Visiting the State Apartments at Speaker’s House at the Palace of Westminster

Two weeks ago I wrote a post on how I randomly met Jeremy Corbyn on the London Underground. I met him when I was on my way into Parliament, not as a guide myself this time but as a tourist or at least I wasn’t actively working.

I was one of the first group of people on the first day that the Speakers State Apartments were officially open for small numbers of the general public in living memory, if not ever. This is all due to Speaker Lyndsay Hoyle who believes that as the State Apartments are paid for by the public and the role of the Speaker is integral to democracy then people should be allowed behind closed doors to have a look around.

I was all ready quite buzzing having had a chat with Jeremy Corbyn and he told me a few things that a previous Speaker had told him about what to expect.

The Speaker’s House epitomises the status of the Speaker. It always was the grandest residence in the New Palace of Westminster and is the only one to survive in anything like its original form. The House occupies the twin-towered pavilion which projects at the northernmost end of the River Front, with one side parallel to Westminster Bridge. It is approached from New Palace Yard through the courtyard, called the Speaker’s Court. When it was first completed in 1859, it was a grand Victorian town house, with servants in the basement and on the ground floor, the State Apartments on the Principal Floor and the bedrooms on the first and second floors. The Speaker now has a private flat on the second floor, but the formal State Apartments remain on the Principal Floor and are used for official business.

Before 1795, no Speaker had an official house at the Houses of Parliament. William Lenthall (1591- 1662), who was the Speaker who defied Charles I in January 1642, first lived in King Street, Covent Garden, and then moved to Goring House, which was on the site of the future Buckingham Palace and which, at that date, was a pleasant and rural site, a very suitable place for the Speaker to entertain. Arthur Onslow (1691-1768), who was the Speaker for more than 30 years in the middle of the 18th century, lived in a modest house in Leicester Street, Soho, until 1752 when he took up his abode in 20 Soho Square, the largest and finest house in the square.

The first Speaker to live on site was Henry Addington (Speaker 1789- 1801) though most of what you see is from a later time. We weren’t allowed to take photos behind the many layers of security but one of the things I found most striking in the entrance hallway were the stained glass red dragons are also a reminder that the decoration is derived from the early Tudor period, and that Henry VII claimed descent from King Cadwallader of Wales.

One of the most incredible rooms is the Speakers Study which is a south facing room where the Speaker holds his meetings on the daily business of the House of Commons. The fine proportions of the room with its great windows, carved oak panelling and doors, and stencilled ceiling panels are characteristic of the State Apartments.

Also typical of these rich interiors is the fireplace of Purbeck marble with added brass decoration, surmounted by a large mirror. The wallpaper with its strong pattern incorporating a lion and a rose was one of Pugin’s designs for large rooms at Westminster.

One end of the room houses cabinets containing silver, most of which forms part of the Speaker’s plate, an official dinner service that was ordered in 1833 and supplied by Garrard.

The space has also been taken up recently by a big screen to enable video conferencing – as Covid restrictions in 2020 limited face to face encounters and increased demand for virtual meetings.

Most of the other furniture in the room, except for some of the chairs, was designed specifically for the New Palace of Westminster. The silver calendar with its Gothic details and the letter-rack were designed by Augustus Welby Pugin.

Through the state apartments are official portraits of Speakers which go back centuries and in this room are two of the most famous from times past in the form of Sir Thomas More, briefly Speaker in 1523, who is shown beside the bookcase in a copy of a painting by Holbein, and William Lenthall.

If all of that was not enough then what I was most taken aback with was the view as the room looks out directly over the River Thames to St Thomas Hospital across the river and Westminster Bridge just to the left.

The Crimson Drawing Room The principal reception room in the Speaker’s House takes its name from the magnificent wall hangings although these are reproductions of the original 19th century silk ones whose pattern was based on an Italian Renaissance design.

The Crimson Drawing Room

Below the hangings the walls are panelled with a frieze of shields of early Speakers. The carpet repeats a design by A W Pugin, which was not among those originally intended for the New Palace at Westminster but has been extensively used here since the mid 1980s.

Most of the furniture in this room was among those pieces specially designed for the Speaker’s House in 1858, possibly by John Braund. The octagonal table is particularly attractive and is a variant of the many oak ones which Pugin designed for different parts of the building.

The chairs with barley-twist legs came from Pugin’s own house, The Grange at Ramsgate. A large collection of furniture from this source was acquired by the Houses of Parliament in 1985.

The Speakers State Dining Room

Though I’m missing out several rooms, an undoubted highlight was the Speakers State Dining Room which is filled by a long and lavishly set table in front of a marvellous fireplace and all set against wonderful wood panelling and paintings of Speakers. It’s easy to imagine dignitaries from across the country and indeed the world having a meal here at the Mother of Parliaments.

One of the things that came up in my chat with Jeremy Corbyn is the State Bedroom. This room was originally the drawing room of the Serjeant-at-Arms whose residence adjoined that of the Speaker. It is a grand room with a fireplace at each end surmounted by a mirror, but its character is now that of a State Bedroom since it has become the home of the rediscovered State Bed.

The State Bedroom

A State Bedroom was provided when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt because of the tradition that the monarch slept at the Palace of Westminster the night before the coronation in Westminster Abbey. The original State Bedroom on the first floor is marked on many early plans and a photograph of the bed was published in a book of 1906.

During the Second World War, however, the first floor was made into a separate flat for the Speaker and the bed was probably moved into a store, from where it was eventually sold and forgotten.

In January 1979, the Daily Telegraph published an article on the bed following a lecture given by the furniture historian Clive Wainwright in which the photograph of it was shown. As a result of this publicity the bed was rediscovered in a Welsh woollen mill and soon bought back for the nation.

It is doubtful that Prince Charles will sleep here one night but as the Houses of Parliament are also the Royal Palace of Westminster, he always has the right to do so if he pleases.

The tour lasted an hour and was one of the very few tourist things I have ever done in London for myself but it was somewhere that I had long wanted to see. The Speaker plays such a pivotal role in politics and has set the standard for Speakers in democracies across the world so it’s fitting that the holder of the office gets to stay in such auspicious surroundings, only a few minutes walk from the House of Commons chamber.

Remember if you’re British, you can easily visit Parliament and watch Parliament debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons and even meet your MP (hope they are better than Oliver Dowden!) If you are visiting London from overseas why not try my Darkest Hour Tour which covers Parliament, a walking tour around Westminster and Whitehall and then into the Churchill War Rooms.

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The Queen’s Green Canopy

Last week when I was out and about in London I passed through the Embankment Gardens as I do quite often. It’s one of the most beautiful parks in Westminster and always full of blooming flowers, well kept lawns, water features and in the summer, much needed shady trees.

I’ve written before about London named the first National Park City in the World and obviously have my book Secret Gardens of the City of London based on the #1 tour of the same name but unexpectedly I saw a bit of greening in action.

Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover
Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover

I knew something must have been happening as there was a dignitary wearing a golden chair, perhaps the local Mayor but when I looked closely there was a sign saying that it was part of the Queen’s Green Canopy which is one of the lasting gifts the Queen wants to leave to the country,

The Queen’s Green Canopy (QGC) is a unique tree planting initiative created to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022 which invites people from across the United Kingdom to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee.”

Everyone from individuals to Scout and Girlguiding groups, villages, cities, counties, schools and corporates will be encouraged to play their part to enhance our environment by planting trees during the official planting season between October to March. Tree planting will commence again in October 2022, through to the end of the Jubilee year.

With a focus on planting sustainably, the QGC will encourage planting of trees to create a legacy in honour of The Queen’s leadership of the Nation, which will benefit future generations.

As well as inviting the planting of new trees, The Queen’s Green Canopy will dedicate a network of 70 Ancient Woodlands across the United Kingdom and identify 70 Ancient Trees to celebrate Her Majesty’s 70 years of service.

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The death and resurrection of Margorie McCall

If you’re anything like me then there is nothing that quite tickles your fancy like a historic ‘resurrection’ story.   This one took place in Ireland in 1705 when after succumbing to a fever Margorie McCall was hastily buried to prevent the spread of whatever had sent her to her maker.

Margorie was buried with a valuable ring, which her husband had been unable to remove due to swelling on her joints which he feared would make her a target for body snatchers who could make a quick buck on the jewellery.

The evening after Margorie was buried and before the soil had even settled, the much feared grave-robbers appeared and started to dig. However they too were unable unable to pry the ring off the finger and so they decided to cut the finger off. As soon as blood was drawn, Margorie awoke from the coma that she had been in, bolted upright sat and screamed.

The fate of the grave-robbers remains unknown. One story says the men dropped dead on the spot, whilst another claims they fled and found a more moral way to make a living.

Margorie climbed out of the hole and made her way back to her home.

Her husband John, a doctor, was at home with the children when he heard a knock at the door. He told the children, “If your mother were still alive, I’d swear that was her knock.”

When he opened the door to find his wife standing there, dressed in her burial clothes, blood dripping from her finger but very much alive, he dropped dead to the floor. He was buried in the very plot Margorie had escaped from.

Margorie went on to re-marry and have several children. When she did finally die, she was returned to Shankill Cemetery in Lurgan, Ireland, where her gravestone still stands. It bears the inscription “Lived Once, Buried Twice.”

If you want to read an even more series of unlikely events then steal a glance at https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2021/02/15/the-legend-of-mary-overie/

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Meeting Jeremy Corbyn

I’ve had the pleasure to meet several MPs during my 26 months of being Excluded and indeed before then in my work as a tour guide. And also one MP who was particularly condescending and dismissive but more about him later.

On Monday this week I was on my way to Parliament for something altogether different when I was walking speedily along the platform of the Jubilee Line, deep in the bowels of Westminster Station when I was passing someone who had a very familiar voice. Surely it wasn’t, but it was indeed.

I had the absolute pleasure to bump into Jeremy Corbyn, the previous leader of the Labour Party who stopped to chat to me for 10 minutes as we walked up to Parliament.

We chatted about Excluded and the dire state of government support for small business and tourism in general as well as some of my unique tours to less visited parts of London and the ever changing state of Spitalfields whose nature is under threat not least due to Boris Johnson having authorised large blocks of nearby neighbourhoods to be destroyed and rebuilt to make plenty of money but with no character.

Having met a plethora of politicians in the last 2 years having been #Excluded I can safely say there are none more gracious or sincere than Jeremy Corbyn or more contemptuous and aloof than my own, Oliver Dowden who is conspicuous by his absence in my large collection of photos of senior politicians from all the parties. In fact when I met him, he couldn’t run away quickly enough!

We also talked about my old university SOAS which is where Mr. Corbyn started his general election campaign. He obviously had a liking for SOAS.

Sometimes you meet people and they aren’t at all as you hoped they might be but Jeremy was just charming and gracious as I might have hoped and he expressed his sincere sorrow about how life has turned out for me and 3 million others #Excluded.

I wasn’t campaigning in this instance, I just wanted to say ‘Hi’ and thanks for all the tireless years of supporting oppressed and wronged people often across the entire planet.

Afterwards he shared a funny story and the fact that he stopped talking to his assistant and chatted with me up through the various levels and passageways of the tube station to the base of Big Ben says a lot about what a personable person he is.

Also it should be noted that Parliament is not sitting this week and so he had no need to be heading to his office and yet he was and that too probably says a lot.

Jeremy Corbyn and I
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Ernest Shackleton and the Third Man (an Angel)

Not long after after starting my blog, I once wrote on The Angel of Mons an event dating back to WW1 which often captures the imagination of those who know if it. A very contemporary event to this happened to Ernest Shackleton who I have written about last week,

South Georgia might not seem a very angelic sort of place. Since it’s discovery by Captain Cook who named it in honour of his King, through a century or two of the accursed whale industry and more recently the site of the most southerly military battle in history in 1982, when occupying Argentine forces were compelled to surrender; it hardly has a kindle history or indeed kindly terrain.

Ernest Shackleton and his two companions Frank Worsley and Tom Crean survived one of the most improbable and toughest journeys in history in an epic story of survival that would defy belief were it not true. They had navigated an open lifeboat from Antarctica to South Georgia Island, across hundreds of miles of the worst seas on the planet. Then they walked over the uncharted saw-tooth spine of South Georgia to reach help at the Stromness whaling station on the east side of the island.

Their journey of heroics and suffering is well documented and one of the interesting aspects to it is that all three men felt that the presence of another being with them on the arduous trip.

South Georgia Island is a tortured upheaval of mountain and glacier that falls in chaos to the jagged coastline of the South Atlantic Ocean. From thirty miles of this wind-blasted sub-Antarctic wilderness came walking on the afternoon of the 20 May 1916 “a terrible-looking trio of scarecrows,” soaked to the skin, cold, and exhausted.Their leader, Ernest Shackleton, wrote in 1917, “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”

A photo taken by a colleague of Shackleton in the interior of South Georgia Islan

Shackleton’s biographers suggested that some have interpreted the account as Shackleton’s attempt to court publicity but it seems unlikely that a man of science and exploration would want his incredible heroics to be brought into disrepute by the mention of an angel.

Shackleton’s experience of an mysterious travelling companion was clearly documented, and confirmed by the other two men in his group: “I said nothing to my companions (during the crossing), but afterwards Worsley said to me ‘Boss I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with me.’ Crean confessed to the same idea.”

Their expedition ship Endurance had left South Georgia for Antarctica in December 1914. They had sailed into the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, intending to land a party of men and achieve the first crossing of the continent. Instead, the Endurance was beset and finally crushed by the ice. The twenty-eight men of the expedition camped for months on the shifting ice until the pack broke up under them and thrust their three lifeboats into the open sea.

Map of the legendary crossing of South Georgia

Surviving six days of exposure and hypothermia, they made land on Elephant Island, a desperately isolated rocky outcrop surrounded by treacherous reefs and ice. From here, Shackleton decided to take four men back to South Georgia to find rescue. Navigating an open 22-foot lifeboat by sextant and compass 800 miles across the brutal autumn South Atlantic, they made landfall on the storm-wracked west side of the island two weeks later.

Recovering from “trench foot” and exposure suffered during the two weeks of prolonged cold and damp, they were still exhausted by their sea voyage.

But deliverance lay with the whaling settlements on the more sheltered leeward side of the island. Their battered boat was now unseaworthy. With the lives of the men on Elephant Island hanging on a rescue, the only option was for some of the party to cross the inland on foot.

The weather was wet and ferociously cold, visibility was frequently poor, and the broken terrain was unexplored and unknown. Their clothes were threadbare, they had no portable shelter, and their climbing equipment amounted to little more than a length of rope, some brass screws driven through their boots, and a carpenter’s adze. Crossing the mountains in uncertain weather risked once again exposure, hypothermia, and inevitable death.

In his own expedition account, Frank Worsley wrote, “While writing this seven years after (almost), each step of the journey comes back clearly, and even now I again find myself counting our party – Shackleton, Crean and I and – who was the other? Of course, there were only three, but it is strange that in mentally reviewing the crossing we should always think of a fourth, and then correct ourselves . . . Three or four weeks after (arriving at Stromness) Sir Ernest and I, comparing notes, found that we each had a strange feeling that there had been a fourth in our party, and Crean afterwards confessed to the same feeling.”

As mountaineers began to explore other remote parts of the globe in the decades that followed, similar descriptions of sensed companions began to accumulate in expedition accounts of extreme high-altitude settings. Comparable experiences have also been reported or described in the context of a variety of situations such as religious experiences, sleep disorders, neurological conditions, therapeutic or recreational drug use, and various states of intense psychological or physiological stress.

While an early and famous example, the phenomenon Shackleton’s party reported is therefore not an isolated occurrence. The “feeling of a presence” or “sensed presence” can loosely be defined as the subjective experience of the presence of an external entity, being, or individual, despite no clear objective sensory or perceptual evidence.

A neurological model focuses the anatomical and physiological correlates of perceptual experience. The sense of the phantom presence of another being may be part of a spectrum of conceptual anomalies that include out-of-body experiences and altered perceptions of body proportions.

A scientific explanation might be the the three men walked across broken terrain for thirty-six hours, with no prolonged sleep or rest and that after the most intolerable boat journey and extended periods marooned in the ice of Antartica. They were exhausted and cold. Conceptualising the presence of a helpful or comforting person in a highly stressful context may be a helpful method of dealing with the challenge of the situation.

It is however rather unusual three men to independently experience and report similar sensations.

Grytvyken Church

With the quiet help, perhaps, of the fourth companion in reaching Stromness, Shackleton’s efforts were ultimately successful. The men waiting through the winter on Elephant Island had variously survived frostbite, illness, cold, hunger, and even surgery. On the fourth attempt at navigating the winter ice, Shackleton reached Elephant Island, and all were rescued and returned home.

Shackleton, however, had a very clear view of where the person came from: “When I look back on those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us across not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia.

Ernest Shackleton made a further trip to Antartica but tragically, he suffered a sudden and unforeseen heart attack the day after his arrival at South Georgia and he was buried at the cemetery of Grytvken Church.

Grave of Ernest Shackleton, Grytvyken, Island of South Georgia
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The Quest for a relic from a journey of Discovery by Ernest Shackleton.

A few days ago I posted on the discovery of Endurance, a ship used by the legendary Ernest Shackleton during the last great Age of Discovery. Whilst it may be forever difficult to visit that vessel, there is a small part of the last ship that Shackleton sailed on that is easier to visit, if not to always to find.

One of my favourite objects in London is the large, old barrel fitted with several metal uprights and a spliced piece of rope threaded through them which normally lives in the Crypt Museum at All Hallows. The crypt lies deep beneath the church and is home to an absolute wealth of artefacts from 2,000 years of local London history.

All Hallows By The Tower Church
All Hallows By The Tower Church

This barrel is actually Shackleton’s Crow’s Nest from the ship the Quest, the one Sir Ernest Shackleton used for his third and last Antarctic voyage in 1921 and 1922. On 17 September 1921, having been fitted up in St Katherine’s dock and formally inspected by King George V, the Quest sailed past All Hallows church and through a raised Tower Bridge to begin her voyage south. Thousands of well-wishers lined the riverbanks and the bridges to cheer her on her way.

Sadly Ernest unexpectedly suffered a fatal heart attack near Antartica and was buried on the island of South Georgia and for the next few months that is where you will be able to find the crows nest..

The ‘barrel’ travelled first to Shackleton’s birthplace at Athy in Ireland to be reunited there with Shackleton’s specially built deck cabin from the Quest. These two items are now the only surviving pieces of the ship and it will be the first time they have both been in the same place since the end of the original expedition.

The the Crows Nest went via Southampton and then cross the globe by sea once more, to South Georgia for an extended loan to the museum there. Shackleton enthusiasts from all over the world who are celebrating the centenary are thrilled that it will be in the Southern hemisphere once more.

The whole project has been almost three years in the planning and everyone involved is delighted to be able to show one of All Hallows’ treasures to a world-wide audience in this way. Visit the on-line exhibition HERE for lots more information!

However the Crows Nest will be back home in All Hallows Church by the Tower of London soon enough and having gone the best part of 3 years without catching a glimpse of it, I will be all to keen to see it again. You can also see it on on one of my wonderful off-beat tours.

The Crows Nest of the Quest

I’ve written before about the wonderful church of All Hallows and you might like to read and see a little of the Ceremony of the Rose.

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Spring has sprung

As the saying goes, it is often darkest before the dawn. It seems strange that just a few weeks ago my garden had been ruined by hurricane strength winds with fences snapped and blown over, furniture blown away and containers flattened.

For something like a week now, spring has sprung, at least temporarily so. The magnolia tree is out, the camellia is about to bloom and the olive and palm trees can breathe a sigh of relief.

I don’t know about you but Spring is about my favourite time of year. I like Autumn too but Spring is so bright and colourful and hope of renewal. The temperature is just perfect for me; I’m not a fan of the summer really and if the weather could be 20C/68F all year round that would be nice as London gets horrendously humid in the summer and a never ending heatwave without air-conditioning anyway is not what anyone wants unless they are on holiday.

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a blog post wherein I got a tiny little Spider Plant (Coronavirus Diary 28 – Dancing in the rain).

The plant has now grown so massive and despite giving the occasional baby spider away, it has throughly got out of control as you can see below with the main plant above and out of show and beneath it a layer of a dozen or so child plants and many of those now with not just children or grandchildren.

I’m not sure how much life can be supported from one quite small plant but for now it must be happy enough.

If you look outside, you can see some miniature daffodils around a dwarf tree. These are daffodils, a spring-time flower and the national flower of Wales. They are one of my favourite and there are over 13,000 different varieties of them!

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Some birds aren’t meant to be caged

Shawshank Redemption has long been about my favourite film. I’m one of those rare people who saw it when it came out at the cinema back in the 1990’s, well before it became popular on the then cutting edge DVDs.

I love everything about that film and it has scenes and quotes that fit so many occasions, I used always think of the ‘Beers on the roof’ Bad bosses, Bullies, Dilbert and the Peter Principle when working for some bad bosses in particular Top 10 requirements of a happy office versus working from home!

Today though is the ninth anniversary of when my dearest Mam died just a day or two after her 63rd birthday, in effect leaving me something of an orphan since my thirties.

It got me thinking of one of my favourite quotes from Shawshank.

I guess I just miss my friend x

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Coronavirus Diary 87 – Gatecrashing a strangers funeral

As I write this, in the U.K. today is Budget Day. Of course I didn’t want the Budget, being mentioned in Parliament during the last one meant this years was always going to be even worse… and last years was epically rubbish.

I’m in week 113 of this nightmare with work still being at best just half a day a week. My last was on Saturday and ironically the Parliament tour couldn’t happen because of Covid which isn’t the first time that has happened. Irony can be pretty ironic as the saying goes.

The last few days have been particularly tough even by my standards. ‘Everyone’ back to work, going or planning holidays or at least pretending to get the show back on the road.

It was my mothers birthday on the 14th and the 28th is that other dreaded day. I wish she had died on almost any other day as it always seems to be within a week of Mothers Day and she died the evening before Good Friday (Easter) and Easter moves around so you end up having 2 or 3 rubbish days instead of the one if she had just died on November 12th or whatever.

My daily walk today was particularly unusual even for me, oh to have work so I could have a daily 7 pr 8mile morning walk. With spring arriving, so has nature woken up. I often hear woodpeckers and it always reminds me of one of my favourite films, The Colour of Paradise. It’s about a blind boy in Iran. Everyone loves him except for his Dad. He is just the sweetest and kindest boy ever. Being blind, sound is so important to him and when he is in the woods and hears the woodpeckers, he counts the taps on his fingers as if it is morse code so he can work out what they are saying to him.

He is really heartbreaking though as all he wants to do is being with his family but his Dad keep sending him away. Being Iranian it’s got a smattering of religion and it always makes me a little sad when he is crying and he tells his Grandma “God must not love him for making him blind, and says that his teacher taught that God loves the blind children more for their blindness. Mohammad then questions why God should make him blind if he truly loves him more though he is told that God is invisible and is in everything and as a blind boy he can be more intune with things than everyone else.”

It all resonates with me a lot, maybe more as I am blind in one eye (like I don’t have enough issues lol), being alone and Excluded. At the end of the film something bad happens and a white light rests over the body of the little boy, it is uncertain whether he had died, been saved or was finally feeling the love he craved.

I was thinking all this through as I do and got offered a free hot drink by a lady who thought I needed one in the little parade of shops and better than that, some After Eight mints which I haven’t had for years! That’s pretty much a proposal in my books 🙂

So I went and sat on the bench I do most days in the cemetery next to John and Anne who died about 260 years ago. There was a rather oddball man loitering 20 or 30 feet away, well odd enough that he stood out even to me. He was wearing a rather tatty suit and kept scraping mud off his fingers on the edges of old grave-stones and yet he was looking at me like I was the weirdo. I wondered perhaps whether my After Eights was making me marriage material in his eyes too.

I am so not fussy at this point in time!

But then I realised he was what would one time be called a gravedigger. A few minutes later the Vicar arrived with just one or two people in attendance. They were carrying a wooden box of ashes.

It felt disrespectful to look on and yet I’d walked for miles and had just as far back so I did that English thing where you pretend not to notice something eye-catching going on or when someone lets off wind in a lift and everyone stays in total silence as if nothing ever happened. Obviously my After Eights were just beginning to go soft in my hand and the warm sunshine which obviously was a total nightmare on a certain level.

I decided to sit everything out and wait for the service to be over and just as I was contemplating my own Stexit as I so often do if only to get over the awkwardness of it all when things got a little more awkward. I was motioned over to the graveside. I’m not sure if it was thought I was part of the family, I’m guessing not but I decided to leave my hot drink and mints on the bench.

The funeral was for an old man in his 80’s called Jack. Prayers were said and I poured a trowel of soil onto his box. I have no idea who the poor chap was but he used to be a teacher and seemingly was on his own so at least we had that in common.

10 minutes later I went back to my bench. My After Eights were more or less intact and the sun had kept my hot chocolate, hot. I sat wondering what on earth Jack would be thinking of this and then feeling a sorry for him that his funeral was so low-key but also sad for myself and wishing for a hug that would never come.

Then from out of nowhere, the biggest white feather came down from heaven and landed on my knee and for a few moments I was feeling loved.

I’m used to weird things happening to me but I must admit that I’ve never gone for a walk in the woods before and ended up taking part in a strangers funeral.

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Finding the shipwreck of Endurance

One of the most interesting stories to catch my eye in the last week or two whilst war has been raging in Ukraine is that of the discovery of the lost ship of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton down in the Antarctic. You might remember 2 years or so ago I wrote on Visiting the home of Edward Adrian Wilson – a forgotten hero who died with Captain Scott of the Antarctic.

The wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance has been found 107 years after it became trapped in sea ice and sank off the coast of Antarctica.

The Endurance

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton  was an Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three expeditions to the frozen continent. 

He was at the heart of a period in history that later came to be known as the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’.

Born in Ireland, Shackleton moved to London with his family when he was 10 and first experienced polar climates as an officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901–1904.

He was sent home early from that expedition after work experiencing poor health that had been ascribed to scurvy. New studies suggest he had beriberi. 

During the Nimrod expedition of 1907–1909, Shackleton and his companions created a new recorded of farthest south latitude at 88 degrees south. 

Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust said the wooden ship, which had not been seen since it went down in the Weddell Sea in 1915, was found at a depth of 9,868 feet (3,008 metres). 

Remarkable footage of the wreck shows it has been astonishingly preserved, with the ship’s wheel still intact and the name ‘Endurance’ still perfectly visible on the ship’s stern.

The Endurance22 Expedition had set off from Cape Town, South Africa in February this year, a month after the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest’s death on a mission to locate it. 

Endurance was found approximately four miles south of the position originally recorded by the ship’s captain Frank Worsley, but within the search area defined by the expedition team before its departure from Cape Town.

Back in 1915, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica, but Endurance did not reach land and became trapped in dense pack ice, forcing the 28 men on board to eventually abandon ship.  

For the mission, the expedition team worked from the South African polar research and logistics vessel, S.A. Agulhas II, assisted by non-intrusive underwater search robots. 

The wreck is protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring that whilst the wreck is being surveyed and filmed it will not be touched or disturbed in any way, according to the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust. 

The expedition’s director of exploration said footage of Endurance showed it to be intact and ‘by far the finest wooden shipwreck’ he has seen. 

‘We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance,’ said Mensun Bound, maritime archaeologist and director of the exploration. 

‘It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see Endurance arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.

‘This is a milestone in polar history.’

Bound also paid tribute to the navigational skills of Captain Frank Worsley, the Captain of the Endurance, whose detailed records were ‘invaluable’ in the quest to locate the wreck. 

Dr John Shears, the expedition leader, said his team had made ‘polar history’ by completing what he called ‘the world’s most challenging shipwreck search’.

‘In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment,’ Dr Shears said.

The preservation of Endurance is quite remarkable, but not totally unexpected. 

The Antarctic circumpolar current — an ocean current that flows clockwise from west to east around Antarctica — has essentially acted as barrier to the larvae of deep-water species that could have eaten away at the ship’s wood.

‘Tiny “shipworms” — small bivalve molluscs — that normally eat wood in well oxygenated oceans are absent from Antarctica, just as they are absent from the Baltic and Black Seas, other remarkable wooden shipwreck “vaults”. 

‘So the findings from the new discovery are important not just from a historical perspective but also in terms of understanding the ecology and evolution of life in Antarctica. It’s a great day for Antarctic archaeology and science.’  

The expedition team has also been filming for a long-form observational documentary chronicling the expedition which has been commissioned by National Geographic to air later this year on Disney+. 

Endurance was one of two ships used by the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-1917, which hoped to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic.

Just as the First World War was breaking out in August 1914, the Endurance’s crew set out from London with the lofty ambition of becoming the first to cross the Antarctic continent. 

Carrying an expedition crew of 28 men, 69 dogs and one cat, the 144-foot-long Endurance was a three-masted schooner barque sturdily built for operations in polar waters.

Aiming to land at Antarctica’s Vahsel Bay, the vessel instead became stuck in pack ice on the Weddell Sea on the 18th January, 1915 — where she and her crew would remain for many months. 

The last moments of Endurance

In late October, however, a drop in temperature from 42°F to -14°F (5.5C to -25.5C) saw the ice pack begin to steadily crush the Endurance. 

Sadly, Shackleton decided that the mission sled dogs and the tomcat,  called Mrs Chippy, that were also on board would not survive the rest of their journey, and had them shot on the 29th October. 

Endurance never reached land and became trapped in the dense pack ice and the 28 men on board eventually had no choice but to abandon ship. 

Endurance finally sank on the 21st November, 1915. 

After months spent in makeshift camps on the ice floes drifting northwards, the party took to the lifeboats to reach the inhospitable, uninhabited, Elephant Island. The men had allegedly had to resort to eating bodies of some of the youngest dogs that had been on board.  

Most of the men remained at Elephant Island while Shackleton and five others then made an extraordinary 800-mile (1,300 km) open-boat journey in the lifeboat, James Caird, to reach South Georgia, an island in the southern Atlantic Ocean. 

Shackleton and two others then crossed the mountainous island to the whaling station at Stromness. 

On board the steam tug Yelcho — on loan to him from the Chilean Navy — Shackleton was able to return to rescue the rest of his crew on the 30th August, 1916.  

ENDURANCE STATS 

Type: Three-masted schooner barque

Former name: Polaris*

Builder: Framnæs shipyards, Norway

Launched: 17th December, 1912 

Crew complement: 28 

Length: 144 feet (44 metres)

Beam: 25 feet (7.6 metres)

Tonnage: 348 register tons

Propulsion: Steam and sail 

Max. speed: 10.2 knots (11.7 mph)

Sank: Weddell Sea, 21st November, 1915

Notable features: Strengthened hull and denser framework custom-designed for operation in polar waters

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