The West Brompton Time Machine in the heart of London

You can find most things in London but it might not be your first guess as to be the location of what is currently thought to be the most likely candidate for a Time-Machine in the world, if such a thing can really be.   And I don’t mean the Tardis  from Doctor Who which is to be found most days just outside Earls Court Tube Station.

Yes if you’re wondering how I manage to blog, write and do tours every day without getting into too much timey-wimey details this is my hidden secret.

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However, when the Doctor is away fighting Daleks and the Bakerloo Line is heated like a tandoori oven then there is a fallback, albeit one that is largely hidden away and with a missing key and it is to be found in Brompton Cemetery.

Brompton Cemetery is one of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ burial sites established in the 19th century  during that time in our history when London was becoming inhabitable due to the ever growing number of dead accumulated over the last 2,000 years..

In amongst its tree-lined avenue, classical colonnades, underground catacombs and wildlife of unimaginable parallels in Central London is the mausoleum of Hannah Courtoy.

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I’ve been aware of the existence of the time-machine since the 1990’s and it periodically makes the news before falling back into obscurity.  The tomb and myths that surround it combine some of the very Victorian obsessions: death, weird science and Egyptology. Built in 1854, Courtoy’s memorial is supposedly a collaboration between Joseph Bonomi who was an Egyptologist and sculptor along with and Samuel Alfred Warner who was an inventor of naval weapons and possibly a charlatan, well really likely a charlatan but I’m a romantic at hear so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

Hannah Courtoy was a fabulously rich woman who possibly gained her wealth through nefarious means and a hotly disputed will.  Like many in fashionable society at the time, she had an interest in ancient Egypt and the concept that her tomb is something of a Victorian stone-walled Tardis is a mixture of historical fact, supposition, and unfettered flights of the imagination.

It is true that Hannah, who died in 1849, was most likely acquainted with Joseph Bonomi, a well-known sculptor and Egyptologist whose relatively modest gravestone lies only a few metres away from the Courtoy mausoleum. It is rumoured that Bonomi designed Hannah’s mausoleum, a theory given some credence by its pyramid-shaped peak and by the mysterious hieroglyphics inscribed on the walls of the tomb and on Bonomi’s own headstone.

The Victorians were fascinated with the idea of time travel, and some believed the pharaohs had discovered its secrets. Perhaps Bonomi may have learned the secrets of time-travel during one of his expeditions to the pyramids?

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You shalt not pass!

If he did, he could have passed it on to his business partner, a mysterious London inventor of naval weaponry called Samuel Alfred Warner, who is also buried in Brompton Cemetery. Warner’s inventions included an invisible shell, as someone put it, “a bomb that could be teleported a short distance – a kind of psychic torpedo”.

Incredibly, the Royal Navy was so intrigued by Warner’s metaphysical armament that it allowed him to stage several demonstrations. Even more incredibly at least one ship was destroyed during these trials, although none of them offered conclusive proof of the weapon’s efficiency.

The connection with Warner and his “psychic torpedo” has persuaded some that the Courtoy mausoleum is more likely to be a teleportation chamber than a straightforward time machine. He posits that it was part of a network of chambers erected in the “magnificent seven” cemeteries that were built in a ring around central London in the 19th century. An eighth mausoleum resembling the Courtoy tomb is located in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris, so if the teleportation theory is correct, the network might be used to pop over the Channel.

Supporters of the time machine theory often claim it is significant that the Courtoy mausoleum is the only tomb in Brompton Cemetery for which there are no plans and no key.

Since its construction in 1854 a legend has arisen that it houses a secret time machine. This was born out of the mysterious inscriptions based on Egyptian hieroglyphics and some of Leonardo Da Vinci’s more obscure sketches that adorn the mausoleum’s exterior walls and supposedly reveal the secret of time travel to anyone schooled enough to read them. HG Wells was inspired by this fantastical story to write his novella, “The Time Machine” and it no doubt did much to inspire a similar network of teleportation portals in the contemporary works of American writer Edgar Rice with his  John Carter of Mars character.

Of course there would be an easy way to see if the tomb is a time machine or teleportation unit and that would be to go inside.  Aside from a coffin or too and likely the largest collection of spiders webs this side of an Indiana Jones movie, it should be just another empty relic.  Then again there is that .1% chance there might be something more exciting inside.

Sadly going inside just isn’t an option. Samuel Warner was murdered in mysterious circumstances in 1853 and shortly afterwards the key to the mausoleum’s great bronze door went missing.  Apparently both Warner and Bonomi were involved in the Occult which may have helped them discover the secrets of time travel from hieroglyphs he saw on one of the expeditions to Egypt. Courtoy and her daughters were known as eccentrics and it’s speculated they could have financed the building of a time machine. Warner died in suspicious circumstances in 1853 when the mausoleum was finished.

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A Time-Travelling partner in crime?  Just a few minutes walk from the Time-Machine… though possibly several hours looking for it if you don’t know where it is!

Now here’s where the story differs: some say he died because of what he discovered while working on the time machine and that it is now housed in the mausoleum for safe keeping. Another story is that Bonomi killed Warner to stop the plans of the working time machine falling into the wrong hands. Others believe that Warner didn’t die at all and simply travelled back or forward in time and disappeared.

The monument like most structures in the cemetery has listed status, it cannot be damaged in anyway as it is afforded a similar protection to buildings like the Houses of Parliament, Stonehenge and err Abbey Road crossing from the Beatles.   So until the missing key is found we are all stuck with using Eurostar to get over to Paris quickly or the Tardis for a spot of time-travel.

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The doorway is covered in ornate Egyptian hieroglyphics

I’ve been visiting the West Brompton Time-Machine for 819 years now and if nothing else I can testify it is a fascinating place to visit.  In the brilliant stark winter sunshine it stands tall and bulky like the obelisk in 2001.  Come on a damp and overcast afternoon and when the crows are cawing and the daylight is falling then it takes on an entirely different experience.  Whilst in Midsummer it almost blends in and is hidden amongst the dense foliage of trees and fast growing grasses and ground shrubs.

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There are mysterious dials and openings along the base of the door and above it.

Don’t forget to read Mondays post about Brompton Cemetery in general and if you’re in the area on Sunday 21st July, why not visit the open day and take a walk down the Catacombs!  If not, but you love cemeteries then take a look at my London Cemetery Tour which visits several of the best with the Time-Machine being a feature of course!

My blog is full of slightly ghostly goings on and terrible tales of Victorians and their cheek by jowl existence with death so why not read one of the older posts such as Dancing On The Dead  or for a slightly more recent figure from impoverished London, Dr Alfred Salter

 

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Brompton Cemetery – Part of The Magnificent Seven

I always love visiting Brompton Cemetery which doubles up as a Royal Park.  There is so much to see with the architecture, gothic style tombs and just a vast array of wildlife in this huge open space in the middle of West London.  If you want to do some wildlife photography then it offers some unique perspectives and at 40 acres it is easy to get a little lost.

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Looking down the main thoroughfare.  What you see at the end… isn’t even the end!

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Just like in Victorian days the cemetery though a refuge from modern and noisy life, is also much used and visited with it having the bonus of being right next to West Brompton station.  There is a great cafe there and the main tree-lined thoroughfare is frequented by people on bikes, skateboards, roller skates and push chairs as well as those boringly on foot.    However take a diversion down one of the side paths and into the overgrown areas then you’re assured of an interesting and quiet walk.

The Grade I listed Brompton Cemetery is the well-loved resting place of over 200,000 people, a haven for wildlife and a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

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The grave of a hero WW1 pilot, the first man who shot down a Zeppelin bomber over London but who sadly himself died shortly afterwards.

Nestled among the spectacular trees and undergrowth are over 35,000 gravestones and monuments. The cemetery is alive with the amazing stories of all the people buried there since the 1830s, including some well-known names like Emmeline Pankhurst and John Snow who despite popular opinion does not in fact know nothing as Game of Thrones might suggest.

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The grave of Dr. John Snow

I’ve had many an interesting chat with passersby at the grave of John Snow, Emmeline Pankhurst and many others and sometimes people are all too keen to stop what they are doing and join in a search for the next grave which I’m looking for.

Whether you want to learn about Brompton’s rich history, go for a stroll, grab a cup of coffee or just sit in quiet contemplation, Brompton Cemetery is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of West London.

One of the new Victorian Magnificent Seven cemeteries that were built to improve conditions for the living and alive in London after places like Bunhill Field had become overcrowded and terrible cemeteries like Cross Bones were having bodies and skeletons washing out of the soil in the streets after heavy rainfall.

At the time they were pretty much in the countryside but are now all deep into London.  They are all very different but few have finer architecture that Brompton Cemetery.

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“Gentleman” John Jackson, one time street fighter who became a bodyguard to the King.

Amongst the hundreds of thousands of dead that lay here, only around 35,000 were rich enough to have gravestones and mausoleums.  At the far end of the cemetery away from the main entrance lay the catacombs, stacked high with lead coffins and apparently still accepting burials if being a permanent tourist attraction is your thing.. it might be just what I’m looking for!

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When I took this photo in the winter, the sun wasn’t high enough in the sky to see through the gaps in this impressive door.  However when I returned last week (July), you could easily make out piles of lead coffins.

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Near the cafe, the cemetery even has a little exhibition and information area…

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Ye Olde England Tours includes Brompton Cemetery as part of the London Cemetery Tour so if you would like to visit this incredible and very quirky part of London along with several others then why not book a tour and meet some of the greatest names in history, albeit from a distance of about 6 feet.

Quoth the RavenNevermore.”

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Quoth the RavenNevermore.”

As it happens at the time of writing, this coming Sunday 21st July 2019 is an open day at the cemetery and amongst other things gives the opportunity to tour inside the catacombs!

I have got hundreds of photos from Brompton Cemetery so I may revisit here again in a future blog post but whatever happens don’t miss my next post which is on the subject of possibly the most famous object in Brompton Cemetery and possible Time-Machine!

 

 

 

 

 

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New York Yankees V Boston Red Sox – Going to my first Baseball game in London

I have long been a fan of Baseball having watched it on TV since 1984 (and currently semi watch 5 or 6 games a week in the evening UK time) when I was only little and so got premium seats for the game as I knew I would enjoy it.

Some have said it is the first time real Baseball has come to the UK but of course it was originally a sport conceived on these fair isles.  Many people mention it’s similarity to Cricket but as a huge fan of Cricket, I can barely find any beyond the fact that both feature bats and balls.   If anything I always found Baseball most familiar to Rounders which I played until the age of 11 at school and which is what drew me to Baseball in the first place.

There seems to be documented evidence of the Prince of Wales playing baseball or something very much like it all the way back in 1749 at Walton-On-Thames.  Even earlier back there is a print of a child running to first base in 1744 whilst luminaries such as Jane Austen have said to have played the game.

The myth that Baseball having American origins is most likely just that, a myth.  Likewise up until the middle of the 18th Century, Cricket was the most popular sport in the United States.  It is only now that both sports are being recognised again in both countries.

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Red Sox v Yankees in London

I find Baseball to be comparable to Twenty20 Cricket (which I hate) or even 1 day cricket though a little less tactical or intricate. I very much like long games, my favourite sport is 5 day cricket matches so 4-5 hours of Baseball is fine. One thing I noticed is that it (and I think NFL too) is not as intense an experience  to watch as football or rugby due to the natural breaks and format in the game.

A number of Baseball players were interviewed and they too said nothing quite has the atmosphere of a British football match. However I really liked it and considering the Red Sox were thrashed in both games, it was even better than I hoped it would be. The first game I think both teams were a bit nervous, I read that they were the highest attendances for a ball game for 16 years (I find it hard to believe but it was an American sports report).

It was very different having flags, national anthems and military involvement before the game, the home team being listed last makes no sense to most people about the USA and still doesn’t to me even though I very well know the reason why this is the case!

I liked how friendly the game was both with players and fans and it was a lot more jazzed up than British sports maybe if I can say it, more of a product or experience than an emotional game; all those musical queues and things come over as really corny on TV but fit better in the arena. Just a shame that the Boston pitchers in particular are not on form.

I will definitely go next year to see the next games, even though I have no particular interest in the teams, I just like watching Baseball even as a neutral. I now wish even more that the television games wouldn’t just focus on the pitcher and the batsman with the ‘strike’ square as it’s much more interesting to see the whole field.

All in all, it was a dream come true and I’m a bit sad I have to wait a year to see it live (I’ve watched 3 games on TV since Sunday night so I am a fan) and that I might not see the Red Sox live ever again. I got a Red Sox Baseball cap and my first ever Baseball which is sat on my desk as I speak!

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You can see my very slapdash video below!

 

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The Strasbourg Dancing Plague of 1518

We’re fast approaching mid-summer and in the UK the next few months are marked in amongst other ways, masses of music and folk festivals with the most famous of which being Glastonbury. Well before the hundreds of thousands spent their summers dancing under the gaze of King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea,  there was an all together most deadly summer dance-off in what is now the city of Strasbourg in France.

In July 1518, a woman whose name was given as Frau (Mrs.) Troffea (or Trauffea) stepped into the street and began dancing. She seemed unable to stop, and she kept dancing until she collapsed from exhaustion. After resting, she resumed the compulsive frenzied activity. She continued this way for days, and within a week more than 30 other people were similarly afflicted.

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It started with just a few people dancing outdoors in the summer heat. Arms flailing, bodies swaying and clothes soaked with sweat, they danced through the night and into the next day. Seldom stopping to eat or drink, and seemingly oblivious to mounting fatigue and the pain of bruised feet, they were still going days later. By the time the authorities intervened, hundreds more were dancing in the same frenetic fashion.

It’s one of the oddest epidemics to be recorded in world history. And it happened 500 years ago this summer in the French city of Strasbourg. It was there, over the course of three roasting-hot months in 1518, that several hundred people developed a compulsion to dance. The dancing went on and on until – to the horror of the crowds who gathered to watch – some of them collapsed and perished on the spot. Just what was happening?

According to an account written in the 1530s by the irascible but brilliant physician Paracelsus, the “dancing plague of Strasbourg” began in mid-July 1518, when a lone woman stepped outside her house and jigged for several days on end. Within a week, dozens more had been seized by the same irresistible urge.

The rich burghers who ran the city were not impressed. One of them, writer Sebastian Brant, had devoted a chapter of his work, Ship of Fools, to the folly of dance. Mystified by the chaos in the streets, he and his fellow city councillors consulted local doctors who, in keeping with standard medical wisdom, declared the dancing to be the result of “overheated blood” on the brain.

Though I can’t really guess why they came to this conclusion, the burghers implemented what they felt was the appropriate treatment – more dancing! They ordered the clearing of an open-air grain market, commandeered guild halls, and erected a stage next to the horse fair. To these locations they escorted the crazed dancers in the belief that by maintaining frantic motion they would shake off the sickness. The burghers even hired pipers and drummers and paid “strong men” to keep the afflicted upright by clutching their bodies as they whirled and swayed. Those in the grain market and horse fair kept dancing under the full glare of the summer sun.

A poem in the city archives explains what happened next: “In their madness people kept up their dancing until they fell unconscious and many died.”

Finally the council sensed it had made a mistake and decided decided the dancers were suffering from holy wrath rather than sizzling brains and so they opted for a period of enforced penance, banning both music and dancing in public. Finally, the dancers were taken to a shrine dedicated to St Vitus, located in a musty grotto in the hills above the nearby town of Saverne, where their bloodied feet were placed into red shoes and they were led around a wooden figurine of the saint. In the following weeks, say the chronicles, most ceased their wild movements. The epidemic had come to an end.

This weird chapter of human history raises plenty of hard-to-answer questions. Why did the burghers prescribe more dancing as a treatment for cooked brains? Why were the dancers made to wear red shoes? And how many people died? (A writer living close to the city reckoned 15 a day, at least for a while, but this has not been corroborated.)

To a degree we can be more confident in saying what did and did not cause this strange phenomenon. For some time during the 20th century it was thought that ergotism looked like a good contender. This results from consuming food contaminated with a species of mould that grows on damp rye and produces a chemical related to LSD. It can induce terrifying hallucinations and violent twitching. But it is very unlikely that sufferers could have danced for days. Just as improbable is the claim that the dancers were religious subversives. It was clear to observers that they did not want to be dancing. The most credible explanation, in my view, is that the people of Strasbourg were the victims of mass psychogenic illness, what used to be called “mass hysteria”.

There had been several other outbreaks of dancing in the preceding centuries, involving hundreds or just a few people, nearly all in towns and cities close to the River Rhine. Along with the merchants, pilgrims and soldiers who plied these waters, news and beliefs travelled, too. One particular idea appears to have lodged in the cultural consciousness of the region: that St Vitus could punish sinners by making them dance. A painting in Cologne Cathedral, more than 200 miles downstream from Strasbourg, dramatises the curse: under an image of St Vitus, three men joylessly dance, their faces wearing the divorced-from-reality expressions of the delirious.

Victims Of The Hysterical Dancing Mania Of The Late Middle Ages In A Churchyard. German Engraving, C1600.

A contemporary German engraving of dancers in a graveyard.

Such beliefs in supernatural agency can have dramatic effects on our behaviour. A classic case is “spirit possession”, in which people act as if their souls have been taken over by a spirit or deity.

The US anthropologist Erika Bourguignon has written about how being raised in an “environment of belief”, in which spirit possession is taken seriously, primes people to enter a dissociative mental state, where normal consciousness is disabled. People then act according to culturally prescribed ideas of how the possessed should behave. This is what happened in European convents before the early 1700s, when nuns would writhe, convulse, foam at the mouth, make obscene gestures and propositions, climb trees and miaow like cats.

Their behaviour seemed strange, but the nuns lived in communities that encouraged them to obsess about sin and were steeped in a mystical supernaturalism. Those who became convinced that demons had entered their souls were prone to fall into dissociative states in which they did exactly what theologians and exorcists said the diabolically possessed do. In such cases, the possession trance also spread to witnesses who shared the same theological fears.

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The curse of St Vitus is just the kind of supernaturalist belief that can drive the suggestible into dissociative states. The chronicles agree that most people were quick to assume that an enraged St Vitus had caused the affliction. So all it took was for a few of the devout and emotionally frail to believe St Vitus had them in his sights for them to enter a trance state in which they felt impelled to dance for days.

If the dancing mania really was a case of mass psychogenic illness, we can also see why it engulfed so many people: few acts could have been more conducive to triggering an all-out psychic epidemic than the councillor’s decision to corral the dancers into the most public parts of the city. Their visibility ensured that other cityfolk were rendered susceptible as their minds dwelt on their own sins and the possibility that they might be next.

Life in Strasbourg in the early 1500s satisfied another basic condition for the outbreak of psychogenic illness: the chronicles record plenty of the distress that brings about a heightened level of suggestibility. Social and religious conflicts, terrifying new diseases, harvest failures and spiking wheat prices caused widespread misery. A chronicler described 1517 with poignant brevity as a “bad year”. The following summer, orphanages, hospitals and shelters were overflowing with the desperate. These were ideal conditions for some of the city’s needy to imagine that God was angry with them and that St Vitus stalked their streets.

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Fortunately, the 1518 dance epidemic was the last of its kind in Europe though there had been several similar outbreaks in the preceding 500 years. In all likelihood, the possibility of further outbreaks declined along with the belief systems that had sustained them. In this way, the dancing mania underscores the power of cultural context to shape the way in which psychological suffering is expressed.

If you’d like to know more then in 2018 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Dancing Plague, John Waller released a book entitled  A Time to Dance, A Time to Die: The Extraordinary Story of the Dancing Plague of 1518 published by Icon Books.

Other plague gristly posts of mine include this one on The Plague  and also Dancing On The Dead!

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The Shortest War in History

No body wants a war, at least not many right-minded people.  If there has to be a war then it is best for all involved if it is as short and painless as possible.  History is full of lengthy, bloody wars so if you’ve never heard of the 1896 British-Zanzibar war then it is probably for good reasons.  Mainly that the entire war lasted about the same amount of time it will take me to write this post.

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The Anglo-Zanzibar War was a military conflict fought between the United Kingdom and the Zanzibar Sultanate on 27 August 1896. The conflict lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, marking it as the shortest recorded war in history.

The story begins with the signing of the Heligoland-Zanzibar treaty between Britain and Germany in 1890. This treaty effectively drew up spheres of influence between the imperial powers in East Africa; Zanzibar was ceded to British influence, whilst Germany was given control over mainland Tanzania.

With this new found influence, Britain declared Zanzibar a protectorate of the British Empire and moved to install their own ‘puppet’ Sultan to look after the region. Hamad bin Thuwaini, who had been a supporter of the British in the area, was given the position in 1893.

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Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini

Hamad ruled over this relatively peaceful protectorate for just over 3 years until, on August 25, 1896, he died suddenly in his palace. Although the truth will never be fully known about the causes for his death, it is widely believed that his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash had him poisoned.

This belief is compounded by the fact that within a few hours of Hamad’s death, Khalid had already moved into the palace and assumed the position of Sultan, all without British approval.

Needless to say the local British diplomats were not at all happy with this turn of events, and the chief diplomat in the area, Basil Cave, quickly declared that Khalid should stand down. Khalid ignored these warnings and instead starting gathering his forces around the Palace.

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Sir Basil Shillito Cave

 

These forces were surprisingly well armed, although it’s worth noting that quite a few of their guns and cannons were actually diplomatic gifts that had been presented to the former Sultan over the years! By the end of 25th August, Khalid had his palace secured with almost 3,000 men, several artillery guns and even a modestly armed Royal Yacht in the nearby harbour.

At the same time, the British already had two warships anchored in the harbour, the HMS Philomel and the HMS Rush, and troops were quickly being sent ashore to protect the British Consulate and to keep the local population from rioting. Cave (pictured to the right) also requested backup from another nearby British ship, the HMS Sparrow, which entered the harbour on the evening of the 25th August.

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The map of the battlefield.

Even though Cave had a significant armed presence in the harbour, he knew that he did not have the authority to open hostilities without express approval of the British government. To prepare for all eventualities, he sent a telegram to the Foreign Office that evening stating: “Are we authorised in the event of all attempts at a peaceful solution proving useless, to fire on the Palace from the men-of-war?” Whilst waiting for a reply from Whitehall, Cave continued issuing ultimatums to Khalid but to no avail.

The next day, two more British warships entered the harbour, the HMS Racoon and the HMS St George, the latter carrying Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson, commander of the British fleet in the area At the same time, Cave had received a telegraph from Whitehall stating:

“You are authorised to adopt whatever measures you may consider necessary, and will be supported in your action by Her Majesty’s Government. Do not, however, attempt to take any action which you are not certain of being able to accomplish successfully.”

The ultimatum given to Khalid expired at 09:00 East Africa Time (EAT) on 27th August, by which time the British had gathered three cruisers, two gunboats, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibaris in the harbour area. The Royal Navy contingent were under the command of Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson while their Zanzibaris were commanded by Brigadier-General Lloyd Mathews of the Zanzibar army (who was also the First Minister of Zanzibar). Around 2,800 Zanzibaris defended the palace; most were recruited from the civilian population, but they also included the sultan’s palace guard and several hundred of his servants and slaves. The defenders had several artillery pieces and machine guns, which were set in front of the palace sighted at the British ships. A bombardment, opened at 09:02, set the palace on fire and disabled the defending artillery.

A small naval action took place, with the British sinking the Zanzibari royal yacht HHS Glasgow and two smaller vessels, and some shots were fired ineffectually at the pro-British Zanzibari troops as they approached the palace. The flag at the palace was shot down and fire ceased at 09:40.

The sultan’s forces sustained roughly 500 casualties, while only one British sailor was injured.  It’s worth noting that a large number of the casualties included the wounded whilst others were killed during a fire in the palace.

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The aftermath of the war.

As for Khalid, he managed to escape with a small group of loyal followers to the local German Consulate. Despite repeated calls from the British for his extradition, he was smuggled out of the country on October 2nd by the German navy and taken to modern day Tanzania. It was not until British forces invaded East Africa in 1916 that Khalid was finally captured and subsequently taken to Saint Helena for exile. After ‘serving time’, he was later allowed to return to East Africa where he died in 1927.

Of the 500 casualties or wounded, most of the deaths occurred because of the fire that engulfed the Royal Palace of Zanzibar Sultanate.   During the war, the British fired 1,000 rifle rounds, 4,100 machine gun rounds and 500 shells.

With Khalid out of the way, London was free to place the pro-British Sultan Hamud on the throne of Zanzibar, and he ruled on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government for the next six years. Britain outlawed what had made Zanzibar famous for centuries, slavery. Zanzibar remained a British protectorate until 1963. The following year Zanzibar merged with the Republic of Tanganyika which together form the modern nation of Tanzania.

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Putting the stone into Harrow Wealdstone – London’s Neolithic Standing Stone?

I was feeling pleased that I had managed to find the first two little known ancient and even neolithic spots with out any maps and so decided to see one more if I could find it.  I had considered  Grim’s Dyke which was both the boundary of Mercia (was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy) and that it was possibly a defensive works by the Catuvellauni tribe against the Romans.

However I used to play on Grim’s Dyke as a child even though it was deep into woods usually unvisited by adults and I really wanted to see something new, well new to me.  Perhaps one for another post!

And having seen a holy spring and an ancient burial mound then perhaps that other great mystery of ancient England is that of standing stones.

One of the places I pass through every day on my way into London is Harrow and Wealdstone.  Harrow of course is famous for its ancient church and public school.  Whilst Weald is an old English word for a forested and uncultivated highland area which rather fits in with the woods around Grim’s Dyke doesn’t it?

But what about the stone part?  There had to be a stone here originally, maybe a standing stone like those of Stonehenge, Avebury, Castlerigg or Clava Cairns.  Could there really be a standing stone in the midst of busy old London?

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Can you see the standing stone of London?

I set off on the H12 bus to Harrow and Wealdstone bus garage which is near the centre of Wealdstone and so made the most sense of where such a stone might be, if it ever was there in the first place.  I wasn’t to be disappointed, well I was and I wasn’t.  I found the stone and it is a standing stone though obviously not quite like one of the towering 100 tonne stones of the countryside.

English folklore frequently tells the story of wandering Stones, such as the Diamond or Swindon Stone of Avebury which is said visit the River Kennet “for a drink at midnight”, returning by day break to sleep off it’s aerobic jaunt. The Weald Stone went missing for a time too; between a mention in 1549 and its re-appearance in 1834 we can only assume that the Weald Stone was either buried, sank into the ground, or went walk about for some 285 years!

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According to an article entitled “Some Thoughts on the Wealdstone” in the Harrow Civic Bulletin (1951), a certain Thomas Toumor “widened the runnel (stream) in his meadow against the Stone before the feast of Pentecost (Wit Sunday)” in 1523. Suggestion is made that the Weald Stone was subsequently either pushed into the runnel as a prank, or that its undermined foundation simply resulted in its collapse.

It seems quite within the realm of possibility that it simply slumped into the mud and silt following Toumour’s digging and with no practical importance, was allowed to slumber until its re-appearance in 1834; when local builders dug it up. Walter Druett states in his book Harrow Through The Ages (1938) that “There is some doubt concerning the purpose of these stones which were brought from a long distance, but they were probably used as direction points and may also have indicated the burying place of some chieftain”.

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The Weald Stone Inn used to stand here but has recently been replaced by an Indian Restaurant. Prior to it’s re-building in 1935, the Weald Stone was apparently embedded in the corner of the “old house” which was constructed around 1834, if indeed the Weald Stone used was the original. It therefore seems unlikely that the Weald Stone was ever used as either a coal marker or a step up to ones horse and/or carriage. It may have been set upright in the ground or it could be a fragment of a much larger Stone; it would be interesting to find a drawing of the original Red Lion Hotel circa 1834, showing the Stone in situ.   I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the stone is underground or if the stone is now on its side.  Maybe that was a wise thing to do as it would only take a few idiots to destroy a pre-historic monument in the middle of not particularly wealthy district of London.

It must be said that it cannot be proven that the standing Weald Stone has been here since Neolithic times, it is also possible that it has been relocated there in the past few thousand years but it was  a recognised land mark in Tudor times and is mentioned in the books of King Henry VIII.

Well that marks the end of my gallivanting around Watford, Harrow/Middlesex.  I think my mission to prove that there is history just about everywhere in Britain has been a success.  Who’d have thought that you could find prehistoric mounds, holy wells and standing stones all within London?

I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt and if you like to discover more tours in person with me then visit https://yeoldeenglandtours.co.uk/our-tours-2/   There is much more to Britain than London and there is much more to London than the big tourist sights… though I go there too 🙂

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It might not be as dramatic as Stonehenge but you can’t sit on Stonehenge and you also can’t walk 20 seconds to have a curry afterwards either!

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Looking for and finding Waxwell, a Holy Well in Pinner (London)

Fresh from my success of finding a possible Neolithic burial mound in the middle of densely populated Watford, I was on the lookout for the second in the triumverate of off-beat and ancient sites and it lay just a few miles away, part on foot and part on the Metropolitan Line to the old village of Pinner.   Long ago subsumed by London, it was once a village and indeed retains quite a rural charm away from the busy main road.

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Pinner Village in the midst of London!

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Pinner Police Station

You don’t get many fine old police stations like that do you?  The only crimes that seem to happen in Pinner is the out of this world property prices but then the houses are old and quaint aren’t they?

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It struck me as a little typical that on the few spare hours I can find that I am in effect still doing something so close to my work and indeed writings; perhaps it means I have found my true calling in life.

After a bit of a walk up the reassuringly named Waxwell Lane, I finally came across what I was looking for.

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Well Well Well. Waecc’s Spring, Wakeswell,… Waxwell.

There is a tradition that anyone who drunk of the well would stay in Pinner forever, this being a tradition often associated from Anglo-Saxon sites, such as Keldwell in Lincolnshire and Bywell in Northumberland, both Saxon sounding wells so there appears to be a significant relationship. Pinner residents obviously found me a little uncouth and so took the trouble of bricking up the water flow before I arrived.

Yet it was a very reliable water source especially in dry periods when people would travel from miles around to collect it.  The healing properties of the water ranged from the being good for eyes to unusually reviving people at the point of death! Sadly, since 1870, the site has been sealed up and the site is now dry and deep in leaves. The well consists of a large red brick domed structure set into the bank and earth covered.  The water arose under an arch in a semi circular basin set into base of the chamber with three steps reaching the water.

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Wax Well Name was first recorded in 1274 as ‘Wakeswell’ Thought to mean ‘Waecc’s’ Spring. Until mid-19th century the well was the most important source of water in Pinner village and reputed to have healing properties.

 

Wax Well Name was first recorded in 1274 as ‘Wakeswell’ Thought to mean ‘Waecc’s’ Spring. Until mid-19th century the well was the most important source of water in Pinner village and reputed to have healing properties.”

The name is either from a personal name or Anglo-Saxon Woecce which means ‘to guard’ perhaps suggesting that the water was important or associated with a ritual. However, the site is close to Grim’s Dyke which was the boundary of Mercia (was one of the kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy)  so the guard may relate to use by people associated with that site.  Before that it was possibly a defensive works by the Catuvellauni tribe against the Romans.

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As you can see the well is still in an excellent state of preservation despite the water source being blocked off.  Britain and even London is full of Holy Wells and Sacred Springs but especially in London, so many of them are lost, hidden or out of bounds so to find one right here with even a public bench to sit and admire the view is quite rare.

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With 2 ancient sites under my belt, I thought I would hurry on to the third and final spot of the day.

 

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