I loved the girl

I loved the girl with the utmost love of which my soul is capable, and she is taken from me – yet in the agony of my spirit in surrendering such a treasure I feel a thousand times richer than if I had never possessed it.

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You shall not pass! (on London Bridge)

Many people will have seen the terrorist attack on and around London Bridge last week with the remarkable image of him being overpowered by a man armed with an antique Narwhal Tusk, a fire extinguisher and a pair of fists.   A quite amazing and brave feat by any stretch of imagination and worthy of note in any period in history.

Narwhal Tusk and Fire Extinguisher

Londoners overpower last weeks terrorist on London Bridge.

London Bridge has frequently been the sight of battles and spirited defences by Londoners from the times of the Roman Empire, through the Vikings and on to the present day. One of the most noteworthy was the aborted attempt of William The Conqueror to enter London this way.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William The Conqueror took a few days to get into motion, letting his army that came within a hair breadth of defeat, recover after its spectacular victory whilst also waiting for the Anglo Saxons to send a delegation to surrender.

Everyone thinks of King Harold as the final Anglo-Saxon king but in fact after Hastings, a new king was elected (yes it was the Normans to took away the very Anglo-Saxon and relatively democratic tradition of a council electing a new King).

William went to attack Dover and Canterbury and then a month or so later arrived in London not expecting there to be any major problems.  He was immediately presented with the formidable natural barrier of the River Thames, so formidable in fact that the Vikings had pulled down the river-side section of the Roman Wall.

Edgar Ætheling had been proclaimed king by the Witenagemot.  Not expecting much in the way of resistance, William sent a his cavalry to the strategic town of Southwark to secure the southern end of London Bridge, which provided a crossing of the River Thames and direct access to London.  Now Southwark is very firmly near the centre of London but at the time, Southwark was a partially-fortified suburb town of London and formed part of the personal estate of the royal Godwinson’s family.

Local Anglo-Saxon forces were led by Ansgar (or Esegar) the “Staller” (Royal standard bearer) and sheriff of Middlesex. Ansgar had been wounded whilst leading a contingent of Londoners for Harold at the Battle of Hastings, but had returned to the city with a number of other Anglo-Saxon leaders to organise a defence against William.  Ansgar’s wounds that he gained in battle were so severe that he was not capable of walking and so to be carried third raising of the local militia or Fyrd and his troops were described as “numerous and formidable”.

William made an offer to Ansgar that he could retain his estates and position as sheriff and join William’s council if he recognised him as king.  Ansgar refused to accept the terms of the foreign invader and led a number of London citizenry against the Norman force at Southwark, with Edwin, Earl of Mercia, Morcar, Earl of Northumbria and Ealdred, Archbishop of York may possibly have been amongst the defenders.

The 500 Norman knights defeated the Anglo-Saxon force and reached London Bridge, however, they were unable to make much headway on the fortified bridge and were so shocked at the fierce defence put up by the defenders that William ordered their retreat.

William The Conqueror's march on London

The long-winded route William The Conqueror was forced to take when he couldn’t cross London Bridge

The town of Southwark however was set ablaze as the Normans withdrew to spread terror amongst the inhabitants of London across the river and William was forced to take a torturous route west to cross the River Thames with the river proving to be too wide and at any natural crossing point, too well protected until almost as far as Oxford where a local lord had come to an agreement with the invader.

This provided William with the opportunity to come round in a giant encircling movement and with the local militia already starving and exhausted from a year long invasion watch and bloody battles, the road was left for William to enter London from the north.

I’m sure the brave citizens of London Bridge in the winter of 1066 would be proud of their successors on a cold winters day almost a thousand years later.

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How WiFi is improving London Underground

There are lots of things I love about London Underground and quite a few I hate and that’s probably the case with everyone who uses it whether like me relying on it to go to work every day or some hapless individual from the countryside or overseas and wonders what on earth has just happened to them.

One of the things I like about the Underground is that people can’t make phone calls hundreds of feet underground (for the moment) and no matter how frantic, squashed, hot and uncomfortable the journey might be, I still find it a blessing not to have to listen to inane conversations.

However there has long been WiFi on Underground platforms, ticket halls and escalators and since since July 2019, TFL has been tracking smart phones not to spy or eavesdrop on people but to improve their understanding of how people actually travel on the network.  Having done this now for several months, the data has allowed them to change and improve their own travel guides and this is just the start.

Although TfL has long been able to track people entering and leaving stations through their Oyster cards, and calculate their journeys, the interchanges inside stations couldn’t be monitored other than by manual counting, which is slow and expensive to carry out. The Wi-Fi data from 260 stations adds the missing piece into the puzzle.

TfL now has more than 2.7 billion depersonalised pieces of data to play with, and that has already been throwing up some interesting insights about how people use the network to get from A to B.  For example how might someone travel from the mainline station at Waterloo, just south of the River Thames to the main line station at Kings Cross or vice-versa.


How people travel by Underground between Kings Cross and Waterloo train stations

Until one stops to think about it, you’d think it would be straight forward but there are so many factors which influence people.  Do people travel one way due to positive factors or do they avoid other routes due to negative factors?

Some routes have fast trains but they have numerous stops.  Seemingly more direct routes might have longer connecting passageways between lines.  Others might have pinch points on escalators or be plagued by people with big suitcases.  Perhaps overcrowding, platform temperature or stairs play a role.   Maybe people just have favourite lines.

For what it’s worth I would likely take the third most popular route depending on the time of journey… no-one in their right mind wants to change trains at Leicester Square when it is in peak tourist/theatre/eating out times.

TfL’s own in-house data scientists worked through the data and identified a number of situations where the time taken to travel through a station was longer than they had previously said on their website and so have made changes to journey timings at 55 stations.wi-fi-trial-tfl-02

The changes are focused on stations where there are periods of time where crowds build up and slow down how fast (or slowly) people are able to get around the station.

Some examples include Canada Water, which in recent years has become hideously slow to get from the Jubilee line up to the Overground or the exits during rush hours. At high tourist areas like Bond Street, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, times have been adjusted to take account of higher usage outside of peak periods due to theatres, museums and other leisure activities nearby.

At stations towards the end of Underground lines in outer London, times have also been adjusted to take account of increasing passenger numbers as London itself is always evolving and changing like a living organism in some ways.

Work is also underway to see what further information can be sourced from the depersonalised Wi-Fi data, such as understanding where customers interchange on certain key routes in London, such as King’s Cross St Pancras to Waterloo and Liverpool Street to Victoria, to see whether better alternatives could be suggested at busy times.

Screenshot 2019-11-20 at 09.32.44

The graphic Figure 9 above illustrates how passengers move from  from the Northern line (Bank branch) northbound platform to the Victoria line southbound platform at Euston station. Most people use the shortest path through the passageway. However, about a third head up to the main concourse then go down to the Victoria line platform. Five per cent take more complex paths. Those who use the passageway take around one to three minutes to travel between the platforms and those who use the concourse take around three to five minutes. This could be useful to less frequent travellers who want to understand transfer times and levels of crowding in stations.

tfl infographic PUB17_031 WiFi_fig11

Showing the relative busy areas of Euston Underground Station.

I use Euston station one way or the other probably around 350 days a year and am hugely familiar with the overcrowding issues here caused simply by the volume of people who travel and interchange here and the incredible frequency of the trains too.

Screenshot 2019-11-20 at 09.30.37

As you can see from the graphic above there is an incredible variation in how many passengers travel on each train within a few minutes and this is just one tunnel in one direction on one line with trains often running close to one every minute,

It’s interesting what possibilities this date might be used in the future.  Shops and cafe’s on the network will have quantifiable data as to the potential footfall in a particular station or a particular corridor or platform on a station.

Perhaps one day soon we might receive personalised travel data and journey guidelines. We’re all different and an older person or someone encumbered with bags probably goes slower than everyone else and at certain times it may be beneficial for them and everyone else if they are encouraged to go in routes at certain times that don’t hold people up.    Then are are crazy people like myself who run around like mad, taking every short cut and un-advertised corridor route or stairwell to miss crowds or make connections.

Not that they track me as of course I still have my 1990’s era phone and unless you want to make a call, send a text message or play Snake then there isn’t much going on!

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A Grotesque Gift – The difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque!

As I write this, yesterday I received a mysterious box from Oxford University and for a split second I wondered what it might be but then I realised it must certainly be a gift from my tourist friend Lorraine in Australia.

We’d been to Oxford as part of our epic North of England tour, Oxford being handily located for a stop-over night when one has just landed from Australia and without wanting to immediately start off on a 6-8 hour car journey.

One of the things that we saw in the Bodleian Library was a fantastic looking Grotesque.  Lots of people get their Grotesque’s and Gargoyles confused or messed up.  Really, all gargoyles are grotesques but with an additional practical function of getting rainwater away from roofs and buildings.

My favourite Grotesque is this one below (at Knebworth House- It was a dark and stormy night) but that would be a bit big for my house and would definitely get in the way of the big-screen television.

Grotesque at Knebworth

Grotesque at Knebworth

Sometimes grotesques were simply made for decoration and to exhibit the skill of the craftsmen and the wealth and majesty of the owner or building.  Sometimes they might even be to ward off evil spirits.

Westminster Abbey Gargoyle

Westminster Abbey Gargoyle

As you can see from this gargoyle above which is one of many at Westminster Abbey, it is still grotesque but with a practical purpose of getting water away from the fabric of the building in a time and place when drainpipes were either impractical or unsightly.

My Grotesque

My Grotesque from the Bodleian Library

And this little fellow above is my surprise gift, a rude Grotesque which is a smaller copy of one that sits high above the streets of Oxford.  Isn’t he cute?  I plan to put him up in my home.  Grotesques come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes in Christian places of worship, disgruntled workmen who believed they were being shortchanged or treated badly by their employers would have a Grotesque point his bum to the people below.  Such insults not quite visible from the floor level and so left undiscovered for centuries!

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Elizabeth and John Sodeaux – Two unintended victims of Jack The Ripper

We often see on the news today after horrific events around the world, the impact and effects it has on those who survived disasters or live amongst horrific events.  Todays post shows that the stresses of living through nightmarish events isn’t a new one, especially when the they stretch out for months with Jack the Ripper in 1888 and possibly years with the Whitechapel Murders as a whole.

I first read about the unfortunate John and Elizabeth Sodeaux over 15 years ago and have even walked past their home on more than one occasion in between giving Jack The Ripper Tours.

John was a silk weaver in Spitalfields, Whitechapel like many had been there for a century or so since the first Huguenots settled in the district to escape religious persecution in France with weaving being their trade. His wife Elizabeth Sodeaux  (sometimes anglicised as Sodo) lived with him along with six children including their 8-year-old daughter Ada.

Home was the top floor  of 65 Hanbury Street and just 16 or 17 doors away from the back yard where poor Annie Chapman was horrifically murdered by the infamous Jack The Ripper.

Elizabeth suffered with depression and the anxiety and horror of living in Whitechapel when the terrible murders were going on all around understandably affected her greatly and she had recently had a razor taken away from her as it was believed she was idealising her potential suicide.  She’d also started drinking quite heavily.

For a few days it seemed that her mood had improved a little but on the morning of the 11th October 1888, Elizabeth left her room informing Ada that she was going on an errand.  When some time had passed and she did not return, her daughter went in search of her, and found her mother hanging from a rope attached to the stair bannisters. Mrs. Sodeaux had taken her own life.

Ada frantically sought help from neighbours and passersby but those she came across didn’t want to help her, no doubt themselves traumatised at the murders all around them and having no desire to possibly be amongst the first to happen upon another grisly killing.

The police did arrive shortly after and untied Elizabeth, she was dead though still perfectly warm.  The legal inquiry that followed determined that if any of the passers-by had offered to go upstairs and freed Elizabeth that it is likely she would have survived.

In fact we can read something of the evidence poor Ada gave at the hearing….

Ada Sodo. Says I am 8 years of age. I am daughter of Decd. On Monday [struck out] Wednesday last 10th Inst about 10.30 a.m. I went on to the stairs. When I saw Decd hanging by a rope to a nail on stairs just outside her room. I ran down stairs and called Mrs. Cornell but she would not go up with me. So a Police Constable was called who at once went up + cut Decd down and Dr. Killeen was sent for. She was dead.

Despite or perhaps because of having six young children to support, John Sodeaux found that life without his beloved wife was impossible and unbearable and sadly just 3 months later in January 1889 he too committed suicide by the same method.  He was discovered by his son Charles and a Doctor was quickly brought and though he wasn’t quite dead, efforts to revive him proved unsuccessful.

The eldest children were in their teens and at least one of them joined the Royal Navy.  Others were put into institutions for a time at least in February 1889.  It seems that poor little Ada did manage to build something of a life for herself and at the age of 19 she married a local Fishmonger where they lived in nearby Bethnal Green.

65 Hanbury Street

65 Hanbury Street – the home of the tragic Sodeaux family in 1888.

I took a wonderful couple from South Africa to 65 Hanbury street two days ago whilst conducting my Jack The Ripper Daytime Walk and it was quite something to visit the place were such sad events unfolded over 130 years ago that are almost entirely forgotten compared to the murder just a minutes walk away.


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The Buttermarket of Barnard Castle

Along with Middleton-In-Teesdale, Barnard Castle is one of the two principal towns in beautiful Teesdale.  Whilst being a local shopping centre; it also is home to one of the most fantastic ruined castle Barnard Castle  and the even more magnificent Bowes Museum with its magical silver swan.

The old Market Cross Butter Market at Barnard Castle

The old Market Cross Butter Market at Barnard Castle

More modest in scope though none the less beautiful fo it is the famous octagonal Market Cross which was gifted to the town in 1747 by Thomas Breaks which replaced an old tollbooth further up the Market Place.

Commemorating the past

Commemorating the past

These days you have to pick your moments to get up close and personal with the Butter Mart as is is in effect a large roundabout and the meeting point for several busy roads.  Though the impressive columns are now open, in the old days there were also railings and shutters that went around the perimeter and back then the veranda was a market for butter and and other dairy products.   The inner structure also served as the town jail whilst upstairs was an administrative office for the town.

Inside the Butter Market

Inside the Butter Market

Charles Dickens stayed a few doors up the road  whilst researching his novel  Nicholas Nickleby; it is to be hoped that he fared better than John Wesley who was blasted by the town fire-engine hose when he came to preach.

Charles Dickens woz 'ere

More than one place in Barnard Castle were sources of Dickensian inspiration.

In the 18th century the lord of the manor gave the town a fire-engine which was used to deluge John Wesley while on a preaching visit to the town.  There is still a working fireball attached inside the structure.

Barnard Castle Butter Market at dusk.

Barnard Castle Butter Market at dusk.

One of the most interesting and yet tiniest bits of history of the old Buttermarket is in the weather vane which sits atop, moving with the wind.

During the Napoleonic wars an invasion by Napoleon was feared at the coast so the Teesdale Legion of Volunteers was garrisoned in the town.

Sometime during 1803 an argument between a volunteer soldier from Barnard Castle called Taylor, and a gamekeeper called Cruddas who worked for the earl of Strathmore at Streatlam Castle) broke out over who was the better shot.

The men took their guns and made a bet to find out who was the better and the innocent weather vane on top of the market cross was chosen as the target.

Standing around 100 yards away outside the Turks Head Inn both men took turns to fire off a shot.  You can see from the photo below that they were both excellent shots!

Barnard Castle weathervane showing 2 holes as a result of a shooting competition

Lucky for Napoleon he didn’t get to invade!


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Visiting the home of Joseph Hedley whose murder in 1826 shook the world!

A few weeks ago whilst out on a 11 day tour of Newcastle. Northumbria, Durham and the Lake District, with the lovely Lorraine from Tasmania, I had the opportunity to revisit the Beamish Open Air Museum. 

The working and living museum is 50 years into an incredible 200 year plan to preserve and re-enact for future generations, what life was like for the people of North East England in years gone by from the Georgians right up to the 1950’s.  The museum is continually expanding and opening up new areas and eras to just inside common living memory which is now considered to be the 1950’s.

It’s hard to believe sometime around 2100 AD, tourists and school children will be visiting to find out what life was like for us in 2020AD and wondering how we all got by without flying cars, holographic projection phones and no doubt total horror at the use of plastic and fossil fuels still in stubborn use when the region itself is so gifted with potential sea and wind energy.

Many of the buildings or indeed towns in the vast museum are alive with staff living out roles from times gone by; transport is through Victorian trams, old steam trains and omnibuses and one can buy sweets and foods from museum shops and hear all about the plight of wealthy and poor Georgians, coal-miners and how life was for child evacuees in WW2.

This time I had the opportunity to explore an additional area which is sometimes missed by visitors in the rush to the more famous areas of Beamish.  One of the interesting houses is slightly unusually for the museum, a rebuilt cottage of a man known as Joe the Quilter.

Joe the Quilter lived and worked in a small cottage in Warden, near Hexham, and his work was reportedly sent as far as Ireland and America. Tragically Joe was murdered in 1826, this unsolved crime shocked the nation and indeed due to his business, kind nature and viciousness of the crime, the rest of the English speaking world.

The rebuilt home of Joseph Hedley

The rebuilt home of Joseph Hedley

A cottage which was the site of an infamous murder in 1826 has been rebuilt, offering people an insight into 19th Century life.

Joseph Hedley was a successful quilter and who worked for clients across the British Isles and as far afield as North America.  His dreadful death led to the government offering a reward of 100 guineas for information about his killer which was an incredible sum for the time.

The crime created so much outcry the government issued a reward notice of 100 guineas for any information about “Joe the Quilter’s” killer.

The notoriety of Joe’s death meant a large amount of documents had survived offering an “extraordinary record” of the life of an ordinary man.  In fact there are still older residents in the village where he died where people remember their grandparents telling them of the murder, such an impact it made.

Inside the rebuilt home

Inside the rebuilt home

The remains of the cottage in Warden, near Hexham, were uncovered during an archaeological dig by Beamish staff and local people. The museum used a postcard which features a drawing of the cottage as a guide for its restoration.

It’s believed Joe lived in the cottage from infancy. He regularly took in travellers and pedlars, so his isolated home became recognised as a local refuge.  Joe was savagely murdered when he was about 76, Joe had outlived his wife Isabel, who was 25 years older than him.

His body was found in the cottage and medical surgeons who examined it said they found 40 wounds.  The killer was never caught, but the cottage was ransacked possibly thinking that his relatively skilful trade and respected reputation meant that the successful quilter had money hidden away.  However it is thought that Joe was a kindly and generous man and his comfortable though modest cottage wouldn’t immediately indicate that he was sitting on a hidden fortune.

Wanted Sign in relation to the murder of Joe the Quilter

Wanted Sign in relation to the murder of Joe the Quilter

This tour was based on my  Magical Northumbria – Castles, Conquest and Cathedrals with Ye Olde England Tours


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