsis)
Canadian rock band Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, 53. (brain cancer)
Musician Tom Petty, 66.
Australian songwriter and producer of AC/DC, George Young, 70.
Actress Rosemary Leach, 81.
Benson actor Robert Guillaume, 89.
Singer 'Fats' Domino, 89.

Australia bans climbing on Uluru.
The sexual harassment scandal grows.
    - Sir Michael Fallon resigns from cabinet.
    - Dustin Hoffman accused.
First UK interest rate rise in 10 years.
New orangutan species discovered in Indonesia.
Salvator Mundi
26 killed in Texas church shooting.
Political fallout from sexual harrassment claims continues.
Massive backlash after Aston Merrygold loses Strictly Come Dancing place.
Queen accused of tax avoidance by investing offshore.
Kevin Spacey edited out of film in response to sexual harassment claims.
Military coup in Zimbabwe.
Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi sells for record $450m.
Grenfell Tower final death toll stands at 71.
Zimbabwe's ruling party sacks Robert Mugabe as leader.
Four dead as helicopter and light aircraft collide over Waddesdon.
Explorer Benedict Allen rescued from jungle.
Robert Mugabe resigns before he's impeached.
Disco floor collapse injures 40 in Tenerife.
Royal Navy performs Changing of the Guard for the first time.

Left the building
Welsh Labour AM Carl Sargeant, 49. (After allegations of poor conduct.)
Chef Antonio Carluccio, 80.
Actor John Hillerman, 84. (Magnum, PI’s butler)
Comedy actor Keith Barron, 83.
AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young, 64.
Murderous cult leader Charles Manson, 83.
Former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, 49. (Cancer)
“Grandpa Huxtable” actor Earle Hyman, 91.
Partridge Family singer David Cassidy, 67.
Likely Lads actor Rodney Bewes, 79.

Californian wildfires.
Brexit negotiations scuppered by DUP protest vote.
Russia is banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang by the International Olympic Committee.
Trump reinstates the Muslim ban.
The United States officially recognises Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Heavy snow hits the Midlands and Wales.
May pledges not to be derailed on Brexit.
Mo Farah is BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Joe McFadden wins Strictly Come Dancing.
Mutterings about racism affecting the Strictly result.
Six dead in Birmingham pile-up.
Two dead in Scottish hotel blaze.
Train falls on motorway in Washington state.

Paid the ferryman
Kevin Rice
"Well he would, wouldn't he?" Profumo affair model Christine Keeler, 75.
Bollywood legend Shashi Kapoor, 79.
French rock singer Johnny Hallyday, 74.
Disgraced celebrity publicist Max Clifford, 74.
TV presenter Keith Chegwin, 60.
Science expert Prof. Heinz Wolff, 89.
Actress Heather Menzies-Urich, 68. (Sound of Music, Logan's Run.)
Star Wars actor Alfie Curtis, 87. (Mos Eisley cantina scene)
Actor and model Kevin Rice, 43. (The Mistover Tale, Serendipity, The Woodsman) (Blood clot)

Thursday, 2 November 2017


Back in the day when The Anorak was a lowly archaeological surveyor working for British Waterways it was a favourite story to talk about Chance's Glass in Smethwick, West Midlands.

The factory was famous in its day. It was the place that made the windows for the Crystal Palace, built to house the Great Exhibition in 1851. The panes were transported by canal from Chance's own side branch of the Birmingham main line, all the way to London. And when they arrived not a
single one was broken!

If you've ever travelled the M5 between junctions 1 and 2 you'll have spotted the seven storey high building, though it's a bit square, and you're more likely to have marvelled at the wonderful terracotta-coloured edifice that housed Archibald Kenrick's foundry on the opposite side of
the road.

Chance’s glass was also responsible for a key part of maritime safety. They made the lenses for many of the world's lighthouses. They're a special kind of lens called a fresnel, that focuses the light through a series of concentric rings, rather than a curved surface.

Now, it seems, I'm not the only person fascinated by Chance's history. Australian engineer Tim Nguyen has set himself the task of learning old glassmaking skills so that he and a group of friends can restore all the Chance lighthouse lenses around the world.  There are about 2,000.

Chance glass was founded in 1824 and continued until 1981. Towards the end of its life it was known for much smaller pieces of household glass.

For more on this story see the BBC website by clicking here.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Leicester Streets

A bit of Medieval Leicester - the Guildhall
One of the newest parts of Leicester city is the High Cross shopping centre. It's massive, modern and shiny, but bears the name of a Medieval tall cross that stood at the top of the High Street.

Medieval Leicester had four main entrances called (unimaginatively) North Gate, South Gate, East Gate, and West Gate. High Street ran across town from North Gate to South Gate and, true to its name, was higher than all other streets because it was paved.

High Cross stood at the heart of trade and was the site of the Wednesday Market where country folk would bring produce to sell to the locals. By the 14th century there was enough trade to justify a regular Friday market too.

In 1577 a structure, which became known as High Cross, was erected in the area. It consisted of eight pillars topped by an eight-sided dome and must have been quite magnificent, but the march of progress and increasing size of carts meant it was knocked down in 1773 in an early road-widening scheme. A single pillar survives and now stands in Jubilee Square.

There are many information boards around Leicester that tell you about the area you're in. High Cross is close to the Medieval heart of the city and a board close to the new shopping centre gives details of local street names and their derivations.

Here's a few:

Cank Street. I've never encountered 'cank' before but the board says the street is named after a public well that stood there.

Holy Bones. What a great name. It might have something to do with the graves in nearby St Nicholas Church. Sadly it might be a Medieval joke about the number of butchers that could be found around it.

Gallowtree Gate. You might remember from a recent York post that gate means road, or way. (From the Old Norse 'gata'.) Gallowtree is fairly self-explanatory. It's where public hangings took place on the gallows 'tree'.

Sanvey Gate. Another 'gate', but the Sanvey bit is believed to be a corruption of Sancta Via, or holy way. It possibly marks the route of old religious processions through town.

And for any teenage boys out there, here's a chance to snigger.

Butt Close Lane.  Butts were, of course, the place where archers practised their skills. You can stop laughing now!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Richard III

     I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
     Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
     Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time
     Into this breathing world, scarce half made up
            Richard III Act1 Scene 1

Statue by the Cathedral
I'm going to let you into a secret dear Reader: I share something with Richard III. No, I didn't spend the last 500 years under a car park in Leicester, I am, like him, "deformed, unfinished ......scarce half made up". Yep, I have scoliosis. My spine is curved. Or in other words I'm a hunchback.

It means I've always had a soft spot for the much-maligned king.  I never believed that he had the Princes in the Tower murdered (though I'd be prepared to believe that someone did it thinking they were doing him a favour); I always hoped that one day I'd learn something positive about him.

And that's where the latest day out comes in. I decided to visit Richard in his adopted home of Leicester. Of course it was never his idea to adopt Leicester. He didn't set out on 22 August 1485 to lose the Battle of Bosworth and so, by a convoluted route, end up under a city centre car park.  He always said he wanted to be buried in York, but when the fight to provide his final resting place ended York Minster came in second.

The car park
This, as Sellar and Yeatman would say, is A Good Thing. York didn't really need an additional tourist attraction. Leicester has done him proud. I regret to say that my photos of his tomb came out very badly blurred so I can't show you the views I'd like. I plan to return to get better shots.

Richard turned up in a car park on the site of the old Franciscan priory (Greyfriars) which, these days, is opposite the Cathedral. (That's quite likely, when you think about it.) After the scientists finished doing all their DNA tests and the rest of the investigations they subjected him to, he was re-interred in the Cathedral. The site opposite, where he was found, is now the Richard III visitor centre.

It covers his family history, the background to the Wars of the Roses (in which the House of Lancaster and Richard's House of York argued over who was the rightful King), the lead up to the Battle of Bosworth, and the treachery of the Stanley family who brought their forces to the battlefield then held back to see which side was winning before they joined in!

Model of Richard's spine
However, it was the upper floor that had most effect on me, where the topic of Richard's shape is discussed. We're all familiar with Shakespeare's version of Richard's story. He's portrayed as an ugly, misshapen and evil man who will stop at nothing to get his own way,  Now the Tudors (who gained the throne after victory at Bosworth) believed that deformity and disability were linked to moral weakness. In other words, the more twisted Richard's body, the worse his character. Shakespeare, who relied on Tudor patronage, exaggerated the deformity to make Richard seem more unworthy of the throne.

Will also lied about a few other things: that famous quote about offering his kingdom for a horse, for example. The implication is that he wanted means to escape, but contemporary reports say he went down fighting and determined not to yield a yard of ground.  The archaeological evidence supports that. Richard died from multiple head injuries caused by a number of different weapons.

In fact much of what we learned about Richard at school conflicts with the truth. Contemporary reports of the man suggest he was, in fact, a fine and respected King. Like this one on the wall of the visitor centre:

King Richard III Visitor Centre
Putting a face to Richard

Monday, 4 September 2017


If you fancy a stroll through history (literally) you could do worse than pay a visit to the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings near Bromsgrove in the West Midlands. Basically it's a huge estate where buildings that would otherwise have been demolished, or allowed to crumble away, have been lovingly gathered together and restored.

It's an interesting collection. You can find most things there. Some are obvious: there's a windmill, and a dovecote, and barns, and a stable. There's a former pub that's now the Edwardian tea room. Cottages of all ages give you a taste of life across the centuries, from Tudor times to post World War Two.

But it's the less obvious bits that I most enjoyed. For example there's the top off a redundant church from Smethwick. The spire of the 19th century St Paul's Church was made of wood, and by 1959 was severely rotten. It was replaced in the early 1960s with a fibreglass replica, which was lighter, and cheaper, than creating a new brick one.  But in 1963 the church burned down and only the spire and tower survived. A new church was built alongside it, but that was made redundant in 1996.

Chainmakers' workshop
There are various workshops including a fine example of a nail shop. And I don't mean a place where you can get acrylic extensions to your fingers! Back in the day nail making was a cottage industry and people had a workshop in their back yards. Chain making, however, was more organised and chain workshops had rows of anvils where individual makers would work alongside each other.

But I think my favourite part was the National Telephone Kiosk Collection. Yes, phone boxes through the ages are lined up around a yard and each one is  connected to one of three exchanges the museum owns. That means that excited children can phone each other (at a cost of 2p a call) and not realise that they don't have to shout. The REALLY fun part is that they need instructions to use a phone dial. They don't realise they have to take their fingers out of the slot once they've rotated the mechanism. Consequently they mis-dial a lot and end up talking to total strangers!

I found a Mk II kiosk with a phone that reminded me of my childhood, and of course the first thing I did was press Button B. For the youngsters and foreigners among you Button B was what you pressed to get your money back if your call wasn't connected. People often forgot, of course, and so enterprising children would rush in behind them and press the button to pocket the cash!  It was fourpence - but three successes brought you a shilling, and that was a big bar of chocolate!

There are also a few other things that aren't technically buildings, like a showman's wagon for example, and the wonderful roadmenders' wagon, both the type of thing it's trendy to take a holiday in these days.  How would the old roadmenders who used to travel round in the carts react to the idea that their old 'make do' accommodation is now considered a treat?

Avoncroft's was owned by Worcestershire County Council. There's a hard-looking bench at the back and a small cast iron stove that would have doubled up as cooker and heating in the original cart. They were towed behind the steamroller when gangs went out to fix potholes around the county. It was hardly the height of luxury, but somehow it has an air of romance about it; I can see how it might have the same kind of effect as the canary yellow gipsy caravan had on Toad in Wind in the Willows, and that the novelty would wear off just as quickly!

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Sent to Coventry

A fair in the old cathedral ruins
On the night of 14 November 1940 the German Luftwaffe carried out a bombing raid on Coventry and dropped incendiary devices across the city. It was considered a legitimate target because of its concentration of engineering firms:  cars, bicycles, aeroplane engines and munitions factories.

There was a story that Britain knew the German bombers were on the way because messages sent by the coded Enigma machines had been intercepted and translated. It was not possible to stop the planes without letting the German government know that Bletchley Park, the UK government's signals base, had cracked the Enigma code and so Coventry was sacrificed. The story has been denied by some former Bletchley Park workers, but like the lady once said, they would say that, wouldn't they?

Inside the new cathedral
At the time Coventry city centre was a well preserved medieval town with many original buildings still surviving. Among them was the magnificent cathedral. Its lead-covered roof was a serious victim of the incendiary attack. As the metal was hit, it melted, burned and dripped through the timbers onto the floor below. This devastated the building, which was more or less leveled overnight. Only remnants of the walls, and the tall tower survived, mainly because the floors below the spire were stone and were impervious to the heat.

The charred cross
The following morning as workers sifted through the wreckage they found two burned timbers lying in the form of a cross in the wrecked nave. The two were fixed together and the whole thing raised up to act as a symbol of the city's resurrection. That cross still stands in the modern cathedral that lies alongside the remains of the original. Surviving medieval roof nails were also collected and formed, in threes, into smaller crosses. One stands on the old altar at the eastern end of the old building.

In a single night more than 4,300 homes were destroyed, two thirds of the buildings in the city were damaged and a third of the city's factories were wrecked, including the main Daimler production centre. More than 560 people, including nine police officers, were killed.  

Coventry has, over the years, become a symbol of peace and reconciliation. A new cathedral, designed by Basil Spence, was constructed in the 1950s alongside the ruins of the old church. It is rich with symbolism, not just because of the charred beams and nails. In the Chapel of Unity are hundreds of paper birds which represent the story of Sadako Sasaki who contracted leukemia after atom bombs were dropped on her home city of Hiroshima. She planned to fold 1,000 origami cranes but didn't finish them before she died.

Thursday, 20 July 2017


The Humber Bridge spans the Humber estuary just outside this year's City of Culture, Hull. To mark the city's place as a centre of culture a number of its structures have been given listed building status - including the bridge, which is now officially Grade I.

At the time of its construction, (it opened in June 1981) it was the longest bridge of its kind in the world. As a measure of architectural development it now stands at only eighth. It's a significant landmark and recognised for miles around. It has come to symbolise the city, appearing on many of its publicity materials.

Before its construction the route from bank to bank across the estuary went via Goole and passed across a rather smaller swing bridge. The leading roads had high accident rates and often faced difficulties in poor weather.

The view from the deck
The central span is 1,410 metres (4,626 feet - or around 200 yards short of a mile) and is suspended between two towers 155.5 metres (510 feet) tall. although both towers are vertical they are further apart at the top than the bottom, owing to the curvature of the earth.

Oh, and everyone locally remembers the summer of 1976 when the area around the bridge (and much of the rest of East Yorkshire) suffered a plague of ladybirds. The insects settled on the bridge, wriggling into small crevices and setting work back weeks while constructors cleared them away from sensitive parts of the structure!

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Arbor Low

Arbor Low, Derbyshire is a prehistoric henge monument, that is, it consists of a circle of stones set inside a circular ditch with a bank enclosing the complete structure.  It is unclear what henges were used for but it seems likely that whatever went on there was designed to be seen only by a few chosen people. The bank around the monument would have made it impossible to see activities within the stone circle from outside. Perhaps observers sat on the inner side of the bank, but it would still have been available to only a restricted few.

Bank and ditch arrangement
The site is a Neolithic one, built around 5,000 years ago from locally quarried limestone. Superimposed on it is a burial mound dating from the Bronze Age, which was excavated in the 19th century and found to contain two urn burials.  The stones would originally have been upright but they are all now fallen over. There are a number of entrances to the circle that show as gaps in the bank and there is some evidence that a processional way might once have led from the south because there is a linear earthwork close to the southern entrance.  About 250 metres away on a horizon to the south west is another Bronze Age burial mound called Gib Hill. It too lies over an earlier monument, a Neolithic long barrow that probably pre-dates the circle.

Arbor Low stands on private land behind a farm at the top of a fairly steep hill. The view from the site is extremely dramatic as it is possible to see for a very long way. Whoever built the site must either have wanted the mound to be visible from a great distance or to be able to see anyone approaching it.
(This post was originally published as part of the HistoryAnorak website.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Dolly Shepherd

Last weekend we visited a local craft trail where the wonderful art of yarn bombing was on display. Trees, lamp posts and other street furniture had been wrapped in colourful knitting and crochet all on the theme of flight. Among the displays was one about a woman called Dolly Shepherd, who was a new name to me. 

A decorated tree dedicated to Dolly
Dolly Shepherd (1886-1983), born Elizabeth Shepherd, was a parachutist and fairground entertainer in the Edwardian era. Born in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, as a teenager she went to work as a waitress in a North London cafe so she could afford to see a concert by the composer John Philip Sousa. While there she overheard two men talking about needing a girl to act as 'target' in their shooting act, and volunteered.

She immediately became known as a daredevil and, in 1905, she ascended to 4,000 feet on a trapeze slung below a hot air balloon, descending by parachute. This became a regular act, but on one occasion she made the descent with another girl whose chute failed to open.

Dolly carried the girl to the ground but the descent was too fast, and both were severely injured. Dolly was paralysed for many weeks but fought her way back to health and returned to her high flying act at a show in Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire. 

She continued her flying tricks throughout her life and never showed fear. On one occasion she almost hit a steam train on her descent but the driver had the presence of mind to blow his whistle, and the blast diverted her into the nearby canal.

She flew with the Red Devils display team a few years before she died at the age of 96.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Kirby Muxloe

William Hastings was Edward IV's lord chamberlain and made a small fortune in the post. As a result he could afford to build himself a luxury home on the family estates in Leicestershire.

Hastings chose a plot of land at Kirby Muxloe where the family already had a manor house. The new fortified house was built entirely out of brick, an expensive and fashionable material only recently introduced to England. Hastings brought craftsmen from the Netherlands to make the bricks on site because too few people here knew the skill.

However, the house was never completed because Hastings fell foul of the ambitious Duke of Gloucester, later to be Richard III, who accused him of conspiracy and had him executed in 1483.

The land remained in the family's possession until 1630, but only one tower was ever finished, although it's still possible to see how impressive the house would have been. Most of what remains today is footings for the outer walls, but the gatehouse stands proudly to welcome you on site.

Although it was also never finished, the gatehouse shows how well designed the building was. You can still pick out the pattern of dark bricks (known as diaper work) on the frontage.

In addition the castle had gun ports and a moat to aid its defence.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Wallingford Clock

The Wallingford Clock. A replica of a 14th century clock at St Albans Cathedral. The original was designed and constructed by Richard of Wallingford who was abbot from 1327 until 1336. As well as sounding the hours the clock has an astronomical section that shows the position of various stars, the sun and the moon. It can also predict lunar eclipses.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Heritage catering

Well, dear readers, the regular visitors among you will know that Mr Anorak and I spend many days a year visiting heritage and historic sites so that I can bring you my thoughts on them through this blog.  I'm sure that, for many of you, the reason you read me is because you enjoy similar visits.  And, like us, you probably enjoy a trip to the tea room as part of your treat.

We sometimes plan our visits around the tea room at the venue we choose.  For example, this weekend we planned a trip to Boscobel House, the place where Charles II hid while escaping from Cromwell's troops after the execution of his father Charles I.  It's about an hour from where we live, so finding something to eat as part of the deal was quite important.

(If you want to know where we live take a look at the map on English Heritage's website and find that large, oval shape in the middle with no EH properties in it. Then find the centre of that oval and you'll be close to our house!)

So, we checked out the EH website to see whether Boscobel would make a suitable destination. It warns you that the tearoom is an independent business and even tells you that it doesn't accept plastic payments. So far, so good. It actually says: "Situated within the old stables, the tearoom serves home-made cakes, light lunches and hot and cold drinks."  Sounded reasonable. So off we went.

Fortunately, we have EH membership, so we didn't pay to get in.  It was 12.30, so we went straight for lunch. There were precisely five things on the menu. (If you don't count cakes. We're both diabetic, so we don't count cakes.) Two of them had bacon in, the other three had cheese. So we ordered bacon sandwiches. Except there wasn't any bacon. So why were they still on the (chalked) menu board?

The waitress/whatever began a long tale about her woes and how the people from yesterday didn't leave a list of what was used up, like they were supposed to do. I don't care about how the system works. I asked why the two bacon items hadn't been crossed off the board so I didn't choose it in the first place?  No chalk, apparently. And no damp cloth either, I assume.

This was two and a half hours after the place opened and nobody had done anything about visiting the two supermarkets within 15 minutes drive and buying some bacon. No-one had attempted to get any kind of alternative food, in fact, no-one seemed to give a dingo's kidney about customer service.

This isn't good enough English Heritage!  Don't let an unprepared, unprofessional bunch of wasters damage your image. We left. Not just the cafe, but the site. We didn't spend anything in the gift shop. And we're unlikely to go back. We're also unlikely to renew our EH membership when it comes up either.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Stand and deliver

Richard (Dick) Turpin is well known as a highwayman, a career that holds a certain air of adventure, even though it means he held people up at gunpoint and stole their property. The truth about him is, however, rather sordid.

In spite of the romantic tales that have grown up around him and his horse Black Bess (who never existed) the man was a violent thug. In his native county of Essex, Turpin belonged to a notorious group of marauders called the Gregory Gang. They would invade isolated farmhouses and terrorise any female occupants to make them give up their jewels. In one case Turpin roasted an old woman over her own hearth until she told him where her valuables were hidden.  He is also known to have murdered a few people during his raids.

Eventually his exploits led him to leave London and the south, heading for Yorkshire, where he took on the name of John Palmer. He financed his lifestyle by carrying out horse and cattle rustling forays into Lincolnshire, and it is at this stage that he took up highway robbery in earnest.

He was also a bit of an idiot. Rather than keep his head down in York he returned from a poor hunting expedition one day and shot his landlord's prize rooster to make up for his losses.  Naturally the landlord complained, but Turpin threatened to shoot him too!

So Turpin was arrested and hauled off to York Castle while the charge against him was investigated and lots of complaints about "Mr Palmer" Came to light from around Yorkshire and Lincolnshire so he stayed in the dungeons in York. However, while he was there he wrote to his brother in Essex, asking him to find some evidence in London that would provide an alibi. But his tightwad brother refused to pay the postage and so the letter was returned unread.

By a stroke of luck it fell into the hands of Turpin's old schoolmaster, who recognised the handwriting. So, in spite of the letter being signed "John Palmer", it became known that Turpin was living under an alias. His early exploits were revealed alongside his later offences, and Turpin was sentenced to death.

His father appealed to have the sentence commuted to transportation, but to no avail. On April 7, 1739, he was taken to Knavesmire, a marshy area outside the city, where York racecourse now stands, and hanged. He was just 33 years old.  He's buried in an unremarkable graveyard close to where York Station now stands, and his grave bears both the names he carried in life.

Monday, 15 May 2017


This strange contraption is called a builder's or painter's cripple. It's a wooden structure designed to offer a platform for workers to stand on while repairing or decorating windows. This one was found in the cellar at Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire, an English Heritage property which is being conserved 'as found'.  There's an illustration of one in use in a painter's handbook from 1830.

I can find nothing about the word's etymology so I'm assuming it got its name because of what happened if a builder fell off one.

Saturday, 8 April 2017


If you want a proper description of Greensted Church you could do no better than to visit fellow blogger Mike's A Bit About Britain because he'll include a lot of facts and his own brand of interpretation.  He's the reason we stopped off at Greensted en route south recently.

The Anorak read the blurb and looked around like a proper tourist but very little of the reality set in. It was the atmosphere that took hold, once the brash quasi-local with his loud, Estuary English voice, and equally annoying son, completed their brief inspection and moved on. "A mayt o mine wuz krissened ere. Are dere enny leeflits?" Well yes, there is an informative guidebook, but the Essex visitor didn't care enough to invest £2.

Wooden grave marker
The church is Saxon, although it stands on a site with evidence of earlier structures, and is rumoured to be the oldest stave built building in Europe. It's in a quiet corner of a quiet village and little disturbs the peace except an occasional bird call (and Towie tourist).

As you enter through the gate among the first things you spot is a wooden grave marker. I found no clue as to who is buried below it, though the Admirable Mike says it's a local landlord who lost a fight with a scythe. The rapidly deteriorating wooden cross looks shaped in sympathy.

There's a large tomb by the porch that tells you helpfully that it's a grave of a Crusader, dating from the 12th century.
Tomb of the unknown bowman
Looking at the outside of the church it's clear it's not your average place of worship. The walls are constructed from what look like bisected tree trunks, stood upright, side-by-side, more like a fortress than a church. But they are topped off with a beautiful tiled roof with pretty dormer windows that wouldn't look out of place on a country pub.  Then there's the wooden tower, clad in weatherboarding like some kind of seaside hut and topped by a witch's hat spire.

Inside is even more atmospheric. Entering through the cute 'dolls house' porch you find yourself in a dark space with heavily-carved beams, lit by a few, dark, stained-glass windows.

There's a wooden (appropriately) model of the church perched on the pulpit; an impressive eagle lectern; colourful tapestry kneelers; and those beams. The light (and my dusty camera lens) makes it almost impossible to get a good photo inside. And the angles prevent any decent shots of what's called the St Edmund beam.  Greensted is supposed to be one of the resting places of the body of St Edmund, first patron saint of England, on its journey from London to its final resting place. (Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Big clue in the name there!) Edmund was tortured by the Danes, in numerous ways, for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. Eventually they beheaded him, and the beam shows his crowned head - minus body - and a fox. I don't know where the fox comes into the story.

So there you have it. Clearly it's a popular spot because there's a large designated parking area. Incidentally, I defy you to understand the signs if you are first to arrive.  They tell you to park at an angle, then unhelpfully include an arrow that points parallel to the hedge.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Big Ben

Visit the town of Hucknall in Nottinghamshire and you can't help but notice that a certain "mad, bad and dangerous to know" poet used to live in the area. There's at least one Byron coffee bar, there's a statue of him on the front of a local shop, and you'll find his grave in the church yard.

However, if you wander around the corner you'll find a rather larger monument, surrounded by an iron railing. Beneath the sod (as they say on a few Victorian headstones) lie the remains of one Ben Caunt, a bare knuckle fighter who rose to the giddy heights of Champion of England. He was born in Hucknall but moved around the country fighting various opponents.

He eventually settled in London where he became the landlord of the Coach and Horses pub in St Martin's Lane. (Which was destroyed by a fire in 1851, killing his two children, who are buried with him.)

 At 6 feet 2 inches and 18 stone, Caunt became known as "Big Ben" and there is at least one claim that he passed on the name to the large bell in the tower at the Houses of Parliament. There's no documentary evidence to back up the claim, and other Benjamins have been linked to the title. But it's a nice idea that the original Big Ben is buried a very long way from London.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Bolsover Castle

On a recent misty day we took a trip up the M1 to north Derbyshire and Bolsover Castle. Unlike many similar structures, it is genuinely right in the heart of the town.

In 1617 William Cavendish, who was to become the First Duke of Newcastle, inherited Bolsover Castle from his father Charles.

Charles died in the middle of creating the Little Castle, a mock Norman keep intended to act as a retreat from the family seat at Welbeck a few miles away.  William continued work on the site, completing a range of luxurious interiors depicting life from earthly pursuits to heavenly wonders.

William employed architect Robert Smythson, who was also responsible for the design of William's later home, Hardwick Hall, and Longleat House, now home of the Marquis of Bath.

Bolsover's Little Castle was the perfect place to hold lavish parties and to impress visitors with its exquisite detail. Elaborately carved fireplaces, Italian-inspired stonework and richly decorated panelling combined to show off the host's taste and fortune.

Guests entered through a Gothic doorway and into an ante room which was decorated with brightly painted panels.

Banquets and dinner parties were held in the Pillar Parlour, which gets its name from a central pillar formed by its arched ceiling. The panelling is decorated with faux graining and gilding, and at the focus of each arch the panels contain a painted illustration of one of the five senses.

The grand hall is decorated with paintings that depict the labours of Hercules.

They are designed to create an illusion of additional space because they incorporate pictures of the ceiling vaulting.

Perhaps the most impressive room on the upper floors is the Star Chamber, the main room used by the castle owners. Only family and very close friends would have been invited to see it. Again the panelling is richly decorated and English Heritage, which now manages Bolsover, has restored almost all of the paintings. Two have been left to show the actual state of the originals. The restored ceiling is wondrous.