The story of how a Tyneside ship ended up as the Resolute desk of the President of the United States Part Two

Following on from last weeks post on HMS Resolute, we pick up the account in this second blog post.

On 10 September 1855, the abandoned HMS Resolute was found adrift by the American whaler George Henry, captained by James Budington of Groton, Connecticut in an ice floe off Cape Walsingham of Baffin Island, 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from where she had been abandoned. An October 1856 New York Journal relates Captain Budington and crew’s encounter:

Finally, stealing over the side, they found everything stowed away in proper order for desertion—spars hauled up to one side and bound, boats piled together, and hatches closed. Everything wore the silence of the tomb. Finally reaching the cabin door they broke in, and found their way in the darkness to the table. On it they accidentally turned on a box of lucifer matches; in a moment one was ignited, the glowing light revealed a candle; it was lit and before the astonished gaze of these men exposed a scene that appeared to be rather one of enchantment than reality. Upon a massive table was a metal teapot, glistening as if new, also a large volume of Scott’s family Bible, together with glasses and decanters filled with choice liquors. Near by was Captain Kellett’s chair, a piece of massive furniture, over which had been thrown, as if to protect this seat from vulgar occupation, the royal flag of Great Britain.

Buddington split his crew, and took 13 men with him on the Resolute. He arrived home in New London, Connecticut on Christmas Eve.

Although most of the expeditions in search of the lost Franklin expedition, before 1856, were funded by either the British government or by public subscription from within the British Empire, two expeditions were funded by Henry Grinnell, a New York merchant and shipowner in New Bedford, in addition to the assistance offered by the United States Government. Senator James Mason of Virginia, presented Congress with the bill to restore Resolute and return her to England as a gesture of “national courtesy”.

Grinnell wrote in support of this bill. The United States Congress purchased the Resolute for $40,000. Once refitted, Commander Henry J. Hartstene sailed Resolute to the U.K. to present the ship to Queen Victoria on 13 December 1856 as a token of comity which was particularly important as at the time their were tensions between the countries with many voices in Washington wanting to go to war 

A painting of Queen Victoria visiting HMS Resolute on its return from North America.

A painting of Queen Victoria visiting HMS Resolute on its return from North America.

Both Grinnell and Lady Jane Franklin hoped the restored Resolute would once again be employed for a new expedition in search of the Franklin expedition. Evidence found by John Rae proved beyond reasonable doubt that the crew had suffered harsh conditions that led to their deaths. The British Government declined. Lady Franklin organised a private expedition under Francis Leopold McClintock, who, in 1859, located the only written account of the fate of Franklin.

HMS Resolute served in the Royal Navy once more from 1856 but never left home waters and was de-commissioned in 1879 before being salvaged for timber. The Canadian settlement of Resolute, Nunavut, is named after the ship.

The Resolute desk in the Whitehouse is built from these same oak timbers that were once part of HMS Resolute. The double pedestal, partners desk is 32.5 in (83 cm) high with a workspace which is 72 in (180 cm) wide and 48 in (120 cm) deep. The 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) desk was created by skilled carver William Evenden at Chatham Dockyard in Kent, probably from a design by Morant, Boyd, & Blanford in 1880, and is decorated with carved mouldings and carved floral swag designs.There are sets of drawers behind the cabinet doors on each side of the desk pedestals.

By way of appreciation another desk was presented to the widow of Henry Grinnell with both being gifts from Queen Victoria.  Back in the day they cost £380 or almost £40,000 in todays money.

A further desk was made for Queen Victoria herself which for a time was on the steamship that she and Prince Albert enjoyed and which is now in Kensington Palace.

1280px-Photograph_of_Socks_the_Cat_Sitting_Behind_the_President's_Desk_in_the_Oval_Office-_01-07-1994_(6461515323)

The Resolute Desk as it was in 1994 with Socks the cat.

A plaque, mounted on the front center drawer, explains the history of the Resolute and the meaning behind the desk.This plaque was originally on the back of the desk but was moved to the front at some point.

The underside of all the exterior drawer fronts are stamped “MORANT BOYD & BLANFORD / 91 NEW BOND STREET” and the lock plates are stamped “BY ROYAL / LETTERS PATENT / FOUR LEVERS / SAFETY LOCK / COMYN CHINC & Co

The desk was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and has been in the Oval office almost, but not quite, ever since.

In March 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented US President Barack Obama with the framed commission of Resolute, and a pen holder made from the wood of another Royal Navy ship, HMS Gannet.

And there you have it, the incredible history of the famous Resolute Desk of the President of the United States which has literally been to the end of the world and back with its humble origins as a sailing ship built at Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Former President Obama (with new President Biden) showing Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall the very desk that his Great Great Great Grandmother, Queen Victoria sent to the Whitehouse.
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The story of how a Tyneside ship ended up as the Resolute desk of the President of the United States Part One

It’s hard to say much about the desk of the Prime Minister outside the Corona virus, it is almost unheard of him or her to address the nation or indeed The Queen outside her customary Christmas message of goodwill and even then she has more desks than I had hot dinners in 2020 so whilst many of them are undoubtedly more grandiose and expensive, thanks to the regular Presidential addresses from The Whitehouse, none are  as well known as the Resolute Desk which usually sits inside the Oval Office.

I’ve written previously on the British builders who helped construct The Whitehouse but how many people know that the famous desk in the Whitehouse has its origins not only in the U.K. but from my home city of Newcastle.

In the year 1810 Thomas Smith Jr. and William Smith, along with their father Thomas Smith Sr., started a shipbuilding business on the Tyne in Newcastle, England. It was in their shipyards at what is now St Peters Marina that they built a barque style sailing ship known as the Ptarmigan.  It never really served in is planned role due to one of the great incidents of the Victorian Age.

For centuries British sailors had been looking for a more direct route from the west coast of British North America back to the U.K. but the obvious problems of Artic ice and and endless maze of islands in what is now northern Canada made it a fruitless task.  Royal Navy officer Sir John Franklin left on a voyage in 1845 to explore and if possible find a direct route through Northwest Passage but tragically him and his crew were never heard from again.  (Incidentally on my Memorials Tour of London and my Churchill Tour we see a splendid memorial to him and his crew).

When they hadn’t returned after three years, it was decided search vessels would be sent to either track them down or at least find out what happened to them.   One of these ships was the newly built Ptarmigan which the Royal Navy bought on the 21st February 1850 in such a hurry, it was en-route with its first cargo of coal from Newcastle to London!

The Ptarmigan was upgraded in London with strengthened bows and even fitted with a central heating system to try to minimise the artic cold and a polar bear figurehead was also added. and a central internal heating system to keep the ship warm in the icy Arctic weather. On its maiden voyage, under Captain Horatio Thomas Austin, Resolute found Franklin’s winter camp near Beechey Island in the Canadian-Arctic archipelago in 1851.

A brief return to the U.K. was in ordered before HMS Resolute was placed under the command of Admiral Sir Edward Belcher.  Sir Edward Belcher was given the near impossible task of launching an Arctic Expedition and finding Sir John Franklin and his missing ships.  Unbeknownst to anyone at the time however, Sir Johns ship had become icebound in 1846 and he slowly starved to death along with most of his crew either on or near the ship or in incredibly brave attempts to cross the barren terrain by foot.

1920px-Lossy-page1-4800px-H.M.S_Resolute_and_Intrepid_winter_Quarters,_Melville_Island,_1852-53_RMG_PU6194_(cropped)

HMS Resolute and HMS Intrepid at Melville Island during the 1852-1853 winter.

After Sir Belcher’s thorough scouring of the seas he eventually found evidence that the crew had perished  entire crew had perished.  It wasn’t long afterwards in 1854 that Sir Edward and his crew were also compelled to abandon their exploration due to terrible sickness brought about by the conditions and the fact that an exceptionally cold snap rendered HMS Resolute to be icebound.  The ship was abandoned and all returned safely home onboard HMS North Star and a number of support vessels.

The British Government announced in The London Gazette that the ships, including Resolute, were still Her Majesty’s property, but no salvage was attempted.

My next post on Wednesday will look at how the Resolute was found and how it ended up being the desk of the President of the United States.

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Map of world Religions

Following on from last weeks post on a map of ancient reads routes I thought I would post up this great world map which I came across last summer which displays the major religions of the world.

Map of world religions
Map of world religions – the dark the colour, the greater the percentage of the adherents to the predominant local religion

Hopefully you can click on the map and zoom in but just in case you can’t Red is Roman Catholic, Blue is Anglican/Protestant, Green is Islam, Brown is Hindu, Yellow is Buddhism and Purple is Orthodox.

The map is very detailed in the U.K. for example you can see various cities such as Liverpool that have a large Catholic population whilst much of London shows as being Anglican but with a relatively low percentage of adherents.   The Republic Ireland on the other hand clearly shows as being Catholic but has various speckles of lighter colours where signifiant minorities of Protestants live.

The Middle-East is also interesting to look at as you can see Israel in black for Judaism and above it Lebanon which pockets of Christianity as in Iraq whilst parts of Egypt are lighter shades of green showing a predominantly Islamic area but with significant other faiths, usually Christian. 

Even this map of modern religion has an historic aspect.  It’s clearly seen how much the eastern coast of Africa was visited by Muslim traders from the Middle East.

The red parts of sub-Saharan Africa were primarily incorporated into the French Empire whilst the blue into the British.   There are pockets of Portuguese influence in India with small Catholic areas whilst South America is overwhelmingly Catholic due to its conquest by the Spanish and Portuguese.  

However if you look closely there are little blue specks around the costs of the continent along with others places such as Hong Kong which at various times were either directly established British ports or quite important trade hubs that were settled by British or Dutch citizens.

It’s fascinating to look at and even the islands in the Pacific have different colours depending on whether they were influenced by the British, Dutch, Spanish, or French. 

And Europe wasn’t completely untouched itself by foreign imposed or influenced religions.  There are quite large patches of green in the Balkans and SE Europe which are relics of the influence of the Islamic Ottoman Empire that once reached the gates of Vienna.

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Meeting James Bond in his London apartment!

On Thursday and Friday last week I did interviews for the Metro and Daily Telegraphs newspapers and so I had to spend a little time going through 2019 photos as the newspaper wants me to send some so as well as general West End photos, I thought I’d look for some that are more me. One of the tours I do is a James Bond locations walk where everyone from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig has filmed as well as some real life spy locations such as the famous umbrella poisoning.

Anyway this is one of the more unusual places I ended up with a man from Iowa who I only met 15 minutes outside MI5 and we headed to Notting Hill to see James Bonds apartment from the recent films.

He was very impressed and I took his photos and pointed out thats where James Bond looks out of his window; thats where Moneypenny walks down the street etc when suddenly lady parked her golden car and asked me in French whether we wanted to see her place.

It was a cold January Saturday and I thought it was rather odd/trusting of her to invite two youngish men she’d never met into her house but after I grabbed her shopping bag we went up stairs, chatted to her neighbour and she showed us in.

It turns out she is an obviously hugely wealthy lady who has lived here since the 60’s when it was very run down and her husband was an artist and then art dealer. Sadly he isn’t around any more and she isn’t even French but is a bit eccentric and sometimes refuses to speak in English.

Anyway they used her flat for James Bond with Daniel Craig. It’s really strange going in someones house knowing you’re way around. She still has his dressing gown. Her big flat was literally full of ‘stuff’ which threw us a bit as in the film, Moneypenny even asks Bond if he has just moved in as it was so empty. Apparently she had so much stuff, they just made fake walls everywhere so they could hide it and make it look clean and simple.

She obviously had a huge thing for Daniel Craig and said that they were here for about 10 days filming that one scene and I said to her that was a long time for 2 minutes of action and she almost bit my head off and said something like 3 minutes 47 seconds Stephen!  Obviously very proud of her special place in the film and so she should be.

The lady likes smoking and they picked her place as one day she was having a smoke on her balcony and a locations assistant was on his bicycle and saw her there knowing the film would have Bond standing up looking out on the street at Moneypenny and thats how they chose her residence as a filming location.

I always wondered why her window seemed to be partially blocked from the outside and from my visit I found out there is a good reason for this as there is a life-size cardboard cut out of James Bond and she insisted we had our photos taken there.
I asked her where can I see her work and goods and she says she doesn’t believe in the internet and if you search her all you will see is a video of her being drunk at some auction in Paris… and its true.

When we left, neither my tourist or myself could barely say a word to each other and I’m sure the remainder of the tour was a complete let down after that. He left me a 5 star review and put something like he can’t even tell anyone why it is 5 stars.

Anyway I went by her place a few weeks later doing a Notting Hill/Romcom tour and left her a thankyou at the door.

I’ve seen her once or twice since then and she’s never asked me in again but always greeted me in English or French.  I reckon she had seen me pointing at her windows before so knew I was vaguely safe. I think she is mainly just super eccentric, even her gold car she calls Goldfinger! and to be fair its just a VW Golf lol not that I can cast any aspirtions on her wonderful life.

I hope she has made it through the virus ok I took some photos and met Daniel Craig 6 months later while he was filming the upcoming 007 film. He was in character though so not quite so friendly as this lady.

Me and 007 in his rather plush home.

Me and 007 in his rather plush home.

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A Map of Trade Routes in the 11th and 12th Century in the Old World

I once posted a really wonderful map of all the main roads in the Roman Empire Fantastic Map of The Roman Empire and as I love maps I am always on the lookout for something similar and if you do a search on my blog you will find more maps than you know what to do with!

Recently I came across a map that shows the old trade routes and thought others might like to see them too.  As you can see from the map below there were established trades routes from the British Isles in the West down to modern day Zimbabwe in the south and all the way east to the Pacific Ocean.

Of course unlike today, no one person would undertake a journey with goods from China to London but rather they would be passed through a well established network of middlemen and travellers.

Screenshot 2021-01-02 at 13.21.02

I have taken some screenshots to go through the main regions closer up.

11th Century Trade Routes in Africa

11th Century Trade Routes in Africa

As you can see from the above map, most trade in Africa was by way of the legendary caravan routes across the Sahara Desert, many of which were still in use well into the 20th Century. Many of these tied into Southern Spain and Gibraltar which of course at the time was an Islamic area.   In fact the name of Gibraltar is directly taken from a  Jabal Ṭāriq which in Arabic means Mount Tariq with Tariq being Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād who captured the peninsula in 711AD.

The map also illustrates the extremely established link between the Middle East and Eastern Africa, especially around the Zimbabwe which had a its own quite powerful civilisation that is largely unknown about in the West.

Map of 11th and 12th Century Trade Route in Asia

Map of 11th and 12th Century Trade Route in Asia

There are so many things here that I find fascinating.   Primarily how the trade routes in Asia are formed by the geography of the continent, especially by mountain ranges and just how developed they were within China and India.

It’s also worth noting how numerous the sea-links were both with South Asia and the Middle East but also between the Eastern coasts of Asia and the prominent western Pacific land masses.

Perhaps the most interesting though is how the trade routes all have to be funnelled through Persia or modern day Iran to the Middle East and Europe.  No wonder the country has always been so rich and cultured.

11th and 12th Century Trade Routes of Europe and the Middle East

11th and 12th Century Trade Routes of Europe and the Middle East

Finally we come to Europe and the Middle East with an incredibly dense network along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean where trade from Africa reaches up with European trade and Persian and Asian routes.

Again sea routes supplement the land network and could often be safer and more reliable depending on wars and events on land.  Due to the timeframe of this map there are also interesting links between the British Isles and Scandinavia, a reminder that until at least 1066AD Britain was largely orientated to Scandinavia rather than continental Europe.

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Having an Excluded Christmas and a Shielding New Year

Today marks the 11 month anniversary since I last had a full days work.  It’s hard to believe that almost a year has gone by and as almost everyone has

Well I’ve had a worse Christmas than this year but not by much.  I’m used to having them on my own and not seeing anyone and if anything, knowing most others were suffering to some degree did bring about a bit of Schadenfreude even though it’s not a very nice thing to a admit; I suppose it is quite a human feeling.

I’m sure not many were suffering in quite the same way, in the cold and reliant on food donations and cast-offs.  On Boxing Day, Storm Bella tore through my makeshift roof repairs and flooded the bathroom and so having had no income for a year, that is another big chunk of cash to find and rather urgently too.

As with every other year, my birthday fell on the 28th December and like the rest of the week, it was the first birthday and first Christmas that I haven’t been working since 2013.  It could have been humongously miserable but in the end I received over 500 birthday messages from my fellow ExcludedUK people which was very nice and even a few drive-by hello’s by strangers.

One of the things that I’ve been annoyed at for some time and I’ve noticed other Excluded people feel the same way are those annoying Meme’s you see with some cosy graphic and wording along the lines of “If you have a loving family, a roof over your head, a warm home, food on your table, then you’re not doing so bad”.   Of course they are meant in a positive way as a pick-me up for most people but if you don’t have those things then it just re-enforces what a miserable plight one is in.

I saw lots of people commenting about how 2021 will be such a better year but to me I don’t see it.  I think that’s the talk of people who are being furloughed with government support.  From what I can tell to the people I’ve messaged, it just means going from week 47 with no income to week 57 or 67…97?  Who knows.

Over the weekend I was messaging a lady in dire straights who has been reduced to eating dog food and sharing out portions with her dogs as that is the only thing she has to eat. This is the sort of existence we are enduring as others gripe about not being able to eat out or have big family gatherings.   The bad thing for me is that I’ve had days where I’d be jealous of people eating dog food.

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The photo above was taken yesterday.  Me sat in my car that can’t go anywhere having a hot cup of tea watching the show fall waiting 20 minutes for the car to warm up just so I can have a few minutes or relative warmth.   My house is only 11-16 degrees, that’s 51F.  I go for a walk in weather around freezing for 2-3 hours in the morning and when I get back home it at least feels boiling until mid afternoon.

I try to think who else in the developed world might suffer in this way?  In my country not serial killers, terrorists, illegal immigrants, child molesters.  They’d all have heated and dry accommodation, fresh food, the ability to converse with people. Some would still be given money too.

I’m sure everything will turn out well generally for the country, the Vaccine roll-out an early little Brexit dividend.  Rarely a week goes by when a senior politician doesn’t announce further unprecedented support but it is always for people and businesses who have already enjoyed unprecedented support.  For the 3 million #ExcludedUK there is always nothing.  I’m not sure why we are persecuted and discriminated against in this way.  I am because I voluntarily overpaid my taxes to do more for the NHS than just clap for it.  You’d think in any other situation that would make me a shining example of being a good citizen but instead it makes me a likely criminal, tax cheat or other miscreant and if I’m not its just too complicated to help me or understand my taxes even though for 7 years the tax people have very happily taken my self-employed taxes and they’ve always been 100% correct, more than correct of course as I overpaid mine on purpose. Let alone the decades of paying tax in other ways.

So I’m not feeling very enthused about very much whatsoever.  I’m not even sure I will be able to carry on my blog in the same way for much longer. There comes a time when you’ve been #ExcludedUK for so long that you’re actually excluded in every way.  Monetarily, culturally, societally, emotionally.  What matters to other people is way, way above what your concerns are and my day to day existence bears no reality whatsoever to everyone else’s.

I have been thinking maybe to write a book about my rather unique virus experience but then again I’m not sure I can be bothered any more.

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Remembering the Siege of Sidney Street 110 years today

Even if many don’t know the precise events, the Siege of Sidney Street is something that most Londoners have heard of due to its tragic events and dramatic ending,  On the 3rd January 1911 two Latvian anarchists held out in an East End tenement for seven hours against more than 200 armed police and a detachment of soldiers.

How did it come to be that the might of the Empire turned against two desperate young Jewish men in an ordinary East End street as thousands of Londoners came to watch.  In his typical way of leading from the front and sniffing out the action, Winston Churchill who was then the Home Secretary (responsible for the police) was at the scene too and a stray bullet even passed through his top hat.  It’s hard to imagine a very senior politician today going to the scene of an ongoing siege or acts of terrorism.

Winston Churchill on the front line at Sidney Street

Winston Churchill on the front line at Sidney Street

The drama had really begun three weeks before, on December 16 1910 when a gang of Latvian revolutionaries tried to rob a jeweller’s shop in Houndsditch.  It was one of a series of “expropriations” to raise funds for propaganda and help their fellow activists in Russia and Latvia.

The revolutionaries had planned this carefully: renting rooms in the building which backed onto the rear of the shop. They even had bought a 60 foot length of India rubber gas hose so they could use gas from their own building to burn through the jeweller’s safe.

There was just one flaw in their plan, they had picked Friday night for the robbery, in a largely Jewish neighbourhood. The unexpected noise on the Jewish Sabbath disturbed residents who promptly called the police.

Two sergeants, Bentley and Bryant, tried the door of 11 Exchange Buildings, which was answered by a man who did not appear to understand English. He went inside, apparently to summon assistance. The officers waited, then followed him in, and exchanged a few words with a man standing at the top of the stairs inside. In the dark, with no electricity, they could only see his feet.

The officers decided to go further on into the house, but had hardly taken another step when a gunman burst out of the back room and opened fire. The man on the stairs also started shooting. Both sergeants were hit, but managed to stagger into the street, where a constable named Woodmans ran to help Bentley, and was shot in the thigh. He fainted.

There were two detectives in the line of fire, but the burglars were not frightened of men in plain clothes. They were only interesting in picking off the men in uniform. Two bullets hit Sergeant Charles Tucker, who was killed outright. PC Arthur Strongman, not knowing the sergeant was dead, carried him to safety, followed by one of the gunmen, who kept firing, but missed. In doing so, he stepped under a street light, which meant that the constable was the only one to see any of the killers’ faces. The others saw only shadows, and the flashes as guns went off.

The gang fired on the unarmed officers. Three were killed, two injured and it remains the single worst incident for British police in peacetime. The shock reverberated across Britain. Such extreme violence was new, characterised as being “alien” and “foreign” like the dangerous terrorists themselves.

Sergeants_Tucker_and_Bentley_and_PC_Choate

Sergeants Tucker and Bentley and PC Choate who were killed.

One of the Latvian revolutionaries was hurt too. His friends carried him away, but he later died. The police were tipped off by an informant about the survivors: two men were hiding out in rooms at 100 Sidney Street, in the heart of Stepney.

In the overcrowded Edwardian East End, naturally they were not the only occupants of the house. There were fourteen occupants of the building including two families with small children.

Incredibly the police managed to evacuate them all at dawn, leaving the two gunmen on the second floor.  Then the armed officers moved in, more than two hundred of them. They shot at the house, trying to get the men to come out.

A detachment of Scots Guards were brought in to help. Jack Fudger, a young teenager at the time, was going to work as a cashier in a local tea shop when he found himself caught up in the siege.

“I goes across the road and all of a sudden ‘Ping! Ping!’ Good Lord! I see the dust coming out of the wall as the bullets were hitting the wall and then I see this policeman shot in the chest.”

People sheltering in a stonemason’s yard pulled Jack Fudger inside, and he watched as for hours the shooting continued. Speaking to the BBC over 50 years later, he recalled seeing Winston Churchill give some target advice to one of the snipers.

The Latvians were well armed: with the most modern weaponry of the time, Mauser automatic revolvers and they had plenty of ammunition.

The police and soldiers were unable to get them out of the house : the siege only ended when the house caught fire, and the anarchists were burned alive.  It’s possible that they thought they may have been tortured by the police if they had surrendered as was often the case in Tsarist Russia.   Whilst that would not have happened it is likely they would be put on trial for the murder of police officers which if found guilty would certainly have resulted in the Death Penalty.  Perhaps that is even why they fired on the police in the first place.

The police did arrest several people who were alleged to have helped the gunmen. They were put on trial and acquitted. One of them was Jacob Peters, later to become a leading figure in the Soviet secret police.

The siege was a media sensation of its time. Newsreel cameras had been rolling throughout, and the first films were showing in West End cinemas that same evening.

Mixed with relief that the siege was over and the gunmen dead was a sense of anxiety about the immigrant community in the East End, mostly Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe. Many called for tough new rules on immigration.

Not the Liberals though, who were in government. Josiah Wedgwood MP wrote to Churchill, just two days after the siege, urging him to oppose draconian measures: “It is fatally easy to justify them but they lower the whole character of the nation.

“You know as well as I do that human life does not matter a rap in comparison with the death of ideas and the betrayal of English traditions.”

Churchill did not change the laws.

Whilst Sidney Street remains, there is no evidence of these dark events accept for a red plaque on a block of flats that remembers Charles Pearson, a fireman who died at Sidney Street when part of the building collapsed on him.

There is also a memorial to the three police officers who were murdered at Houndsditch.

Posted in history, London | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A not very good review of a pretty rubbish year, 2020.

Having a special interest in chest infections, it was about 55 weeks ago when I first heard of what was to become the Coronavirus.  It took until January before the first hints of it were dismissed in the mainstream awareness and it wasn’t until February when the western world became more properly aware of what was going on in Italy.   We were told it came from someone eating a bat from a wet market in Wuhan although there seems plenty of evidence it was circulating around any time from the end of summer in 2019.  . Life carried on as normal for the rest of the world for the next few weeks until the virus gradually spread around the entire world.

On January 31st after years of saving, I moved house.

On 1st February I was robbed in my new house, 2 days later I order my sofa and armchair for my new house.

On 6th February I was pushed under a tube train and walked almost 5 hours with a partially fractured leg before collapsing in St Barts. I give the doctors a tour of the hospital from my window. One pops out for a break and returns to say “wow, I’m right”. This is my last full days work of 2020.

Move into Watford Premier Inn for 2 weeks as bathroom and heating is sorted out. As everyone panic buys toilet roll, I don’t even have a toilet.

March 17th last pre-lockdown hug, move into house properly.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson started a 3 week lockdown on the evening of 23rd of March 2020 🚫 This was then extended on 16th April for a further 3 weeks

On the 5th April he was admitted to hospital after 10 days self isolating with the Corona Virus 🧪

On the 6th April he is in intensive care with deteriorating symptoms 😷

The Queen addressed the nation at 8pm on 5th April 👑, one of the few times in her life she has done so as it is suggested that USA President Donald Trump thinks injecting disinfectant could be a cure! 💉 😳 Prompts warning statement from manufacturers not to do this!

Excel now known as NHS Nightingale and will be a hospital for up to 4,000 patients, most of whom are on ventilators. Similar venues being used in cities across the country. Opened by Prince Charles at 11am on 3rd April 🏥

Community support groups established, to support the vulnerable, elderly, immunocompromised and people in enforced isolation due to exposure, in their community – told not to go out for 12 weeks🧓🏻👴🏻

From Thursday 26th March at 8pm and every Thursday night thereafter, we all stood united on our doorsteps, balconies and open windows and applauded and cheered for all our amazingly brave NHS staff 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽 who so courageously and selflessly battled on to try and save as many lives as possible ❤️

Petrol ⛽️ price close to home 🏡 was £0.99 Was this an opportunity to go green, only time will tell.

Schools closed on Friday 20 March. 🏫 Remote learning in place 🎓

Self-distancing measures required ☹️

Tape on the floors at grocery stores ❌ and others to help distance shoppers 🛒 (2 mtrs) from each other.

Limited number of people inside shops, therefore, lineups outside the store doors 🏬

Non-essential stores and businesses mandated closed 🚫 People who can work 👩🏻‍💻👨🏻‍💻 from home 🏡

Parks 🏕 trails, entire cities 🏢 closed or restricted to locals only in their bubble.

Entire sports ⚽️ 🏉 🎾 seasons cancelled.

The Olympics & Paralympic’s, where athletes would have made their mark and additional Euro 2020 were postponed to 2021. 🔵⚽️⚫⚽️🔴

Concerts 🎫 tours 🚌 festivals 🤹🏻 entertainment events 🎭 cancelled 🚫

Weddings 👰🏼🤵🏻 family celebrations 🥳 holiday gatherings 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦 cancelled 🚫

Only very few people allowed to attend funerals & social distancing rules must be adhered to ⚰️ 😢

No masses – churches ⛪️ are closed 🚫

No gatherings of 50 or more, then 20 or more, then 10 or more.

Now…. Don’t socialise with anyone outside of your home bubble ⚗️

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and all other TV networks are on in every home daily now 🎬

Children’s outdoor play parks are closed 🎡

We are to distance from each other. Shortage of masks 😷 gowns 🥼 gloves 🧤 for our front-line workers.

Shortage of ventilators for the critically ill 🤒 in many parts of the world.

Refrigerated trucks for the dead outside hospitals in the USA 🇺🇸 Italy 🇮🇹 Spain 🇪🇸 China 🇨🇳 and more. Temporary Morgues set up in the UK 🇬🇧

Panic buying 🛒 sets in and we have limits on toilet paper 🧻 disinfecting supplies, paper towels, staple foods 🥗 hand sanitiser 🧴 Flour is hard to get because the packaging comes from China 🇨🇳 and borders are closed 🚧  All things Gluten free vanish.

Manufacturers 🏭 distilleries and other businesses 🏢 switch their lines to help make visors, masks 😷 hand sanitiser 🧴 and PPE 🧤

Fines are established for breaking lockdown rules 🤑

Stadiums 🏟 and recreation facilities overseas open up for the overflow of Covid-19 🦠 patients.

Public Park 🏕 areas turned into caravan parks for stranded tourists to self isolate 🚐

Press conferences daily from the PM 👱‍♂️ and other government 🏛 officials. Daily updates on new cases, recoveries, and deaths ⚰️

Government 🏛 incentives to stay home. Barely anyone on the roads 🛣

People wearing masks 😷 and gloves outside 🧤

Essential service workers are terrified to go to work 👮🏻 👩🏻‍⚕️ 👲🏻

Medical field workers 👩🏻‍⚕️ are afraid to go home to their families 👨‍👧‍👦

Boris and Rishi promise no-one will be left behind or without. I become excluded for overpaying my taxes and doing more for the NHS than just clap for it, officially being discriminated against and treated as a criminal by my own country.

A 99 year old WWII veteran Captain Tom Moore raised an amazing £29 million for NHS charities walking 100 lengths of his garden before he turned 100. His target was £1000. People from all over the world donated to his cause. 💂🏻‍♂️🎖🏅💷

We have a beautiful Spring. The roads are empty, there are no aeroplanes. No noise… heaven 🙂

202,660 deaths globally so far as at 25th April 2020

20,319 of them in the UK 😢

53,418 in the USA

This is the Novel Coronavirus 🦠 (Covid-19) Pandemic, WHO declared March 11th, 2020.

Dominic Cummings, the chief advisor of Boris Johnson famously breaks his own rules and drives to Barnard Castle to check his eyesight is ok.

June get my first hug and proper interaction for 3 months.

Travel restrictions and having to quarantine for 2 weeks when returning from some foreign holiday destinations and this could change daily.

July – The heat that never ends. BBC in London at midnight, the temperature is still over 30 degrees outside.

4th August I headline the national news on Sky and receive 4,400 messages of thanks and support and people tell me I have saved their lives. Messages arrive from 5.59am from dozens of countries. I can hear myself on neighbours tv and radios. I go on the bus and people are watching me on their phones.

9th August appear on BBC 3 Counties Radio

12th August appear on BBC 5Live national radio with Nihal

My sofa and chair finally arrive!

20th August (I think) appeared on BBC 5Live with Dotun

25th August An Irish builder comes to the door and sees me with long hair and house clothes and asks if he can speak to my parents! I feel rather like Timothy in Sorry! (I’m 46 years old mother!).

26th August spent 5 hours on top of The Shard with a friend and then sit on the Dickensian steps of St George The Martyr at 10pm eating just a packet of crisps all day as weird people walk past looking at us like we are weird.. A few minutes of happiness.

11th September have a meeting with Oliver Dowden, the fourth most powerful man in Britain.

13th September invited for behind the scenes tour of BBC News Studios in 2021

14th September Secret Gardens of the City of London becomes a number 1 best-seller for 3 weeks straight and on and off for rest of the year.

Three tiers of regional severity issued. Tier 1 Medium risk, tier 2 very high risk, tier 3 extremely high risk.

30th September ExcludedUK March. Third and last hug of 2020 🙁

2nd October my first speculative article becomes the Travel Feature for the Independent Newspaper for several days.

5th October go to Uffington with Dave. See Waylands Smithy, the ancient Ridgeway road, white horse and castle. Car breaks down and we get the AA rather than wait until midnight for the Viking Elf to repair it.

30th October my second article is featured in the Independent.

Second lockdown in UK November 2020 moving back into tier severity December 2020.

November 2020 several Ye Olde England Tours are rated the best in London

Vaccines arrive in UK in December – The Army deployed to help vaccinate the public starting with the NHS and people over 80 years of age.

Pubs and restaurants still closed.

18th December 2020 – UK has had 1,948,660 cases to date, and 66,052 deaths related to covid-19. 😭. Worldwide figures are 75,371,570 cases and 1,670,455 deaths.

Three households could form a temporary “Christmas bubble” to meet together indoors from 23-27 December 🚫 cancelled plan!

19th December, PM announced tier 4 for London & the South East with Wales going into lockdown. A new mutation of the virus, 70% more transmissible then the previous strain with 6 in 10 new cases, stops the UK for the festive period.

21st December The same sort of people who panic buy, squash onto beaches, don’t wear masks, riot in London, go crazy because ‘Christmas is cancelled’.  A bit of me wishes the virus could be more deadly and particularly targeted or at least that many could know a bit of real-hardship.

1 day of mixing on 25th December. No travelling between tiers 1 through to 4. Like every day for almost 11 months, I spend it alone and miss people, knowing whenever the virus goes I still won’t have anyone to spend Xmas with in 2021 🙁

28th December, my birthday. Boris feels sorry that I’ve had no income for 11 months and unilaterally pays me £50k compensation and then I wake up to find my bathroom roof has leaked from a bad storm and I have to contact the police to report online hate and harassment!

31st December remember all the people who sent me food, clothes, money, repaired my heating and roof for free and why I never celebrate New Year as each is always rubbish 🙂 maybe this time they will believe me.

1st January 2021 in the year where millions have died from a lung disease, for the first time this century I have gone an entire year without any trips to the doctors, hospital, emergency medical centres or had any antibiotics. In a small way, I am blessed 🙂

Why, you ask, do I write 📝 this status?

One day it will show up in my memory 💭 feed, and it will be a yearly reminder that life is precious and not to take the things we dearly love for granted 💕

We have so much! 🙌🏻

Be thankful. Be grateful 😌

Be kind to each other – love one another – support everyone 🥰

We are all one. This year woke the world up for the better! ❤🧡💛💚💙💜🖤

What a crazy year 2020 turned into!! We now all wait anxiously to see what 2021 holds for us but of course I won’t be celebrating New Year as I always find each one to be as rubbish as the next.  Maybe after all the parties at the end of 2019, a few more people might agree with me!

On the plus side for me at least, life probably won’t ever be harder, poorer, lonelier or #Excluded and despite it all I probably achieved more things this year than many do their whole lives.

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Making a Christmas Posset

It’s long been traditional at this time of year to make mulled wine or cider and its something I too often do.   It’s certainly just the thing for cold winter weather at Christmas time.

However there is a drink that is very more traditional and allows us to not just experience a Dickensian Victorian Christmas and instead we can go positively medieval with a posset.

Possets were long a winter staple and they are everywhere in literature.  Shakespeare found them a good way to poison characters whilst Kay Harker in Box of Delights more conventionally has one as a remedy.  

Possets or Poshotte’s as they were once known go back at least to the 15th century and likely much further and are the ancestors of the marginally more common egg-flips, eggnogs and even hot milk before bedtime.

Whilst eggs and milk or cream were key ingredients, something not to be missed is the adding of alcohol.  You can pretty much use what you like, ale, wine or sherry and non-drinkers can substitute a fruit drink.  Centuries ago the poor would use Ale whilst the more gentrified would use Sack which was a fortified wine rather like modern Sherry.

Possets were served in ceramic posset pots, which looked a bit like a teapot with two handles. They were usually very decorative and extremely expensive to buy. This dish is therefore one of a high standard. Posset was originally more of a drink than a modern day pudding and was often given to people in rich households when they were feeling unwell.

Below is an authentic recipe from the 17th century.

My Lord of Carlisle’s Sack-Posset

Take a pottle of Cream, and boil in it a little whole Cinnamon, and three or four flakes of Mace. To this proportion of Cream put in eighteen yolks of eggs, and eight of the whites; a pint of Sack; beat your eggs very well, and then mingle them with your Sack. Put in three quarters of a pound of Sugar into the Wine and Eggs, with a Nutmeg grated, and a little beaten Cinnamon; set the Bason on the fire with the Wine and Eggs, and let it be hot. Then put in the Cream boiling from the fire, pour it on high, but stir it not; cover it with a dish, and when it is settlede, strew on the top a little fine Sugar mingled with three grains of Ambergreece, and one grain of Musk, and serve it up.

Sir Kenelm Digby, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, 1669.

The Recipe

Makes 8–10 posset pots or teacups
850ml (29 fl oz) thin (pouring) cream
1 cinnamon stick
1 mace blade
6 egg yolks
3 egg whites
230ml (7¾ fl oz) sherry or Madeira (for an alcohol-free posset, use orange or lemon juice)
100g (3½ oz) raw sugar

For something even more simple and manageable for just 1 or 2 people you can try this at home

Pour 250ml of milk or if you want to be indulgent cream into a saucepan and add a pinch of cinnamon. Warm the milk gently until hot.

In a separate saucepan, beat 2 eggs with 250ml of ale (or alternative), then add 50g of sugar and 1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg and warm gently.

Finally, pour the hot milk into the egg mixture from a good height to allow air and froth to appear. 

Serve in mugs with a dusting of cinnamon and sugar and drink when hot.

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Heritage, history, Life | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

The Chedworth Romain villa mosaic – Adding some light to the Dark Ages

Last week news was released on recent research that might change the way people think 6th century Britain following the discover by archaeologists of Britain’s first known 5th-Century mosaic at a Roman villa in Gloucestershire.

Radiocarbon dating revealed a mosaic at Chedworth was designed and created in the middle of that century.  This shows sophisticated life continued within the mansion long after Britain ceased to be part of the Roman Empire.

Previously, it had been believed all Roman towns and villas were abandoned and fell into decay at the end of the 4th Century.  However, charcoal and bone at Chedworth provided radiocarbon dates that show the recently-discovered mosaic must have been created after 424 AD.

The Chedworth Roman Villa Mosaic

The Chedworth Roman Villa Mosaic – Photo by National Trust

Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest in the country and one of the best preserved, with 35 exposed rooms and significant features including fine mosaics.

The 5th Century is often referred to as ‘The Dark Ages’ following the Roman retreat in the preceding century.

The End of Romano Britain. Map from Wikipedia

The End of Romano Britain. Map from Wikipedia

Chedworth Roman Villa is one of the largest Roman villas known in the country and one of the best preserved, according to the National Trust.

After the end of Roman rule in Britain, the army and civil service workers stopped being paid, which in turn triggered “production decline” among the craft and service industries. The quality of the mosaic design possibly reflects this, as the National Trust said it was of “poorer quality” than those created in the 4th century

However, its existence also indicates that society did not decline as rapidly as first thought, and that “sophisticated life” carried on for longer, particularly in southwestern England where the mosaic was found.  Perhaps it is no co-incidence that the likely origins of the noble and civilised King Arthur are from SW England.

Previously it was  believed that most of the population turned to subsistence farming after the break with Rome as the country separated into various individual kingdoms.

The mosaic at Chedworth is that it is evidence for a more gradual decline. The creation of a new room and the laying of a new floor suggests wealth, and a mosaic industry continuing 50 years later than had been expected.

I’ve always been one to speak up for the lost kingdoms between the departure of the Romans and 1066AD and have never believed the Dark Ages to be as popularly imagined.  The Anglo-Saxon Exhibition is great evidence of that.

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