Category Archives: History

Cumberland Jacks

If you search through any junk box in a coin shop you can be almost certain to turn up a small brass counter, just under an inch in diameter, with a depiction of Queen Victoria on the obverse (front) and a figure on horseback on the reverse  (back) with the date 1837 and the words ‘To Hanover’.

I turned up nearly as dozen with a quick search today, and we’ve actually sold at least the same again to a collector who decided to add a few of the different types to his collection. Though they are broadly the same, they were made over a period of fifty years and many different dies were used, giving a variety of portraits, lettering and horsemen. There are even varieties where a monkey is said to replace the man, but that might just be a poor depiction of the rider’s face, allied to a good imagination.

The date and the head of Victoria provides a clue that this was about Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, but what about Hanover and what about the horseman?

Hanover, in 1837, was still a possession of the British Kings, handed on from George I, who had been Elector of Hanover when he was offered the throne on the death of Queen Anne. It is an unusual Royal title and stems from the way the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was selected – by election. There were nine Electors – three Spiritual and (originally) four temporal. Two further temporal electors were added later – the last being Hanover in 1692.

In 1837 when Victoria came to the throne of Great Britain she was not able to take the throne of Hanover which adhered to the Salic law. This, amongst other things, prevented women from inheriting the throne.

The next male candidate was Victoria’s unpopular Uncle, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale. He had led an interesting life – wounded twice in battle, and accused of murdering his valet, electoral fraud, incest, blackmail and adultery. He was also extremely anti-Catholic, a hard-line Tory and one of the die-hard Lords who voted against the Great Reform Bill of 1832. To be fair, much of his life was spent blamelessly and many of the accusations came from political rivals as his political input grew.

It is possible that he was not as bad as his reputation suggests, but it is true that his departure to Hanover was greeted with general approval and that the Cumberland Jack token, also known as a ‘To Hanover’, was produced as part of a celebration of his leaving.

The Hanoverians seemed happy enough with him, and once removed from Britain he seemed happy enough to treat both Catholics and Jews with courtesy, explaining that Hanoverian history gave him no reason to do otherwise. There were problems, such as when he deprived seven professors (including the Brothers Grimm) of their positions for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to him, and the troubles of 1848 which he resolved quickly by offering to step down and let the Prussians take over, but he generally seems to have been a reasonable and popular ruler.

His son George was born in Berlin in 1819 (his parents spending much time, in Germany) and was baptised by the Reverend Henry Austen, brother of the novelist Jane Austen. Austen was an interesting man, but his career is outside the scope of this post.

The Cumberland and Teviotdale title eventually became extinct in 1919 under the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 which removed British titles from those who had supported the Germans during the war.

The counters were used in card games, alongside a selection of other cheaply-produced brass tokens, as well as having a satirical and political function. If it is true that they were produced for  50 years, this use would account for it, as it would be a long time to bear a grudge against a man who died in 1851.

As you can see, they were struck from  a variety of dies. Queen Victoria was no great beauty when you look at much of the medallic art that pictures her, but on these tokens she comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, as does the reverse picture and lettering. It is hardly surprising, given the crudity of the pieces, that the man sometimes looks like a monkey.

Some of the dies were also used for advertising tokens – an article in a back issue of the Token Corresponding Society newsletter – Vol 6 Number 1 (1998) – newsletter gives a list of 12 tokens (including a To Hanover) struck using one particular obverse die.

Although I can find the information listed several times on the internet, I cannot find any legislation dated 1883, or several years around that date, which would appear to ban the production of these or other tokens.  However, ast the basck of my mind is the undeniable fact that the information on the internet all appears to be copies of just one article, and that source may be wrong.

More work, it seems, is necessary.

 

 

 

The Cinderella Medal

The featured image shows a miniature group, as worn in Mess Dress, awarded to a British officer who served in both World Wars – the first medal is a British War Medal, complete with ribbon. I’ve included it here as a way of showing the medal complete with ribbon and suspender. The one in this story is not so complete.

British War Medals were awarded to troops and merchant seamen who served overseas in many different capacities, and some were issued to troops, mainly in the Royal Navy and RAF, who served in the UK. They were also issued to soldiers who fought after November 1918 in the Russian Intervention and sailors who were engaged in mine disposal into 1920.

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

The obverse features a bust of George V, as used on our coins at the time, and the reverse features a naked horseman trampling on a shield bearing a Prussian Eagle. Iconography was less subtle in those days.

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

There were approximately 6.5 million issued in silver and 110,000 in bronze. They were all named, which must have been a tremendous undertaking, and a tremendous cost.

We are offered them on a regular basis and the people selling them often don’t know who the recipients were – they may have been family members or they may even have just been picked up by a previous member of the family with a magpie’s curiosity for picking up shiny objects.

This was probably the case with the medal we bought in a parcel of old coins last week. They had obviously been accumulated over the years and the selection included a little silver, a lot of copper (up to the reign of the current Queen) various odds and sods of foreign change (including war souvenirs and holiday change) and the disc of a British War Medal. It was heavily polished and the suspender was missing.

The owner passed it over to me to see if I could find any information on the recipient, as silver prices are high and he was thinking of scrapping it. That is what has happened to a lot of medals over the years. One estimate I have seen is that a million medals may have been scrapped during the silver boom in the 1980s. I have never agreed with scrapping named medals, but it’s a fact of life.

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

This one, despite its defects, won’t be going into scrap. It is named to 12-1682 Pte J T Morris of the York & Lancaster Regiment. This denotes that he was a member of the 12th Battalion of the regiment, and the 12th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment was the Sheffield Pals.

If you have ever read Covenant With Death by John Harris you will know the story, as the book is based on the Sheffield Pals.

MIC Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

MIC Pte J T Morris Sheffield Pals – this is a medal index card which shows he was discharged to the Z Reserve at the end of the war – despite his wound in 1916 he must still have been fit for service. The Class Z Reserve was a special reserve formed for the end of the war so that if the peace negotiations broke down, which seemed likely at one time, we could recall everyone and start fighting again. I’m not sure what would have happened if they had tried it.

They were brigade with the 13th and 14th Battalions (both Barnsley Pals) and the 11th East Lancashire Regiment – probably the most famous of the Pals battalions – the Accrington pals. Mike Harding wrote a song about them, though his accuracy has been questioned. (I hope the song plays OK – my computer has no sound so I have to take it on trust. In my mind it is 1981 and I am listening to a live performance in Preston…)

Anyway, I confirmed that, as his number implied, Private Morris was in the Sheffield Pals. He may not actually have been in the attack on 1st July (the First Day of the Battle of the Somme) but he was wounded whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion in October 1916. He hasn’t left much behind him, just this disc, probably a Victory medal, and a story of military misadventure, but at least I’ve been able to bring his memory back to life for a while.

Research Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

Pte J T Morris Sheffield Pals

I’ve not done more research, but I have saved it from the scrap box and it will, I’m sure, end up in the collection of a keen collector who values the story rather than just the item.

For more on Pals Battalions, see this link. They were a brilliant idea from the point of view of recruiting and instilling esprit de corps, but when things went wrong it was like cutting the heart out of a community.

Sing a Song of Sixpence

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

This sixpence is one of my favourite coins, and is pictured above with a current penny coin and a US cent for size comparison.

The sixpence was first issued in 1551 – the reign of Edward VI. He was the sickly son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, the King’s third wife. It continued in production in subsequent reigns, though it was not produced every year. One of the issues of George II was designed by John Sigismund Tanner, which is why those of you old enough to remember the 6d coin are all saying “Ah!” at the moment. Yes, that’s why it was known as a “tanner”.

Unfortunately, the Royal Mint website says that the name probably dates from the early 1800s and comes from the Romany “tawno”, meaning “small one”, which confuses things. Why the sixpence should be the small one when we had silver 4d and 3d coins at that time, is not explained, but let’s just say that I don’t consider the Royal Mint website to be 100% correct in all things.

There was a break in sixpence production between 1758 and 1787. This was partly due to a world shortage of silver, and partly due to the madness of King George, who was unable to authorise new issues. This led to the issue of unofficial token coins by local tradesmen, and the use of foreign silver coins as substitutes for the crown (five shillings) and half crown. The Bank of England also issued coins of  3 shillings and 1/6d, selecting these denominations to avoid conflict with the King’s coinage.

The design features a bust of the King wearing Roman-style armour and a wreath of laurels. He was not, as you can see, a handsome man. Looking at him brings stories of Princesses kissing frogs. The reverse has four shields representing the King’s claims to England/Scotland on one, and France, Hanover and Ireland on the others. He’d have been better off forgetting France and hanging on to America.

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In 1787 the average working wage was £15 – £20 a year – or around a shilling a day (working a six day week). A low level domestic servant could be on as little as £3 a year and a footman could earn £8 (about 6d a day) Servants were also given food, lodgings and clothing. It’s never easy comparing the cost of living, but this article is quite interesting.

So, what was happening in 1787?

February – in the newly independent America – Shay’s Rebellion fails. This was a rebellion by Massachusetts residents against government taxation policies. This seems familiar…

There would be two more rebellions a few years later – the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries’s Rebellion. Until I started writing about 1787 I had no idea American history could be so interesting.

On May 13 the Ships of the First Fleet left Portsmouth for Australia with around 700 convicts and 300 crew and guards. Or up to 1,500 people according to other accounts. It took them between 250 and 252 days to reach Botany Bay as they became a little strung out on the journey, though two days after 250 days at sea is still quite impressive.

The First Fleet is commemorated with a memorial, including a garden area with a barbecue. Because I’m trying to be a nice person, rather than a crabby old xenophobe, I will refrain from mentioning how it is typical of Australians to have a barbecue. It is not only their national symbol, alongside the kangaroo and the boomerang, but it is their way of rubbing it in that our weather is not as good as theirs.

Why Australia? Because the newly independent American colonies refused to accept our convicts. If we’d sent them to Canada, which would have been cheaper and less sunny,  I wonder if the Canadians would then have developed a love of cricket.

This mention of cricket is fortuitous as the first cricket game was played at Lord’s in this year and the MCC was founded. It was possibly cricket which killed Prince Frederick, eldest sone of George II and father of George III. He was a great patron of the game and died of an infection of the lung. In one version of the story this was caused when he was struck in the chest by a cricket ball, though others say a real tennis ball, and the dullest version of the story says it was pleurisy.

Also on a topic which has recently become topical, was the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  The movement for the abolition of slavery had been inspired by Pennsylvania Quakers and had spread to Quakers in the UK. The society was founded in 1787 because Quakers were prohibited from holding many civil offices and they sought to include Anglicans, who were not disadvantaged by religion, to increase the political reach of the society. (The Test Acts would be repealed in 1828, shortly before the abolition of slavery in British territory).

In 1787 freed slave Ottobah Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species.

170px-Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

Design by Wedgwood for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade – it was on the seal of the society and appears on a number of other titems

 Six men were killed in 1787 when troops opened fire on striking weavers in Calton, just outside Glasgow. The weavers had become accustomed to wages of up to £100 a year (see the link about wages – £100 enabled one of the ‘middling sort’ to live comfortably), due to their skill and demand for their product but mechanisation was making things cheaper, and prices were falling. After a 25% wages cut they went on strike and six were killed when the troops opened fire.

It’s a story with many echoes through history, including the Luddites, the Peterloo Massacre, and the Scottish Insurrection.

That is probably enough for now. It has now run to over 1,000 words, and I have only kept it so short by cutting several hundred words. The trouble with the internet is that it makes it so easy to keep finding more and more information.

Wwood Slave

Wedgwood jasperware plaque, also made as a pendant and a brooch.

Book Review – Riding in the Zone Rouge

Riding in the Zone Rouge

Zone Rouge cover

Author: Tom Isitt

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: W&N (21 Mar. 2019)

ISBN-10: 1409171140

ISBN-13: 978-1409171140

 

In May 1919 they had a cycle race in France and Belgium, taking in the battlefields and severely testing the endurance of the participants, many of whom had only just returned from the army.

This book describes the race and sets it against a modern cycling tour following the route, along with a travelogue based on the two wars fought in the area – the Franco-Prussian War and the Great War.

I haven’t been on a bike for forty years, but I like travel books and I’m very interested in history, particularly the events of 1919, so it was an obvious choice.

Cycle racing is tough these days. A hundred years ago it was tougher, with longer stages, rudimentary equipment and a ban on accepting outside help, whether from blacksmiths, teams or competitors. With the added hazards of war-ravaged roads and unseasonably bad weather it became less of a sporting event and more an endurance test. Despite many of the seemingly petty rules, there was no law against the use of performance-enhancing drugs (strychnine and cocaine in those days). This must have been a great comfort to the racers, particularly when weather conditions meant that several of them had to use battlefield ruins for a few hours sleep and shelter.

Most of the references to modern cycling went right over my head, though the contrast between the bikes and clothing of 1919 and 2019 is an eye-opener.

The Zone Rouge covered 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) in 1919. Even today it still covers 100 square kilometres (about the area of Paris). To be honest, I didn’t even know it still existed, or how the French and Belgians went about reconstructing their country. I am now better-informed about this, and a number of other subjects.

It’s a well written book by an experienced journalist and as such it has flow and pace and is a genuine page turner.

My least favourite parts of the book are the made up conversations between the racers. I’m sure they are accurate reflections of the conversations that would have been held, but they do blur the line between fact and fiction. As a device it works well and moves the narrative along, but I’m never happy with it in a history book. This is, however, a minor quibble and if this was the sort of review that gave stars I would give it five out of five.

This is the second post of the day, as it has been in preparation for the last few days. Unfortunately, politics intruded and although it gave me material for posts about judgement and a Fifty Foot Johnson I thought I’d go ahead anyway, rather than let it get lost in the unused drafts.

The Second of at Least Two Blog Posts

By the time I got through to the other room Julia had read the blog post and put a bar of Kit-Kat next to the chair. It was the most delicious thing I’ve eaten all week.

If I mention I’m feeling thirsty I wonder if she will make a cup of tea? Or is that just being unrealistically optimistic?

The header picture is a banknote from the wartime occupation of the Channel Islands. Well, that’s the intention. At the moment I can’t access my photos – just one more glitch in a long list of annoying intermittent faults with my site. I’m hoping I’ll be able to access them before midnight or I’ll have to post without photos. (As you can see, it did start working again after I closed down and restarted – very annoying!)

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Jersey £1 note – German wartime issue

I’m rediscovering an interest in banknotes, though it’s only in certain ones. They need to be interesting and they it’s an advantage if they have a story. To a collector the Japanese note pictured below (if the system starts to work again) is ruined because somebody has written on it. But to me , the personal touch and the details, are what makes it worth collecting. Not that I’m going to start collecting them. I already collect far too much.

I’ve just been looking through some MRI banknote reference books (that’s Monetary Research Inc., rather than magnetic Resonance Imaging) and find there are currently over 220 countries issuing banknotes and over 2,000 colour pictures of notes. That is just the ones that are currently redeemable, not all the ones that have ever been produced – I’d hate to think how many that would come to.

MRI Catalogues - a treasure trove of information

MRI Catalogues – a treasure trove of information

 

 

 

 

Silver, Survival and Salvage

Here, at last, is the information on the Gibraltar £20 coin I mentioned a few days ago.

There is a tradition in Numismatic circles for collecting coins from shipwrecks, indeed we had a talk on this subject just a few weeks ago at the Numismatic Society of Nottinghamshire. Sadly, I had one of my senior moments and completely forgot about it, even though I had intended going. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of shipwreck and treasure and it’s a collecting field that has always interested me. However, you can’t collect everything.

There has also been a fascination for collecting relics of ships. It is still possible, if you go round antique centres, to pick up small barrels and oddments like paper knives made from the deck timber of ships like the Warspite, Iron Duke and Ajax. Copper from Nelson’s Victory has also been used to make souvenirs, such as this copper fob from the British and Foreign which we currently have for sale on eBay.

Despite the photos, it’s only about an inch across.

 

More recently, I bought some key rings made from the bronze of the Queen Mary’s propellers, and also have some copper cash coins from the Admiral Gardner, which sunk on the Goodwin Sands in 1809.

This year, I have seen mementoes made from the silver recovered from the SS Gairsoppa.

The Gairsoppa, originally built as the War Roebuck, was completed in 1919 by Palmers of Jarrow, just in time to miss the Great War, and was named after the city of Gerusoppa in the state of Mysore. She had one touch of drama in her career in the Merchant Fleet, with just one touch of adventure when she ran aground  at Fulta Point on the South Eastern coast of India in 1930.

Palmers closed in 1933 after a long struggle to stay in business during the depression, and the unemployment this caused precipitated the Jarrow March.

In early 1941, whilst carrying a cargo of pig iron, tea and silver, she joined a convoy at Freetown, Sierra Leone to complete a voyage from India to the UK. Running short of fuel, she had to reduce speed, drop out of the convoy and head for Ireland to take on coal. On 16 February 1941, she was spotted by a Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft and was attacked by U-101 later that day, being sunk by a torpedo attack.

There were 82 men on board. Only one lifeboat launched successfully and out of the six men on board three died in the next two weeks. The boat capsized on the fourteenth day and the Lizard lifeboat was only able to rescue one survivor, Second Officer R. H. Ayres.

Sunk by submarine, fourteen days in an open boat, five men dying before rescue…

I can write the facts, but I can’t come up with anything that remotely does justice to the experience. While writing this post I found this item on an on-line forum – amazing to read the words of the man in question. His account doesn’t match up with the Wiki entry, but I suspect it’s more accurate.

The researcher who contacted him did a fine job, as modesty could have prevented us ever knowing the full story.

The eleven British casualties are recorded on theTower Hill Memorial, or, in two cases, on  a headstone in the cemetery at Landewednack. The seventy one Indian seamen are commemorated on the Chittagong War Memorial.

The epic nature of the story does not end there, because in 2011 an American salvage company located the wreck and, under licence from the British Government, began lifting the silver. So far they have recovered 61 tonnes, or just over half of the 110 tonnes known to be on board. At 15,000 feet deep (half a mile deeper than the RMS Titanic) this is the record for a salvage operation.

Of course, if the ship didn’t contain silver this would be considered plundering, piracy or desecration of a war grave. It’s amazing how a mountain of silver can make the moral compass swing.

In 2014 the Royal Mint struck 20,000 Quarter Ounce Britannias, using some of the silver.

The Gibraltar Mint followed up in 2016 with a specially made £20 coin, featuring a seafarer design and containing Gairsoppa silver.

The title of the coin is taken from a John Masefield  poem, For All Seafarers. It isn’t, in my opinion, one of his best, but it does make a number of telling points.

For all Seafarers

Even in peace, scant quiet is at sea;
In war, each revolution of the screw,
Each breath of air that blows the colours free.
May be the last life movement known to you.

Death, thrusting up or down, may disunite
Spirit from body, purpose from the hull,
With thunder, bringing leaving of the light,
With lightning letting nothingness annul.

No rock, no danger, bears a warning sign,
No lighthouse scatters welcome through the dark;
Above the sea, the bomb ; afloat, the mine;
Beneath, the gangs of the torpedo-shark.

Year after year, with insufficient guard,
Often with, none, you have adventured thus:
Some, reaching harbour, maimed and battle-scarred,
Some, never more, returning, lost to us.

But, if you ‘scape, tomorrow, you will steer
To peril once again, to bring us bread,
To dare again, beneath the sky off ear,
The moon-moved graveyard of your brothers dead.

You were salvation to the army lost,
Trapped, but for you, upon the Dunkirk beach;
Death barred the way to Russia, but you crosst;
To Crete and Malta, but you succoured each.

Unrecognised, you put us in your debt;
Unthanked, you enter, or escape, the grave;
Whether your land remember or forget
You saved the land, or died to try to save.

John Masefield

When Things Go Wrong…

Have you ever noticed that when something goes wrong, more problems follow? Say, for instance, that you fall asleep in front of the TV and wake up with just thirty posting minutes before midnight, the computer seems to slow down and photos refuse to load.

Well, that’s the sort of night I’m currently having.

I’m posting now, then I’m going back to write the rest of the post and add photos, so if you’ve read so far and there is nothing more to read you may want to come back in twenty minutes.

I started off with a blood test, arriving at 7.20 to find a longer queue than usual and a notive on the wall telling me that the average wait last month was 12 minutes. This is three minutes (or 25%) longer than the nine minutes claimed last time. Or 33% depending which number you start with – I’ve never quite understood which is the right way round. It didn’t matter, because the actual wait was over twenty minutes.

It seemed longer because I’d forgotten my glasses. I’ve broken two sets recently and the situation regarding spares is getting tricky. As in, I have no spares. The current position is that I have misplaced two sets and broken two, which just leaves me with one set – the ones that make me look like Clark Kent.

OK, I look like Clark Kent in an alternative universe where he looks like a well-worn version of Santa Claus, but the glasses are similar.

I’m now waiting for the results.

We had a reasonably active day, with twelve parcels after which I visited friends and went home early to do a few jobs. These included drinking tea, watching Pointless and doing a little light snoozing.

I also started listing my collection of Peace and Tribute medals from the Great War as I’m doing a talk on them for the Numismatic Society next year. Yes, 2020, a year after the centenary of the Peace Celebrations in 2019. I have a gift for timing.

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Huddersfield Peace Medal.

I’m gathering information at the moment, which is where I’ve been all night – head stuck in the internet looking for interesting anecdotes about Peace Medals. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait for next year as I don’t want to use all my material in advance of the big day.

Did I mention that I don’t like public speaking? My aversion to public speaking is greater than my combined aversion to working, spending money or eating salad. Yes, I’d rather work as a buyer in a salad factory than give a talk. The only thing that outweighs this is my vanity.

There are basically two types of medal that come under the Peace Medal banner – the cheap white metal ones given out to children as part of the Peace Day Celebration and the better quality ones given to returning servicemen to thank them for their service.

I mentioned in a previous post that things did not go well at all Peace Day Celebrations. The ones in Luton, for instance, went spectacularly wrong.

Here are two examples of the different sorts of medal.. They are all larger than life size.

Plymouth Peace Medal for School children.

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Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal

Washington & Barmston Tribute Medal in silver and enamel. Note that the town gave rise to a famous surname, and the coat of arms was used, according to informed conjecture, to have been used in the design of the Stars and Stripes.

A Lack of Ideas and a Tour of the Internet

I tried another writing prompt – “Write about your day so far”. I’ve only been up an hour and I haven’t actually set foot outside the house. It could be tricky.

So I tried again – “Write about something you got for free”. After much thought I  remembered that I had a free blood test and, because everything went well, my car parking was also free. I think I covered that in several previous posts.

At least I’ve started writing. For a few minutes at the start I just sat and stared at the screen. I’ve been doing that  for the last few days. It’s not that I’m lacking inspiration, it’s just that there’s so much of it that I don’t seem to be able to get any work done.

I’ve just been watching a TV programme where Tanni Grey Thompson has been looking into her grandfather’s service as an air raid warden in WW2. I learnt a lot I hadn’t known before, and was very impressed with some of the things I hadn’t realised.

This set me off  on a tour of Wikipedia as it’s a subject close to my heart. I recently read a piece that referred to people who didn’t serve in the forces as “shirkers”, which didn’t strike me as fair or accurate.

Seven thousand Civil Defence workers were killed in the UK during the war – something I hadn’t realised before. One of my grandfathers was in a reserved occupation during the war. He volunteered for the RAF twice and his employers applied to have him back twice. He served as fireman in his spare time and found himself called out during the air raids on Liverpool and Manchester.

His brother, a railwayman, was also in a reserved occupation. He was in the Special Constabulary when he wasn’t working.

Strikes me that it was hard work being a shirker.

Memorial Garden – Old Hunstanton

While we were cruising round Hunstanton on our recent holiday we ended up in Old Hunstanton. It’s called that because it’s the original part of the town that used to exist before they built the new resort.

I knew there was a lighthouse there but I have no recollection of the ruined chapel. It must have been there, because it was built in 1272. It’s dedicated to Saint Edmund, King of East Anglia. He reputedly founded the village of Hunstanton before meeting his end at the hands of the Great Heathen Army of the Danes.

It was not a pleasant end, featuring torture, shooting with arrows and beheading, as he refused to renounce Christianity. Even if he had renounced Christianity it’s difficult to believe that his death would have been any different.

The legend is that the East Anglians recovered the King’s head with the help of a wolf. Accounts vary, but there’s usually a touch of the supernatural about the wolf in the legend. From there a cult of sainthood grew up round the dead king. The abbey at Bury St Edmunds housed his shrine until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. One notable pilgrim was King Canute, who converted to Christianity, rebuilt the abbey and, on a visit in 1020, offered his crown as a penance for the acts of his ancestors.

That is why there is a carved oak wolf by the archway.

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St Edmund’s Wolf, Hunstanton

The area around the chapel was made into a memorial garden in 1915 by a local vicar, the Reverend Alfred Toms. It was supposedly because his two sons were killed, but as they didn’t die until 1916 and 1917, this can only be part of the story.

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War Memorial Garden, Hunstanton

The story probably starts with one of the benches in the garden.

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Memorial bench – Nurse Edith Cavell

Nurse Edith Cavell was executed by the Germans on 12th October 1915. She was seen as a martyr at the time, having helped around 175 people to escape from the German occupiers of Belgium, her adopted home. This was a gift to allied propagandists at the time, though a British investigation after the war considered it perfectly legal. We had, after all, executed twelve German spies during the war – eleven shot at the Tower of London and one hanged in Wandsworth Gaol.

Nobody really comes out of a war with clean hands. Ask Mata Hari.

 

The other bench commemorates Captain Charles Fryatt , who was executed in 1916. He was a Captain on several ferries travelling between the UK and the Netherlands, who were neutral in the Great War. Once he outran a German ship and on another occasion he tried to ram a U-Boat that was attempting to sink him. Finally his luck ran out when he was trapped by five German destroyers. He was tried for the “crime” of sinking a German submarine, even though he only forced it to dive. The verdict, predictably, was death by firing squad.

He was famous at the time, but is now largely forgotten compared to Edith Cavell. I’m not sure if they are still about, but at one time he did sometimes crop up on badges and brooches at antique fairs.

Finally, what’s the link between Edith Cavell, Charles Fryatt and the Unknown Warrior?

Answer – their bodies all travelled back to the UK in the same railway carriage.

 

 

 

All Saints, Panxworth

We were pottering along through the Norfolk countryside when we found this tower.

Fortunately there was a notice to give us a clue.

All Saints Church Tower, Panxworth, Norfolk

All Saints Church Tower, Panxworth, Norfolk

It seems that it fell into disrepair, was rebuilt in the 19th Century and again fell into disrepair, being pulled down in 1969. It was reputedly used by Satanists, struck by lightening (which may or may not be connected) and restored again.

It’s an interesting place, and well-looked after, but there isn’t much to keep you, not even an information board. Fortunately there is plenty about it on the internet.

Interestingly, some of the gravestones show the same names as the war memorial. The continuity of the countryside is an amazing thing.

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War Memorial, Panxworth.