Monday, 21 September 2015

Out of the Ashes- The next stage for Clandon Park House

Clandon House September 2015

At about 4 pm on 29th April 2015, a catastrophic fire broke out in Clandon House.  Despite the efforts of nearly 80 firefighters it took until noon the following day to damp down the fire.  Everyone had been safely evacuated and some of the artefacts recovered but much of the 18th century furniture and ceramics have been destroyed.

This month the gardens have been opened by ticketed sessions on Saturdays so I was able to see for myself the shell of the building before it is completely covered for its protection.

The original Elizabethan house in Clandon Park was replaced by this Palladian Mansion, designed by Giacomo Leoni, in approximately 1730.  The park had been purchased in 1641 by Sir Richard Onslow, MP for Surrey.  It remained in the Onslow family until 1956 when, experiencing the same problems of maintenance costs seen in last night's episode of Downton Abbey, Lady Iveagh donated it to the National Trust.

The gardens, which were landscaped by Capability Brown, were later added to by a Grotto and a Maori Meeting house.

The Maori Meeting House called Hihemihi was brought from New Zealand by the 4th Earl of Onslow, William Hillier Onslow, when he returned from his duties as Governor of New Zealand.

During World War One, the 5th Earl, Richard Onslow offered the house as a war hospital.  His wife, Violet, Countess of Onslow became Commandant of the Military Hospital, from 1915 until 1919.

The National Trust welcome ideas from the public as to what they should do next with Clandon House.  The limited area of the grounds is still a lovely environment though the view of the house is quite upsetting.

My memories of The Surrey Infantry Museum at Clandon House

Monday, 14 September 2015

A nineteenth century #Romeo and Juliet?


On Tuesday November 3rd 1864 there was a feeling of rising tension among the residents of Guildford in Surrey.  Some were looking forward to the excitement of the bonfires and celebrations they had become accustomed to on November 5th but many prominent citizens, including the Mayor, were worried about the damage and destruction they expected from the “Guildford Guys,” a group of increasingly defiant revellers.

Almost un-noticed, a young couple booked into a room above the Coachmakers’ Arms in North Street.  The young man, Joseph Mahaig (Maharg), was tall, with dark hair and hazel eyes and was a sergeant in the 3rd Buffs.  His “wife” was in fact an unmarried servant called Elizabeth Waterer.  Elizabeth was described as a fairly tall, good looking girl of about 28.  Joseph Mahaig had served in China during the Opium War and was shortly to embark to India.

At this time marriage was not a straightforward option for a young soldier in the British army.  As the army increased in professionalism, women found themselves excluded.  Although officers were encouraged to marry, other ranks were positively discouraged. Only a proportion of one in twelve men were granted permission by their commanding officer to marry and fewer still were allowed to bring their wives to accompany them overseas.  There the wives and children shared the barracks with the other men using blankets hung over rope lines for some privacy.

Joseph and Elizabeth stayed on the second floor of the Coachmakers’ Arms and were stated to be, “remarkably quiet and civil.”  They had breakfast and tea on Wednesday, but had no food on Thursday November 5th, although Joseph told Mrs Hedges, the Beerhouse Keeper’s wife that they were expecting Elizabeth’s mother to join them.  By Friday afternoon there was a sense of unease among the other residents of the Coachmakers’ Arms since nothing had been seen or heard of the couple for over 30 hours.  When there was no response to knocks on the door, a sergeant of the 37th regiment, who was billeted there, suggested breaking it open but Mrs Hedges decided to send for the police instead.

Superintendent Vickers arrived, accompanied by Sergeant Steads and P C Davis who made up the full strength of the police force in Guildford at that time.  When they forced open the door, it appeared that the young couple were lying dead on the bed.  The woman looked as if she had been strangled and the man had a large gash on his throat.

Mr F D Ross, a local surgeon, was quickly summoned, together with Dr. Chapman of the 37th Foot.  The gash on the soldier’s larynx was carefully stitched and, “A small quantity of brandy was given to the man, upon which he slightly rallied.”  The two doctors believed that the young woman, whose head was hidden under a pillow, had been dead for at least 2 days. 

A post mortem examination was conducted by Mr Phillips MRCS and his colleague Dr Sells.  Their problem was that the head and neck were in an advanced state of decomposition.  The question was, had Elizabeth been smothered or strangled or had she taken poison.  Elizabeth had been witnessed purchasing a threepenny packet of Butler’s Vermin powder, which contained two grains of strychnine, from a local chemist on the day she died.  No doubt she had read of the young lady in Shoreham, who earlier that year had poisoned herself with that powder when denied the right to marry her desired suitor by her father.

At the Coroner’s inquest, Mr Phillips stated that a partial analysis of the contents of her stomach suggested poison had been taken but that he was of the opinion that the immediate cause of death was suffocation caused by strangulation.  Mr Sells added that there were marks around the neck and under the skin suggesting strangulation.  However the state of the heart was not consistent with strangulation.  He could not positively say that death had been caused by poison.

In the room where the young couple were found were several relevant letters, two written by Elizabeth and three by Joseph.   In one of Mahaig’s letters he stated that having left the room, he returned to find Elizabeth with a rope around her neck. He took it off and then that they both took poison. 

Because of the doubt over cause of death, the inquest was adjourned and at the insistence of the Home Secretary, further analysis of the contents of the stomach was made by Professor Taylor of Guy’s Hospital.  Professor Taylor concluded that there was clear proof that Elizabeth had died from poisoning.

Dr Phillips had feared that Joseph would not recover from his neck wound since it was severely inflamed so he was taken, on November 6th to Guildford Union Workhouse where he was kept under police guard, to prevent further suicide attempts, until the inquest was resumed at the end of November.  While in the Workhouse he wrote a statement about the events which had occurred at the Coachmaker’s Arms, since he was unable to speak.  Although the jury found that Elizabeth Waterer destroyed her own life, they found Joseph Mahaig guilty of aiding and abetting her in this.  He was therefore bound over to appear at the next Surrey Assizes in Surrey on the charge of, “Wilful Murder.”

At the trial in December Joseph was found guilty but the jury strongly recommended mercy.  Despite this appeal the Judge passed sentence of death on Mahaig who stood upright and heard his sentence without flinching.  He was taken to Horsemonger Lane Gaol where he was due to be executed on January 12th.  A number of the residents of Guildford, many of them Quakers, appealed to the Home Secretary that mercy should be applied.  According to the Sussex Advertiser of January 2nd 1864, “Several philanthropic ladies are desirous of exercising their good offices by visiting the condemned cell, but their entreaties had been refused.”

At the last moment, Mahaig’s sentence was Respited during her Majesty’s pleasure and on January 24th it was commuted to penal servitude for life.  More than a year later Joseph was transported on board the convict ship Racehorse to Western Australia.  On 22nd of October 1865 he was drowned while apparently attempting to abscond in Champion Bay and he was buried in Old Geraldton Cemetery north of Perth, Western Australia. 

Elizabeth Waterer had been laid to rest in St Mary’s churchyard in Guildford on November 9th 1863.

A letter, written by Joseph Mahaig, while he was recovering in Guildford Union Workhouse.  The letter was handed to a police constable to be given to the Coroner.   Joseph was unable to speak owing to his neck wound. 

26th November 1863

I do not know what to write what you may ask for shall I put this day the 26th of the month?-where am I going after that?  I may let you know that we both partook of the poison at the same time, but the poison that I took, that she gave me, she bought at another shop.  It had a blue cover and half an hour afterwards she was dead.  I think it was the night of the 3rd.  We both said, as she would not leave me, we would die together.  She died in my arms.  On the Tuesday evening she had a rope cord round her neck when I came upstairs.  At night we both took the poison in some gin about 5.30.  We both sent, at least left, a letter to both our mothers on the table.  I don’t wish anyone to see this.  Dear friend, I don’t care.  I wish to God I had went with her.

Joseph Mahaig

Birmingham Journal Dec 26th 1863


Sheldrake’s Aldershot and Sandhurst Military Gazette  14/11/1863 & 12/12/1863

Sussex Advertiser  2/1/1864

Maidstone Telegraph  5/12/1863

Sheffield Telegraph  2/1/1864

Birmingham Journal  26/12/1864

The Era  24/1/1864   (All from )

Criminal Registers from

Letters written by Elizabeth Waterer and Joseph Mahaig (Maharg)

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dressing Cardboard Dolls

One of my childhood memories are of what I did on days when I was off sick from school.  A cardboard doll would appear, complete with tabbed dresses to put on it.  Often I could colour them in first.  Here are a selection of historic costumes which I found in Volume 2 of The Romance of the Nation by Charles Ray.

I particularly like the vivid descriptive names of the suggested colours to use.

  • For 1900 you should choose cerulean blue with a hat in Prussian blue.  Prussian blue which is a dark shade was the first modern synthetic pigment.
  • The dress of 1903 can be violet with trimmings of dark mauve
  • In 1907 cream is most suitable trimmed in vandyke brown.
  • By 1912 burnt umber is more suitable, with a “vest” of Naples yellow and trimming in raw sienna.  The accompanying hat would be best with yellow and orange flowers.
  • For the 1914 costume the dress should be sap green and the cape a dark Hooker’s green. Hooker’s green was the colour used by 19th century botanist, William Hooker for dark shades of leaf.

Payne's grey

  • In 1917 a toque hat appears but colours are left to you.
  • Yellow ochre is the suggestion for the pale areas on the 1919 costume.
  • The 1923 dress is Payne’s grey with carmine trimming.  Payne’s grey, which has a bluish tinge was named after watercolourist William Payne (1760-1830).
  • The fashionable 1930 dress should be coloured in burnt sienna trimmed with carmine and worn with raw umber stockings.
  • Finally the 1935 dress is Jubilee blue to celebrate the silver Jubilee of King George V.

To see and learn more of these colours I recommend the website Colors of Art  
And you must view these beautiful paper dolls on Maria Pareira's Pinterest page.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

A Scottish Farm in the 1950s

There have been news reports recently about how little money farmers are receiving for their milk, making dairy production uneconomic and this reminded me of my childhood when I would go out to the field with my cousins to call in the cows for milking.  They were usually lurking by the gate but we would call, “Kye, Kye,” to make them follow us along the muddy path to the milking parlour.  On one occasion it was so muddy I left my wellington stuck in the mud as I lifted my foot to walk on.

Living in south London, my regular holiday visits to my uncles’ and grandfather’s farms on the west coast of Scotland were paradise.  There was a hill behind the farms and the lochside in front. All day long I would muck around on the farm with my cousins, interspersing chores such as collecting eggs with damming the burn (stream) or making dens.  In the early 1950s they still had two Clydesdale horses to pull the plough but they were later replaced by a tractor.
My uncle ploughing
My grandfather driving the tractor
When the cows reached the milking parlour they walked to their regular place and waited for their milking machine to be put on individually.  Occasionally a cow would be hand-milked and I tried, with very little success.  The milk churns were taken to the station at the bottom of the lane, where they were collected by train but on Sundays there was no train so my uncle would drive them to a depot in Arrochar in his Land Rover. I loved riding in the back between the churns, sliding along the shiny metal bench.  When Dr Beeching closed the local station it was no longer viable to produce milk on isolated farms like theirs.

From these photos it is evident that I was used to lambs from a very early age but what I liked best was helping to wean the calves.  My uncle would mix food into half a bucket of milk and then I would put my hand into the bucket and feed the calf from my fingers which it would think were teats.  After a while I would extract my hand and the calf would realise that it could eat from the bucket.  There were always cats and kittens on the farm, fed with bread and milk to make sure they still hunted for mice and rats.  The sheepdogs were collies who only became pets in old age.  I loved to watch the sheep being sheared and even the dipping was interesting. 

At Harvest time our job was to keep the men supplied with flasks of tea and “a piece and jam” (jam sandwiches).  We would dare each other to hold on to the electric fence for a second, hoping to miss the pulse of electricity.  Sometimes we missed it and sometimes not.  The train from London to Fort William passed the field so we could wave as it went past.  Sometimes I went to the farm in the winter and was able to toboggan down the hill.

Looking back, farms in the 1950s were pure Enid Blyton adventures for children, but not such a picnic for the farmers and their wives, working hard every single day.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Bodmin Jail

If you find yourself wondering what to do on a wet day in Cornwall, I recommend a visit to Bodmin Jail.  As long as you are not of a nervous disposition and don't mind going down and up several flights of stairs, you will have an entertaining time.

Bodmin Jail (formerly Gaol) was designed in 1778 by Sir John Call, a retired mining engineer on the basis of plans made by prison reformer, John Howard.  It was to be light and airy with individual cells, running water in the courtyards and boilers for hot water.  There were separate areas for felons (serious offenders), debtors and minor offenders (including young boys).  Women prisoners were segregated from the men.  As in workhouses there was an oven to bake clothing, killing vermin.  A chapel and infirmary were also provided.

The prison had to be expanded after the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, due to the many unemployed soldiers returning home to no work and no money.  Originally there had been one Gaoler and two Turnkeys with their families on the site but after 1815 the staff gradually increased to 15 plus the Surgeon and Chaplain in the town.  By 1839 there were at least 4 female staff members.

In the early 20th century first the female section of the prison closed and then the Naval Prison, which had been established in Bodmin in the 1880s.  The gaol was formally closed in 1927 and the buildings sold.  Shortly after the sale some roofing was removed and parts of the old quarters demolished.

Since the second world war the Administration Block, including the Chapel, have been used as a Night Club, Casino, Bar and Restaurant.  Many people now choose the Jail as a venue for their wedding reception including interesting settings for photographs!

Exploring the 6 floors of cells I was especially intrigued by the boards describing some of the inmates, such as unmarried girls who drowned their babies. 

There were many Executions held just outside the jail and these soon became a welcome entertainment for the local townspeople.

I wonder if the victim, James Hoskin, descended from John Hoskin, above who had been executed 25 years earlier.

Some of the boards are about events in the town such as Wife Selling or penalties which did not involve imprisonment as below.

For more information 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Fishermen thieves of Lambeth

Standing outside the Garden Museum in St Mary’s church, by the side of Lambeth Palace it can seem like a peaceful spot which time has forgotten but Lambeth has seen many dramatic changes reflecting the use of the river Thames.

Until the 18th century there were very few people living on the marshy land of Lambeth but the gently sloping beach was an ideal spot to keep boats and barges and soon the fishermen were joined by potteries, factories and saw mills.        

 Most people adapted to the new industrial opportunities but the fishermen were severely affected by a rapid depletion in fish stocks.  Living in small cramped houses with sewage discharged directly onto the beach they were tempted to find less honest means of making a living.  Pretending to fish they would dredge for coals fallen from lighters or plunder the barges.  Their apprentices were often mistreated and trained to be thieves both on the river and on land. 
In 1823 the newspapers ran detailed accounts of a probable murder involving fishing apprentices.  Two gentlemen, Mr Smales, a respectable printer and stationer, and his friend, Mr Wilkinson set out from Blackfriars in a small “funny” boat at 9 pm on July 17th rowing towards Vauxhall Bridge.  At about 10 minutes to ten, when they were through the bridge towards the Spread Eagle at Millbank, 15 feet from the Middlesex side of the river, a skiff came alongside containing two young men.  One youth held the boats alongside each other while the other stole the older men’s jackets, which were lying in their boat.  Mr Smales tried to hit the thief with his oar but the other boat turned away so Wilkinson tried to jump across.  Falling into the river, he swam to the skiff and took hold of the gunwale.  At that point, according to Smales, both young men struck Wilkinson on the head with their sculls giving him several blows until he let go and sank down into the river.  Crying out, “Murder,” Smales tried to row towards his drowning friend but with one small scull and one longer oar the boat turned back on itself.

The scene was witnessed by John Rowan, a jack-in-the-water at the Spread Eagle.  His job was to attend at the dockside stairway to help secure boats. This was his testimony at the trial,
“I was on the causeway till ten minutes before ten o'clock, when the last boat went away; I was then standing at the water edge, about forty yards from the house; I took my stool to the house; and about five minutes past ten I heard cries of Murder! - I got out of a boat's head, in which I was laying, but did not attend to the cry, till I heard it a second time - I heard a guggling; I knew then it was somebody drowning; I ran to the house, and as I ascended the stairs, I heard the guggling a second time - I called the waiter - he came instantly with me to the causeway, got into a gentleman's boat, and before we took twenty strokes, we came alongside of a boat, with Mr. Smales standing up in it - he put his hands together, and said, "My friend is gone!"

The perpetrators of the crime might never have been discovered had it not been for a tip off by Kitley, another youth, a fellow fisherman’s apprentice.  To ensure he was not under suspicion he suggested that the constables visit a costermonger, Robert Gare, who might have information about the stolen coats.  At first Gare denied all knowledge of the incident but after the officers found one of the coats hidden under ashes in the dustbins at Gare’s mother’s house, he admitted that William Brown, a young apprentice, whom he had known at school, had asked him to look after the coat.  Kitley also gave information about the other stolen jacket which was found in a barge's head at Robert Talbot's premises at Fore Street, Lambeth, under the head sheets.

They soon identified the other youth as William Kennedy and the two young men were brought to trial at the Old Bailey, indicted for the wilful murder of William Wilkinson.  Mr Bodkin, conducting the prosecution used the testimony of James Kitley to incriminate the accused.

“I was employed in the barge, Hieron, which was under repair at Lambeth; I know both the prisoners - Kennedy had been sleeping on board that barge for some time before the 17th; on Tuesday, the 17th, about ten o'clock, I think, but cannot tell, as I never looked at the clock, Kennedy came to me for the key - my barge laid about a mile and a quarter from the Spread Eagle; he appeared to me to be in a muck sweat I told him I was going myself directly, but he pressed me to give him the key - I did, and he went towards the barge by himself - I went myself in less than half an hour, and slept on board that night.  I did not see Kennedy when I went into the cabin, but he must have been there, for he got up with me in the morning, and he and I, went to a beer-shop kept by Bean; I asked Bean's son for a light.  Kennedy pulled out some papers and a book out of his pocket - he tore some of the papers, saying he wanted to burn them, and I tore some of them, not knowing what they were; the pieces were thrown into the grate of the room we were in. Flack lighted his pipe, and threw the paper which he lighted it with into the grate, and the papers caught fire; I cannot say whether they were partly or entirely burnt - I was going out in about an hour, when the officers came and took Kennedy into custody; they afterwards called me - I went to them, and went before the Magistrate with them, and after we had been before the Magistrate, Kennedy told me, that he and Brown were guilty.  We were all in custody under suspicion at the time, but Kennedy said we need not fear, for he would turn us up - he told me he had put one of the coats in a barge at the back of a barge-builder's place, but the barge-builder had moved away; I informed a gentleman at the office of it and I described where the barge was.”

Unburnt sheets from the pocket-book were handed over to the Thames police and Mr Smales identified his friend’s handwriting.

Further evidence was given that Brown and Kennedy had been seen nearby shortly before a skiff was stolen from Moore’s boat builders in Lambeth that night.

Both William Brown and William Kennedy confessed to stealing the coats from the boat but denied the murder of William Wilkinson.  Five witnesses gave Kennedy a good character.  The judgement was that both men were guilty and they were condemned to death but were later respited during His Majesty's pleasure.  Meanwhile two young apprentices made a violent attack on Thomas and Elizabeth Woodcock, William Kennedy’s Master and his wife, in their house in Fore Street, Lambeth, maintaining they had badly mistreated their apprentice and a mob burnt an effigy of the couple on the street.  The jury who had tried Brown and Kennedy were not convinced that the young men had even injured Wilkinson so they drew up a petition against their death penalty, resulting in commutation of the punishment.  There were many letters in the newspapers both condemning the harsh sentence and maintaining it should be carried out but finally Brown and Kennedy were reprieved.