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.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Josef Hoffman


I am grateful to Pinterest for introducing me to a man of diverse talents who died in 1956.  Josef Hoffman was born in Moravia in 1870, two years after Renee Mackintosh had been born in Glasgow and like Mackintosh he became an architect.  He worked prodigiously, his most famous buildings being Stoclet Palace which included mosaic friezes by Gustav Klimt and Purkersdorf Sanatorium.  In both these buildings, the stark simplicity of the exterior is contrasted with an ornate interior.


Josef was influenced by the Art Nouveau movement but he had a more modernist approach especially favouring geometric shapes.  In 1897 he set up the Vienna Secession with Klimt and Koloman Moser reflecting his interest in the design of textiles, teapots, book covers, glass and ceramics.  Hoffman’s design for the 14th Secession Exhibition, dedicated to Beethoven, was particularly praised. 


But Josef wished to develop the application of good design into every part of people’s lives so in the spirit of the arts and crafts Movement he set up Wiener Werkstt├Ąte where 100 employees produced ceramics, jewellery, metalwork, leather goods, woodwork and bound books.  The 37 craftsmen at Wiener Werkstt├Ąte were, in Hoffman’s eyes artists of equal standing to painters and architects.



Hoffman enjoyed designing chairs, jewellery and everything which required function and beauty.  His designs are still produced today and works of art originally made in the early 20th century are sold for immense amounts. 

Friday, 10 July 2015

The Changing Face of Pedlar’s Acre

The London Eye and County Hall
The Thames embankment where the London Eye now stands has been the location of constantly changing landmarks.  Until the 16th Century, this area was foreshore to the Thames, overgrown with rushes and willows and subject to flooding at high tides. The road behind the Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road was the Narrow Wall, a road built on the embankment to the Thames.  By the end of the 18th century this area was packed with timber yards and wharfs.

The land running from Belvedere Road to the river between Waterloo and Westminster Bridges, once known as Pedlar’s Acre was originally a small strip of one acre and nine poles, located alongside the Narrow Wall and belonged to the parish of Lambeth for over 400 years.



One landmark you can always spot in pictures, after its construction in 1826, is the Shot Tower which was built as part of the lead works for the production of lead shot.  From the gallery, molten lead was dropped to form large shot.  Half way down the tower was a floor where molten lead could be dropped to make smaller shot.  The Shot Tower was demolished shortly after the Festival of Britain in 1951.


In 1837 the Lion Brewery, built on the site of a former Water Works, commissioned a locally made Coade stone lion which was mounted so as to be clearly visible from the river. The building was damaged by fire in 1931 and after being used for a short time for storage, it remained derelict until it was demolished in 1949 to make way for the construction of the Royal Festival Hall. The redundant lion was painted red and put on a plinth at the Waterloo Station entrance to The Festival of Britain.  The lion was subsequently relocated to the end of Westminster Bridge and stripped back to its original colour.


Pedlar’s Acre is said to have been given by a grateful pedlar, on condition that his portrait and that of his dog should be preserved for ever, in painted glass, in one of the windows of Lambeth parish church.  By 1504 Pedlar’s Acre already belonged to St Mary’s at Lambeth as rent of £250 a year for the land is listed in the Parish records.  The story of the Lambeth Pedlar is connected with the tale of the Pedlar of Swaffham.  The Pedlar of Swaffham in Suffolk dreamt that if he travelled to London Bridge he would find a huge fortune, but in London his only luck was the advice given him there to return and dig for treasure at home.  He followed this advice, digging up a pot of money in Swaffham and then digging further down to find a bigger pot with even more money!  The story in Lambeth is that he rewarded the kindness he received when a penniless pedlar by returning with a fortune and donating land and money to the parish in return for the immortality of his portrait in glass.  In 1884 a cynical vicar removed the glass portrait but it was later replaced.



In 1908 Pedlar’s Acre was sold for the construction of County Hall.  Objections were raised that the land belonged to St Mary’s Lambeth but no documentation before 1826 was considered relevant.  When the land was excavated for the foundations a boundary stone was discovered on which was written, Lambeth Boundary of Pedlar’s Acre 1777.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Coldblooded Villainy

They cut his throat from ear to ear,
His head they battered in.
His name was Mr William Weare,
He lived in Lyons Inn.

William Weare was a solicitor, gambler and murder victim.  His name is rarely mentioned but the Radlett Murder or the Elstree Murder, as it is also called, is notorious.  Accused of his murder were Joseph Hunt, professional singer and former keeper of the Army and Navy Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane, Mr Probert a former wine dealer who owned a cottage near Elstree and John Thurtell, a successful prize fighter who was the son of Alderman Thurtell of Norwich, 
 
Lion's Inn where William Weare had his chambers

All four men were well known in the murky world of gambling in early 19th century London.  Weare was a careful, successful gambler who was known to carry at least £1000 about his person.  He had won £300 from John Thurtell playing blind hookery, a card game. 

In October 1823 suspicions were aroused of a dreadful crime in the area of Gill’s Hill Lane in Elstree.  Shots had been heard on the Friday night and next morning, workmen found a bloody knife and a pistol in the undergrowth.  Local authorities investigated suspicious behaviour by men staying at Mr Probert’s cottage, who had been seen searching the Lane, saying that their gig had thrown them the night before.

It transpired that John Thurtell had invited Weare down to Probert’s cottage for a weekend’s shooting.  Probert and Hunt had travelled separately from Thurtell and Weare and they spent 45 minutes drinking five brandies at the Artichoke in Elstree.  Meanwhile, in a separate chaise along the road, Thurtell shot at Weare giving him a glancing wound on the cheek.  Running for his life, Weare promised to return Thurtell’s money, but his throat was cut and his skull caved in by the butt of a pistol.
 
Burial of William Weare
It would appear that only one man was guilty but the other two men were probably involved in the plot to attack Weare and they certainly helped to cover up the murder.  Arriving at Probert’s cottage at 9 pm, the men dined with Probert’s young wife.  After she retired to bed the men stayed up all night drinking and smoking but the servant, Susan Ann Woodrough said that they went out from 10 to 11 pm with a candle and a lantern.  This must have been when they collected the body from the lane, over the back of a horse and then concealed it in the fish pond by the cottage.

Next day Hunt and Thurtell returned to London, promising to be back at the cottage on Sunday. In town, Hunt bought cord and a new sack and on their arrival in Elstree, John Thurtell used the chaise to transport the body to Hill-slough pond, two miles from the cottage.  He used the cord and sacking to wrap up the body, weighed down with stones.

Soon after his arrest, Joseph Hunt confessed to his knowledge of the murder and showed the Magistrate where the body could be found.  Probert also confessed to some involvement, telling how Thurtell shared out £24 from the dead man and put a gold watch chain round Mrs Probert’s neck.  The cottage had been full with a family party that Sunday so at first Mrs Probert, her sister Mrs Noyes and John Thurtell’s brother, Thomas, were also arrested.



Newspapers throughout the country were full of gruesome details about the brains attached to the pistol and John’s bloody clothing.  A partially dug 6 foot grave was found close to the cottage and testimony of Hunt’s purchase of 2 pistols and a new spade helped to incriminate him.  The Caledonian Mercury talked of the diabolical ferocity of the murder and the cold blooded villainy of the plan.

John Thurtell was condemned to death and hanged on January 9th 1824.  A waxwork of his body was exhibited at Madam Tussaud’s for 150 years, although his actual body had been dissected.  Joseph Hunt was also sentenced to death but this was commuted to Transportation.  After serving his term in Botany Bay, Joseph became a respectable police officer with a wife and two children.  Probert was released, a ruined man and his many crimes caught up with him, when in 1825 he was arrested for stealing a horse and was hanged at Newgate.



During the trial in 1823, Probert’s cottage became a popular place to visit.  The tenant charged one shilling per head and made over £200.  These visitors included the Marchioness of Salisbury and, a few years later, Sir Walter Scott.  The furniture was sold and the house torn down.

Although his hands were warm with blood,
He down to supper sat,
And passed the time in merry mood,
With drink and songs and chat.