Rank hath its privileges in the Tilbury Fort Chapel

Even in a Georgian Fortress, religion had its place and Tilbury has a rather modest chapel near the front gate. There is barely any ornate decoration but the simple decor and large stylised windows being the altar and along one side make a big impact.

One thing that I found interesting though is the pews that the congregation sat on, in this cases soldiers.

As you can see from the photo above, all the pews including some off camera to the right are all uniform in appearance except for the rear most.

It’s not unusual for some pews to be more richly decorated or even with a door, they were generally reserved for a rich family or perhaps patron of the church Generally however, they aren’t right at the back of the church but midway or on one side.

After all, what is the point in having a high status if you have the worst view and can’t hear what is being said in the sermon?

As you can see there is a very small fireplace at the back of the chapel which would be in no way sufficient to warm the room up but would just take the chill off the air for those sitting right at the back, the officers!

Rank hath its privileges but what about everyone being equal in the eyes of God?!

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Why has my MP and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden left me to die?

Morning everyone! I wasn’t going to put this here though I wrote it elsewhere and had lots of feedback. I’ve had few people who I’ve never met send me emails the last week or two so I thought I would say Hi.

There has been some plus points, I got a letter back from The Queen whose Private Secretary was extremely nice as FB friends will have seen.I also in part got rid of a Conservative Councillor in one of the most Tory seats in the country. For over a year I had posters up in my front windows about being Excluded. Living opposite a school and behind a village high-street there are lots of people who notice them and when I spoke to people, dozens of them said they would not be voting Conservative just because of me. And for the first time in many a year, Bushey now has a Lib Dem councillor. Serves them right for like every other Tory, not answering emails or info requests.

Work is pretty much none-existent still, I’ve done 3 days work but all discounted or indeed totally free (so is that even work) and it was so nice to meet a few fellow ExcludedUK moderators over the last few weeks across London in Whitechapel, Clerkenwell on the one side and Mayfair and Bond Street on the other. I was even treated by another lovely person got me ice-cream at Fortnums which is something I’ve always wanted to do but even in the good times I was either too busy or it wasn’t a wise use of cash.

Had more cancellations come in this weekend & all the talk of yet another setback due to yet another totally obvious blunder by trolley Johnson is just terrible for those of us with no work or any support whatsoever as the world does indeed pick up for so many.

Today has been a real flashback day, the last few weeks have really. The heat and humidity isn’t good for my asthma and I’m up at 4am and bored stiff by 5am. I go and sit on my front bench with a cup of tea before the world wakes up feeling like Andy Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, trying just to be normal sitting outside for a few minutes. But basically by 7am I am ready for bed again, nothing to do, no-one to see, nothing to buy lol. I end up thinking of that S word we aren’t meant to say on here and I don’t mean Sunak 🙂I have been to the cinema 4 or 5 times. Pretty much the last thing I did when I moved house but before I got pushed under the train was get an Annual Cineworld pass.

Of course I couldn’t use it so I emailed the head office but got no reply. I went there anyway and they all knew who I was and I got my pass extended for free until 2022 🙂 and sometimes I get free ice-cream or drinks. I’ve always liked horror films but watched a huge number in the last month. Only horror seems real and something I can relate to. It’s nice to see other people with problems and for 2 or 3 hours I can be happy. It’s such a nice feeling to be happy even if it is fleeti.

I’m feeling particularly delicate at the moment as I was a bit heartbroken on Friday on my way to London to meet a lovely Mod. One of my collectable chronic conditions has been flaring up and it means I sometimes can barely walk; this week I’ve been having to go up and down the stairs like a 3 year old, just using the same leg and then holding onto something and bringing the other down as it hurts so much.

On a surprisingly busy tube carriage some poor chap came in and he clearly needed a seat so with no-one offering, I gave him mine. I looked around and counted everyone. 27 other people around and about and they were all younger, richer, with new clothes and phones and it took the second oldest, blind in one eye, asthmatic, depressive who could hardly walk to give him a seat.

Covid hasn’t changed people, at least those who have had a comfy life. It hasn’t changed me either which is sad as I’m probably too nice for this life. Then yesterday watching that poor footballer almost die was traumatic and I was touched how everyone cared for him and even Oliver Dowden was tweeting praise and care.

Human life is so precious and yet again, everyone obviously thinks of those who sadly died of Covid but no-one outside our group thinks of the suicides in our numbers. Their lives are as important and they didn’t lose their lives rich and surrounded by friends or family doing the job they love. The government deliberately decided they and we are expendable. It’s so sad our lives don’t matter. And whilst for the next 12 hours everyone else was saying to tell their family they love them for no reason at all (which is what I always did and lots of us do), not having anyone to call or to hear from just makes things seem even lonelier and more hopeless.

Fancy struggling through the last 17 months for this!! We deserve respect and dignity and to be treated with respect and care just like the footballer did. Just like Boris got when he was in hospital. I deserve it too, it’s not right how things have been and how they are. I have feelings and matter just as much as he does.

I received over 6,600 messages of support and thanks between August and Xmas last year and I know by speaking out I saved lives but it can be so hard and pointless to go through all this alone.Not wanting everyones keyboards to short-circuit 🙂 I will end on a positive in that I got one of my major house-improvements done after a very kind non-Excluded person sorted me out with a quadruple locking inner porch door so for the first time since I moved here, I can at least open and close one of the doors and the house is finally secure (as my neighbour said, not like you have anything inside to nick) but thats hardly the point.

I want to say hi to everyone and I love everyone and am grateful to everyone I know of and those random people who have just said hi over the year or stalked me to send help…. like the lady from Germany who simply sent a letter to “Sir Stephen, the best tour guide in Watford”… and I don’t even live there anymore.I better go, not going to do anything bad. Just thirsty and need to at least pretend to have something to do. I spent much of the winter with no or minimal heating and some of the rooms of the house fell to zero or below and I just wanted a bit of heat. Now if they drop under 23 it is a relief. I still read a lot in here and do a few behind the scenes things and spend much of every day making a nuisance of myself in my own way. Sometimes it just takes a year to pay off like the booted out councillor 🙂 If anyone wants to send a virtual hug then do not let me stop you!

I’ve always been very kind to Oliver Dowden my MP and government minister for my professionas he hasn’t personally done anything wrong to me and actually met with me last year. But he has just failed to help me and hundreds of thousands of others who work in similar professions to myself.

I wrote to him in April 2021 and I am still waiting a reply, not that much of a surprise as I have written to Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak many times starting over a year ago. And I wrote to every single Conservative MP and did not get a single reply.

How do Labour, SNP, Green MPs have the time to contact me and support me and even bring my case up in Parliament and yet Oliver Dowden, my very own MP and the man responsible for my industry sector suffering so badly, can’t even reply to a professional and sincere letter.

Yesterday however, Mr Dowden as he often does was all too quick to sing his own praises on Twitter (he has never once replied to the hundreds of tweets I have sent him) and clearly shown up to be publicly lying by a much bigger institution than myself.

Mr Dowden in some Putinesque attempt to erase history quickly deleted his tweet but I think it is worth preserving for all time. He either lied or he misspoke and misunderstood his own departmental notes. It happens but then he should say so and own up to his mistake. I am here very publicly owning up to my mistake when I believed Rishi Sunak that “No-one will be left behind or without hope”.

Some might say I am only writing this after 17 months of no income or government support. I get that sometimes by people who have been very well supported or even by multi-millionaires but co-incidentally a facebook memory appeared yesterday which shows otherwise.

Even more tellingly, I’ve been told I am due a tax refund by the state. The very same government that spent most of last year telling the world #ExcludedUK people were criminals and fraudsters. And now the lockdowns look to be extended further and many of us have had no income or help from the government since February and March 2020. How many people could survive so long?

Which person really seems most likely to lie? A tour guide in a country where the government has banned tourists or a man in Boris Johnson who left his cancer stricken wife for a new model? A writer who knows of 23 people personally who have committed suicide and others forced into areas like prostitution just to survive or a man who either lies or can’t check basic facts before deleting untruthful tweets?

So really I’d just like to know why does Oliver Dowden and the government care about a very rich and foreign footballer doing his job and mercifully as it now transpired, saved, with nothing too much trouble for him and rightfully so. Yet my life and those of 3 million other citizens are worth nothing. Why can’t Oliver Dowden even bother to respond to a letter. Why has he left me to die as he has millions of others?

People who don’t understand say Suicide is selfish but really, it is the logical choice when you’ve been so thoroughly ExcludedUK from society, humanity for almost a year and a half.

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A visit to the impregnable Tilbury Fortress

Last Monday being part of a long Bank-holiday Monday and us entering our months behind schedule first warm weather of the year, I decided to visit Tilbury Fortress in the county of Essex though to all intents and purposes it is on the edge of London.

It’s a property that belongs to English Heritage and as a member for work reasons, I get free access to all of their properties and counting my day out last September, this would be only my second day out since 2019.

The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny at home but Tilbury Fort being right by the Thames and to the east of London is often a few degrees cooler and a bit blowy which made it the ideal place to spend the day.

Tilbury Fort is one of the finest surviving examples of 17th-century military engineering in England. Built on the site of a smaller Tudor fort, it was designed to defend the river Thames passage to London against enemy ships. It was in nearby West Tilbury that Elizabeth I famously rallied her makeshift army awaiting the Armada in 1588.

Tilbury’s precise geometric design provided multiple lines of fire across the river and twin moats. However, its defences were never tested by any enemy. Though it became obsolete at the dawn of the 20th century, it remained garrisoned until the end of the First World War. You can see from the photo above that if the Thames if 730 metres wide at this point, the fortress itself and its accompanying series of moats is absolutely huge.

Tilbury Fortress is 25 miles east of what was London and now is Central London and where the Thames is 730 metres across but before it becomes a wide estuary. The photo below gives an idea how wide the Thames used to be in London before 2,000 years of containment works. This stretch of the river is tidal, the tide is out but just beginning to come back in.

Looking across the Thames from Tilbury in the county of Essex to Gravesend in the county of Kent.

On 7 August Elizabeth I (r.1558–1603) landed at the site, where she met Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who was in command of the camp. Having stayed overnight at nearby Arden Hall, the queen returned to the camp the following day and gave a rallying speech, including the famous lines:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm.

Queen Elizabeth I

In July 1667, with England at war with the Dutch, the Dutch navy made a daring attack on the river Medway in Kent. They burned the fort of Sheerness, destroyed or captured several English warships and almost took the naval dockyard at Chatham. This humiliating incident exposed England’s coastal defences as weak and needing improvement. With London vulnerable, the river Thames was a priority.

In 1668 the military engineer at the Board of Ordnance, Sir Bernard de Gomme, prepared plans for a new, much larger fort to replace West Tilbury blockhouse, and work began in 1670. Construction lasted almost 15 years, bedevilled by the difficulties of building on wet marshland and by unreliable contractors. However, by 1685 the new fort was substantially complete.

De Gomme’s fort comprised a powerful gun battery along the river and a bastioned fort to defend it from landward attack. The fort was pentagonal: its rampart was faced in brick and intended to have an angle bastion projecting from each corner. In the event, there were four bastions, as the harsh tidal conditions of the Thames prevented construction of a fifth projecting into the water.

Outside the rampart, two deep concentric moats were filled from the river, with a defensible rampart between them. Two gates allowed access – the Water Gate from the riverside landing and the Landport Gate from the marsh. The latter opened onto a road that crossed the moats on wooden bridges.

The photo above is just part of the parade ground with the accommodation of the senior officers in Georgian times. However the officers often apparently preferred to stay in Gravesend, across the river, rather than what must have been rather dire conditions.

Inside, on the perimeter of a large central space, were the east and west barracks for around 186 soldiers, barracks for a master gunner and assistants, a large storehouse, a sutler’s house (canteen), a gunpowder magazine, two guard houses and a chapel.

In 1691 the fort was armed with an astounding complement of 272 heavy guns – a terrible prospect to any ship trying to sail past. But from the late 17th century Tilbury took on an additional role. By 1677 there was a resident storekeeper, a civilian in charge of a storehouse for the Board of Ordnance, which supplied all equipment of war to the army. His role was expanded in 1692, following the conversion of the Tudor blockhouse into a gunpowder storage magazine.

The magazine held a huge quantity of gunpowder in barrels, intended to supply warships of the Royal Navy and transports carrying troops going on campaign, and for returning powder at the end of expeditions. It was an important role, made greater when two more purpose-built gunpowder magazines were added at the north end of the parade ground in 1716–17. During the wars with France from 1793 to 1815, its capacity reached almost 20,000 barrels. The photo below is in one of a maze of tunnels and underground rooms where the delicate task of storing gunpowder and putting gunpowder into shells took place.

In 1746 the Jacobite Rising that began in 1745 – the last attempt to restore a Stuart to the throne of Great Britain – ended in defeat at Culloden. The losing side was ruthlessly suppressed. Around 3,500 Scottish prisoners were taken to England for trial, including 564 in one convoy of seven ships that sailed from Inverness to the Thames. Most of these were destined for Tilbury.

While their fates were decided, these prisoners were confined afloat in the ships’ holds or in the old magazine of Tilbury Fort. Conditions, food and treatment were appalling, and many died of typhus. As deaths increased, the fort commander petitioned for more sanitary conditions, but his request was flatly denied.

A group of prisoners were set aside for trial on specific charges, while the rest, ordinary soldiers mostly, had to draw lots – a process that resulted in an additional 1 in 20 being tried. Some of them were cruelly executed, and only a very few were pardoned. Those who survived the lottery and lived – about 200 – were transported to work in the colonies, mainly Antigua and Barbados in the West Indies. 

A granite boulder, brought from Culloden Moor to the river wall outside the fort in 1998, is inscribed to the memory of all these prisoners.

There are all sorts of old musket balls, cannon balls and artillery shells around Tilbury, above are some of the more battered looking ones I could find.

In 1859 the British government appointed a royal commission to investigate the defences of the nation, which had been neglected since the end of the war with France in 1815. In 1860 its report revealed major weaknesses that were addressed by a huge programme of fortress building and re-armament. The invention of rifled guns had brought greater range, accuracy and destructive power and new forts were built for them. On the Thames, these were constructed further downstream from Tilbury to form a new front line, and Tilbury and New Tavern forts were reshaped as a second line.

Tilbury’s 13 new gun positions were built in 1868–71, on the north-east, south-east and south-west bastions and along the south-east wall, all facing downriver. Built in concrete, brick and granite, they were accompanied by underground magazines for ammunition. The main armament was powerful, with rifled guns of 9-inch calibre, each weighing 12 tons, and a single 11-inch gun of 25 tons. The guns’ range was up to 3 miles.

Such was the pace of change in military technology that by 1900 Tilbury’s relatively new guns were obsolete. This prompted more reconstruction, in 1902–4, when new guns – lighter and quicker to load, aim and fire – were installed on the north-east bastion and south-east rampart. However, the change was short-lived. A national review in 1905 concluded that the likelihood of a naval attack along the Thames to Tilbury was extremely low, and all its guns were withdrawn.

Myself standing in front of one of the more modern artillery pieces looking out at the Thames.

WordPress seems to have stopped me from adding proper captions to my posts at the moment but this is one of the more modern artillery guns pointing out over the Thames. It would be a brave ship that would try to get past several forts like this and all loaded with multiple big guns.

The last use of artillery at Tilbury was during the First World War, when an anti-aircraft gun operated just outside the Water Gate, and saw action against German Zeppelin airships engaged on bombing raids.

While its defensive capabilities declined, in the 1890s the fort gained another role. An overall scheme for the defence of London during an invasion included a chain of ‘mobilisation centres’. These were important stores of equipment and ammunition, to be picked up by Army units when they were mobilised to face an attack on home soil.

At Tilbury, the Army built huge sheds on the parade ground, with another against the outside wall on the west side, to hold transport waggons and horse harnesses. These stores were issued to the troops headed for France and Flanders when the First World War began in 1914.

The fort then became a barracks for troops in transit until October 1915, when the Army Ordnance Corps moved in and re-established its role as an ammunition and explosives store. At this time, the fort received electric power, and rails were laid for moving the heavy loads to and from the wharf.

By 1925 the fort was redundant and unsuccessful attempts were made to sell it for private development. In 1939–40, during the Second World War, the chapel and guard room were used briefly as an anti-aircraft operations room, but afterwards the fort did not have a major role in the war. In 1950 the Army finally left Tilbury Fort after almost 400 years.

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Is eating people always wrong?

In my 3rd and final post on this wacky world of Victorian legal cases related to murders, we travel back to September 1884 in Falmouth on the SW coast of England when three rather emaciated sailors disembarked from their ship, the Mignonette.

They were Thomas Dudley, the master of the vessel, his first mate Edwin Stephens and mate Edward Brooks, hired four months earlier to sail the vessel from England to its new owner in Australia, accompanied by 17-year-old cabin boy Richard Parker.

Their voyage from Southampton had been largely uneventful until they reached the mid-Atlantic, off the west coast of Africa, in early July.

Somewhere between the islands of Tristan da Cunha and Saint Helena, their ship was overcome by a storm, leaving the four seamen to escape the wreck in the yacht’s small lifeboat.

Over 1,000 miles from land in perilous, shark-infested seas, their meagre rations quickly exhausted, reduced to drinking their urine and with no sign of rescue, thoughts turned to self-preservation.

Over the next 12 days, these turnips were scrupulously rationed out, with Dudley using his penknife to divide precisely the tiny portions. This meagre fare was supplemented for a while by the meat of a turtle, caught as it swam by the boat. For water, however, the crew could do little more than catch rain drops whenever a squall blew up. They therefore resorted to drinking their own urine, although this too was a diminishing resource as their bodies became increasingly dehydrated.

By 17 July all supplies on board the little dinghy had been exhausted. After a further three days, the inexperienced Richard Parker could not resist gulping down sea water in an attempt to allay his thirst. It is now known that small quantities of sea water can help to sustain life in survival situations, but in that period it was widely believed to be fatal. Parker also drank far in excess of modern recommendations and he was soon violently unwell, collapsing in the bottom of the boat with diarrhoea.

Even before Parker fell ill, Tom Dudley had broached the fearful topic of the ‘custom of the sea’, the practice of drawing lots to select a sacrificial victim who could be consumed by his crew-mates. Over the coming days, as Parker’s condition deteriorated, Dudley raised the idea again. As he insisted to Stephens in the early hours of 25 July, when the men had been adrift for almost three weeks: “The boy is dying. You have a wife and five children, and I have a wife and three children. Human flesh has been eaten before.”

Twenty days after they were shipwrecked and about ten days after they had last eaten, Dudley and Stephens passed the point of no return.

As Parker, the youngest and weakest of the four, lay in the keel of the boat, Stephens held him down while Dudley slit his throat with his pocket knife. The three sailors drank his blood to quench their first and then they divided up nutrient rich organs such as the heart and kidney and devoured them.

Four days later, in a remarkable turn of fortune, the lifeboat was sighted by a German cargo vessel. A large sun-bleached bone and some pieces of dried-out meat in the keel were the only earthly remains of Richard Parker.An 1884 illustration of the yacht Mignonette¿s stricken lifeboat is pictured above

An 1884 illustration of the yacht Mignonette’s stricken lifeboat is pictured above

After reaching English soil five weeks later, Dudley and his crew did not attempt to conceal Parker’s fate: cannibalism born out of desperation following a shipwreck was a long-held – albeit rarely acknowledged – ‘custom of the sea’, and the crew believed they had simply done what any other seaman would have done in the circumstances.

But they had not reckoned with Sergeant James Laverty of Falmouth Harbour Police, who, horrified by what he had heard, prevailed upon the mayor of Falmouth to sign an arrest warrant.

The trio were marched to the town courthouse, where, after accepting he had played no part in killing Parker, the case against Brooks was dropped. Dudley and Stephens were charged with murder, with Brooks testifying against his former shipmates.

Dudley and Stephens flirted with an insanity plea, but decided instead to gamble on pleading not guilty, with a unique defence of ‘necessity’. Parker’s killing, their lawyers argued, was vital to ensure the survival of the rest of the crew.

The public, including Parker’s family, were largely sympathetic to this argument. Yet there was also no doubt that allowing a defence of necessity to murder into English law would pose some tricky moral dilemmas. Could the natural human instinct for survival in the direst of situations ever justify the taking of another’s life?

Unable to take the risk, the panel of judges unanimously declared the duo guilty of wilful murder. Ultimately, the court was more afraid of what might follow in Dudley and Stephens’s wake if they were allowed to get away with it.

The only sentence was death. But the huge public support behind them meant they avoided the gallows – and were sentenced to just six months in prison.

Dudley emigrated to Australia and lived as a sail-maker known by the name ‘Cannibal Tom’, while Stephens descended into alcoholism and poverty.

But Edward Brooks, who had never faced trial, was keen to trade on the fleeting fame brought by the case. He exhibited himself in touring freak shows and circuses as ‘The Cannibal of the High Seas’ – and would gnaw on pieces of raw meat thrown into the showground by the audience!

What a fascinating case? Do you think the men involved were guilty of murder or do you find it understandable? For another maritime related disaster why not read The story of how a Tyneside ship ended up as the Resolute desk of the President of the United States Part One or for something a little chillier Visiting the home of Edward Adrian Wilson – a forgotten hero who died with Captain Scott of the Antarctic.

The inscription on the tombstone reads as follows; SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF RICHARD PARKER AGED 17 WHO DIED AT SEA JULY 25th 1884 AFTER NINETEEN DAYS DREADFUL SUFFERING IN AN OPEN BOAT IN THE TROPICS HAVING BEEN WRECKED IN THE YACHT MIGNONETTE Though he slay me yet will I trust in him. JOB XIII.15 Lord lay not this sin to their charge. ACTS VII.60
The inscription on the tombstone reads as follows; SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF RICHARD PARKER AGED 17 WHO DIED AT SEA JULY 25th 1884 AFTER NINETEEN DAYS DREADFUL SUFFERING IN AN OPEN BOAT IN THE TROPICS HAVING BEEN WRECKED IN THE YACHT MIGNONETTE Though he slay me yet will I trust in him. JOB XIII.15 Lord lay not this sin to their charge. ACTS VII.60
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Going back to the cinema after lockdown to watch The Unholy!

As everyone else has awaited the end of lockdown to go to the shops, pubs, eat out or simply to meet up with someone, for me I have been waiting 17 months to go to the cinema. I’ve always loved going to the cinema since my first outing to see Star Wars when I was 3 years old and the two times I actually did anything ‘social’ in 2020 was to be one of the few people to actually go and watch films at the cinema.

I love everything about the cinema and largely go by myself as working for myself my hours are much more variable and my favourite slot is to go about 9.30am on a Monday morning when it is usually just myself and whatever drinks and ice-cream I carry to my seat… normally Chocolate Mint Chip, Chocolate or Chocolate Orange and Triple Chocolate. So… I like chocolate!

Cinema is good for my imagination and writing and it’s also just nice to escape. Two hours or so of happiness in an existence of pretty abject misery.

I was very excited to see 2 films last week. It should be noted due to my being #ExcludedUK and without work or government support since February 2020 that I can only do this as I have an Annual Membership card which allows me to see unlimited films. I bought it just before the virus arrived all ready to take my movie-going to a new level.

My Annual card expired twice since I purchased and last week I explained my situation and they kindly extended my membership to 2022. Not many big companies seem to be as customer friendly in this way as my own Ye Olde England Tours so a big thankyou to Cineworld for that.

I don’t mind really what I see so long as its not a Superhero/marvel/disney/Hollywood film with 40 or 50 year olds acting like teenagers and without reading any reviews I jumped to see Nomadland starring Frances Mcdormand who was the main reason I thought I might view it. Then I read that read several Oscars.

Boy was I disappointed. Even though I’ve spent almost 17 months alone, I’ve rarely had 2 hours as bored out of my mind than where I watched Nomadland. I can only think it won Oscars because there wasn’t much competition. I likely wouldn’t have watched it usually despite the actress but I was keen to get out even with a mask on and it being the coldest and wettest spring in the U.K. for 70 years or so, my house has been freezing too and I just wanted to be warm for a little bit.

It wasn’t a complete loss, I liked some of the cinematography but the plot such as it is, was boring. I didn’t care for the main character and some of the others that came and went were outright annoying, perhaps as I suspected because some weren’t played by actors.

Oh well, it was still nice to go to the cinema especially as it was free and especially as before the film, there were adverts for upcoming films and they all looked much better than the film I was unwittingly about to watch no matter what the genre.

I quickly decided to watch The Unholy as it wasn’t on the trailers and I had a hunch it wouldn’t be around for long. There are two reasons I went for The Unholy, first it is a horror film and I love horror. Secondly it starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan who I think is amazing in The Walking Dead as Negan.

The luke warm reviews (to put it mildly) didn’t deter me and I’m so glad I went. For a while I thought I might be the only person in the screening. I have seen countless horror films on my own and nothing much compares to being in a dark empty auditorium with hundreds of seats during a scary movie!

The smallish but dark auditorium

Sadly this was a small auditorium with only a few hundred seats as opposed to one of the larger screens at the venue but I liked it from the moment it started. A slightly old-fashioned, dare I say predictable film. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays a journalist with a terrible reputation who is called to investigate an animal mutilation at a small farm in Massachusetts. The mutilation is a total non-event but whilst there he discovers a spooky old doll in the base of a hollow-tree trunk which he smashes with his boot to create something of a scary story he can sell to his newspaper.

Whilst leaving town that night he witnesses a young lady named Alice who is visiting the same tree and hears her speak, this despite the fact that she has lived her whole life life being both death and mute.

It turns out that she had a vision of the Virgin Mary who has given her the power to make both herself and others well. Her Uncle being a rather sceptical and protective Priest played by William Sadler (from my favourite film, The Shawshank Redemption) adds an even more religious element and soon the whole town and half the state is coming to witness miracles.

This being a horror film of course, things aren’t what they seem and it isn’t the loving Mary we know of but rather an ancestor of Alice by the name of Mary Elnor who performed Miracles in Victorian times not through God but by having made a pact with the Devil…. in fact we see her being executed at the very tree the doll is found at in a small pre-title sequence.

Cricket Brown does a great job of portraying Alice as things start going profoundly wrong, statues bleed, people seemingly commit suicide and all the while the world is watching and visiting hoping that the Virgin Mary is really here to help.

Eventually a large crowd come to a special service which is televised around the world where Alice tells everyone that Mary is waiting for millions to hear her message and pledge allegiance to her all the while not doing that by doing so the Devil would take their souls.

I have to say I liked it a lot and I’m quickly going to see The Conjuring : The Devil Made Me Do It which I know I will like as I have enjoyed every Conjuring film (said to be all based on real life 20th century cases), In The Earth which looks like a British camping holiday from hell and Supernova, not a horror film or a Sci-Fi film as far as I can see but a story of Sam and Tusker are traveling across England in their old RV to visit friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have. It looks a great story and its filmed in the Lake District, my part of the world.

What is it that you’ve most looked forward to doing this last year or so when things got back or will get back to normal where you live?

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The terrible murder of Fanny Adams which gives us a phrase we still use today.

Last I wrote about the attempted murder of Victorian Prime Minister Robert Peel that led to the concept that people suffering from extreme mental illness, may not be responsible for their acts.

This was a time of great reform in man areas of life and in 1861, a legal milestone, the Offences Against The Person Act, came into force. It meant murder was in effect the only crime (other than treason) punishable by death under English law. Until that time you could be executed for any number of crimes and indeed in the preceding centuries, the crimes that you could be executed for were almost limitless.

The new law meant that the handful of people accused of murder now had a particular interest in claiming insanity. It could be a matter of life and death for those who were on trial.

From then on, there seemed to be a perverse contradiction at play: the more brutal the killing, the more inclined a jury might be to accept that someone was out of their right mind when they did it.

Could this be exploited by those who were simply bad, not mad, in order to escape the gallows?

In August 1867, six years after the new Act came into force, local labourer Thomas Gates stumbled upon the severed head of a young girl as he ambled home through hop fields near Alton, Hampshire.

It was that of eight-year-old Fanny Adams, who had failed to return to her family cottage nearby after playing in the fields with her friends.

Fanny Adams

The account given by Fanny’s friends was every parent’s nightmare. As the girls were playing, they had been approached by Frederick Baker, a clerk at a local solicitor’s firm, who had offered Fanny a halfpenny to accompany him into a field and sent her friends away with money to buy sweets.

Baker strenuously denied any involvement, but his colleagues confirmed that he had been absent from work that afternoon, and that his clothing was found to be heavily bloodstained.

On searching his desk, police found Baker’s diary, in which he had recorded an entry for the day that was chilling in its banality.

It read: ‘Killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.’

A conscientious church-goer and teetotaller, Baker was short and slight, with a pale and unprepossessing countenance. If the Victorians had their image of a madman, then Baker did not match it.

The abduction of Fanny Adams

Madmen did not hold down respectable jobs and go to church.

Nevertheless, Baker pleaded insanity, spinning a tale of a family history of mental disorders, including a maternal uncle confined in the county asylum.

The doctors called to give evidence at the trial testified he suffered from ‘homicidal mania’, which was then a diagnosable mental condition.

The jury was not persuaded. Baker was indeed very bad, but under English law he was not mad.

He was executed in Winchester, with a crowd of several thousand gathering to watch.

The execution of Frederick Baker

Fanny’s terrible death left one unexpected legacy.

In a display of tasteless humour, the British Navy appropriated the term ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ to describe substandard meat rations, comparing them unfavourably with poor Fanny’s dismembered remains.

The term eventually was applied to anything deemed worthless or pointless, and often abbreviated as ‘Sweet FA’ though the meaning of the letters have long since had a ruder meaning. 

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The fall and rise of St Pancras Clock

Railways have become synonymous with time keeping as their successful operation is measured through following a timetable. Before the railways time was a much more local matter based on the 24hr rotation of the earth resulting in East Anglia being about 5 minutes ahead of London and Bristol being some 12 minutes behind and places further afield having even larger differences.

With the growth of the rail network in the 19th century these differences in time resulted in some confusion, not least with timetabling. Thus arose ‘Railway Time’ based on ‘London Time’ which was set at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. This was first adopted by the Great Western Railway in 1840 with other rail companies following.  The Midland Railway Company adopted Railway Time at all its stations on 1st January 1846, however it was not until the passing of the Statutes (Definition of Time) Act 1880 that a unified standard time for the whole of Great Britain was achieved.

St Pancras Station was no exception in the grand display of time. Outside the station the clock tower on the Midland Grand Hotel has a clock on each elevation while inside the station a massive clock was displayed at the south end of the trainshed. At 16ft 9ins (5.15m) diameter it was said to be the largest clock at any railway station in England, with the length of hour hand being 4ft 5ins and that of the minute hand 7ft 3ins (Williams F.S 1877:348). The clock dial was made of slate. All the clocks at St Pancras were constructed by Mr John Walker of Cornhill, London.

I took this photo early one Sunday morning, the magnificent clock tower can be seen at the far end of the station.

I took this photo early one Sunday morning, the magnificent clock tower can be seen at the far end of the station.

This splendid clock remained in place for nearly 100 years until the late 1960s when British Rail determined that it needed modernisation.  St Pancras, built in the mid-19th century, was once one of the greatest stations in the country and was linked to a lavish hotel that could accommodate hundreds of travellers. By the 1970s St Pancras had fallen into disrepair and only narrowly survived a plan to have it demolished.

Then British Rail decided to sell off its great timepiece – built by Dent Clocks, manufacturer of Big Ben’s clock – and arranged a price of £250,000 with a US collector. But as workmen were taking the clock down, they dropped it. It was smashed to pieces and would have been dumped and buried had Mr Hoggard not bagged it up and placed it on a train to Nottingham having bought it for £25. Then he dumped it in his garden. For 18 months he worked on the clock which he attached to the barn at the end of his garden, and it has even kept good time for most of its stay in Thurgarton.

Clock on the barn

Mr Hoggard who clearly spent more time repairing the clock than gardening.

As a consequence of this St Pancras was left without a main station clock for a number of years until someone, somewhere heard this very story in the 2000’s when the station was being prepared to be the new London home of Eurostar.

London and Continental Railways (LCR), the new owner of St Pancras spared no cost in transforming St Pancras to make it by far the finest train station on the Eurostar network and indeed one of the very top two or three in the world .  But they were stumped about the great clock that had once provided travellers with the time and a meeting place.

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Did a lunatic try to kill a Prime Minister Robert Peel or was it all a cover story?

Most people know Sir Robert Peel as the man who founded the first modern police force in the world, London’s Metropolitan Police.  It must have been a good move as he went on to become Prime Minister, living in the famous 10 Downing Street but little did anyone expect that he would soon be involved in a situation that would forever shape criminal law and the general policy that those who are insane or suffering from severe mental illness can not to fully accountable for their actions in a court of law.

In early 1843, an unlikely Westminster assassin helped to reshape the law on insanity. His name was Daniel M¿Naghten, a wood-turner who had until then lived a quiet, industrious and completely anonymous life in his native Glasgow

In early 1843, an unlikely political assassin helped to reshape the law on insanity. His name was Daniel M’Naghten, a wood-turner who had until then lived a quiet, industrious and completely anonymous life in his native Glasgow until he reached around 30 years of age when Daniel was bothered by paranoid thoughts.

These mostly involved authority figures such as the police or Church officials, but developed into a fixation on the Conservative Party who were in government at the time and a belief that he had been singled out for persecution.

This being the time before there were secret ballots, Daniel concluded that the Tories had got it in for him because he was known to have voted against their candidate in an election.

It led him to travel to London, where he spent the next few weeks loitering around Westminster and Whitehall forming a plan to murder Robert Peel, the Prime Minister himself.

On the afternoon of January 20, 1843, Daniel M’Naghten stalked a lone figure walking along Whitehall towards Downing Street and shot Peel in the back at close range.

There has been a terrible if understandable case of mistaken identity and rather than shooting the Prime Minister,  M’Naghten had unwittingly mortally injured Peel’s private secretary, Edward Drummond who sadly took five days to die from his wounds.

Despite having the opportunity to do so, Daniel M’Naghten made no effort to escape and was arrested at the scene.  In his subsequent statement to police, M’Naghten blamed ‘the Tories’, who he said ‘follow me wherever I go’, and added: ‘In fact, they wish to murder me.’

At his trial at the Old Bailey, M’Naghten pleaded insanity. It was an assertion the prosecution felt it had little choice but to accept otherwise, the Crown would have been obliged to take M’Naghten’s wild accusations against the Tories seriously.

And with the additional weight of testimony from M’Naghten’s doctors, the prosecution agreed to withdraw the case. The jury was given no option but to deliver a verdict of not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

bethlehem

Daniel M’Naghten was ordered to be held indefinitely at Bedlam, the infamous institute for the insane which gave its very name to madness and mayhem. The acquittal was greeted with public uproar. If M’Naghten, a man who was capable of running a successful business and had the wherewithal to plan and execute such a killing, could successfully claim to be insane, where would it end?

The controversy led to a debate in the House of Lords, and the setting down of ‘rules’ on insanity that are still applied in English courts today.

Known as the ‘M’Naghten rules’, these essential points include proving that the accused has a ‘disease of the mind’ and that their mental faculties are affected.

One of the quirks of the case was that M’Naghten was never actually judged against the rules that still bear his name two centuries later. They were created several months after he had been committed to an asylum for the rest of his life and in 1864, he became one of the first patients of Broadmoor, where he died a year later aged 52.

Fascinatingly, there is an interesting addendum to this forgotten bit of history which raises the possibility that the truth may have been completely different.

When Daniel M’Naghten was arrested in Whitehall, the police found he was carrying a bank receipt for £750, equivalent to £45,000 today. What on earth would a man with his background be doing with such a huge sum of money and why would someone so rich try to bump off the Prime Minister? Could it be that his insanity a cover story? Was he in fact a hired hitman tasked to assassinate the Prime Minister?

Just how mad was the most famous criminal lunatic in English legal history?  We will likely never know.

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My new St Albans 360 degree Virtual Video Tour

As almost everyone who reads my blog must know, I’m in my 16th month of no tour work or any government support whatsoever so during the winter I started creating video tours in and around London.

Virtual Video Tours

They are all filmed in a special 360 degree camera which allows you to scroll on your phone, tablet or computer in any direction as I walk around the streets giving a tour.

Last week I released my first such tour which is out London, in beautiful and ancient St Albans.  Some of you might remember I recently posted on the Holy Well with links to the father of King Arthur.

This tour is just over an hour long and we some of its Roman ruins in the beautiful park and visit one of the most beautiful Anglo-Saxon parish churches nearby.  On the way to the Abbey-Cathedral we visit a pub that has a claim to being the oldest in Britain.

St Albans Cathedral

Standing on a hill St Albans Abbey overlooks the old Roman city.

Throw in a fantastic old gatehouse from the Peasants Revolt , a very special WW1 memorial and the only medieval free-standing clock tower in Britain and what better way could you explore the world and spend 64 minutes with me in St Albans and all for just £10 🙂

All you have to do is click on the link below and enter in your card details and you get instant access.  I hope some of you enjoy it as I know my London themed walks have been popular.

St Albans 360 degree virtual walking tour

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Micky Davies – the little man with the heart of a giant

Michael (Mickey) Victor Davies (sometimes mentioned as Davis) was born in Stepney in East London on the 22nd April, 1910. Sadly as a result of some sort of spinal defect, he only grew to the height of 4 feet 6 inches tall and became affectionately known as “Mickey the Midget”. Despite his small statue Mickey became an optician and a well-known figure in WW2 East-London and even the Deputy Mayor of Stepney (the old Metropolitan borough that later became absorbed into what we now call Tower Hamlets). 

Michael married Doris and lived in a large flat on the first floor of 103 Commercial Street, part of the London Fruit & Wool Exchange opposite Christ Church in Spitalfields. It’s said that there was always a faint smell of fruit and vegetables in the flat.

On Saturday 7th September, 1940, at 4 p.m. 300 German bombers and 600 escorting fighters arrived over London. The Luftwaffe was heading for the Royal Victoria Docks and the Surrey Docks that were situated on the prominent U-shaped bend of the Thames round the Isle of Dogs. Four hours later, 250 German bombers arrived and using the fires below as a marker, dropped 330 tons of high-explosives and 440 incendiary canisters. The docks were the principal target, but many bombs unavoidably fell on the residential areas around them resulting in 448 Londoners being killed and another 1,600 were seriously injured during the air-raids that day. 

Between September 1940 and May 1941, the Luftwaffe made 127 large-scale night raids. Of these, 71 were targeted on London. On 13th September, 1940, Mickey’s business was destroyed by a bomb. The government and the local councils had not provided enough deep public shelters. Stepney Borough Council decided to use the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange in Brushfield Street. Built in 1929, as well as having a grand wood-panelled auction room seating 900, it had a maze of basement tunnels that could be used as an underground shelter.

During the  Blitz, Mickey and Doris, went to this shelter. Although designed for 2,500 people, over 5,000 crammed into the shelter and the heat from all those people made even a short period of time down there almost unbearable. A steady stream of semi-conscious or unconscious people was passed towards the doorway. It was a chaotic situation that couldn’t really continue indefinitely and so Mickey Davies inspired his fellow shelterers to create their own order.

Mickey, who at three feet  three inches tall was known as ‘”the Midget,” was an East End optician that found himself throwing his energies into organising and improving shelter life in what was one of the East End’s biggest air raid shelters at the Spitalfields Fruit & Wool Exchange in Brushfield St. While the local authority, Stepney Borough Council, was concerned by the 2,500 people crammed into the shelter each night, with its lack of sanitation, risking disease and infection, and lack of facilities for food, lighting and heating, it was left to Mickey set up first aid and medical units, and raise money to equip a dispensary. He even persuaded stretcher bearers and others to come in on their off duty times to minister to the sick and injured. As a popular activist and orator, he  became indispensable to the people, pushing the authorities into action.

Long before medical posts became the official practice, well-to-do friends of Mickey provided his Spitalfields public shelter with drugs and equipment. A GP friend made two-hour journeys each day to the East End to spend his nights among the poor. Eight years before the NHS was set up, Mickey’s shelter in 1940 had a free medical service already up-and-running. He even devised a card index system of everyone who used the shelter, and introduced hygiene practices and protection against disease. He persuaded Marks & Spencer to donate money for a canteen and used the profits to provide free milk for children.

Perhaps shamed by the actions of Mickey Davies and many other people like him elsewhere, the government instructed local authorities across the country to appoint official Shelter Marshals to control air raid shelters and to ensure that conditions were improved. On the face of it, this instruction made Mickey redundant but the local Shelter Committee were having none of this and unanimously elected Davies as their Chief Shelter Marshal. To his credit, the Civil Defence Controller of Stepney, a Mr Eric Adams, acquiesced to the Shelter Committee’s wishes and confirmed Mickey in his ‘new’ official position, which importantly for Davies, without the income from his now destroyed business, was a salaried position.

If one shelter wasn’t a big enough task, Mickey also had responsibility for the shelter in the crypt of Christ Church, just across the road. In effect the lives of thousands of civilians were dependent on him.

His joined up thinking for social and health care in 1940 was a fore-runner of the post-war Welfare State that emerged in 1948 (for another far-sighted forerunner of the NHS see Dr Alfred Salter – The man who created an NHS before the NHS was created. Because of all this he was a man known affectionately among East Enders as “the midget with the heart of a giant.

There is evidence that members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) were involved in organising people in air-raid shelters. Euan Wallace, a Conservative Party cabinet minister, wrote: “There is little doubt that the Daily Worker and the Communist Party are taking the opportunity of creating trouble.”  It was said that “Mickey’s form of common sense community socialism” was seen by some as “Communism”. When told that there were “Communists” amongst the Shelter Committee, he replied that “There may be bigamists amongst them for all I care!

Mickey Davies in Stepney (1941) 

When the American politician, Wendell Wilkie visited London during the Blitz, he was taken to “Mickey’s Shelter as a showplace of British democracy.” In fact his shelter was visited by everyone from American ex-Presidents to Clementine Churchill and they even signed his visitors’ book!

Michael Davies, a member of the Labour Party, and a friend of Clement Attlee, was elected to Stepney Borough Council in 1949 and rose to be Deputy Mayor before he died in April 1954, during surgery for colon cancer. 

Sadly despite surviving one way or other until the modern day, Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, overruled Tower Hamlets Council’s two-time rejection of the development plan of the building under which the shelter sat. Like so many other cases of working class history, despite a campaign by people such as television historian and local resident, Dan Cruickshank, and the Spitalfields Community Group, the site was recently redeveloped with just the facade of the old building kept.

It just goes to show that you can do great things no matter your size or origins. It’s terribly sad and fitting that the little man who saved so many people the government of the day forgot about is now all but forgotten himself. If anyone deserves a blue plaque in London then surely it is he.

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