King Edward III Manor House

This my second post resulting from my scouting out a new tour I have been wanting to start offering to my lovely tourists.  As well as the regular tourist hotspots, I really enjoy taking people to the lesser visited parts and judging from the reactions of my tourists, the more authentic an experience, the greater their enjoyment.

As such I took a walk along the the south bank of the Thames through the districts of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.  These are parts of London that even most Londoners never visit, let alone tourists and yet having gone through a certain level of gentrification, what were the aspects that made visiting the area a seemingly stupid and possibly dangerous idea is now what makes it so attractive.

If you missed my first post on the area, you can read all about the The Angel Pub in Rotherhithe, which has a long and often murky history and as you can see on the map below is adjacent to the ruined manor house.   The second post is all about the notorious Jacobs island which incredibly is now a luxory housing and retail area.

There isn’t a great deal to see of this 700 year old royal residence but it is still an interesting place to visit.  It’s not every day even in England that you walk through regular streets with regular houses all around and then find this in the middle of it all.

Mansion House of King Edward III

Mansion House of King Edward III in Rotherhithe

Over 650 years ago King Edward III, who reigned from 1327 – 77, built a residence at Rotherhithe.  The building was constructed on a low lying island surrounded by marshland.  The king’s original building consisted of a range of stone buildings around a court, part of the walls still stand today.

The buildings were surrounded by a moat on three sides and originally open to the River Thames on the north side.  This allowed the king to arrive by boat and at high tide to moor up against the steps that led from the river to a gatehouse located in a tower.  The range of buildings included a hall with a fireplace, the King’s private chambers, kitchens and other buildings.  Further south, on drier land, was an outer court with other buildings surrounded by an earth bank.

What was the function of the house at Rotherhithe?  It is not a hunting lodge, since there was no attached royal park and Edward III built many hunting lodges elsewhere.  Documentary reference to the housing of the king’s falcons ‘in the chamber’ conjures up the possibility that one sport was falconry over the river or the surrounding marshes; Edward was a keen and expert falconer.

 

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Map showing the banks of the Thames being pushed back.

 

By the end of the 16th century the Thames waterfront had been pushed northwards by land reclamation, with a road running along a river embankment.  The old King’s residence was now completely enclosed by a moat.  The Crown eventually sold the residence and it passed into private hands and was known as the moted place.

In the 17th century the site became used as a pottery and in the 18th and 19th centuries warehouses were built across the site.  In fact the façade of the north wall of the 14th century inner court was still standing in 1907, incorporated into one of the warehouses, and fortunately was recorded at this time which has allowed us to make an accurate reconstruction of the buildings.

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Nearby Southwark Palace (also on my tour) was and to an extent still is incorporated into Victorian warehouses just as this manor house was.

 

In the 1970s the warehouses were demolished and in the 1980s the area was to be redeveloped as part of the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC).  Archaeological investigations conducted by the Museum of London in the 1980s established that remains of Edward III’s residence survived and in collaboration with English Heritage and Southwark Council the remains have been preserved and made accessible to the public.

 

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An artistic impression of what the manor house looked like in its prime.

If you’d like to tour with me on this trail that will culminate inside the Mayflower pub from where the famous ship departed and where it returned years later and abandoned on the banks of the Thames then visit my tour page below:

stephenliddell.co.uk/ye-olde-england-tours-2/our-tours/london-tours/from-shakespeares-globe-to-the-mayflower-the-american-dream/

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Posted in Architecture, history, Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Shad Thames and Jacobs Island – The Venice of Drains

This my second post resulting from my scouting out a new tour I have been wanting to start offering to my lovely tourists.  As well as the regular tourist hotspots, I really enjoy taking people to the lesser visited parts and judging from the reactions of my tourists, the more authentic an experience, the greater their enjoyment.

As such I took a walk along the the south bank of the Thames through the districts of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.  These are parts of London that even most Londoners never visit, let alone tourists and yet having gone through a certain level of gentrification, what were the aspects that made visiting the area a seemingly stupid and possibly dangerous idea is now what makes it so attractive.

If you missed my first post on the area, you can read all about the The Angel Pub in Rotherhithe, which has a long and often murky history.

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Old warehouses on Jacobs Island are now flats (apartments) that can cost many millions of pounds.

Most tourists don’t really get east of The Globe theatre or Borough Market at best, many of course visit Tower Bridge but generally on the north side.  Two thousands years of poverty and crime means that even now, the southern bank of the Thames is much less visited and yet on this tour, where the tourists vanish is just where it gets interesting.

The district just east of Tower Bridge on the suth side of the river is Bermondsey which in old English means a ‘piece of firm land in a fen’ with fen being an alternative word for a marsh or swamp.

A community of Cluniac monks resided at Bermondsey Abbey close to the site from 1082 onwards. The community began the development of the Bermondsey area, cultivating the land and embanking the riverside into a Priory Close spanning 140 acres of meadow and digging dykes. They turned the adjacent tidal inlet at the mouth of the River Neckinger into the priory’s dock, and named it Saint Saviour’s Dock after their abbey’s patron. This provided a safe landing for Bishops and goods below the traditional first crossing, the congested stone arches of London Bridge. According to the Winchester Episcopal Register, the Bishop of Winchester when returning from abroad was expected to land at Bermondsey shores.

The watercourses of the marshes provided a water supply for tanneries (ever since the Middle Ages Bermondsey was one of the main places in England for the manufacture of leather) and factories as the area was developed, and prepared the ground for large-scale building. Soil excavated from the ditches was used to embank and raise the level of the adjacent ground to provide firm, dry foundations. The whole network of watercourses acted as an extended mill pond.

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Bermondsey was historically a village on the outskirts of London until the 17th century when the area began to be developed as a wealthy suburb following the Great Fire of London. By the 19th century, the once affluent parts of Bermondsey had experienced a serious decline, and became the site of notorious slums with the arrival of industrialisation, docks and migrant housing, especially along the riverside.

Some of you may have read my recent blog post on the lost and secret rivers of London. At Shad Thames is one of the remnants of these rivers which gives a rather good idea of what 19th century London must have looked like.

Shad Thames is today one of the trendiest parts of London. It’s a glitzy stretch on the north bank of the river Thames with smart restaurants, fashionable boutiques and expensive apartments in converted Victorian warehouses. While the development has been popular for some time now, the opening of the nearby Shard and all the other construction going on around London Bridge can only add to the appeal – and the value of properties.

 

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A covered Victorian Wharf is now a high-end retail area.

 

Once though, what is now Shad Thames bordered onto one of the worst parts of London. Detached from the mainland and surrounded on four sides by stagnant water, near to here was the site of Jacob’s Island – a collection of damp and rickety old houses, hidden away from public gaze by large warehouses and other industry. It was immortalised by Charles Dickens who chose the location to kill off villain Bill Sykes in the mud of ‘Folly Ditch’. The author provides a vivid description:

 

Bill Sikes about to meet his maker in Oliver Twist.

Bill Sykes about to meet his maker in Oliver Twist.

 

“… crazy wooden galleries common to the backs of half a dozen houses, with holes from which to look upon the slime beneath; windows, broken and patched, with poles thrust out, on which to dry the linen that is never there; rooms so small, so filthy, so confined, that the air would seem to be too tainted even for the dirt and squalor which they shelter; wooden chambers thrusting themselves out above the mud and threatening to fall into it – as some have done; dirt-besmeared walls and decaying foundations, every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot, and garbage: all these ornament the banks of Jacob’s Island.”

The Crazy Wooden Galleries as described by Charles Dickens

The Crazy Wooden Galleries as described by Charles Dickens

One of the biggest problems for the residents of Jacob’s Island was the poor state of the water supply. In the mid 19th Century, the writer Beames noted that the reservoirs remained stagnant until they were moved by the tide – something that only happened two or three times a week. What was “the common sewer of the neighbourhood” was “the only source from which the wretched inhabitants can get the water which they drink – with which they wash-and with which they cook their victuals.” In the summer children were seen bathing in the dirty water. The Thames, which was “not far distant” would have offered a cleaner bathing-place he said.

“There exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London… In Jacob’s Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the windows are windows no more; the doors are falling into the streets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke. Thirty or forty years ago… it was a thriving place; but now it is a desolate island indeed.”

 

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The ditch side slums of Jacobs Island

 

This so-called island was created alongside the Thames by the River Neckinger, the docks and a series of tidal ditches. Known as ‘The Venice of Drains’, it’s little wonder that the area was one of the main hotspots for the cholera epidemics in the latter half of the 19th century as the ditches were used for both sewers and drinking water.

Sluices at the mills could be opened, allowing the ditches to be filled from the Thames and Dickens writes, in Oliver Twist, that at these times you “will see the inhabitants of the houses on either side, lowering, from their back doors and windows, buckets, pails, domestic utensils of all kinds, in which to haul the water up…every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot and garbage – all these ornament the banks of Folly Ditch.”

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One of the biggest health hazards of the time was that of cholera, in London generally but Jacobs Island in particular.  Reports of the time state that ‘Out of the 12,800 deaths which, within the last three months, have arisen from cholera, 6,500 have occurred on the southern shores of the Thames; and to this awful number no localities have contributed so largely as Lambeth, Southwark and Bermondsey, each, at the height of the disease, adding its hundred victims a week to the fearful catalogue of mortality. Any one who has ventured a visit to the last-named of these places in particular, will not wonder at the ravages of the pestilence in this malarious quarter, for it is bounded on the north and east by filth and fever, and on the south and west by want, squalor, rags and pestilence. Here stands, as it were, the very capital of cholera, the Jessore of London – JACOB’S ISLAND, a patch of ground insulated by the common sewer. Spared by the fire of London, the houses and comforts of the people in this loathsome place have scarcely known any improvement since that time. The place is a century behind even the low and squalid districts that surround it.

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On entering the precincts of the pest island, the air has literally the smell of a graveyard, and a feeling of nausea and heaviness comes over any one unaccustomed to imbibe the musty atmosphere. It is not only the nose, but the stomach, that tells how heavily the air is loaded with sulphuretted hydrogen; and as soon as you cross one of the crazy and rotting bridges over the reeking ditch, you know, as surely as if you had chemically tested it, by the black colour of what was once the white-lead paint upon the door-posts and window-sills, that the air is thickly charged with this deadly gas. The heavy bubbles which now and then rise up in the water show you whence at least a portion of the mephitic compound comes, while the open doorless privies that hang over the water side on one of the banks, and the dark streaks of filth down the walls where the drains from each house discharge themselves into the ditch on the opposite side, tell you how the pollution of the ditch is supplied

The 19th century social researcher Henry Mayhew described Jacob’s Island as a “pest island” with “literally the smell of a graveyard” and “crazy and rotten bridges” crossing the tidal ditches, with drains from houses discharging directly into them, and the water harbouring masses of rotting weed, animal carcasses and dead fish. He describes the water being “as red as blood” in some parts, as a result of pollutant tanning agents from the local industries in the area.

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Folly Ditch

 

‘The water is covered with a scum almost like a cobweb, and prismatic with grease. In it float large masses of green rotting weed, and against the posts of the bridges are swollen carcasses of dead animals, almost bursting with the gases of putrefaction. Along its shores are heaps of indescribable filth, the phosphoretted smell from which tells you of the rotting fish there, while the oyster shells are like pieces of slate from their coating of mud and filth. In some parts the fluid is almost as red as blood from the colouring matter that pours into it from the reeking leather-dressers’ close by.

As alluded to above St Saviours Dock was a notorious area when it came to crime.  Not only due to the slums and the terrible poverty in the maze of streets inland but also as the area was a famous holding area for cargo vessels wanting to unload their wares further west into London.  The Thames was the busiest water way in the world and it was said that it was entirely possible to cross the river without getting your feet wet just by crossing from one ship to the next.

 

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St Saviours Dock and the River Neckinger which half a mile in the distance appears from its now underground waterway.

 

These ships could wait for many weeks and all just a minute or two away from one of the most lawless slums in the world and the good that they contained were often too tempting a target for the pirates in the area.  Of course, if they were caught then the punishment was extreme and the River Neckinger is said to take its name from the “Devil’s Neckinger” or “Neckerchief”, London slang for the noose used to execute the pirates.

Most of the early buildings of Jacobs Island were demolished by 1860 and replaced by Victorian buildings many of which have also gone either from the WW2 Blitz or the resulting clearance.  At least some survive in the shape of New Concordia Wharf & St Saviours Wharf still survive. The 1968 film Oliver! was filmed at New Concordia Wharf and in the opening scenes of 1999’s The World is Not Enough, James Bond’s speed boat traverses the length of St Saviour’s Dock.

If you’d like to tour with me on this trail that will culminate inside the Mayflower pub from where the famous ship departed and where it returned years later and abandoned on the banks of the Thames then visit my tour page below:

stephenliddell.co.uk/ye-olde-england-tours-2/our-tours/london-tours/from-shakespeares-globe-to-the-mayflower-the-american-dream/

 

 

 

Posted in history, Life, London, Travel, Ye Olde England Tours | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Angel Pub In Rotherhithe

Last week I went on a reconnaisance trip to scout out a new tour I have been wanting to start offering to my lovely tourists.  As well as the regular tourist hotspots, I really enjoy taking people to the lesser visited parts and judging from the reactions of my tourists, the more authentic an experience, the greater their enjoyment.

As such I took a walk along the the south bank of the Thames through the districts of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.  These are parts of London that even most Londoners never visit, let alone tourists and yet having gone through a certain level of gentrification, what were the aspects that made visiting the area a seeingly stupid and possibly dangerous idea is now what makes it so attractive.

I knew there was a lot to see but even I didn’t quite appreciate just what atmospheric and historic neighbourhood this was and so it seems like a good idea to write a few blog posts about just some of the highlights I came across.  As it is an easy-going Saturday I thought I would start off with historic Angel Pub in Rotherhithe.

The Angel pub sits in splendid isolation in front of the remains of Edward III’s mansion on the Thames Path at the western edge of Rotherhithe and has a history going back to at least the 17th Century though it is likely that in one incarnation or the other, it dates back to medieval times.

At the very end of Bermondsey Wall East, it used to be flanked by a variety of buildings, all crowded together to make the most  of the valuable Thames frontage.

 

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These days though, it stands alone between parks, ruins of a royal mansion house and some tasteful memorials to social reformers of times past.
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In the 15th century an inn and rest house for travellers called The Salutation was kept at or near this site by monks from Bermondsey Priory. In 1682 The Angel was in a position diagonally opposite its present site, and was referred to by the famous diarist Samuel Pepys as “the famous Angel.”
Christopher Jones, the captain of the Mayflower, is said to have hired crew here

Local legend has it that Judge George Jeffreys (the “hanging judge”) used to come here to watch men die at Execution Dock, which was opposite.   It is also believed that the legendary Captain Cook prepared for his journey for which eventually led to his landing in what became known as Australia.

The Angel - Drinks Menu

During most of the 17th and 18th Centuries its busy riverside would have ensured a rich but not always salubrious variety of clientele, from river pirates, smugglers and thieves to sailors and press gangs. In the early 20th Century its reputation and location attracted local artists including Augustus John and James Abbott McNeil Whistler.   Such artists of course were only following in the footsteps of perhaps the most celebrated British painter, JMW Turner who is said to have painted one of the two most lauded British paintings, The Fighting Temeraire either here or at Cherry Tree Park, the small riverside park just a minute away on foot.

The Fighting Teameraire

The Fighting Temeraire

The Fighting Temeraire was painted by Turner and is said widely acknowledged to be one of the most loved British paintings.  It depicts the grand old HMS Temeraire which fought under Admiral Horatio Nelson at the great victory at Trafalgar.  Here, at the end of its life,  it is being towed back to London ready for the breakers yard.  Notable also of course that the small tug is pulling the great old warhip thanks to the power of the steam engine which has latterly rendered the age of the sail to history.

In the 19th century The Angel was in the middle of a very busy stretch of tightly packed Thames-side trade related industrial buildings and slums.  Even now, the area has a reputation that can deter more delicate people from visiting after dark.

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Inside The Angel, Rotherhithe.

It remains decorated in period style and has happily not fallen foul of the trend in many pubs that cater to a younger crowd of having music playing.  Here you can enjoy a drink or a meal whilst looking out at the tremendous views with friendly locals, a smattering of tourists and lively conversation.

 

A room with a view

A room with a view. It’s equally spectacular at night.

In days gone by, the pub was a hotbed of smugglers with tap doors in the lower floor that open up a few feet over the river.  When out on my walk through Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, I got talking to former and slightly elderly smuggler.  I talk to everyone 🙂

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As you can see from the old photo above, The Angel is actually built partially over the river with just enough space for small boats to position themselves underneath.  I would have gone closer to take some photos of the doors but firstly was running a bit late, secondly there was some renovation work going on which made things a little difficult and thirdly, a sudden and slightly surprising high-tide had come in and I doubt anyone would want to open the trap doors up!

 

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Everyone bring their wellies!

If you’d like to tour with me on this trail that will culminate inside the Mayflower pub, constructed out of the actual timbers of the famous Mayflower ship then visit my tour page below:

stephenliddell.co.uk/ye-olde-england-tours-2/our-tours/london-tours/from-shakespeares-globe-to-the-mayflower-the-american-dream/

 

 

 

 

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How to make home-made wine

The last few weeks sees me do what I do every Halloween, make some home-made wine. It isn’t fully fermented wine and is technically known as Must.  However it is a fun thing to do and it produces gallons (or litres) of a very plesant sparkling drink.

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It’s very easy to do.  First of all you pick your grapes.  I only have 2 grape vines but I can still pick a few buckets worth of grapes.

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Once you have picked the grapes then you have to remove them from their stems and stalks.  Once that is done then it is time to crunch the grapes.  I know in traditional industries they used to use their feet but I think that’s a bit disgusting and besides, there are various bugs and sometimes semi-dead wasps that live amongst the grapes in November and I can do without standing on them.

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So I usually used my knuckles and lean down onto them.  It can take quite a lot of time and energy and the seeds in the grapes can hurt you a little if you have so many buckets that it takes several sessions to squash them all.   Alternatively you could use something like the potato masher above but I find using my hands is best, that way I can put my not inconsiderable weight behind it!

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Once you have squashed every grape then you are left with something like the above.  At this stage because it is November and I don’t want my kitchen smelling like a winery for 6 months, I add about 500 grammes of sugar to help the fermentation process.  You can also add a little water too if you like.  Then cover the grapes for a number of days and give the occasional stir.

The longer you leave your graps and the more sugar you put in then the stronger and more wine-like the resulting drink will be.  If you just want a slightly alcholic fizzy, fruit drink then 3 or 4 days is sufficient.  Leave it for 2 or 3 weeks and you will havesome very strong stuff indeed.

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Once you think it is ready, it is time to separate the crushed grapes from the liquid. I don’t know how they do it in France but I use a simple sieve and then pour the whole mixture through it as shown below.

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You are left with the dregs in the bucket.  My tip wuld be to half fill the bucket up again with water and add more sugar.  You can get a second and third harvest of Must from these grapes by repeating this stage though the later rounds lose their potency.  However the juice has lots of antioxidents and still tastes nice as a simple bubbly fruit juice.

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What you’re left with is this stuff.  And lots of it. In the photo it looks quite still but once it is bottled the fizz develops.

IMG_5434Here is the nearly finished drink.  I can fill about 15 of these large bottles with it.   My advice would be to unscrew the bottle lids every few days as the pressure inside can build so much the lids will explode off into the ceiling at the most inconvenient moment.

You can remove the scum at the top with a spoon or run it through the sieve again.

It lasts for several years and if you know how to make it then is the basis for a good serving of hot mulled wine at Christmas.

 

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Rwandan Dancers At The WTM Expo in London

Last week I was invited to attend the WTM expo at the ExCel convention centre at the Royal Victoria Docks in London.  It is the leading global travel trade show and each year brings almost 50,000 people together with the aim of getting the entire world on holiday,  As such, I thought it was a good opportunity to take Ye Olde England Tours to a new audience, full of decision makers, bookers and industry experts.

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I don’t quiote have the budget to create some of the frankly staggeringly impressive stands that were on display from around the world.  Instead, I ordered some flyers and spent 8 hours walking around, making contacts and meeting trade officials from those countries where I get the most visitors from.

I also spent a few hours meeting with organisations in the UK with a view to creating some exciting new tours and I’m pleased to say that I think I have the odd exclusive scoop coming up for 2018.

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Despite all my hours walking around, I only saw around half of the exhibition which is no doubt why it is a 3 day show.  Nevertheless on a personal note, it was good to see that the UK section was absolutely packed out and the only country where you had to fight through the crowds whilst with the exception of the USA and Italy, most areas were very much quieter.  Which does indeed match my experience that whatever sections of the media say about Brexit, travel and tourism in Britain is absolutely booming.

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Many of the stands were operating with the support of their respective nations government tourism associations and as such were able to put on some amazing stands and shows.  Each one was a little version of their country from the exclusive and high end stands from the Gulf nations to the tiny stands from Mongolia and Tajikistan and a very bare outing from Iraq.

I took lots of photos and put them in the video below along with a 1 minute video of a much longer dance put on by the Rwandan delegation.  It certainly did the trick and got lots of attention diverted away from richer and more established tourist nations.

 

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Giving a public speech when you hate public speaking or My Remembrance Sunday Reading

People say to confront your fears and they will recede.  Well I can definitely say that this is not the case.  I’ve always hated flying and I’ve flown 37 times.  Flight 37 was every bit as terrifying as flight 27, 17 and 7. I think everyone would agree I have given flying more than a fair shot to know whether I like it or not.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before but I absolutely detest public speaking, I have long had a phobia about it.  So much so that it would make me physically ill, often in the bushes on the way to the bus stop or in the toilets at university or work.

You coudn’t find someone who hated public speaking more than I or indeed any sort of attention.  Yet somehow I’ve ended up on the television and radio multiple times and as some of you might remember, started this year working on a video for the CWGC (Commonwealth Wargraves Commission).  You can check it out on this post here, scroll down a little and there it is.

I’m a real introvert (see my post Speaking Up For Introverts) I never even use the phone, certainly not to call anyone and if anyone wants to contact me, I have email and that goes for business too.  Thankfully I am a prolific emailer and something of a writer.

As such it was with some alarm that I was contacted a week ago and asked if I would be willing to work out and read out a reading on Sunday for the annual Remembrance Sunday comemoration service for Leavesden village Memorial.  Apparently I’m something of a pillar of the community which is, I find, a little disconcerting!! I like to help people but am more of the seen and not heard variety.

Just a month ago, I gave a Jack The Ripper tour to 60 school children and I assumed after that this might be the hardest public speaking engagement I would have all year.

I’m all ready nervous about my reading on Sunday, and have been for about a week now.   It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog once sang.  Nor is it easy having an unusual, nominal talent whilst being very happy to live as a hermit!  Would I get all these requests if I was a bus driver or toilet cleaner?   I’d have thought being a writer-tour guide would be equally inoccuous but it seems not.

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On the plus side it gives me a chance to honour my ancestors on this special day and if I can help the wider community or maybe even inspire some of the children who will be there then that of course is a wonderful thing to do and an honour in itself.

I didn’t ask to do it but then the millions who fought and died likely weren’t too keen to go off and fight and die to give their more wimpy descendants like myself the opportunity to live the life we do.  Compared to their sacrifices, it is a trifle but when you have a phobia about things, it doesn’t help.  I’ve travelled before in places that are hotspots to say the least which others wouldn’t visit due to war or violence and that honestly didn’t bother me, yet sometimes shock others when I tell them.  They no doubt wouldn’t have a problem with giving a short reading as I happily take a taxi drive through Baghdad.

Nevertheless, unless I can get an urgent flight to eastern Ukraine, it seems I am rather up the creek!

As you can see from the photo below, we have a nice new memorial which was unveiled and replaced the old one in 2014.

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I didn’t know what to give as a reading.  A week wasn’t very long to do any research, I could have used some text from Lest We Forget but I wanted to do something more personal to the men who are remembered here.  In the end due to work commitments, I only had a few hours spare but one of the benefits of being a historian is that you can do a lot of research quickly, if you know where to look.
I only have 2 or 3 minutes but as the first reading, it’s important to get things off to a good start as everyone will be paying attention and there wil be about 100-150 of everyone there.  So here it is for everyone who can’t get to Leavesden Green at 10.45am on Sunday morning!
“If you’re anything like me, you’ll walk past this memorial quite often.  It doesn’t matter if you go by every day on the way to school or work. Or if you pass by only on weekend walks or summer bike rides.  You’ll probably stop and take a glance at the names listed here and think about them for a moment or two.  
100 years on, they might be just names to us as the memorial only gives the briefest but most important information, that these brave heroes all died fighting for their country and their family and friends; and for us.
Back then Leavesden was a very different place than it is today and the clues are still there if you know where to look.  100 years ago, this whole area was peaceful, rural farmland.  Just a few dozen people lived here and they all worked on farms and lived in isolated little cottages.

Before the war they had jobs that revolved around the farms.  Many looked after horses or cows.  Ernest Farley whose father was the vicar of Leavesden, was a chauffuer whilst Albert Martin made a living by hand painting coaches.  Captain John Neligan was a doctor from Dublin and he served on a hospital train, dying from Dysentry in Egypt

Most of them won’t even have been to London but a century ago, they left their houses and headed to war, never to return.  Like Private Sharpe who lived on the end cottage and who fought and died in the Machine Gun Corps.  or Alfred Moore who served around the world in Egypt, India and South Africa
Most of the men listed here are buried far away but it is possible to visit three of them quite easily. Sidney Stevens was a Lance Corporal in the army, he was injured in action and was brought back to England.  He died in Bristol hospital and is buried in the cemetery at All Saints Church in Horshoe Lane.   A few metres away lie Corporal Sapsed of the RAF and Bertie Coster.  
Like others on the memorial, Bertie wasn’t the only sibling to die in WW1, his brother Harry looked after cows on the farm but was sent to a different unit and he is buried in France. Another brother George also died but had moved away from Leavesden just before the war so is memorialised elsewhere.
It’s worth also thinking about those left behind such as Martha Bradley.  Her husband Albert had already died before the war and her sons Harry William Bradley and Walter Henry Bradley died separately on the Western Front.  Martha lived until she was 77 and died just before the start of WW2.
Over 16 million people died in WW1 around the world and not including countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, 887,858 died from the U.K. and colonies.  It changed the world forever, not least in little, peaceful Leavesden where 27 men left to go to war and 27 heroes never returned to a “Land Fit For Heroes.”

My blog is full of WW1 and Armistice Day related posts from the last 4 or 5 years and I have written two books on the subject.

Lest We Forget is available in Kindle and Paperback formats in all good on-line outlets and literary stores too.  The Kindle version is published by Endeavour Press of London, one of the world’s leading digital publishers.  The paperback version is available too for those folk like me who prefer an excellent book and the paperback includes a number of maps and archive photos as well as some personal photos of my family members who like millions of others, fought for our freedom only never to return home.

lest-we-forget-front-cover

You can order Lest We Forget: A Concise Companion to the First World War from Amazon.com in Kindle for $4.58and paperback for $9.99 and Amazon.co.uk in Kindle for £2.99 and paperback for £6.99 and other Amazons around the world.

In The Footsteps of Heroes on Kindle and paperback.

In The Footsteps of Heroes comes about as a result of on-site research into Lest We Forget and provides a casual photo guide to the main British and Commonwealth locations of the Western Front.

In The Footsteps of Heroes can be purchased from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in Kindle and Paperback.

My books are also available direct from their respective publishers and also through Barnes and NobleKoboSmashwords and Createspace.  You can also purchase this book through Apple iBooks store by clicking on the logo below.

In The Footsteps of Heroes

Posted in Heritage, history, Life, WW1 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Russia in WW1

In 1914, Russia was badly prepared for a serious war having  just nine years earlier  been defeated in a war with against a tiny and a definitely non-European power in Japan. There was a revolution in 1905 that had shaken the Russian Empite to its core and the Tsar was forced to concede civil rights and a parliament to the Russian people. Reforms were put in place but they were half-hearted and incomplete by the time war started, however peasants eager to improve their lot rallied to their nations cause to fight against the Central Powers.

To keep the empire united a great victory was needed but early Russian hopes were immediately thwarted in The Great War.  At Tannenberg and the First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, in 1914, Russia lost two entire armies of over 250,000 men.

Russia’s failed advance westwards into Germany had the result of disrupting the Schlieffen Plan and possibly saved Paris from falling under the German regime but for Russia itself it was the beginning of a long retreat which saw all of Poland, Lithuania and most of Latvia in German hands by the middle of 1915.

A programme was put in place to militarise vital industrial sectors but a breakdown of the system which brought foods from the countryside to the cities meant Russia entered a serious internal crisis.

By the middle of the war things had picked up for Russia and by 1916 they had improved the supply of rifles and artillery shells to the Eastern Front.  June 1916 saw a great Russian victory over Austro-Hungary with the Brusilov Offensive which resulted in the capture of Galicia and the Bukovina as well as holding off the Ottomans in the Caucasus region.

 

Grigori_Rasputin_1916

Russian holy man Grigori Rasputin became a man of huge political influence in Russia until his murder

 

Rumours began to spread that the Tsarina Alexandra and Rasputin were German spies and despite the rumours being totally unfounded, more and more senior Russians began asking whether their  1.7 million dead and 5 million wounded was due to treason as opposed to simple stupidity and the horrors of modern warfare.

As in Britain, the out-dated strategies of the Russian generals cost countless lives, unnecessarily so in many cases and to make things worse, the Tsar and his immediate circle didn’t seem to have any sympathy for the people.

After massive public demonstrations, food riots and a mutiny at the Petrograd Garrison in February 1917, Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate as war continued to rage. A new and Provisional Government led by liberals and moderate socialists was proclaimed, and its leaders hoped now to pursue the war more effectively.

Tsar Nicholas and his family were put under house arrest in the Alexander Palace before later being relocated to a more remote location, supposedly for their own protection.  Conditions for the Tsar were at first comfortable before things became stricter with the family being put on rations and be liable to offensive treatment from their protectors.

In April the family were moved to Yekaterinburg where the Bolsheviks wanted to put them on trial.  However, the city was being threatened by the white Russians and the Bolsheviks were worried the Tsar would be restored to power or at least become a figurehead of resistance and when forces from Czechoslovakia neared the city who didn’t even know the Tsar was there, the Bolsheviks panicked and the Tsar with his family were shot and also bayoneted to death on 17th July 1918.

Following the 1917 revolution, power was went to the elected Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies group whilst Bolshevik and Anarchist movements did their best to remove the ability of the Russian army to fight.

Russian leaders half-heartedly campaigned for a general armistice without blame or territorial transfers, something that Germany obviously would never agree too given their strong position.  With their planned counter-attack for the summer of 1917 withering on the vine due to the Bolshevik convictions now held by many of the men, radical anti-war leaders including Vladimir Lenin, were ferried home from exile in Switzerland in April 1917, courtesy of the German General Staff.  Such was the fear of revolt all across Europe at this time that the Germans kept Lenin locked in a train cabin, guarded at all time and forbidden to speak to anyone lest he instrument a revolt in Germany!  It must be said that for some time Germany had been doing its best to create disorder in Russia and by the end of 1917 is estimated to have spent 30 million in doing so.

The summer offensive was a disaster. Peasant soldiers deserted en masse to join the revolution, and fraternisation with the enemy became common leading the way open for the Lenin and his Bolsheviks to take power in the October Revolution of 1917 without any resistance.

Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin

Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin – who spent much time in London after being exiled from Russia in the first years of the 20th century due to his political views.

After taking power, the Bolsheviks promised to deliver ‘Peace, Bread and Land’ to the beleaguered people of Russia. With regard to the first of these, a ‘Decree on Peace’ (26 October 1917) was signed off by Lenin, calling upon all belligerents to end the slaughter of World War One.

It is important not to think that Lenin was a pacifist, far from it and instead he hoped to create an international civil war as he suspected Imperial powers would continue to fight and reveal their true selves to the working class people of the empires and around the world.

Realising it would allow them the chance to bring their men and resources to the Western Front, the Central Powers agreed to a peace treaty in the Polish town of Brest-Litovsk. The Russian negotiator Trotsky tried to prevaricate which simply gave the Germans the chance to make further great advances for five days as the German soldiers did not revolt as Lenin had hoped and so Russia and the Central Powers signed Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3rd March 1918.

It was a very one-sided and punitive treaty which effectively handed over Russian Finland, Poland, the Baltic provinces, Ukraine and Transcaucasia to the Central Powers, together with one-third of the old empire’s population, one-third of its agricultural land and three-quarters of its industries.

Lest We Forget is available in Kindle and Paperback formats in all good on-line outlets and literary stores too.  The Kindle version is published by Endeavour Press of London, one of the world’s leading digital publishers.  The paperback version is available too for those folk like me who prefer an excellent book and the paperback includes a number of maps and archive photos as well as some personal photos of my family members who like millions of others, fought for our freedom only never to return home.

lest-we-forget-front-cover

You can order Lest We Forget: A Concise Companion to the First World War from Amazon.com in Kindle for $4.58and paperback for $9.99 and Amazon.co.uk in Kindle for £2.99 and paperback for £6.99 and other Amazons around the world.

Posted in history, WW1 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment