Category Archives: People

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!

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The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797

August 21st 1796

Up yester morn att 4 off the clocke, and carters wife cumming we to the washing; getting all reddie for the hangeing out before breakefuste.

John in to saye Dollie the red cow be sicke, so me to make a drink for her good, it bein chill.  I did warme sum milk, to which I do put a spoon full of breesed appel pips and 2 egges, all shook upp with a glass of brandie, which John do give her.  Later she much better, and John did give her milk to the calfs.

2017 version
I was up yesterday morning at 4 o’clock because the carter’s wife was coming. We were going to do the washing so that it was all ready to hang out before breakfast.
Dollie, the red cow, was sick and John asked me to make a drink for her.  Being chill I warmed some milk and added a spoon full of breezed apple pips and 2 eggs, all shook up with a glass of brandy, which John gave her.  Later she was much better, and John gave her milk to the calves.

The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797

This is a lovely book that does just what it says.  Anne Hughes is that Farmer’s Wife and she prefaced her book with these words:

‘Anne Hughes, her boke in whiche I write what I doe, when I hav thee tyme, and beginnen wyth this daye, Feb ye 6 1796.’

These are Anne’s words as we see her story of 20th August 1796:

This be the first time I hav writ in my book for three dayes, bein bussie.
It hav bin a verrie hot day and we to church at night, after the milking be don and the pigges fed.
The passon was new, and did preche a verrie prosie surmon,so I nearly aslepe, and did jump much at the last himm singeing. I was glad to be out once more, and John bidden the passon to sup with us we back home, where Sarah cumming in, we did put the supper reddie in the best kitchen.

In 2017 words this might read:

This is the first time I have written in my book for the past three days because I’ve been busy.  It’s been a very hot day and, after the cows had been milked and the pigs fed, we went to church.   We’ve a new parson and he preached a very prosy sermon, so much so that I nearly went to sleep – so much so that I jumped when they started singing the last hymn. I was glad when the service ended and we were outside. John, my husband, invited the parson to come to supper with us.  Sarah, our maid, was ready and we put the supper ready in the best kitchen.

 

Lanimer celebrations and a General Election

Every June the Scottish town of Lanark holds its Lanimer celebrations – a festivity held on the Thursday falling between the 6th & 12th of June when the town’s schoolchildren parade in fancy dress with decorated vehicles, pipe bands, and a Lanimer Queen and her Court, who have been elected from local children.  The celebrations are based on King David I granting Lanark the status of Royal Burgh during his reign. A condition of the charter stated that the merchants of the town must inspect their March or Boundary Stones each year and Lanark claims to have carried out this duty every year since then.  Over time these Land Marches have become transformed into the annual Lanimer celebrations.

It now spreads over a week beginning on Sunday when the Lord Cornet Elect is led from the town’s Memorial Hall to Saint Nicholas’ Parish Church for the Kirkin’ of the Lord Cornet Elect Service.

On the Monday evening, crowds turn out for the Perambulation of the Marches, when officials and members of the public walk the boundaries. A Scottish Country Dance display takes place at Lanark Cross, followed by the Sashing of the Lord Cornet and the Shifting of the Burgh Standard. The evening ends with the Lord Cornet’s Reception.

An official ride-out around the town takes place on Tuesday night, followed by the presentation of the New Lanark Loving Cup to the Lanimer Queen Elect at New Lanark.

The Lanimer Queen’s Reception is held on the Friday evening in the Memorial Hall and  Saturday sees the Lanimer Ball at Lanark Market when the Lord Cornet escorts the Lanimer Queen.

This leaves just one day – Lanimer Day.  This Thursday is when schoolchildren and others parade through the town in the Lanimer Queen’s Procession – all dressed in costumes accompanied by decorated lorries.  They each receive a Lanimer medal for participating. With the children march the brass and pipe bands, ex-cornets, and visiting dignitaries. The court ride in cars after the parade, and the Queen has an open-top coach. Once the procession has gone once around the town centre, the children mount a stand in front of St Nicholas Church and a statue of William Wallace on the steeple. The court also climbs the stand and the Queen is crowned by a local lady, to acclaim from the assembled crowds. To complete display “Flower of Scotland” and “Scots Wha Hae” are played, and a Lanimer Proclamation read out, followed by “Gods Save the Queen” and the British National Anthem.

However ……

This year – 2017 – there is a slight clash with the Thursday General Election.

The Prime Minister’s surprise announcement threw a major spanner in the works – and the Lanimer committee were left with the unenviable task of reviving this year’s schedule.

They have done it!

The Lanark Lanimer Day has been moved to Friday, June 9!

To everyone – I hope you have had a great week so far – and that tomorrow will give you a really wonderful day of fun and enjoyment.

Buster Crabb and a note of his past

It is interesting how one thing can lead to another – and that the ‘other’ can be in the past rather than the present.

On Wednesday 19th April I posted the first part of the Buster Crabb story and promised that the next step would appear on Saturday 29th April.  That promise remains – however I’ve found a few bits about his past that we may find significant in the present.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Buster was an army gunner.  However, in 1941 he joined the Royal Navy and went to Gibraltar where he worked in a mine and bomb disposal unit.  This involved the removal of Italian limpet mines that enemy divers had attached to the hulls of Allied ships!

On Tuesday 8th December 1942, during one attack, two of the Italian frogmen died, probably killed by depth charges. Their bodies were recovered, and their swim-fins and Scuba sets were taken and used by Commander Lionel Crabb and a colleague. Lionel was awarded the George Medal for his efforts and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.

In 1943 he became the Principal Diving Officer for Northern Italy and was assigned to clear mines in the ports of Livorno and Venice.  He was later given an OBE for these services. By this time he had gained the nickname “Buster”, after an American actor and swimmer Buster Crabbe.

After the war Buster was stationed in Palestine leading an underwater explosives disposal team removing mines placed by Jewish divers during the years of Mandatory Palestine. (see note below)

Buster was demobbed in 1947 and moved to a civilian job where he could use his wartime skills. He explored the wreck of a Spanish Armada galleon near the Isle of Mull and then located a suitable site for a discharge pipe for the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. He later returned to work for the Royal Navy and twice dived to investigate sunken Royal Navy submarines.

In early 1955 he and frogman Sydney Knowles went to investigate the hull of the Soviet cruiser ‘Sverdlov’.  They were going to evaluate its superior manoeuvrability and, according to Knowles, they found a circular opening at the ship’s bow and inside it a large propeller that could be directed to give thrust to the bow. In March 1955 Buster was made to retire due to his age.

By this point his heavy drinking and smoking had taken its toll on his health, and he was not the diver that he had been in World War II. But a year later he was recruited by MI6!

NOTE
This was an area that was treated as a geopolitical entity under British administration having been carved out of Ottoman Southern Syria after the First World War.  The British civil administration in Palestine operated from 1920 to 1948. During its existence the territory was known simply as Palestine, but, in later years, a variety of other names and descriptors have been used, including Mandatory or Mandate Palestine, the British Mandate of Palestine and British Palestine.

The day that Eddie Cochran died

This year – 2017 – Easter Sunday falls on 16th April.    In 1960, Easter Sunday was on 17th April – the day this then teenager, and many others across Britain and beyond, remember as the day that Eddie Cochran died.  His death, in St. Martin’s Hospital, Bath, came as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash just outside Chippenham, late the night before.

Eddie and his great friend Gene Vincent had been touring the UK since mid-January on a package tour that had created a sensation amongst UK rock n roll fans.  By 1960 the first flush of raw rock’n’roll was long gone – much to the regret of many of us.  I had virtually all of Gene’s and Eddie’s discs at home.  They were well-hidden though because Dad had ‘accidentally’ damaged some Bill Haley 78s at Christmas.  Eddie & Gene were not going to have the same treatment.

Often described as ‘James Dean with a guitar’, Eddie had everything going for him. A young, good-looking guy, a hugely talented musician, who as well playing stunning guitar, could also handle bass and drums and most unusually for those times, also wrote his own songs.  Two of which – ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’, had been huge hits and today – nearly 60 years on – they are regarded as classics of the genre.
Eddie had arrived in the UK to join a tour that had started before Christmas.  Promoted by Larry Parnes the acts and musicians were all under contract to him and included Billy Fury – another of my idols – Joe Brown, Georgie Fame, Vince Eager and Johnny Gentle. The tour had a punishing schedule through a typical British winter – something California-resident Eddie was used to!  By the time the group reached the Bristol Hippodrome on Monday 11th April for a week-long residency, Eddie and his songwriter girlfriend, Sharon Sheeley, were looking forward to going back home.

After the final Saturday night show they collected their things from their hotel. Sometime after 11.00pm, a Ford Consul driven by George Martin, with Eddie, Gene, Sharon and tour-manager Pat Thompkins, set off for London.   Eddie, Sharon and Gene sat in the back, with Thompkins next to the driver.  This was pre-M4 days and Martin chose the A4 down through Bath.  However, it was a bad road, especially at night, so he chose a short cut round Chippenham.  Pat Thompkins later recalled: “You come out from under the viaduct and come across a bridge in front of you. On your right is the A4 and then the bridge and on your left is the A4 to London. Well, he saw the A4 and turned right, going the wrong way. When he saw the milestone, he realized he was going the wrong way and hit the brakes.”

Martin lost control on the Rowden Hill bend – then a notorious accident black-spot – and spun backwards into a concrete lamp post.  The impact sent Eddie up into the roof and forced the rear door open, throwing him onto the road.  Martin and Thompkins were able to walk away from the wreckage uninjured but Gene, Sharon and Eddie were lying on the grass verge.

The noise brought local residents onto the scene and the police were called to the scene.  An ambulance from Chippenham arrived soon after, in total darkness and the three were taken to St Martin’s hospital.  Gene had broken his collarbone but Sharon only suffered shock and bruising.  The injuries to Eddie would prove fatal.  He had suffered severe brain damage and never regained consciousness.  He died at 4.10pm that Sunday afternoon.

Like Buddy Holly who came our way two years earlier, Eddie Cochran had a profound influence on young aspiring British musicians.  Joe Brown has often said what a great and innovative guitar player Eddie was, introducing styles and techniques that had never been seen here before.   Georgie Fame credits Eddie with introducing the music of Ray Charles to a mainstream UK audience, through his playing of Charles’ songs in his stage act.  Shadows drummer Brian Bennett, as a member of Marty Wilde’s band who were loaned out to Eddie for some of the live dates and his BBC radio sessions for the Saturday Club show, recalls Eddie showing him some great drum tricks. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both idolised Eddie and of course, ‘Summertime Blues’ was for years a Who stage-favourite.  Ironically, the biggest UK hits for Eddie’s songs ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘Somethin’ Else’, came in 1979, when The Sex Pistols took both of them to number three in the charts.

George Harrison had seen Eddie when the tour played Liverpool and even acquired an important  piece of Eddie memorabilia: ‘In 1999 I worked on a radio series for the BBC World Service with Paul McCartney, looking back at his early rock’n’roll years.  Paul recalled the-then unknown Beatles touring Scotland backing Johnny Gentle in 1960.  Eddie had given Johnny his stage shirt after the Bristol show and following a week of pestering by the young Beatle, Johnny eventually passed it to George.  Johnny came to one of the Eddie Cochran Weekender events in Chippenham, where I interviewed him live on air. He too said what an amazing talent Eddie was, and also said he wished he’d kept that shirt!’

When someone dies young, it’s always the eternal question – what would they have done in life?  In the case of Eddie Cochran, I think there can be little doubt he would have been the first ‘guitar-hero’ of the sixties, with Clapton, Beck, Page and Hendrix queuing up to play with him.   Jimi always said he wanted Eddie Cochran played at his funeral, and he got his wish.  What makes this whole story even more poignant is how young Eddie was when he took his seat in the car that night – just 21.

Today, that dangerous bend at Rowden Hill, Chippenham has long since been made safe. There is no longer any physical reminder of the tragedy, except for one thing – a plaque on the grass verge in memory of Eddie.  To this day that plaque marks the spot where he Eddie died.  It was erected by fans and unveiled at one of Chippenham’s Eddie Cochran Weekender events by Sharon Sheeley, on what was her first visit since that fateful night at Easter 1960.

PS: Included in the police team that came to the crash was a young Wiltshire cadet called Dave Harman.  Not too long after he changed his ‘name’ to Dave Dee and became a highly successful pop star himself.

This has been a much longer piece than I would normally post – and is being posted on both of my blogs [talkinghistoryblog & beejaytellingstories].  Wikipedia has a broader story of Eddie’s life and death.

It is quite possible that the story is either new to you and/or not something that presents any interest to you.  To me it is a part of my late teenage years.  I have most of Eddie’s work on disk or tape and, until quite recently, I still had my guitar from that long ago youth!

PPS: At a different time at a different place Gene Vincent would step on my fingers – but that’s another story!

A Daughter’s letter to Dad, 16th April 1915

Based on our first meeting with Nellie Lant a couple of weeks ago this letter is out of place. Last time we were in 1916 – this one is from 1915, almost to the day.  The war is some 9 months old and Nellie is at Wesley School, King Street, Cambridge – a different, but still residential, girl’s school – Nellie will only come home at the end of each of the three terms.  and is writing home to her father on Friday 16th April 1915.

Dear Dad
Christ’s Pieces are now our playground.  We have been turned out of our proper school by the soldiers.  On Christ’s Pieces there is a band stand nearly every Sunday evening.  The bands play and crowds of people listen to it.  Not very long ago there were some soldier’s horses on there.  At the middle of every morning and afternoon we have ten minutes play time.  At playtime we all go out and play until the bell rings.  On certain days of the week we have drill on the Piece.

                      I am                               
 Your loving daughter
Nellie

 

What the ….

‘What the …’ Peter’s loud, slow, voice echoed over everything and everyone.
Everyone stopped talking.  Silence fell across the room.
He chuckled to himself: ‘I thought that would work’.

It did, and everyone turned to look at him.  23 pairs of eyes turned on him as he stood on the bench at the side of the hall.

‘Yes’, he said in a clear but quicker voice, ‘what the heck are we going to do about the grass verges in our village?  Three times I have called the council – and three times they have said they will be cutting it, but they never say when.  I think it’s time we set to and did it ourselves.  What do you think?’

Predictably a silence fell over the group followed by a burst of everyone talking.  Peter let it run for a minute or two then called them to order.

‘Hands up all that think we should leave it to the council’.
13 hands were raised.

‘Hands up all those who think we should do it ourselves’.
He counted the raised hands.  There were 17.

Ladies and gentlemen – there are 24 of us in this room.  13 said the Council should do the cutting and 17 said we should do it.  I make that 30 voters.  How come?’’

There was laughter at this.  Bill Taylor put up a hand.

‘Some of us voted for both!’  There was laughter in the hall. ‘I reckon – we all reckoned – that the council should do it but, as we have seen, they haven’t.  The village looks a mess so I suggest that we should do it – and properly‘.

There was a round of applause with two or three ‘hear hears’ as well.

Pete Sheldon stood up. ‘Why the heck should we do it.  We pay our taxes for them to do the work.  I don’t reckon that we should do the work as well.’
There was a ripple of applause but nowhere near what Bill had got.

It was Susie Williams that closed the discussion.

‘There are seven ladies here.  Starting on this coming Saturday we will all begin cutting the grass in question.  If any gentlemen wish to join us they will be very welcome.  If they don’t we’ll do it all ourselves’. 
There was laughter across the room with more than one voice calling ‘We’re with you Susie’.
Susie continued – ‘At 8.00 a.m. we shall meet at the post-box on the green and work out from there’.

She sat down to loud applause.

At eight o’clock on Saturday morning virtually all – 20 to be precise – from the meeting were there.  There were also five individuals of the younger generation.  At least two did not seem to be keen but … you never know.  They each had brought with them something to cut shrubs and, of course, some lunch.
Peter organised them into five groups of four and handed each group a barrow and a rake.  He had also brought three motor-mowers with him.

It was amazing how quickly the grass got cut and loaded into the barrows.

Peter had also arranged for a friend of his to bring his tip-up truck.
It was surprising just how quickly the overgrown grass verges disappeared and bright fresh, green, short grass took its place.

Peter kept an eye on all five groups and as soon as each group finished their patch he moved them on to the next.  His wife Jane and Helen their daughter brought round tea, coffee and buns of all kinds for the team.

By 5 o’clock Peter announced that there were just two bits left to deal with and they would do that tomorrow morning – hopefully completing this before church.
They did.

It was early on Tuesday morning as he drove down the road that he saw the council lorry parked up near the Green.  He stopped and went over to speak to them. They spoke first!
‘Where’s the bloody grass and that that you’ve been moaning about?

Peter politely told them.

‘You’ve what?  You’ve wasted our time and council time. You’ll be hearing about this.’

‘I don’t think so’, Peter politely replied. ‘I’ve just told our story to the local paper.  You’ll be able to read about it on Friday.  I think you’ll see some pictures as well.  Unfortunately you won’t be in them but your counsellor will be. 

Perhaps he’ll have a few words with your boss – and he, of course, might want a chat with you’ added Peter as he got into his car and headed off to a Council Committee Meeting.

She murmured ‘I’m scared’

It had been a youth-club outing to somewhere or other – probably to a pop concert in one of the nearby towns.  We were to meet at the Village Hall.  I could easily walk there but others came by bike.  These were the days when you could leave your bike against a wall and it would still be there when you came back.

Off we went – 20/25 teenage kids and a couple of grown-up youth club helpers; we had a good time; and we got back quite late.  We all got off the coach and set about going home.  It was around 10.30pm.  Jamie and Christine lived in the same close as me – about a five minute walk from where the coach had dropped us off.  Rosemary lived about two miles away, in a smaller village – but she had come by bike so there was no problem there.  She walked with us the couple of hundred yards to the road junction where she would turn right and ride off home while we walked another 200 or so yards and went to bed.

This was the time to say good-night and go our separate ways.  I quite liked Rosemary and gave her a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek.  She clung to me and murmured ‘I’m scared’.

‘Why?’ I asked. ‘You’ll be OK.  You’ve ridden home before and it’s a nice night.’
‘No,’ she murmured, ‘I’ve ridden home in the light but dad has always picked me up when it’s dark – and he’s away on business this week.’

I looked at her, and then looked down the road.  It was only a couple of miles or so to her home but there were very few house between where we stood and there; and absolutely no street lights.  There was nothing for it but to escort her home.  It would mean that I had to walk two ways but what else could a fellow do?   Jamie and Christine had carried on walking when I had stopped with Rosemary and were now nowhere to be seen.  Never mind – a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said to Rosemary, ‘I’ll walk home with you.’
‘Will you?  Really?  Oh thank you Ben – you’re an angel.’

We set off into the darkness; talking some of the time, keeping quiet at others.  It’s amazing how your eyes quickly adjust as you walk in the dark.  Quite soon it the road was clearly visible but the grass and the hedges on either side remained a dark mass.  Then the Moon broke through the clouds and we had a glimpse of the road edges.

Neither of us had a watch so we couldn’t check the time but it didn’t take us long, it seemed, to reach her small village.  Rosemary said that her house was just up the road, held her bike in one hand while she threw her other arm round my shoulder, gave me a kiss on the cheek, said ‘thank you so much’ and headed off to her home.

I stood there alone for a while, then turned round and walked back homeward.  The moon kept peeping through the clouds to watch over me and it didn’t seem too long before I reached the corner where this had all started.  I turned right, then right again into our cul-de-sac – all ten houses were in darkness; including mine!  No one was up and wondering where I had got to it seemed!

The back door was locked but I had a key and could let myself in. All was dark inside.  I turned on the kitchen light; locked the back door; took off my coat and shoes and looked up at the clock.

It showed a ‘Quarter to One’!  I looked at my watch – I could see it now – ‘yep, that was the time’!

It was a bit late for a 14 year old like me but I shrugged my shoulders, turned off the light and made my way, quietly, to bed.

In the morning my parents said just one thing – ‘How was it last night?’
I replied ‘Pretty good’ and that was the end of it!  Nothing more was said!

To this day I don’t know if they knew I was very late home but didn’t care or that they had both gone to sleep and didn’t care about anything else.

Me?  I never did that again – but I did one or two other things that were not too much different!  Maybe I’ll tell you about these some other time!

Britain’s 18 year olds have the vote

It was on Friday 13th March – unlucky for some, but not for others – 1970 that the British Conservative Party celebrated a big majority in a by-election in Bridgwater, Somerset. ‘So what’ one might say.

The ‘so what’ was the historic fact that, for the very first time, 18 year olds were now allowed to vote in Parliamentary elections in Britain!  The new legislation had come into force in January 1970 completing the updating of voting in Britain. Up until that point, you had to be 21 years old before you were eligible to vote. In fact it was only in 1928 that women had been given the same voting rights as men. Up until 1918, they could only vote when they had reached the age of 30.

Twenty-one had always been the point at which young people ‘attained their majority’ or ‘came of age’.  At this age they were regarded as adults and were allowed to vote and could get married without permission from their parents. When moves were made to lower the voting age to 18 it was considered a bit controversial, as some people felt that it was too young!

This result was totally unexpected as opinion polls had predicted an easy victory for Labour on the back of a healthy economy and large pay rises.  However – on 18th May Harold Wilson called a general election for 18th June.  His Labour Party lost that election to Edward Heath’s Conservatives.