How do you like your tea?

We are often labelled a nation of animal lovers, gardeners, shopkeepers, queue-ers, weather-watchers, good manners and apologising etc etc but surely there are few things that we are better known for than for our love of a good cup of tea.

I don’t drink coffee, I don’t even like the smell.  All those stupid and ever increasing terms for drinks that look like mud and smell like something from the back end of an animal is not for me.  Just a simple cup of tea will suffice and none of that namby-pampy infused fruity rubbish just good honest tea.

How to make the perfect cuppa is a subject of great debate and one that that will probably never be solved but at least now research has revealed how the majority of Brits like to take our tea.

A new YouGov Omnibus survey of nearly 1,600 people has revealed almost half prefer a brew that’s exactly midway between a strong black tea and an ultra-weak cuppa with a liberal pouring of milk.

Researchers produced an eight-point strength scale featuring different colours and 47 per cent plumped for a tan shade right in the middle. A further 14 per cent prefer their tea one shade more milky, and 19  per cent one degree less.

A new YouGov Omnibus survey has revealed that almost half prefer a brew that's exactly midway between a strong black tea and an ultra-weak cuppa with a liberal pouring of milk

The study also aimed to solve the argument over whether milk should go in first or not, with an overwhelming 79 per cent saying it should be added last.  Personally I can’t understand why you woud add milk first as then you have little control over the strength of what your tea might be.  it would be like pressing the brakes on your car before you even put your foot on the accellerator!

Despite the class connotations traditionally associated with adding the milk first or last, the research found that there’s no difference in habits.   Middle class and working class people are equally likely to add milk first or last, according to preference. The real difference is in age group with only four per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds adding the milk first, rising to 32 per cent among the over 65s.

Researchers also dicovered the nation’s favourite brand of tea bag is Yorkshire Tea, which has the backing of a quarter of drinkers.

PG Tips came a close second with a 22 per cent share of the fanbase, while Tetley lingered behind at just 16 per cent.

Britons drink 165million cups of tea every day, or more than 60billion a year.

Previous research on the nation’s tea habits by Arla B.O.B milk found Northern Irish tea drinkers like their brew the strongest and darkest.

Those in Scotland and the North East of England are most likely to appreciate a milkier mug with a more subtle flavour.

Tea fans in the South East of England are most likely to leave their tea bag in for longer, letting it brew for an average of 64 seconds, which is seven seconds longer than the national average or 57 seconds.

East Anglians are in the greatest hurry, letting the bag stew for just 48 seconds.

Personally having come from the North East of England, I like a milky tea and my ideal cuppa is just a little darker than an ‘F’.  However I don’t leave my bag in for anything like 64 seconds or even 48 seconds.  5 or 6 seconds is enough for me, basically as long as it takes me to pour boiling water on the bag to fill the mug.

Also I re-use my bag several times.  I remember that in Georgian times, tea was such a luxury that even rich households would re-use their tea 15-20 times and then sell the dregs to the poor on the streets who would continue to go on using them.    I’m not quite that into recycling that much but freshly made 5th cuppa below is the fifth from the same teabag.


Given how I get the most from my tea, it’s fair to say that my box of 750 tea Yorkshire tea bags have another year or two left before I have to hit the shops!




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The Death Warrant of King Charles I

Having spent more time in Parliament recently than the Prime Minister, it has been great to spend some time studying one of the treasures of the Parliamentry archive, the Death Warrant of King Charles I.


It is a little hard to make out the details on the colour image so below is a higher resolution in black and white where you can see the third name down on the left column is that of Oliver Cromwell himself.


Thomas Harrison who I wrote about a few weeks ago, placed his signature on the third column from he left, second from bottom.

Can you imagine what a momentous thing these men were doing?  For time immemorial the monarch had reigned by the divine right of God.  Stalin or Hitler being executed by their own side wouldn’t have come close.

Not only were these signatures condeming their King to death but they were in the tradition of the time, defying the will of God…. though in practice it is hard to think God would place King Charles any higher than his oppressed people.

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The Divine Right of Kings and the Execution of King Charles I

Ever since I wrote the post Thomas Harrison – Executed whilst cheerful! who was hung drawn and quartered, I have been thinking about the tulmultuous events leading up to the execution of King Charles I.

Regicide as it is known, is very rare in British history and usually when it was comitted, it was done so 1500 or years ago.   Apart from the obvious reasons about how difficult and treasonous this would be and the importance for the well-being of every country to have a strong and legitimate leader; what made it rarer still was the Diving Right of Kings.

The divine right of kings, divine right, or God’s mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving the right to rule directly from the will of God. The king is thus not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, or any other estate of the realm. It implies that only God can judge an unjust king and that any attempt to depose, dethrone or restrict his powers runs contrary to the will of God and may constitute a sacrilegious act. It is often expressed in the phrase “by the Grace of God”, attached to the titles of a reigning monarch.

This had been a concept long before Christianity but it was solidified by the Biblical accounts of King Saul.  In 1 Samuel, where the prophet Samuel anoints Saul and then David as mashiach or king over Israel. The anointing is to such an effect that the monarch became inviolable, so that even when Saul sought to kill David, David would not raise his hand against him because “he was the Lord’s anointed”.

A very similar concept can be found in much of Asia where it is known as  the Mandate of Heaven, which, although similar to the European concept, bore several key differences. While the divine right of kings granted unconditional legitimacy, the Mandate of Heaven was dependent on the behaviour of the ruler, the Son of Heaven. Heaven would bless the authority of a just ruler, but it could be displeased with a despotic ruler and thus withdraw its mandate, transferring it to a more suitable and righteous person. This withdrawal of mandate also afforded the possibility of revolution as a means to remove the errant ruler; revolt was never legitimate under the European framework of divine right.   My historic heroes, The Mongols were big believes in the Mandate of Heaven.

Ever since the Magna Carta in 1215, the King was constrained by laws and Parliament though it is fair to still label monarchs for several centuries in practice as being Absolute Monarchs.  King Charles I was the very last of these and he believed that he was ordained by God and that no-one but God had authority to judge or remove him, no matter how hated he was down on Earth.

After a long Civil War, King Charles was finally captured and though it was a controversial thing to do, he was placed on trial in Westminster Hall.    Although Parliament had been involved in earlier centuries with the ending of royal reigns, this was usually at the behest of the monarch rather instigated by Parliament itself.

Charles was accused of treason against England by using his power to pursue his personal interest rather than the good of England. The charge against Charles I stated that the king, “for accomplishment of such his designs, and for the protecting of himself and his adherents in his and their wicked practices, to the same ends hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament, and the people therein represented…”, that the “wicked designs, wars, and evil practices of him, the said Charles Stuart, have been, and are carried on for the advancement and upholding of a personal interest of will, power, and pretended prerogative to himself and his family, against the public interest, common right, liberty, justice, and peace of the people of this nation.”The indictment held him “guilty of all the treasons, murders, rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations, damages and mischiefs to this nation, acted and committed in the said wars, or occasioned thereby.”



The Trial of King Charles I in Westminster Hall which I can testify remains little changed from the drawing above.


Although the House of Lords refused to pass the bill and the Royal Assent naturally was lacking, the Rump Parliament referred to the ordinance as an “Act” and pressed on with the trial anyway. The intention to place the King on trial was re-affirmed on 6 January by a vote of 29 to 26 with An Act of the Commons Assembled in Parliament. At the same time, the number of commissioners was reduced to 135 – any twenty of whom would form a quorum – when the judges, members of the House of Lords and others who might be sympathetic to the King were removed.

The commissioners met to make arrangements for the trial on 8 January when well under half were present – a pattern that was to be repeated at subsequent sessions. On 10 January, John Bradshaw was chosen as President of the Court. During the following ten days, arrangements for the trial were completed; the charges were finalised and the evidence to be presented was collected.


Me in Westminster Hall

Myself Standing in the same spot as Obama, Mandela, Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, Gorbachev, De Gaulle and about 900 years of Monarchs. You can see the bases of the statues on the rear wall match those in the drawing of the trial above.

(^^^ You can see an old post and a guided tour of Parliament here.^^^)

The trial began on the 20th January 1649 in Westminster Hall, with a moment of high drama. After the proceedings were declared open, Solicitor General John Cook rose to announce the indictment; standing immediately to the right of the King, he began to speak, but he had uttered only a few words when Charles attempted to stop him by tapping him sharply on the shoulder with his cane and ordering him to “Hold”. Cook ignored this and continued, so Charles poked him a second time and rose to speak; despite this, Cook continued. At this point Charles, incensed at being thus ignored, struck Cook across the shoulder so forcefully that the ornate silver tip of the cane broke off, rolled down Cook’s gown and clattered onto the floor between them. With nobody willing to pick it up for him, Charles had to stoop down to retrieve it himself.

When given the opportunity to speak, Charles refused to enter a plea, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch. He believed that his own authority to rule had been due to the divine right of kings given to him by God, and by the traditions and laws of England when he was crowned and anointed, and that the power wielded by those trying him was simply that of force of arms. Charles insisted that the trial was illegal, explaining, “No learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King… one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong.” Charles asked “I would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful [authority]”. Charles maintained that the House of Commons on its own could not try anybody, and so he refused to plead.

The court proceeded as if the king had pleaded guilty (pro confesso), as was the standard legal practice in case of a refusal to plead. However, witnesses were heard by the judges for “the further and clearer satisfaction of their own judgement and consciences”.  Thirty witnesses were summoned, but some were later excused. The evidence was heard in the Painted Chamber rather than Westminster Hall. King Charles was not present to hear the evidence against him and he had no opportunity to question witnesses.  Though witnesses were gathered across the Kingdom in an attempt to legitimise the hearing.

The King was declared guilty at a public session on Saturday 27th January 1649 and sentenced to death. His sentence read: “That the court being satisfied that he, Charles Stuart, was guilty of the crimes of which he had been accused, did judge him tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of the nation, to be put to death by the severing of his head from his body.” To show their agreement with the sentence, all of the 67 Commissioners who were present rose to their feet. During the rest of that day and on the following day, signatures were collected for his death warrant. This was eventually signed by 59 of the Commissioners, including two who had not been present when the sentence was passed.

It must be said that if the idea of putting the King on trial was controversial then the idea of actually executing him was incredibly divisive but it seems that the conduct and overwhelmingly untrustworthyness of the King meant that it would be too dangerous to expel him from the country or even lock him in prison.

Right up to his death King Charles maintained that he was being unfairly treated and that no earthly court had jurisdiction over him.  Nevertheless he was beheaded in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on the 30th January 1649 before which he declared that he had desired the liberty and freedom of the people as much as any;

but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having government…. It is not their having a share in the government; that is nothing appertaining unto them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things

During the trial King Charles I disputed the authority of the court and refused to enter a plea. Regardless of the widespread opposition to the trial, a verdict of guilty was pushed through. The death warrant was signed by only 57 of the 159 commissioners of the high court originally established by the Rump, and on 30 January 1649 King Charles I was beheaded outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall.

Contemporary print of the execution of King Charles and latterly The Regicides.

Contemporary print of the execution of King Charles and latterly The Regicides.

After a controversial period of rule by our Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (or President), after a period of negogiations the monarchy was restored.  Although it was agreed that the large majority of people who had enacted controversial deeds on both sides of the war would be pardoned, those who had signed the death warrant of their King would find no safety with every single one of them being put on trial and the vast majority being executed just like Thomas Harrison.  The lucky ones escaped with life imprisonment which in gaols of the time, usually resulted in a short life.

Even those who were dead at the time of the Restoration were not spared and prominent figures such as Oliver Cromwell  were given a posthumous execution: their remains were exhumed, and they were hanged, beheaded and their remains were cast into a pit below the gallows. Their heads were placed on spikes above Westminster Hall the building where the High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I had sat.



The exhumed head of Oliver Cromwell whose body was hung drawn and quartered with his detached and long since dead head stuck on a spike above Parliament.

Despite the huge controversy, it is undeniable that the actions of the Parliamentarians such as Oliver Cromwell went a long way towards producing a more modern style of democracy and politics with the new King being re-instated under a resurgent Parliament and a people that would never again live in absolute fear of their monarch.



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William Lenthall -The man who risked his life to uphold democracy and defy the King.

Not many people are familiar with William Lenthall but if history were fair then we all would be.  For William Lenthall was once the Speaker of the House of Commons and by his actions changed the course of the world forever.

On 4 January 1642, King Charles I entered the House of Commons to arrest five Members of Parliament for high treason. The MPs were Mr Holles, Mr Pym, Sir A Haslerig, Mr Hampden and Mr William Strode.  The King believed that these MPs were plotting against him and it is likely they were for Charles I was on the more tyrannical side of monarchial rule.

William Lenthall - Speaker of the House of Commons

William Lenthall – Speaker of the House of Commons

Sadly for the King, the Five Members had already fled, no doubt tipped off by the larger number of soldiers arriving and the Palace of Westminster being something of a maze, their must have been many escape routes.

King Charles entered the chamber and took the seat of Mr. Speaker

Gentleman I am sorry to have this occasion to come unto you….

The King demanded to know the whereabouts of the politicians.  What happened next was not only an act of supreme bravery but one that changed the course of history. Speaker Lenthall refused to give away their locations and instead rplied to the king thus:

May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this is to what your majesty is pleased to demand of me.


This painting shows King Charles I standing by the chair of the Speaker of the House.  William Lentall gives him due honour whilst simulataenously defying the King.

This painting shows King Charles I standing by the chair of the Speaker of the House. William Lentall gives him due honour whilst simulataenously defying the King.

In effect William Lentall was telling the Charles I that the King had no authority in the House of Commons and that he was answerable only to the elected Members of Parliament.

Obviously this could very easily have resulted in the death of the Speaker but as it happened, a furious King Charles I immediately left Parliament empty handed and so the country was about to be plunged into Civil War between supporters of the King and supporters of Parliament.

King Charles I in Parliament

Actual Parliamentary records from the day Mr. Speaker defied the King.

Ever since this day, no monarch has ever entered the House of Commons and these events are still remembered every year in the State Opening of Parliament.

We might not know the name of William Lentall but in the fine traditions of the Magna Carta, Wat Tyler, Simon De Montfort and many others figures in our history, he he helped inspire revolution, freedom, liberty and democracy in France, the United States and around the world.


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Recently when I was in the area for my Hadrians Wall walk, I took a detour to a place I had long wanted to visited.  Not too many miles from the ancestral home of George Washington which I visited on the same trip.

Whilst sights such as the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and Durham Cathedral are renowned throughout Christendom, what is less known is that the area is also home to the oldest stained glass window in the world, albeit with a caveat attached.

The story starts 1400 years ago with Northumbrian nobleman Benedict Biscop (about 628–90), who visited Rome and was inspired by the Christian life he saw there.

In 674 he approached King Ecgfrith of Northumbria for land for a monastery. He was first given a large estate to found St Peter’s, Wearmouth, and then in 681 received land at Jarrow to found St Paul’s. The twin monastery probably once owned much of the land between the rivers Tyne and Wear.

Biscop brought stonemasons and glaziers from France, who created some of the first stone buildings in Northumbria since the Roman period. Excavations have revealed that the earliest monastery had two churches, lying parallel to two large buildings, with a guesthouse close to the river.

It was not uncommon for Anglo-Saxon monasteries to have more than one church. The larger one may have served local people as well as the monks. The smaller church was perhaps reserved exclusively for monks, or may have been used as a funerary chapel.

Of the two other large buildings, one had settings in the floor that might have supported seating. Food debris such as fish bones was also found, suggesting that this was a refectory.

The other building contained a large, finely decorated room, probably used as a communal hall. In it was a central stone seat from which the abbot may have presided over meetings of the monks. Each building may have had an upper floor containing dormitories.

At the far left of this building was a suite of two rooms divided by a low screen. The finer room was perhaps an oratory, with an altar, and the other a living room.

The guesthouse by the riverside was finely decorated with painted plaster and coloured glass windows. Craft and industrial activity (such as metal- and glass-working) also took place on the riverside. There is evidence for terraced gardens on the south-facing slope towards the river, where vegetables and herbs were likely to have been grown.

The monastery’s reputation spread throughout Europe, chiefly because of the scholarly writings of the Venerable Bede. Bede entered St Peter’s in about 680 at the age of seven, and spent his life in the twin monastery of Wearmouth–Jarrow, which he described as ‘one monastery in two places’.

The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed. Painting by James Doyle Penrose in 1902.

The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John on his deathbed. Painting by James Doyle Penrose in 1902.

Inspired by the scholarship and new style of monastic life here, he dedicated his life to study. He wrote more than 60 works, most notably the first history of the English, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He died in 735.

During the 9th century monastic life here declined, although the site may have remained a place of pilgrimage because of its association with Bede. In the 1020s some bones, thought to be Bede’s remains, were taken from here to Durham Cathedral.

The monastery was re-established in the 1070s by Aldwin, prior of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, who was inspired by reading Bede’s Ecclesiastical History to visit the holy places of Northumbria.

With the permission of the Bishop of Durham, Aldwin began to rebuild the monastery. He introduced a Benedictine-style layout for the monastic buildings, based on a central cloister with an enclosed walkway where members of the community could spend time in prayer and contemplation.

Aldwin’s monastery was never completed, although it was used until the Suppression of the Monasteries on a much smaller scale than before.

The east range of the monastery was finished, but the south and west ranges were still being built when construction was interrupted in 1083. Aldwin was invited to become prior of Durham and the Wearmouth–Jarrow monks were relocated there to become the centre of the newly reformed monastic community.

By the 12th century, however, monastic life was re-established here as one of nine dependent cells of Durham. The religious community was very small: a master in charge of one or two monks, who were based here for only about three years before returning to Durham. At that time Jarrow was one of Durham’s poorest dependent cells.

The main monastic buildings were altered in the 13th and 14th centuries – new buildings were added in the south range and the cloister arcades were removed. The community functioned much like a manor house, supported by a home farm and lay servants. The wider estate included a barn, granary, buildings to house animals, and a windmill.

After the priory was suppressed in 1537, the eastern part of the church remained in use as the parish church. The larger church was demolished and replaced in the 18th century, and was then rebuilt by George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s.

Between 1963 and 1978 the monastery was excavated extensively, and it is now one of the best understood Anglo-Saxon sites in England.



Bede Metro station on the Tyne and Wear Metro.


It was a bit of a trek to find I can tell you without the use of a car and with no smartphone or maps, I sought out the site from memory and best-guesses that involved two metro trains a boat and a rather long walk through an industrial estate.

It was in the midst of the longest and hottest spell since at least 1976 as could be seen by the rather sorry looking river I crossed.



The River Don, reduced to a slow moving trickle.


I don’t think I have ever been lost, enjoying some pigeon brain sense of direction.  I didn’t think I was lost now but I was almost ready to give up given I was mean’t to be on a week long hike when suddenly through the trees I had found what I was looking for.



St Paul’s church with the ruined monastery to the right.


As can be seen from the photos below, I had the whole place to myself… which seems to be a habit of mine whether out exploring on my own or giving tours for other people.


It was nice to wander around the ruins of the monastery which were no doubt located here as they were right next to the River Don and larger Tyne.   In fact there was once a larger harbour area nearby which over the 1500 years or so has now been filled in and currently has thousands of Nissan cars from the nearby factory, waiting to be exported around the world.


Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 15.22.04

Bede Station at the bottom with the many thousands of Nissans laying in reclaimed land.


As much as the ruins were fascinating to see and well worth the visit alone, they were just a little aperitif before the main course.  For though the monastery itself is no longer anything but ruins, St Paul’s Church is still here and inside amongst several other treasures, is the oldest stained glass window in the world.

Inside, the church was as beautiful and ancient as could be hoped and the staff inside there were effusive with their greetings and artefacts.  People visit from all around the world just because of the connection with the Venerable Bede.


Towards the back of the main church you can find the oldest remaining section and it is in here that the window I was looking for would be found.


The chancel is a direct survival from the 7th century in which Bede worshipped when it was a free-standing chapel of the monastery. Cemented into the wall of the tower, is the original stone slab which records in a Latin inscription the dedication of the church on 23 April AD 685, which is the oldest church dedication stone in England.



The church dedication stone dated 23rd April 685 AD.


The inscription reads:


This translates as:

The dedication of the basilica
of St. Paul on the 9th day before the Kalends of May
in the 15th year of King Ecgfrith
and in the fourth year of Abbot Ceolfrith founder,
by God’s guidance, of the same church.

Alas my dedication was not deemed sufficient to be able to see the stained glass window in all its glory.  I had obviously come a precisely the wrong time of day/year and with a very bright sun shining through, it was impossible to make out any detail whatsoever,  I was a little disappointed but could at least see the funny side.


Anyway, a quick delve on the internet shows exactly how the window looks like when it isn’t the hottest, driest and sunniest summer in over 40 years.

Oldest Stained Glass Window in the world

Oldest Stained Glass Window in the world

You might be wondering what exactly the ancient craftsmen of aeons ago were hoping to tell the world with their newly invented stained glass window.  Well the truth is these are  fragments of an ancient stained glass window that was long since destroyed with various parts of it being uncovered by archealogist Professor Rosemary Cramp in the 1973 and put together into this random mosaic.

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Spencer Perceval – The only British Prime Minister to be killed in office

It is said that the more things change, the more they say the same.  This is perhaps never more true than in May 1812. Britain was in turmoil. Social and political unrest spread had spread across the country, as old economic models clash with new technologies, and the spectre of global trade tariffs loom large. The country was locked in a bitter war with Europe, while in Downing Street an unpopular Tory prime minister, given the job after being judged a “safe pair of hands”, battles an intransigent parliament and back-stabbing from vainglorious colleagues who refuse to serve in the government. But this isn’t 2018. This is May 1812. And the prime minister is Spencer Perceval.

History is replete with glorious, infamous and outright waste-of-spaces in the office of 10 Downing Street and Spencer Perceval has long been forgotten about despite his unique claim to fame.

To be honest, Spencer was a pretty mediocre prime minister. He never did anything particular noteworthy as leader, he was a classic late Regency period Conservative whose archaic world of rotten boroughs and landed gentry would be swept away by the Victorian age and the Great Reform Act.

Spencer’s rise to prime minister was unremarkably normal for the time, a “riches to riches” story, posh white guy easily becomes the most powerful person in the land. Like it or not, the story of Spencer Perceval is rather like our Hamilton. But he does have one claim to fame. Spencer Perceval is the only British leader ever to be killed in office.

At around 5 o’clock on the afternoon of May 11 1812 the Tory Prime Minister Spencer Perceval walked into the lobby of the Palace of Westminster for what would be the last time.

His family – he had six sons and six daughters with his wife, Jane – had begged him not to go to Parliament that day. Perhaps they had had some premonition of the horror to come.

But Perceval who if nothing else was a conscientious and deeply honourable man, felt that he had a duty to attend a debate being held in the House of Commons into the conduct of the government.

As he entered the lobby on his way to the chamber, his colleague Lord Osborne walking a few steps behind him, a man who had been sitting quietly next to a fireplace nearby suddenly stood up and approached Perceval.

When he neared him, the man reached into a pocket of his overcoat and whipped out a pistol. Before the startled Perceval had time to react, the man had shot him through the heart at point-blank range.



The assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perc


According to eyewitness accounts Perceval, a tiny man of five feet four inches, lurched forward a few steps, uttering ‘Murder’ or ‘I am murdered’ in a barely audible gasp. He then fell flat on his face at the feet of William Smith, the MP for Norwich, who had been speaking to a colleague nearby.

Smith later admitted that he did not recognise Perceval until he knelt down to help him. As the stricken prime minister lay there, a few convulsive sobs escaping from his mouth, blood seeped through his clothing and on to the floor. Seeing how seriously Perceval was hurt, Smith and another man picked him up and carried him to the Speaker’s apartments.

Smith recalled at the inquest into Perceval’s death: ‘We set him on a table, he resting on our arms. I think he was not only speechless, but perfectly senseless, and blood came from his mouth. His pulse in a few minutes ceased and he soon died.’

Someone had sent for a surgeon, Mr Lynn of neighbouring Great George Street, but by the time he arrived it was too late. It is highly unlikely he could have done anything for Perceval in any case. The musket ball was so large it had passed completely through Perceval’s heart, making him the only premier in British history to be assassinated in office.

Downstairs in the lobby, meanwhile, about 30 or 40 people had gathered at the scene having heard the pistol’s report. All of Parliament’s doors had been locked to prevent the gunman escaping. But there was no need. The assassin, having discharged his shot, had walked calmly back to the fireplace and sat down again.

As the contemporary journalist Edward Baines noted: ‘When a spectator at last exclaimed “Where is the villain who fired?” a person, who had remained unobserved, stepped forward, and coolly said “I am the unfortunate man.”’ He was seized and his pistol was taken.  Another pistol was also found on him, primed and loaded, presumably in case the first had misfired.

The man who pulled the trigger had handed himself and in a typically British way, immediately apoligised for his actions but who was really behind it? The luddites? The radicals? A shadowy conspiracy of wealthy businessmen? Within an hour a mob has descended upon parliament to cheer the killing, troops are deployed on the streets, and the Prince Regent has fled to Brighton.

The Rt Hon Spencer Perceval, painted by Sir William Beechey in 1830 (Getty)

This was Britain’s first great national newspaper story – a tabloid whodunnit. But that same evening the carriages carrying tomorrow’s editions are halted on their way out of London, as the government cracks down on the disorder. The revolution has been stopped in its tracks. The government breathes a sigh of relief.

Except there was no revolution to begin with. The “criminal mastermind” at the centre of it all was a failed businessman named Henry Bellingham, who blamed the prime minister for the £7,000 he had lost as the result of a debt dispute in Russia. There was no grand conspiracy, no higher motive, no grassy knoll, no second shooter, just an unhinged individual who believed he had been wronged and that the prime minister, as representative of the British state, should bear ultimate responsibility.

At his trial at the Old Bailey just a few days after the crime, 35-year-old Bellingham revealed that he had harboured a grievance against the British government because, while working in the city of Archangel in Russia, in 1804 he was imprisoned for around four years as a result of his involvement in a shipping dispute.

The British ambassador in Russia, Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, failed to come to his aid, although the charges were almost certainly trumped up.  Bellingham was a British subject, falsely imprisoned, his life in danger. Yet the British embassy ignored his plight, leaving him to rot for nearly six years in a rat-infested cell, surviving on bread and water.

Unsurprisingly, when he was finally released in 1809, Bellingham was imbued with bitterness against the Foreign Office, and the government as a whole, who had abandoned him to his fate. During his time in prison his business had collapsed and he became bankrupt. For more than two years he petitioned the Foreign Office, demanding financial compensation from the government for failing to support or repatriate him. But his pleas were ignored or rejected . In desperation he visited the House of Commons and hung about the lobby where he would accost MPs and ask for their help, but few bothered to listen to him, let alone help him. He is thought to have approached Spencer Perceval several times but Perceval, a busy man, did not stop to listen to him.

Snubbed, frustrated, desperate and obsessed at what he saw as his betrayal by the highest in the land, Bellingham began to harbour thoughts of revenge.

In March 1812 he told police magistrates that, if he was again refused help by the government, he would ‘feel justified in executing justice myself’. They ignored him. After petitioning the Foreign Office for a final time in April 1812, Bellingham began to plot Perceval’s murder. He acquired the pair of pistols and asked a London tailor to make a secret nine inch-deep pocket in his overcoat where he could conceal them.

Then he went to Parliament and lay in wait.

Straight after the murder Bellingham was arrested and held in the parliament prison cell. Within a few hours he was transferred to Newgate Prison.

His trial, on May 15, was a swift affair. The jury took just over ten minutes to find him guilty. He was sentenced to death by hanging, and executed publicly in London on May 18, only a week after the crime.

While Perceval’s family had seen justice done, his death left them almost destitute. Although Perceval was the younger son of the Earl of Egmont he had not been a wealthy man. On his death it was discovered that the 49-year-old had only £106 5s 1d in the bank, so parliament voted to award his 12 surviving children, a grant of £50,000 and an annual sum of £2,000 to his widow. His eldest son, also called Spencer, was given £1,000 yearly.

Perceval’s official title was First Lord of the Treasury – the title of Prime Minister was not then in use – and although not an outstanding premier, he was a competent, decent man who had steered the country through the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars abroad and social instability at home brought on by the Industrial Revolution.

After his murder public monuments to him were erected in Northampton, his parliamentary seat; at Lincoln’s Inn, where he was called to the bar in 1786; and in Westminster Abbey.

His friends – among them William Wilberforce, the anti-slavery campaigner – wanted to erect a monument to him in the House of Commons, but some members of the Whig party opposed it and in the end nothing was done.

Indeed, Spencer Perceval’s story has been more or less erased from British history. There’s no grand memorial to him. There’s a statue of him in Northampton, and they’ve turned four floor tiles the opposite way at the spot he fell in Parliament. And that’s about it. We know more about the murders of JFK or Abraham Lincoln than we do about our own prime minister. Why has Spencer’s story been so readily forgotten?

Perhaps it is because as a people, we British don’t really go in for political killings. Spencer Perceval is the only leader ever to be murdered in office. Haiti has had two, the USA four. Columbia has nine which all seems very incomphrensible to us.  We’re more likely to complain and put up with everything that is wrong or inefficient at least to a certain extent people or issues are left ignored for too long and then we end up with things like the Peasants Revolt, the Peterloo massacre, the poll tax riots and Brexit.


I’m not sure he or Spencer Perceval would be very impressed 200 years later to find people respecting opposing points of view less than ever rather than flailing around terms such as ‘Nazi’, ‘Racist’ or ‘Traitor around.


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Petrichor – The sweet smell of falling rain.

It’s a sensation most of us familiar with though if you’re living in much of the Northern Hemisphere then like me, it might not be one you’ve been familiar with recently.  The sweet smell of rain or Petrichor.    The name was first coined by two Australian scientists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas in their 1964 article “Nature of Argillaceous Odour”, published in the journal Nature.

The word was coined from Greek petros, meaning “stone”, and ichor, meaning “the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods”.

It turns out it’s not just gratitude that makes rain smell so appealing after a long period of dry weather.  There’s actually some chemistry involved too.

Bacteria, plants and even lightning can all play a role in the pleasant smell we experience after a thunderstorm; that of clean air and wet earth.

“These critters are abundant in soil,” explained Prof Mark Buttner, head of molecular microbiology at the John Innes Centre.

“So when you’re saying you smell damp soil, actually what you’re smelling is a molecule being made by a certain type of bacteria. That molecule, geosmin, is produced by Streptomyces.  Present in most healthy soils, these bacteria are also used to create commercial antibiotics.  Drops of water hitting the ground cause geosmin to be released into the air, making it much more abundant after a rain shower.”

Whilst we as humans are used to our senses being much less powerful compared to many other creatures in the world of nature, it turns out that though plenty of animals are sensitive to Petrichor, human beings are extremely sensitive to it.

Now, geosmin is becoming more common as a perfume ingredient.  There is something in our nature so that even when it is diluted down to the parts per billion range, we humans can detect it,

Yet we also have an odd relationship with geosmin – while we are drawn to its scent, many of us dislike its taste.

Even though it is not toxic to humans, the tiniest amount can put people off mineral water or wine when it is present.

According to Prof Nielsen, research also indicates that geosmin could be related to terpenes – the source of scent in many plants.

Rain could bring these fragrances out, says Prof Philip Stevenson, a research leader at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

close up photography of green leaf with drops of water

Photo by Burst on

“Often the plant chemicals that smell pleasant are produced in leaf hairs… and the rain may damage these, releasing the compounds. Rain may also break dry plant material releasing chemicals in a similar way to when you crush dried herbs – the smell becomes stronger, very dry periods may also slow down plant metabolism, with renewed rainfall giving it a kick start and causing plants to release a pleasant scent.  Thunderstorms have their role to play too, creating the clean, sharp scent of ozone – caused by lightning and other electrical discharges in the atmosphere.

Prof Maribeth Stolzenburg of the University of Mississippi explains: “Besides the lightning, the thunderstorm and especially the rain will improve the air quality. Much of the dust, aerosols, and other particulates are rained out and the air clears.”

If you enjoyed this post then why not check out my writings on Apricity, the word given to the feeling of the warmth of winter sun.


Posted in Life, Science and Engineering | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments