The notorious Edwardian dancer, Maud Allan

Maud Allan, famed in England for her dance of the seven veils had formerly changed her name and fled across the Atlantic to escape the scandal of her brother's actions, but in later life it was her own behaviour which provoked criticism.

Beulah Maude Durrant was born in Canada, but in 1879 her family moved to San Francisco where her elder brother later started training in medicine.  A well respected member of the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Theodore Durrant was the Assistant Sunday School Superintendent.  In April 1894, Blanche Lamont, a young member of the same church, disappeared without trace.  Ten days later, the body of Minnie Flora Williams was found, gruesomely murdered, in the Library of Emmanuel Church. Searching the church the following day, police discovered the naked body of Blanche Lamont hidden in the church Belfry.

After a long trial, the mainly circumstantial evidence convinced the jury that Theodore was guilty.  In January 1898 he was executed.  Before this happened Maud had been sent to Berlin to study Music.  She was also a graphic artist and in 1900 she published an illustrated sex manual for women.

The British audience first came to know Maud Allan in 1908 when she made her dancing debut in The Vision of Salome at the Palace of Varieties in London.  Inspired by Oscar Wilde's earlier play, Maud's dancing captivated Edwardian audiences, particularly women.  Maud was paid £250 a week for her performances.  In the same year she wrote her autobiography "My Life and Dancing."  Many compared her to Isadora Duncan but Maud hated this comparison.  As she took Salome on tour, some places such as Manchester banned her performance.  This only increased demand so she took her tour worldwide.  She appeared in Carnegie Hall but doubts were expressed about her performance in India.
"Her appearance is expected to have an ill-effect on the native mind,"  She also appeared in the silent film, "The Rug Maker's Daughter."

But things came to a head when Noel Pemberton Billing wrote an article called "The Cult of the Clitoris." He maintained that Maud Allan was one of a group of German agents "spreading debauchery and lasciviousness."  He said that she was having an affair with her good friend, Margaret Asquith, wife of the former Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith.

Maud took him to court. In May 1918, Billing appeared at the Old Bailey accused of obscene criminal and defamatory libel.  During the court case Billing stated that there was a black book of Britains in high office who were being blackmailed to enable spying activities.  Her connection to her executed brother Theodore Durrant was revealed and all the juicy details filled the newspapers.  The case against Billing was dismissed and Maud's life was never the same again.

However, in 1921 after spending four years teaching dance, she returned to performing in public.

From 1928 she began a 10 year relationship with her secretary Verna Aldrich.  Her last performance on the British stage was in 1932 when she was 60.  Four years later she gave her final performance in Los Angeles.  Settling in California, she worked for many years as a draughtsman and died in 1956.

The Glorious Days of the Highland train and the Steamer

The pictures on this page come from “Mountain Moor and Loch” Illustrated by Pen and Pencil on the route of the West Highland Railway, published in 1894.

We tend to believe that Queen Victoria instigated tourism in the Scottish Highlands but her interest was sparked by literary figures.  In 1803, William Wordsworth, accompanied by his sister Dorothy, and by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, first visited the Trossachs and other parts of Scotland.  They were soon followed by Sir Walter Scott, who published ‘The Lady of the Lake’ in 1810.  Not only did Scott become more famous, but so did the Highlands.

But it was the opening of the West Highland Railway line in 1894 which prompted this book.  Running from Craigendoran Junction to Fort William, with fifteen stations formed in the style of Swiss chalets, it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful 100 mile journey in Britain.  I do have to admit bias, since I was born on this route!

Craigendoran was just a hamlet at the east end of Helensburgh where the Gareloch meets the River Clyde, but in 1882 it became an important 5 platform station, partly because of the pier which was built there by the North British Steam Packet Company.  From here you could board a steamer and go “doon the watter” to places such as Dunoon or Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.  I remember fondly our yearly boat trips from Craigendoran which sadly stopped in the early 1960s.  By 1972 the pier was closed and the station buildings demolished.

The railway arrived too late for passengers wishing to travel on Bell’s Comet from Helensburgh pier to Greenock.  Henry Bell was an engineer and a man of ideas, who owned the Baths Inn but had ambitions to build the first commercial steamship in Britain.  In 1800 and 1803, he was unsuccessful in persuading the government to fund this enterprise so he oversaw the building of his design, The Comet, himself.  Completed in 1812, it was 30 tons, 3 horsepower and travelled at 5 miles per hour.  Later lengthened, its speed increased to 6 mph.  Unfortunately, it was shipwrecked in 1820.

Accurately, the anonymous writer of the book describes the Gareloch thus,

All along the course of the Loch it is a fairy retreat, silent, secluded well sheltered and glowing with colour, the many tinted trees and the heather-clad slopes being reflected in the glassy water as in a mirror.

Soon the scene changes as the train skirts the edge of Loch Long, narrow, deep and impressive.  At Arrochar and Tarbet station, the traveller has the choice of alighting to stay by Loch Lomond side, perhaps boarding a steamer for a circumnavigation of the Loch.

There are many interesting tales in this book of the massacres at Glencoe  and Glen Fruin and other stories of how Rob Roy and Robert the Bruce hid in the nearby countryside. 

Although the author and illustrator are unnamed, there is an essay at the end of the book written by Rev. Norman Macleod, D. D with pictures by Joseph Adam.  It includes this amusing passage,

One old Highlander spoke to us frankly of the changes which had taken place in his day. "I and my father," he said, "used to guide the few travellers who came here up Ben Lomond. But no one will take my road now. And that is very curious, because it is the best! But the fact is," he added, with a peculiar smile; "more men are fools than I once believed. And what have you of it now but this—that a Lowlander--one of the name of Scott, or Sir Walter Scott, who knew nothing about the country—wrote a heap of lies on the Trossachs. I do assure you he told stories that neither I nor my father ever heard about this person and that who never lived here —about an Eelen and a FitzJames, and trash of that sort: Of course, ignorant Sassenachs take all that for gospel, and make new roads and build new hotels, and get new boats, and even steamboats and new guides, who laugh at the tourists and get their money. And so, you see, no one comes my old way to Ben Lomond now. But och! it's a sad sight, most lamentable, to see decent folk believing lies, lies, nothing but lies."

For more information about the North British Steam Packet Company and wonderful photographs see

Resurrection Men in Lambeth

If you have visited the Garden Museum in the deconsecrated church of St Mary at Lambeth, you have probably looked at the impressive tombs of Captain Bligh and the Tradescants.  But in the 18th century this churchyard had become so crowded, filled with approximately 26,000 bodies, a new burial ground was consecrated in the nearby High Street.  In 1814 this burial ground, now called Paradise Row, was extended, but it was not a peaceful spot to lay in rest.

Many graves were being disturbed to supply the young doctors at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals with fresh bodies, so watchmen were frequently employed to protect the newly buried.  In November 1817, the sexton, John Seager, employed two men to keep watch over the graves at night but the “grave snatching” continued.  Suspecting that they were not doing their job properly, John told the men one night that they were not needed, although they knew 5 people had been buried earlier in the day.

  John, his son and a young man called John Sharp, hid and after a while they heard the squeak of the gate and spotted two figures.  Two concealed man traps were set off without causing injury.  Seager recognised the men as Thomas Duffin and William Marshall, the very people he had employed to protect the graves.  Waiting until Duffin and Marshall had stolen spades from the Bone House and started to dig up a coffin, Seager and his assistants moved in to catch them.  But the robbers did not intend to be caught.  Swinging his spade, Marshall swore his intent to murder Seager and knocked him to the ground.  Seager’s son was armed with a pistol which he aimed at Marshall, shooting him in the arm.  Meanwhile Duffin swung a cutlass at Sharp who fought back with a poker.  After some time, Duffin and Marshall were taken to the Watch House where a surgeon tended their wounds and they appeared before the Magistrates next morning.

One of the Magistrates believed that the men’s actions made them subject to an archaic law which would mean the removal of their ears and branding as a punishment, but he was over-ruled.  They were kept in custody until the following August, when they were tried at the Crown Court in the Guildhall at Guildford, accused of assaulting John Sharp with intent to kill and murder.  The jury found Duffin and Marshall guilty and sentenced them to two years’ imprisonment.  Twenty years later, in 1838, John Seager died in the Workhouse, at the age of 70, and was buried in the graveyard at Lambeth High Street where the struggle had taken place.  Only two years later, 60 year old Thomas Duffin was also buried there.