Flitwick & District

What you might have missed

Missed any general meetings? Catch up here courtesy of Ed Fisher!

6 November 2018 – Carole Hawkins – Tales from the Chalkface

You are a lady, educated at Haberdashers and a trained teacher so your first assignment in Leeds is a class of “no hopers" destined to leave at 16 – a glorious introduction to a lifetime of teaching by a woman of passion and humour. She was told by a seasoned teacher “all children have the souls of angels … (pause) ... a pity they are housed in such lousy bodies”. So the trip through the world of teaching began, warts and all, including the odd four letter word, and the language problem (i.e. dialect). She told of one boy in Liverpool who, when asked about his unrecognisable painting said it was a FURRY – only to realise the depiction was of a FERRY.

She had the strange pupils as well. Rodney was a very big lad of low intelligence and total lack of social interaction, who was given a book to read. He promptly tore a page out, put it in his mouth and ATE it. “I like this book” was his comment (Phew). Also the child with total recall who picked up a difference in dates stated in classes a week apart – a teacher’s nightmare.

Moving on from Leeds and Liverpool to the private sector did nothing to improve her lot – it merely changed the language. The parents, instead of not caring (the clip around the ear), became the totally managing kind (my child never lies – as Carole says “of course they do. They’re children”). One parent who never came to the school insisted that she (Carole) phoned the parent to deal with a “complaint” at precisely 10.37. Not there. Another message this time call at 1.26. And so it went but mother was NEVER there. The funniest tale was of a boy called Patrick, whose speech impediment made it sound like Patwick, for which he was severely mocked (bullied, one could say). The mother in a fit of rage, came to the school and shouted that Patrick didn’t have a speech impediment, and that his name wasn’t Patwick, it was Patwick. We are the children of our parents, says Carole.

The major serious problem modern teachers have is child protection – which creates “a toxic situation” in parent/teacher relations. One notable young man stood up to complain to his teacher that he should be treated differently “cos I is black”, was promptly told “I don’t care if you are purple – get on with your work”.
Such is the life of teachers and teaching, through the eyes of a master – or should I say mistress.

11 October 2018 Roy Smart – Amy, wonderful Amy

Amy Johnson – the nation’s sweetheart - was born in Kingston-on-Hull in 1903. She gained a degree at Sheffield University then moved to London to get a better job. She left behind the love of her life - Hans Arregger - whom she had dated for 6 years. He did meet her once in London- only to announce that he had married a girl in Hull. Perhaps it was this that drove her to try flying. She learned to fly at Stay Lane, Edgware and earned her pilot’s licence after only 15 ¾ hrs of flying. She then was the first woman to get an aero engineer’s licence but could not get her dream job of a commercial pilot.
Her instructor, Valentine Baker who invented the Baker Ejector seat, had told her that she would have to do something spectacular to get such a job, such as “flying solo to Australia”. And that’s what she did. Until then her longest flight had been about 150 miles (London to Hull) but she set off in “Jason” Registration G-AAAH on her record flight with a first leg of 800 miles to Vienna in an open cockpit plane. She was an incredible pilot but had an Achilles heel – her landings were atrocious. She crash-landed on a playing field in Rangoon but the students at the local university rebuilt the plane in 2 days and carried it to the airport for her onward journey. She landed in Darwin on 24 May 1930 after flying about 11,000 miles. She then flew on to Sydney where – guess what? – she crashed on landing. The world went mad for Amy – and there even a song “Amy, wonderful Amy” written about her.
Amy faded from public gaze after a disastrous marriage and divorce but kept flying. She joined the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) and ferried planes between airfields during the war. One day she was asked to fly a plane down south, and flew despite the bad weather and very heavy cloud. Her plane, well of course, was seen going down in the Thames estuary. The captain of HMS Haslemere – W E Fletcher - dived in to try and save her, but was unsuccessful and her body was drawn underneath the ship. Captain Fletcher died from hypothermia and was honoured with a posthumous Albert Medal for his bravery.
She has no known grave but is recorded in the ATA dead at Runnymede CWG Memorial, and there is a collection of mementoes at Sewerby Hall near Bridlington, including the hand luggage which is all that was found from her final fatal crash.

13 September 2018 – Russell Bowes – Say it with Poison

We had a bravura presentation about poisonous plants, their use and effect, plus a fair bit of history in this talk. Russell used classic quotations from such as Shakespeare and Agatha Christie to introduce toxic domestic or other common plants, explaining how to extract the poison and then describing its effects in great and hilarious detail. Did you know, for instance, that hemlock/henbane takes about a week to finally kill you, in which time it kills the tissues starting at the fingers and toes before finally the heart, but NOT the brain, so you know you are dying but can do nothing about it? (Pure torture!). Did you know that Agatha Christie worked in a dispensary in Torquay for a time and that over half of her murders involve poison?
Poison is a substance that actively works on tissues, but toxins are passive and only become poisonous when used. Ergot is a “disease” of grain which develops in damp warm storage. When ingested it causes delusions (among other side effects), and explains both one of the plagues of Egypt and also the behaviour of the witch frenzy at Salem.
As Russell pointed out there is a fine line between being a patient and being a corpse when poisons are used. Take the poppy plant – ironically now used a symbol of peace – it has a substance which is a mild form of opium, a great stress reliever when smoked, but which can be refined into a pain reliever (morphine), and finally into heroin one of the most prolific of habitual drugs.
One surprise was that Bay leaves are poisonous, although it was pointed out that you would need to fill a giant pot to have any effect. Another surprise is that Curare is an easily handled paste which is only (extremely) harmful if directly entered into the blood stream.
We all have heard of ricin the chemical agent released in a Japanese railway station, but I bet you didn’t know it is contained in Aconite bulbs. If you would like a tour of a garden containing 100% poisonous plants, you only need to visit Alnwick Castle. The contents will surprise you. But remember “you have been warned”.

9 August 2018 – Damien O’Niell – History of Chicksands Priory

Chicksands was founded in 1132 by Rohese (Countess of Essex) and dedicated to the Gilbertine Order – the only exclusively British order – and was unusual in that it had both females (nuns) and males (canons) although the nuns were “in charge”. While it was the largest and wealthiest of the Gilbertine properties, history seems to have passed it by, although it is noted that Thomas (a) Becket did stay there prior to his disagreement with Henry VIII.
After the dissolution of the monasteries the priory was bought by predecessors of the Osborne family who owned it until 1936 when it was bought by the Crown Commissioners. King James was said to have visited the priory on at least one occasion, possibly to use the “featured” bedroom in which the bed was so large, that the man entered by one door and the woman by another (!).
The Osborne family appear to have been haunted by bad luck. One generation the wife bore 7 children who died before four years old, the 8th lived to 10 yrs. old and the 9th – who became Governor of New York – committed suicide in his mid-twenties. Incidentally, the various reports of haunting at the priory have been “debunked” with the single exception in recent years when three individuals saw an apparition during a paranormal investigation in 2005.
While briefly used as a naval base (yes, Naval), the property was mainly used as an intelligence gathering post, being part of the Bedford Triangle during WWII. The RAF base was later leased to the US Airforce and this is remembered for its huge circular listening array which could monitor radio messages over 4000 miles away.
The site is now managed by JITC (the British forces intelligence command) and is therefore subject to strict security at all times. Visits can however be arranged by contacting “Friends of Chicksands”

12 July 2018 Tony Eaton – The Curious Disappearance of Major Glenn Miller

Tony gave us a report disputing the “official“ version of Glenn Miller’s death over the Channel in 1944. It was torn to shreds in this wonderfully researched investigation evocative of that film “The Man who Never Was” - where nothing about his death was true and used only to confuse the German Intelligence?
Tony “proved” that Glenn Miller did not fly from Twinwood on December 16th but from Bovingdon a few days earlier and was seen in Paris on the supposed date of his death. That Glenn Miller was active for Allied Intelligence - liaising with David Niven who worked for OSS – is well known. He routinely flew to France and broadcast in German to the German heartland. Through a 40 year investigation, Tony and his colleagues have more than a little reason to state that his death as published is a sham and that he appears to have died from head-wounds sustained in a firefight when German commandos attempted to kill Eisenhower outside Paris. From here he was flown to a medical centre in Cleveland, Ohio, where records indicate Alton G Miller died.
Eisenhower planned to withdraw from the Ardennes to “bottle up” the Germans. It had been planned that Glenn Miller and Marlene Dietrich would broadcast to the Germans after the “brilliant success” – which obviously never came. However the Germans knew of the plan beforehand and flooded the area with FOUR times the predicted troops, thereby causing the deaths of over 70,000 (mostly) American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge. The “official” line is that these troops died partly due to harsh conditions and partly to unexpected German resistance, with no mention of the epic planning and intelligence failures. Miller’s death had to be kept secret as part of this great “cover up”- the true facts of this would have destroyed Eisenhower’s reputation, among other matters.
If all that Tony said is untrue, why did Miller’s widow abruptly stop writing weekly letters to the Army authorities about her husband, move from New York to California, buy a substantial grave site where she, his and her parents are buried next to an unmarked grave which the US authorities will not allow to be examined in any way? Why was Alton Glenn Miller awarded a Bronze Star which is reserved for meritorious conduct in a combat zone?
And finally why are all files held by the US authorities marked as “never to be opened”?

14th June 2018 – Brad Ashton Job of a Laughtime

Born in 1931 our 86 year old speaker raced through a lifetime of comic script writing for many of the famous British comedians, (or to be PC, I should say, comedy artists) including such greats as Bruce Forsyth, Bob Monkhouse and Frankie Howerd.
Brad had always had an audience for his jokes and decided hen much younger to try his luck on stage in front of an audience. He did a twelve minute slot and when he came off asked the promoter how he did. The promoter replied “There are great comedians with lousy scripts. Yours is the reverse”
It is fortunately for us that he did or we would not have had such quality writing as he has shown. He is asked “where does comedy come from?” and says what all comedians/writers say – “It is simply experience of life” – and it also very hard to copyright. If you take an original piece of music and change very 4th note it does not infringe copyright. Written comedy is almost impossible to copyright because the same joke can be told in millions of different ways. The trick is to get the right choice of words at the right time to the right comic.
He related many stories of people of wrote for. One involved Tommy Cooper being confused with Henry Cooper at one theatre. Benny hill never did live shows – he couldn’t bear to face an audience – so if someone tells you they saw him on stage they will be telling porkies. Incidentally Benny used to have a room where the walls were covered in cartoons. He says that many comedians play from behind a mask – like Benny - and you should never judge the person behind the comic without knowing them personally. He cited the Two Ronnies as being a most unusual duo as they were a Comedian and a Comedy Actor and the writer had to be aware of the distinction. He also had to be aware of height differences – Bernard Bresslaw was 6’7” wile David Jason is only 5’2”
He says the age of modern British comedy started in 1976 when the Blue Book which governed everything done by the BBC, stated that ”anything said or done in a comedy show is not meant to be taken seriously”

17 May 2018 – Hugh Grainger – Thomas Edison

Born in Detroit in1847 Edison is credited with over 1000 inventions. He was expelled aged 8 from his local school for being “stupid” when all he did was ask Why? and his teacher could not answer. He started his business life by selling local produce on trains when only 12 years old. He was fascinated by telegraphy and learned how to operate the machinery at an early age, and was a travelling telegrapher for 6 years. One of his tasks was to send out an hourly report (to confirm the operator was awake). Edison devised an automated system for this, but it was eventually spotted by a seasoned operator and he was fired. After this he decided to concentrate on his inventions. He developed ticker tape – his equipment was so good Western Union bought the system outright for $40,000 (about £1 million today) - and soon after the “duplex” message system and even ‘quadruplex’. He invented the carbon booster for the telephone – which is reputed to have earned $350,000 (£50 million pounds at current values).
He developed the phonograph (we all know about hearing “Mary had a little lamb” recording) and alkaline batteries – which he distributed world-wide – and built many factories to manufacture his products. The most famous site was Menlo Park in New Jersey which could be described as the world’s first research and development centre. These inventions include Bakelite and Celluloid. Basic films used a Kinetoscope, and then (1893) lasted a maximum of about 90 seconds, but with his film they lasted at least 4 minutes by 1903.
He devised a means for improved extraction for iron and bought 145 worked out mines to capitalise on it. He made a loss on this, but he went on to develop an efficient stone crusher which became the basic equipment for cement making. Edison formed over 120 companies to exploit his works, including Cement, mining, lighting, wiring, mimeograph (old style photo copying), recording, oil, railways and many others.
Edison was not only a brilliant inventor but a savvy businessman who trusted in and cared for his staff who in return trusted in him. He is said to have invented the motto that “success is 98% perspiration and 2% inspiration”. He died in 1931, aged 84, a wealthy but well respected man.

12 April 2018 Debbie Horsman – Shackleton’s Forgotten Men

In 1915 Ernest Shackleton set out to traverse Antarctica via the South Pole. He decide to split the expedition into two. His group headed towards the Weddell Sa via South Georgia while a second set off via Australia and New Zealand to the Ross Ice Shelf to setup supply dumps for his team to use on the way back. The planning was excellent but poor execution, extreme weather, dire lack of funds - mainly due to the war - and sheer bad luck were to mean failure to both.
Shackleton set off in the Endurance – a ship well-built and well supplied – for South Georgia on 8th of August 1914 and from there on towards the ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. Unfortunately, the ice pack was very much larger than expected and after Endurance got caught in ice and sank. He and his crew abandoned the camp on the ice, and ROWED in three 20 foot boat as far as Elephant Island, reaching it almost 500 days after they left South Georgia. There 12 of the men left under makeshift hut from two upturned whalers while Shackleton and his 2 men rowed on to South Georgia.
They finally made the island and after crossing the central mountains on foot got a ship back to Elephant Island, where they managed to get a ship back to rescue ALL of the men on Elephant Island almost 140 days after they left, and almost 9 months after they first sailed. This epic and heroic - superhuman? - achievement is well documented and readers are urged to research this for themselves.
Radio communications at that time were incapable of going round the world. So the Ross team had to go with what they had. Shackleton had bought the Aurora sight unseen and she wasnot seaworthy in the best of seas. The team had to fix the ship, supply and organise crew, with virtually no money. Begging for supplies in wartime proved almost impossible, and it was said they set out with supplies for 6 men for 4 months instead of 20 men for 2 years. The boots which had been supplied were found to be eaten by rats and replacements ordered to be picked up in Hobart. They arrived the day AFTER Aurora left Hobart and the crew had to hand sew replacements. The Ross team were not seasoned Antarctic men, but led by Aeneas Mackintosh, the team of 10 including AP Spencer-Smith (photographer and chaplain – and ancestor of our speaker) duly reached the Ross Sea and unloaded supplies in 24 hours of darkness. In one severe storm Aurora broke her moorings and assumed sunk. It was many months later the damaged ship made its way into Auckland, unable to return immediately to the Ross Sea.
The Ross team pushed on and made 400 yards in the first 4 hours. The huskies they had with them were new to each other and while the team slept they fought to the death. The terrible conditions these men braved to build the supply dumps made horrific listening. Without dogs and on meagre rations, they pulled the supplies and seriously injured men. Suffice it to say that only 7 men survived the long period of extreme effort and atrocious weather. They were rescued a year after they set off by a refitted Aurora.
It must have been a dreadful blow to find only then that Shackleton had never set foot on Antarctica and their efforts had been in vain. I wonder if the four Albert Medals (two posthumously) were any solace, but to these men it must have seemed worth it, and it is a pity so little is known about this “forgotten” part of the expedition

15 March 2018 David Longman – Churches of Bedfordshire

About three years ago David was looking for something to occupy his time and decided as a project to photograph all the parish churches in Bedfordshire. There are, give or take two, 143 churches which meet his description and he has now completed his project. Well……not really, because he made the mistake of actually entering one of them and is now involving himself in what is inside, and he has about another 70% still to go on this extended project. “A mistake” is what he called it. A mistake which led to a delightful pictorial display of 22 of these beautiful and interesting buildings.
David explained how the churches were all made from local material materials and were therefore naturally different between the north and south of the county. In particular, those in the north have spires and in the south towers – for no obvious reason. He also told of the many “remote” churches where the local populace moved away, especially because of the Black Death (which killed up to 50% of the population of the county). Church records across the country show that around 1350 no fewer than 53 of these churches had new incumbents due to death of their predecessors. Toddington had three in two years.
David started his photo call with Bromham Church where there is a plaque to John Donne the 16th/17th century poet who wrote the immortal line “no man is an island, entire of itself”. He moved on to Sandy where there is a memorial to William Peel, son of Robert Peel of police fame. William was a Navy Captain who served in the Naval Brigade at Sebastopol and was awarded the first Victoria Cross for his actions there in 1854. He was owner of the Sandy Potton Railway and the first engine used on the line can be seen at the Railway Museum in Didcot.
Moving on via Keysoe, Chellington, and others we arrived at Silsoe and Wrest Park where the Grey family built an obelisk around 1720. This was moved by Sir Philip Sassoon in 1934 to Trent Park in London “to impress the Duke of Kenton their honeymoon”. The Grey family mausoleum is in Flitton and is open to the public every third Saturday of the month. Jumping to Southill we find the memorial to Admiral John Byng who was famously executed for “failing to do his utmost” to relieve Minorca in 1756.
On through Chalgrave, Dunstable Priory, Studham and others we came to Ampthill where we find a memorial to Richard Nicholls who took New Netherlands from the Dutch in 1664, and was the first governor of New Amsterdam, which was renamed New York after the Duke of York his patron. The memorial includes the cannonball which killed Richard in a sea battle in 1674 – ironically fighting the Dutch.
The light touch, delightful photographs and the various interesting facts made for a pleasant presentation.

25 Jan 2018 Craig Fisher – Stranded in Gambo

Craig was on Flight UA929 to the USA at the start of a business trip via Chicago to San Diego and Dallas and was vaguely surprised when hours before they were due to land in Chicago, the captain announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, the aircraft is quite safe but we are about to land in Gander”. And land they did in Newfoundland - the date was 11th September 2001 - or 9/11 as we now call it. This was the last plane of 43 carrying some 9,000 people which landed within 20 minutes in a town with a population of only 12,000. All later planes had not reached the half-way stage so were turned back, leaving UA939 as tail-end Charlie. Most of us will remember Gander as the refuelling stop on the way to the USA when planes did not have the range they have today. It is still a military airfield and “a basic emergency strip” for the North Atlantic.
When they landed they were only told it was because of “a security incident” and kept on the plane. The main meal was delayed until the evening but passengers were served emergency rations …. of “a Nutrigrain Bar”. Nobody was told anything and mobiles did not work (the system was severely overloaded). The air-conditioning failed and they simply sat and watched films before finally deplaning 26 Hours after lift-off. After a security check they were put on board a school bus (the drivers had been on strike but called it off in order to help) and driven 40 miles to a small town called GAMBO. Gambo – population 1200 – received over 300 bodies, from kids to honeymoon couples, business men and the elderly, and put them up in private homes, schools, etc. but mainly in the Salvation Army hall using Canadian army cots (folding beds) or pews with whatever blankets were available. The elderly were taken to B&B, and families with children were kept in the SA hall where a play area was set aside.
Craig finally got through to his family after two days and asked them to tell the Conference they would not make it – only to be told that the USA had virtually shut down as its whole airspace was closed. It was only then, by talking to the locals that passengers found out what had happened. The response from the people of Gambo was so successful that its method has been adopted internationally for local emergency response planning (including Bedfordshire).
By day 3 the group had formed an “escape committee” which organised spare clothes, bedding, toiletries, showers (mostly in cold water) dish washing, clothes washing, toilet cleaning, eating, sleeping – a nurse took on the urgent need for medicines - as all belongings were still in the hold of the plane. Local shops and ordinary houses donated all sorts of minor “luxuries”, Walmart turned up with loads of toiletries, and everywhere you went you were offered food and drink.
The “escape committee” also kept a register as to who was where in case they had to leave quickly – little knowing it would not happen until day 6. One performer borrowed a guitar and over time sang more than 130 different songs. The kids were fully entertained and even put together a talent show. The adults were introduced to local Newfie customs – these will remain unwritten in order not to offend readers – including the local musical instrument (an ugly stick) which is essentially a broom handle with bottle caps and bells nailed onto it.
The only means of communicating with the outside world was by one telephone (use had to be scheduled, of course), but Craig was able to create a daily blog using dial-up internet (horror of horrors). The phone providers cancelled all charges for calls made over the six days. Finally on Sunday at 2.00 a.m. US airspace was opened and planes were flown out one by one. UA929 passengers put all their spare cash in a box for the local community. UA939 was the last plane out and flew to Chicago where they were met with an emotional triumphal tunnel made up from boarding stairs and machinery. There were tears of joy and relief all round as one of the planes used on 9/11 was from United Airlines.
Craig arrived back at Heathrow having spent 144 hours flying 10,000 miles for no purpose, only to overhear a passenger at the information desk complaining about a 3 hour delay on their flight. Ah, well! That’s life. A life changing experience? Yes!
(for more details go to the website www.ua929.org)

14 Dec 2017 Andrew Sankey - Funny Garden Features

An easel with hand-drawn A3 size cartoon-style graphics were a low-tech surprise of the day, but Andrew used these in one of the most informative and amusing talks we have had for a long time. He talked of the main features in British gardens from Roman to Victorian times.
The Romans introduced the formal garden to England along with lavender, vines and ground elder – this last one to the annoyance of Andrew’s mum. The formal courtyard with its single path lined by box hedges and gravel paths and fruit trees for shade were the origin of the Pergola and Patio. The Roman villas, with gardens at times larger than the area of Buckingham Palace were very much an outdoor room and made extensive use of clipped trees from which we get “topiary”. These were used both for growing of vegetables and herbs and were the “meet and greet” area of the big houses. They disappeared over the centuries until the concept was revived by the Monastery garden where the monks introduced a cross path to facilitate access to the working garden plots. Each quarter was often the size of a football pitch and was subsequently sub-partitioned making for a variety of produce - each in its own section. In time this was developed into the Tudor garden when Exotic plants were introduced from the Middle East and China. Plants such as tulips, hyacinth and orange and lemon trees with highly decorative clipped bushes were the mark of the Tudor garden. These were so large that they were viewed from a raised walkway on the outer edges or, better still, from the large glazed windows on the first floor of the grand house.
The Tudors introduced a viewing mound and Henry VIII developed one of the largest with a spiral path to the top, where there was a three storey banqueting house surmounted by a cupola – all on a mound over 40 feet high. The mounds, as Andrew said, were ideal not only for viewing one’s own garden but also the gardens next door. (I suspect this was a bit of “keeping up with the Jones’”.)
Then came the French garden where ornaments such as statues, cascades and fountains were installed. This led to the craze for installing dragons, dolphins and crowns which spewed water from various orifices – Andrew told of statues of naked ladies with spouts of water from you-know-where. There were many “trick” features which had the sole purpose of showering the surprised guests with jets of water – a feature of many modern water parks.
With William and Mary came the Dutch garden, where the mounds and walls were removed and everything became flat (naturally, being from Holland) and the well-known “ha-ha” – the first of which was installed in Cumbria in 1694 followed soon after with one at Stowe. With the Dutch influence grew the need for suitable growing conditions for Oranges to publicise the House of Orange – hence the Orangery. These buildings were to “conserve” the “green” (or tender) plants and gave rise to the Conservatory and Greenhouse of today.
The English landscapes of Kent, Brown and Paxton introduce the idiosyncrasies of grottos, towers, hermitages, shell houses and the (pointless) follies. Victorian gardens divided the gardens into specific areas – arboretum, pinetum, rock gardens and stumperies. Fruit trees – cordoned and spaliered - on the walls gave rise to the serpentine wall known as the crinkle-crankle wall. The coup-de-resistance was the great glass house, of which the first was at Chatsworth in 1826 measuring about 300ft x 130ft and over 70ft high. It used so much coal to heat it that Paxton built an underground railway to serve its huge boilers.
And finally, the Elizabethans were so keen to show off their very expensive Tulip and Hyacinth collections that they planted them in beds (yes! beds you sleep in) to move them around the garden. TRUE! – ask Andrew.

9 Nov 2017 Mike Beech – Secret London

The problem in writing about speakers like Mike is that they talk so fluently about many diverse things it is hard to make sense of notes scribbled so quickly, but here goes.
London has been “settled” on Cornhill and Ludgate Hill since about 4000BC on the sides of the Fleet and Walbrook. It grew and was so successful that when “visited” by Julius Caesar in 55BC he described it as being “thickly studded with homesteads.” He liked it so much that he grabbed it in 43AD and it grew to become the city it now is, not the least due to its access to Europe by the Thames. Mike asked questions such as “what is the oldest statue in public show in London?” “Cleopatra’s Needle”, we all shouted. “Wrong” said Mike, “It is the statue of Sekhmet dated from about 1320 BC”. It sits above the entrance to Sotheby’s - a piece auctioned in 1880 but never collected.
And so it went, with Mike leading the audience by a reasonable score. Did you know that the strange little stone booth on Trafalgar Square was the world’s smallest police station? It was built in 1926 to monitor the unruly crowds in the square. It had a direct line to Scotland Yard, and could hold one policeman or two prisoners. Did you know that the earliest official police force in London was not the Peelers (founded in 1829) but the Thames River Police who were started in 1748 to stop the thefts from the thousands of ships moored in the Thames. It is estimated that about £500,000 was stolen each year and the new force recovered or prevented about a quarter of this in their first year. Impressive!
Another little gem, is the standpipe replica in Bradwick Street which commemorates John Snow’s amazing investigation into the cholera outbreak of 1854 which killed 10,738 – over 500 alone in a small part of Soho. Until Snow found the link with contaminated water and persuaded the council to remove the handle from a particular pump to prevent its use, no-one knew what caused cholera and thought it was caused by a “miasma” or air-borne infection. Mike did say that the water was contaminated by a nearby cemetery. Contamination also provided the Gas Light and Coke Company to erect lampposts (one is still present behind the Savoy Hotel) which were lit 24/7 by the methane extracted from the sewers below.
One of the problems of many big cities is the disposal of dead bodies – all the available ground is already used up. London’s solution by London Necropolis Company was to build cemeteries in Woking - burying Anglicans on the sunny north side and non-conformists on the chilly south side – ferrying the bodies and mourners by dedicated trains. They built their own terminus near Waterloo and ran scheduled services – eventually running twice a day – charging differentially for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. (Curiously this was not financially as viable as expected and the land in Woking became a residential suburb at great profit to LNC).
The biggest clock face in London? – Not Big Ben but ShellMex House in the Strand. The only American state to have an embassy in London? Texas - before joining the Union. And so it went, fascinating and interesting fact after fact. Mike delivered all of this with beautifully clear visuals and a light humorous touch. And NO! He has not written a book, but explore the web if you want find more about Secret London.