Category Archives: 1800s

I can but hope!

In 1948 the Grey Walls Press in London published a book, edited by S. L. Locker, called ‘The Nature Diaries and Notebooks of Richard Jefferies’.

For Saturday 16th October 1878 Richard is in Surbiton, Surrey and records a fascinating scene: ‘Wasp and very large blue-fly struggling, wrestling on leaf.  In a few seconds the wasp got the mastery, brought his tail round, and stung once or thrice; then bit off the fly’s proboscis, then the legs, then bit behind the head, then snipped off the wings, then fell off her leaf, but flew with burden to the next, rolled the fly around, and literally devoured its intestines.  Dropped off the leaf in its eager haste, got on third leaf, and continued ‘till nothing was left but a small part of the body – the head had been snipped off before.

This was one of those black flies – a little blue underneath – not like meat flies, but bigger and squarer, that got to the ivy.  Ivy in bloom close by, where, doubtless, the robber found his prey and seized it.

Now, I spend a reasonable amount of time in my garden, and watch all kinds of birds and insects, but have never seen anything like this.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m watching and writing in 2017.  The book was published in 1948 and this recorded event took place in 1878.  Do you think that if I watch in my garden in 2018 I may see something similar?

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What does the morning bring forth for Queen Victoria & Albert?

Yesterday evening we left Queen Victoria, her husband Albert and their ‘team’ settling down to sleep after far from exciting food yesterday.  So what did Wednesday, 9th October 1861 bring forth for the Royal couple?  Queen Victoria tells us that…

It was a bright morning which was charming.  Albert found, on getting up, that Cluny MacPherson, with his piper and two ladies, had arrived quite early in the morning; and, while we were dressing, we heard a drum and fife – and discovered that the newly-formed volunteers had arrived – all indicating that we were discovered.  However, there was scarcely any population, and it did not signify.  The fat old landlady had put on a black satin dress, with white ribbons and orange flowers!

We had breakfast at a quarter to nine o’clock; at half-past nine we started.  Cluny was at the door with his wife and daughters with nosegays, and volunteers were drawn up in front of the inn.  They had all assembled since Saturday afternoon.

We drove as we did yesterday.  There was fine and very wild scenery, high wild hills, and no habitations.

We’ll leave the pair now as they enjoy the Scottish landscape,

A Queen and her husband don’t quite get what they expected.

It was Tuesday 8th October 1861 and Britain’s Queen Victoria, and Albert her husband, are in Inverness-shire, Scotland and heading for their evening abode. She writes in her diary:

It became cold and windy with occasional rain. At length, and not till a quarter to nine, did we reach the inn of Dalwhinnie – 29 miles from where we had left our ponies – which stands by itself, away from any village.

Here, again (as yesterday), there were a few people assembled, and I thought they knew us; but it seems they did not, and it was only when we arrived that one of the maids recognised me.

She had seen me at Aberdeen and Edinburgh.  We went upstairs: the inn was much larger than at Fettercairn, but not nearly so nice and cheerful; there was a drawing-room and a dining-room; and we had a good-sized bed-room.

Albert had a dressing-room of equal size.  Mary Andrews [a wardrobe-maid] who was very useful and efficient and Lady Churchill’s maid had a room together, every one being in the house; but unfortunately there was hardly anything to eat, and two miserable starved Highland chickens, without any potatoes!  No pudding, and no fun; no little maid [the two there not wishing to come in], nor our two people – who were wet and drying our, and their, things – to wait on us!  It was not a nice supper; and the evening was wet.  As it was late we soon retired to rest.

Mary and Maxted [Lady Churchill’s maid] had been dining below with Grant, Brown, and Stewart [who came, the same as last time, with the maids] in the ‘commercial room’ at the foot of the stairs.  They had only the remains of our two starved chickens!

I wonder what the morrow will bring. 

Dorothy Wordsworth walking and talking in England’s Lake District,

It is Tuesday 2nd October 1849 and Dorothy Wordsworth is in Grasmere in England’s Lake District. It would appear to be a semi-planned time as she writes into her diary:

‘A very rainy morning.  We walked after dinner to observe the torrents.  I followed William to Rydale, he afterwards went to Butterlip How.  I came home to receive the Lloyds.  They walked with us to see Churnmilk force and the Black quarter.  The black quarter looked marshy, and the general prospect was cold, but the Force was very grand.

We also find an interesting conversation regarding the manners of the rich of the country.  These are described as avaricious and greedy for gain while having the effeminacy, unnaturalness and the unworthiness of their kind.

I don’t think Dorothy liked the upper-crust of Britain’s rich!

150 years of Police support

It was at 6pm on Tuesday 29th September 1829 that the first parties of the ‘new police’ – England’s new, original Metropolitan Police Force – went on duty.  At first this was a far from safe role and the men were subjected to criticism and prejudice; exposed to criticism and prejudice, and ridden down and bludgeoned on patrol.  However, within a year of its formation this new police force had 3,000 men organized into seventeen divisions outside of the London city centre.  However, their discipline, patience, courage and humour won the day.  Over the following 40 years similar forces were formed across the country and, by September 1979, there were 51 individual forces comprising over 123,000 officers.  It was on Tuesday 26th September 1979 that the British Post Office postal service issued a set of four postage stamps in their honour.

Wednesday 20th September and the Victoria Cross:

The Victoria Cross was introduced in Great Britain on Saturday 29th January 1856 by Queen Victoria. Its ‘role’ was to reward acts of valour during the Crimean War. The VC takes precedence over all other Orders, Decorations and Medals and may be awarded to a person of any rank in any service and to civilians under military command.  The first presentation ceremony was held on Thursday 26th June 1857 when Queen Victoria invested 62 of the 111 Crimean recipients in Hyde Park.

The Battle of the Alma took place just south of the River Alma and is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War. It was on this day – Wednesday 20th September 1854 – at that Battle, that Edward Bell & Luke O’Conner of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and John Knox, William Reynolds (the first private to be awarded the VC), James McKechnie & Robert Lindsay of the Scots Fusiliers Guards each earned their Victoria Cross. All survived the war.

63 years later, on Wednesday 20th September 1917 Second Lieutenant Hugh Colvin of the 9th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiments won his VC during an attack east of Ypres in Belgium. He took command of two companies and led them forward under very heavy machine gun fire. He then went to assist a neighbouring battalion. In the process he cleared and captured a series of ‘troublesome’ dugouts and machine-gun posts, some on his own and some with his men’s assistance. He personally killed several of the enemy and forced others – about fifty in all – to surrender. His Victoria Cross citation concludes ‘Later he consolidated his position with great skill, and personally wired his front under close-ranged sniping in broad daylight, when all others had failed to do so. The complete success of the attack in this part of the line was mainly due to Second Lieut. Colvin’s leadership.

‘The Fete at Blackpool – a great Electric Light Demonstration’

It was on Thursday 18th September 1879 that the Manchester Courier reported that:

‘In the history of Blackpool there has not been such an excitement as there was seen on Thursday in every ramification of its thoroughfares. It is growing late in the autumn, but this favourite seaside resort was full to overflowing. Trains arriving from all quarters, not only from all parts of Lancashire but from the north, south, east and west of broad England, poured their copious freights into the town. The esplanade was populated by a mob of fashionable people with a considerable mixture of people who have no pretention to fashion at all. The piers throughout presented an appearance that might be compared without much exaggeration to a couple of bee-swarmings. Flags are flying from every coign of vantage; brass bands are blaring in the streets. On this Thursday night the illumination of the town of Blackpool by the electric light was inaugurated on a scale of splendour, and with the result of a success which cannot fail to influence the future of this famous bathing place. The essential fact to be stated in the foreground of our description is that it has been determined that Blackpool shall be lighted in future with the electric light, and on Thursday night the multitudes of visitors drawn thither by the announcement of the fact had an opportunity of judging the effect of this improvement.’

I think it is something that might catch on.

Arresting the first drunk driver and the result

It was on Friday 10th September 1897 that a London cabdriver named George Smith drove his taxi into a building and became the first person in Britain to be arrested for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined 25 shillings. The checking police officers said they ‘knew that Smith was drunk because he acted drunk’ – he had driven that cab into a wall, after all and ‘because he said he was!’

What they lacked, though, was a scientific way to prove someone was too intoxicated to drive, even if he or she wouldn’t admit it.  It wasn’t long before blood tests were introduced – but those were messy and needed to be performed by a doctor.  Then there were urine tests – but those were even messier, not to mention unreliable and expensive.

It was in 1931 that Rolla Neil Harger, a toxicologist at Indiana University in the USA, came up with a solution – a breathalyzer device he called the ‘Drunkometer’. It was simple – all the suspected drinker had to do was blow into a balloon!  The tester would then attached the balloon to a tube filled with a purple fluid – a mix of Potassium Permanganate and Sulphuric Acid – and release the air into the tube.  Any alcohol on a person’s breath would change the colour of the fluid from purple to yellow – and the quicker the change, the drunker the person!

In 1938 Rolla Harger was one of the five people chosen to be on the subcommittee of the National Safety Council that drafted the model legislation that set the blood alcohol content for driving under the influence.  He was awarded the patent in 1936.

We enjoyed this in years gone by

Britain has many ‘traditional’ activities that, in summer or harvest time, bring all members of the community together for a celebration – a celebration that can go on for the best part of a week or more.  The town where I now live had a reputation for their ‘Feast’ but, I’m afraid, those events seem to have gone absent of late.

The county magazine of 1936-8 tells us of earlier times in the community of the Deepings:

‘The village feast, lasting a week, still survives, and last year was greater than ever, two fields hard by the church being necessary to accommodate the entertainment kings, and people flocked in crowds from neighbouring villages.  A luscious yellow plum retains its name of “The Feast” plum, being ripe at this time, and “duck and green peas” is the time-honoured dish of the old “Deepingers” who rejoice at the homecoming of their sons and daughters.’

There is an interesting point in connection with this popular event, for although St. James’ Day is July 26th, “Feast Sunday” is the second Sunday in August.

The answer lay in the change made in the calendar in 1752 when the English date was 11 days behind the continent, but the residents did not alter their feast.  The Parish Constables’ Book settles the query. In 1751 we read “July 3, For watching at Deep Feast 2-0” and in 1752 “Aug. 13 Paid for ale watching 2 days at Feast, 3-3.” I can only assume that these two sums are shillings & pence and not pounds.

Just tagging on for all of this we have the ‘Court of Piepowder’ – a court of justice that was formerly held at fairs to deal with disputes between buyers and sellers.  The literal meaning is ‘wayfarer’s court’ – piepowder comes from the French ‘pied-poudreux’ meaning ‘dusty-footed’ or ‘vagabond’

The village attraction was renewed in 1945 and boasted not only a local plum, ready at this time of year, but also a local duck-and-green-peas dish.  Both were a welcome change from the stuffed chine mentioned at most other village feasts!  Ale must also have been plentiful as an undisclosed fee was paid for ale-watching!

Unfortunately this whole source of enjoyment ceased quite a few years ago and, although there are many activities for the community, I doubt if we will see the like of this again.

John Knill – St James’s Day – and a 5 yearly habit

John Knill was an articled clerk to a solicitor in Penzance. He was a Collector of Customs at St. Ives between 1762 and 1782 and was, also, Mayor of the town in 1767. He was a well-respected citizen and travelled a lot in a time when roads were little more that cart tracks, and where all communication was poor. In his position as Customs Officer, both in St. Ives and London, his advice was eagerly sought and he inspected Custom Houses as far away as Jamaica. He also became a magistrate; was called to The Bar and was Treasurer to the Bench of the Inn. He appeared to enjoy life to the full and socially he met many eminent people, including John Wesley and the engineer John Smeaton. In 1782 he had a three-sided stone obelisk built high on a hill as a landmark to those at sea. In his will he left money for the upkeep of the obelisk and also £25 for celebrations to take place every five years on St. James’ Day, 25th July although the first ceremony took place in 1801 with him present. This is known as the John Knill Celebrations.

The people of St. Ives have been faithful to his wishes ever since and a ceremony has taken place every five years, even during war time. The £25 was to be spent thus:-

£10 for a dinner for the Trustees (the Mayor, Vicar and Customs Officer at the time plus two guests each; the dinner to take place at the George and Dragon Inn in St. Ives);
£5 to ten little girls who are daughters of either fishermen, tinners or seamen);
£1 to the fiddler; £2 to two widows; £1 for white ribbon for breast knots; £1 to be set aside for a vellum book for the Clerk to the Trustees to enter a Minute of the proceedings and £5 to the man and wife, widower or widow who shall raise the greatest family of legitimate children who have reached the age of ten years.