GEOFFREY PALMER OBE : ‘If there’s a gentle smile….that’s the nicest thing.’

Geoffrey Palmer (Source: ‘Buckinghamshire Heroes,’ Countryside Books, Newbury, 2005 by David Kidd-Hewitt)


I wrote the following piece about Geoffrey in 2005 for Countryside Books in Newbury after he received his OBE It was part of a series about county heroes – chosen in this case by the author – me – so totally biased! He was kind enough to refer to it as his C.V. It was hardly that, but it was written with love and affection for such a genuine man with a wicked twinkle – We met many times, had many chuckles.

When news of his passing broke on November 5th 2020, it was so very very sad. There was also a very strange serendipity moment for me personally. That same day before the news broke I had been sorting out some books and a card fell out. It was one of Geoffrey’s – he had a penchant for writing on a personalised post card which he placed in an envelope to keep the contents private. Always hand written with his fountain pen and a joy to receive. None were ever dated.

This one said in response to some earlier chats we had had; ‘no great excitement in my life. Very little work, not that that’s a bad thing at my age, still fishing and getting to a lot of home games with my son to see Arsenal. See you somewhere soon no doubt! Hope all is well with you and yours, best wishes G.’

Well, could be better Geoffrey, could be better! God bless and what a privilege to have known you.

‘If there’s a gentle smile….that’s the nicest thing.’

Many ‘gentle smiles’ are directed towards our final county hero.

Smiles associated with pleasure and good memories. The constant flickers of recognition that Geoffrey Palmer encounters exude a warmth of, ‘here is someone I know, someone I like. ‘

Of course, if you are in the public eye, if you are a well-known professional actor, such recognition comes with the territory, but in Geoffrey’s case he carved himself a unique international persona as well as a special local relationship with Buckinghamshire and the Great Missenden area where he lived for the last forty-three years.

The magic of Roald Dahl’s stories and rhymes that began our tour of county heroes now come full circle when we encounter the additional ingredients of Geoffrey Palmer’s voice, and acting skills as he brings the BFG and so many other tales, stories and plays to audio life. This is the other powerful and highly recognisable quality that he holds and uses to perfection – his voice. Flickers of recognition occur in exactly the same way on hearing his warm, controlled, perfectly pitched tones that guide us through the television world of Grumpy Old Men or famously lending his articulate, clipped British tones to the German language to inform us about Audi cars and “Vorsprung durch Technik.”

Geoffrey Palmer is a comfortable presence in so many people’s lives. For many he is, and will always be, Lionel Hardcastle romancing Jean (Judi Dench) in As Time Goes By. For others he’ll always be Ben Parkinson, father to Russell and Adam and husband to Ria (Wendy Craig – ‘Butterflies.’) . Yet others recall the hapless Jimmy, brother-in-law to Reginald Perrin (Leonard Rossiter – The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin

Or, like me, do you miss the batty Major Harry Kitchener Wellington Truscott (Fairly Secret Army) or perhaps look forward to meeting Admiral Roebuck again as he and ‘M’ (Judi Dench) deal with a belligerent James Bond (Tomorrow Never Dies).? A very long list indeed is possible here but before such a list of credited performances began its genesis, Geoffrey Palmer’s own entry to the world was on June 4th 1927 in North Finchley, a companion for his three-year old brother.

Geoffrey as Jimmy Anderson in David Nobb’s The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-79)

As you explore Geoffrey’s early life with him, it becomes clear that he was keen on following a military career of some kind. At Highgate School he ended up as Captain of Shooting, claiming it was the only thing he was good at unless you count the award of a ‘really naff dictionary of quotations for “the reading in chapel prize.”‘

As a teenager he aspired to what he regarded as the glamour of the Fleet Air Arm but at the medical discovered he was marginally colour blind so that avenue was closed off. In the event, by 1946, he had opted for the Marines as an HO (Hostilities Only) recruit, reporting to 928 Squad at Deal. He looks back on this time, not with misplaced nostalgia, but with a real affection that not only did he enjoy being a Royal Marine, he was also quite good at it. Indeed, his talent for shooting, which had won him accolades at school, came into its own as he undertook a small arms instructor course and eventually was promoted to full Corporal Instructor

Geoffrey Palmer as a recruit for the Marines in 1946

In 1948, as an NCO, he left the Service, receiving a special grant given to ex-servicemen for re-training in ‘Civvy Street.’ In Geoffrey’s case this involved something to do with Dutch baked beans and Swedish salad cream in an import-export business but more importantly he confided, ‘I just spent the time looking at the girls and thinking, “Oh gosh, I wish I were brave enough to ask them out.”‘

This ex-corporal instructor, now trainee business man, but hopelessly shy when it came to dating, was still living with his parents in North Finchly. He did break through his shyness enough to have a girlfriend and it is to her that credit must go for introducing Geoffrey Palmer to the acting profession he was to make so much his own.

While he enjoyed the world of the local Woodside Park Players, his disillusionment with the business world was growing. He recalls, ‘The girlfriend had got me into the local amateur dramatic society around this time and I suddenly thought one day, I really cannot do this bean rubbish anymore. I was twenty-one or twenty-two and had no interest in trying to sell Dutch baked beans and I remember thinking I’d better go and see the personnel manager, Mr. Ritter. So I spoke to his secretary, it was a Friday I remember, and I said I’d like to see Mr. Ritter. “What’s it about?” she demanded. “Well I think I want to leave,” I said. “I’ll see if he’s free,” and I went in.

“Yes Palmer. What is it?”

“I want to leave sir.”

“What are we paying you?”

“Five pounds a week sir.”

“Suppose we give you seven?”

And I though, “You s**t. If I was worth seven why didn’t you give me seven last year?” I said, “No thank you,” and left.’

He drifted a little, helping an accountant friend but that was not his forte. ‘I couldn’t add up or anything.’ He persevered with the amateur dramatics, discovering to his amazement that some people actually made a living out of being an actor. He also found it was very pleasurable to experience people laughing and clapping at the end of a performance. He was hooked.

So in his early twenties, he placed his foot on the first rung of his theatrical ladder, landing a job with the Q Theatre on the north side of Kew Bridge. The catch was that he was an unpaid trainee assistant manager.

Surviving for around a year he did achieve waged status of about three pounds a week or so before moving to the Grand Theatre, Croydon, as an assistant stage manager. Locating props and playing incidental parts, his theatrical apprenticeship steadily progressed until he was taken into the repertory company as ‘juvenile character.’ He began working in rep, e.g. Leatherhead, Canterbury, Guilford, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, building a reputation by his mid-twenties as a ‘youngish leading man.’

Despite having what Geoffrey told me was a ‘grotty agent,’ it was right time, right place, right age, that worked in Geoffrey’s favour as his theatrical training was ideal for the new doors opening in commercial television around the mid 1950’s.

At this time, Geoffrey was sharing a sparse flat ‘at the wrong end of Chelsea’ close to Granada’s London studios, so picked up lots of bits and pieces with them. He also worked for ATV when they had the Wood Green Empire and the Hackney Empire before they were at Elstree. He worked with some of the top variety shows and comedians of that time such as Arthur Askey, Harry Worth, Dickie Valentine and his own hero, Jimmy James.

Geoffrey’s famous career, yet to be realized, as a voice-over artist, could have been said to have started at that time when he was given ‘out of vision’ announcements:

From the North, Granada presents, THE ARMY GAME, starring Michael Medwin, William Hartnell, Alfie Bass, etc. etc. .’

Geoffrey loved working on The Army Game. Apart from the fact that the studio was only five-hundred yards from his flat, and it ran for over four years, Geoffrey fondly recalls, ‘I got seven guineas for nothing – for half a minute’s work every Friday night and then I’d do something for the odd quiz show – I was the local, cheap, jack-of-all-trades.’

What really got him closer to being in front of the television cameras was his job on The Alan Young Show around 1957. Geoffrey explains. ‘Alan Young wasn’t happy the way the show was shot when they did the first one – so he wanted someone (this was live television as well) to act his part in the dress rehearsal of the two main sketches – brilliantly funny sketches – that made up the show. He wanted someone to do what he did on camera so he could see if the camera shots were right and decide what he thought should be a close up. So that was my job. I did what he did on the rehearsal and then I was finished. But again, being around, I did the ‘out of vision’ announcement, “From the North, Granada, it’s The Alan Young Show, starring Alan Young, Petula Clark our guest star this week,” (or Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson) or whoever it was. It wasn’t because I had a wonderful voice. I just happened to be there.’

Sorry Geoffrey – the voice cannot be discounted so easily. His television commercial work has become legendary. The pitch, the diction, shading and richness of his voice, honed by thousands of hours of acting was excellent then and remained first class throughout that professional strand of his long career. Way back in 1984, the Audi car advertisement is something still associated with him.

‘A German lady who lived opposite,’ recalled Geoffrey, ‘said it was a pity that everyone talked about that commercial. “This is very silly,” she said, “because Geoffrey does not pronounce it correctly,” totally missing the point!’

Geoffrey’s theatrical career and television work continued apace during the 1960’s when he was wining parts in some of the legendary series of that decade: Police Surgeon; The Avengers; The Saint; Top Secret; Out Of The Unknown; Z-Cars; Paul Temple; Dr. Who: and many many more were collected along the way. However one series in particular had another significance for him.

Geoffrey Palmer’s West-End Debut at the Garrick Theatre December 7th 1963 in George Ross & Campbell Singer’s boardroom mystery Difference of Opinion. Geoffrey is standing at the back. Among those seated are Raymond Huntley; John Gregson; Kynaston Reeves & Timothy Bateson.

It was a series for Granada called Family Solicitor, and it was , while staying in digs, he met the woman he was to fall in love with. Still a shy, quiet man, he pluck up the courage to propose to and marry Sally Green in 1963. That same autumn, they moved to Buckinghamshire, the county they have loved and lived in for over forty-three years.

Geoffrey continued to become more and more sought after for television work – his face now very recognizable, even if the name was still one yet to be more firmly established in people’s minds. His work in the 1970’s however, soon put that right. In 1971, John Osborne cast him in his play West Of Suez at The Royal Court Theatre and Lindsay Anderson grabbed him for a key role as the doctor in his hit film O Lucky Man (1973). But for Geoffrey, it was a telephone call to his Buckinghamshire home in 1974, that really confirmed he had arrived.

The call was from Sir Laurence Olivier who offered him a part in his National Theatre production of J.B. Priestly’s play Eden End. He did not audition him as he knew he wanted Geoffrey Palmer to play Priestly’s Geoffrey Farrant in this plot of family undercurrents, which he did to great acclaim. Other substantial parts with legendary actors were on the cards, so whatever else he went on to achieve he ended up not only working for Sir Laurence Olivier, but with, and for, Sir John Gielgud, Paul Scofield and Sir Ralph Richardson. ‘Not a bad bunch to work with, is it?’ he said to me.

The fame that was to come his way, though, did not rest in his highly regarded theatrical performances, but as one of television’s favourite sit-com stars. This began in the mid 1970’s with The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and the role of Jimmy. However, it may never had been, as Geoffrey explained to me, ‘John Howard Davies directed the pilot – the first one they did – and the pilot worked so then they commissioned a whole series, but Jimmy didn’t appear in the first one and I did not know Howard Davies. So if Jimmy had appeared in the pilot, someone else would have got the job. Then my career would have been very, very different.’

Geoffrey knew Gareth Gwenlan who directed the series, as he had previously worked on some pilots with him written by Carla Lane and by Michael Frayn. After the first series of Fall and Rise, Gareth came down to Geoffrey’s Buckinghamshire home with another Carla Lane script to show him and that was Butterflies.’ So it is very much a toss of the coin’, he told me.

I have refrained (until now) from mentioning what have become almost obligatory and usually first line introductory descriptions of Geoffrey’s face. It is very personal to refer to someone as lugubrious, to refer to their hangdog countenance or blood-hound looks, or see see them as having an archetypal middle-class, possibly slightly dull, down-trodden husband expression (whatever that may be). Sue Lawley began a Desert Island Discs radio programme with the words, ‘His mournful expression and rich voice have made him a household name.’

These descriptions and many more abound, not with the taint of insult but affection, and, as his sit-com fame increased, so did the ways of describing him. When we spoke of this, he did seem to have sneaking preferences for one piece that began, ‘The rugged, craggy face that has often dominated our television screens in recent years.’

Can you be rugged, craggy and lugubrious? I’m not sure but in the final analysis, he has an actor’s face – one of expression and interest that holds the viewers, theatre audiences and film-goers alike. He has a voice that similarly compels listening attention and a superb acting talent that sees him range from Trollope to Shakespeare to Dickens and Priestly on the one hand, and to John Cleese, Carla Lane, David Nobbs and Bob Larbey on the other. It was no surprise, except to Geoffrey, that his ‘Services to the Theatre’ were rewarded in the 2005 honours list with an OBE.

His role as Lionel Hardcastl, romancing Jean in As Time Goes By has scored quite an astounding following. In some cases, as in America, this is their first introduction to Geoffrey Palmer, British actor. For American ladies of a certain age who fantasize about being Judy Dench’s Jean, they have dedicated websites and even meet up for ‘Lionel Hardcastle Lunches.’

Of course Lionel is never there but imagine the scene should one Geoffrey Palmer happen to call by! Geoffrey is more realistic about As Time Goes By. ‘You would think it was a Bertrand Russell or something the way people talk about it – I know it is not. I think it is a very clever situation comedy – end of story. That’s all there is.’

Geoffrey’s celebrity status does not sit easily on his shoulders as one might imagine. For him, his job happens to be that of an actor, albeit now a very successful and well-known one who is very much a part of the Buckinghamshire scene – a local celebrity of course, but the label is not of his choice, it just comes with the territory. Had he not been Geoffrey Palmer, actor, he quite fancied his hand at farming – not so many ‘gentle smiles’ in farming and probably not so many requests to support good causes and turn up at local events – something he does with a refreshing frankness. Commenting on a recent charity wristband campaign for the local Iain Rennie Hospice at Home, for which he is patron, he explained to me,’If they want publicity, the’ve got a better chance of doing it if they have a quasi-celeb. otherwise the Bucks Free Press, or the Gazette or the Herald won’t turn up at all. I don’t do much.’

Geoffrey does have a friendly, accessible character that endears him to his local community, and it is the same accessibility he would extend to anyone whom he felt he could assist: a willingness to turn up and be Geoffrey Palmer – we might see Lionel, Jimmy or Ben – that’s up to us – and bring publicity and attention to the cause in hand.

He doesn’t do much – he’s just Geoffrey Palmer, OBE, actor and Buckinghamshire Hero

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The ‘Silent Work’ of Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, thankfully, is a well-acknowledged international hero. A legend of nursing and female fortitude in an unscrupulous male world, her nursing heroism in the thick of the Crimean War of 1854 is well known and revered the world over. Florence Nightingale_CeremonyService to Commemorate Florence Nightingale: The Ceremony of Handing over the Lamp every year on her birthday 12th May.

Here is my glimpse of the other side of the ‘Lady of the Lamp’ inspired by a letter I stumbled across written by her close friend Benjamin Jowett* on 31st December 1879.

I have reproduced the relevant extracts that made me determined to learn more about my ‘local’ Florence Nightingale so I too, could  share in Jowett’s gratitude to this incredible woman.  Hence dear blog-reader – I do hope it will similarly, provide another side to your existing perception of Ms. Nightingale – I am still in awe of what I learnt from what Jowett refers to as Florence’s  ‘Silent Work’ at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire.

There was a great deal of romantic feeling about you twenty-three years ago when you returned from the Crimea* and now you work on in silence and nobody knows how many lives are saved by your nurses in hospitals; how many thousand soldiers are now alive owing to your forethought and diligence ; how many natives of India in this generation and in generations to come have been preserved from famine and oppression and the load of debt by the energy of a sick lady who can scarcely rise from her bed. The world does not know all this or think about it. But I know it and often think about it.”  * (Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) Master of Balliol College, Oxford)

*Typical example of Jowett’s ‘romantic feeling’: A Brasso Polish ‘Reward’ CardFlorence Nightingale_1                                                                    1910-1920?

Here are the quite remarkable Buckinghamshire days at Claydon House, not acknowledged nor known about as much they should be, especially in this current Covid-19 Pandemic.  In this 21st century, her work then, can still inform modern health expertise today, especially in how to approach the continuous and profound need to efficiently, effectively and dramatically, improve public hygiene year on year. Certainly in terms of conscientious and moral attitudes and genuine concern for humanity, there is no equal.

So many lessons are still to be learned from this hero of heroes on this current 200th celebration of her birth – in particular – her genuine love for humanity and a passion that knows no politics or selfish thoughts in the endeavours to deliver the highest possible nursing care, sanitary and healthy living environments of its kind anywhere in the world.

It was from Claydon House in Middle Claydon, near Buckingham when Florence was in her forties and living with older sister, Frances Parthenhope Nightingale, (Lady Verney, by marriage), that Florence created detailed and profound treatises on hygiene and nursing training to the highest standards. It is where she regaled against the dangers of ‘innocent’ rural ignorance about issues of sanitation and too much reliance upon traditional folk-driven patterns of behaviour, writing from her heart to her “Bucks Cottage Mothers.”Florence Nightingale_Claydon House


It was also the place from where she wrote countless letters to others, who she felt might campaign with her on matters of nursing practice and issues of improving hygiene by the creation of health visitors. She gave unstinting support to Buckingham doctor George De’Ath, whose goal was to make Buckingham, ..’one of the healthiest, cleanest and most attractive towns in the country.’

So how did this remarkable woman, born on 12th May 1820 to wealthy English parents in Florence, Italy, come to be living and working in Buckinghamshire?

We do know from her many conversations and letters, that Florence believed in fate and at seventeen years of age claimed to have had a mystical and religious experience that was going to lead her, she knew not where, but not to the conventional family expectations of marriage , children and a womanly domestic life. She was emphatic that was not to be her destiny. Both her and her older sister (by one year), Frances Parthenhope had a rigorous home education from their Cambridge-educated father, William Edward Nightingale. The family maintained two homes, one in Embley Park in Hampshire and their country home in Derbyshire.Florence Nightingale_Derbyshire

It was however, at the age of 31, that Florence found herself at an important crossroads in her life. Weary of her relatively inactive home life in a wealthy family and the polite rigours of being ‘on show’, she wrote:

I was always expected to be in the drawing-room. Our society consisted of clever intellectual men, all of very good society…they never talked gossip or foolishly. But they took up all our time.

She also recorded, “..a sickly childhood, the climate of England did not suit me after that of Italy where I was born. I could never like the plays of other children. But the happiest time of my life, was during a year’s illness which I had when I was six years old. I never learnt to write ‘till I was eleven or twelve, owing to a weakness in my hands. And I was shy to misery. At seven years of age we had a governess, who brought me up most severely. She was just and well intentioned. But the first idea I can recollect when I was a child was a desire to nurse the sick. My daydreams were all of hospitals and I visited them whenever I could. I never communicated it to any one. It would have been laughed at; but I thought God had called me to serve Him in that way.”

This was written on 24th July 1851 and from that year onward her life was never to be the same again. From lamenting her private, undeclared desire to nurse the sick, she was able, that same year, to spend three months at the ‘Institution of Protestant Deaconesses’ in Germany  [Kaiserwerth, near to Dusseldorf] where she learnt professional nursing skills. This made her determined to introduce such nursing training into English hospitals, but Florence was not an experienced nurse yet and her family were totally against her pursuing such a vocation.

She wrote. “…while the intellectual foot has made a step in advance, the practical foot has remained behind. Woman stands askew. Her education for action has not kept pace with her education for acquirement.

Florence was an intellectual ‘time-bomb’ of untold knowledge and determination and so it was the Crimean War of 1854, which literally exploded into her life.
She commented how it almost ‘drowned’ her in her desire for ‘education for action’ and it was this determination not to drown that turned her into the remarkable nursing pioneer that the world now reveres. Her great friend, Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College Oxford, said to her,

You are a myth in your own lifetime.”
Florence herself said when she returned after three years witnessing the horrors of the Crimea, “I stand at the alter of the murdered men and while I live I fight their cause.”

Immortalised by the famous poet Henry Longfellow in 1857, she became affectionately known as the “Lady of the Lamp.”

                         Lo! In that house of misery

                        A Lady with a lamp I see,

                        Pass through the glimmering gloom

                        And flit from room to room

                        And slow, as in a dream of bliss,

                        The speechless sufferer turns to kiss

                        Her shadow, as it falls

                        Upon the darkened walls.Florence Nightingale_lampHowever, her nursing work in Crimea was only to be a tiny part of a career spanning over half a century. Crimea was her catalyst, the springboard, as some observers have called it – to transform not only the lowly image of the British soldier, but the disreputable public perception of nursing.

At thirty-six years of age, Florence Nightingale began a long journey to revolutionize nursing practices and sanitation policies as well as hospital designs. It was a revolution that would influence the world. Over two hundred books, reports and pamphlets came from her pen following her profound nursing experiences in the Crimean war, not to mention her highly informative letters to doctors, practitioners, friends and colleagues, more often than not, written from her desk at Claydon House.

So what of her Buckinghamshire roots? What part of her legendary life as a world hero and the first woman to receive the British Order of Merit, was spend in this county?

Her county connection lies in a romance that was never to be.

While Florence was always to be ‘the lady of the lamp,’ her brother-in-law, Sir Harry Verney, MP and 2nd Baronet of Claydon House, was to be the gentleman ‘holding a torch.’

A torch for Florence to whom he proposed in 1857. Florence turned him down. However, while staying with the Nightingale family at Embery Park, Harry fell in love with Florence’s sister Frances and so in June 1858, they were married. Florence’s strong Buckinghamshire roots took hold therefore when her sister became Lady Verney and Claydon House became her second home.

Florence Nightingale_1858Florence photographed  in 1858

Florence went to stay at Claydon House over a period of 30 years, from 1860 when she was aged forty to 1894, aged seventy-four.

Florence Nightingale_SISTER

Florence Nightingale’s sister: Frances Parthenhope Nightingale (Lady Verney)

Sir Harry remained so devoted to Florence, so supportive of her work, particularly in his constant attempts to lobby the House of Commons on her behalf, he became affectionately known by other MP’s as “The Member for Florence Nightingale.”Florence Nightingale_Harry Verney

Sir Harry Verney: Florence Nightingale’s brother-in-law.

It was in her Buckinghamshire days that Florence continued her ‘silent work’ as her friend Benjamin Jowett called it. Here she devised plans and policies that were to revolutionise the future of medical care, rural living and sanitary issues, as she became immersed in the health and nursing interests of the county.Florence Nightingale_Benjamin Jowett

Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) Master of Balliol College, Oxford

She had already published a book entitled “Notes on Hospitals,” in 1859 and so her remarkable  expertise in detailing  the best possible hospital provision and management was sought for a new Buckinghamshire hospital to be built in Aylesbury – The Royal Bucks Hospital.

She took to planning what she felt would be the perfect, small country hospital; from its inception in the Spring of 1860 until the laying of the foundation stone by her sister, Lady Verney, the following April, to its completion in June 1862. Her remarkable knowledge of the best possible interior layout, spaciousness, ventilation and natural light for nursing efficiency, disease control and patient health and comfort led to Aylesbury’s Royal Bucks Hospital being a pioneer hospital in all respects.

At the same time she had begun her Aylesbury project in 1860, she celebrated the opening of the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses at St, Thomas’s Hospital in London. The very first training facility of its kind. Florence would entertain the nurse probationers and their ‘Home Sister’ from St. Thomas’s Training Home, at Claydon House where they could relax in the countryside with ‘Mother-Chief’ as they affectionately renamed Florence.Florence Nightingale_nurses

Remarkably, Florence was in her seventies when she produced some of her most detailed and supportive plans for Buckinghamshire, outlining her philosophies and practical remedies for what she termed, “Civil and Military Science of Life and Death.”

Her real passion in those days was directed at the rural poor and their health; her “Bucks Cottage Mothers”, as she called them. She wanted to transform their homes into healthy places to live and bring up their children by educating them by means of trained visitors who could “ in touch and in love, so to speak, with the rural poor mothers and girls, and know how to show them better things without giving offence.”

From 1891-2,  she worked with North Bucks Technical Education Committee and, in particular, with the Medical Officer of Health For North Bucks, Dr. De’Ath.
In this endeavour, she gave advice and lots of encouragement to the dedicated and enthusiastic Dr. De’Ath who was determined to develop the highest standards of rural nursing possible. This meant training suitable local ladies and then trying to persuade families to allow these ladies into their cottages to deal with often disastrously unsanitary environments. The ‘Health Missioners’ as they were called, were to be trained by the indefatigable Dr. De’Ath. This was quite a remarkable scheme and Buckinghamshire was the very first county to benefit from Florence Nightingale’s vision and Dr. De’Ath’s practical skills.

Writing from Claydon House on 17th October 1891, Miss Nightingale in a confidential letter to the North Bucks Technical Education Committee Chairman, Frederick Verney, said of Dr. De’Ath,
I have seen him and have good hope that he will prove himself to be as competent as he certainly is willing, from a high sense of duty, to undertake this work – the work, that is, of training those who are to teach practical domestic sanitation to the mothers and girls, and who will be qualified by a course of work , theoretical – that is, to give them the ‘reason why’ and practical to show them how to do it, under Dr. De’Ath. I know of no such school of health now in existence for teaching of this kind as would be started in Buckingham, if this is project is carried out successfully. Buckingham may become a centre of supply of trained Health Missioners – not only for its immediate neighbourhood only, but for many parts of England where such work is sorely needed.

Florence concluded by wishing North Bucks , “distinguish itself by its wisdom and success in giving such an education to rural mothers and in waging the war against national deterioration of health and vigour.”

Indeed, by May 1892, North Bucks, in the capable hands of Dr. De’Ath, did distinguish itself by providing a quite remarkable training system of comprehensive lectures and an examination paper which he gave to sixteen ladies who wanted to be Rural Health Missioners but also around seventy other ladies attending out of personal interest to learn more about sanitation issues and Florence Nightingale’s claim that:

Life or Death may lie in a grain of dust or a drop of water.”

In a letter to Dr. De’Ath dated 13th October 1892, written from Claydon House, she said, “I give you joy with all my heart and soul at the success of your opening Lady Lectures – especially as it appears that at least Miss Bartlett had so many invitations to visit cottages. This is capital. Go on and prosper. God bless your work. I hope the Lady Missioners always report to you how many invitations they had had to Cottagers.”

Then in a section she headed ‘Private’ and showing her faith in Dr. De’Ath by seeking his advice, she added;

Could you give us a simple wholesome way for Cottage Mothers to stop up the gaping chinks between the boards of the floor? Tow and red lead is recommended – but babies might find red lead dangerous. Tow and tar is messy. What is the best thing? May all your measures prove successful. But we must not expect too much practical progress at first.”

Yours ever sincerely
F.  Nightingale. (13th October 1892)

Dr. De’Ath did expect a great deal and worked far too hard for his health to make his plans come true. Margaret Verney recorded, “Death came to him at the age of thirty-nine, hastened by the over-strain of continual work. But his example is one of those influences which raise and build up the whole community.”

Dr. De’Ath had built up the community desire for healthy and sanitary living, whilst Florence had been building up an international movement towards the same goals – two heroes in perfect accord.

Florence, who had become more and more bedridden, continued to stay for prolonged periods at Claydon House, throwing herself behind all manner of local schemes to improve rural education, health and happiness. She became involved in the idea to provide a Village Free Library in the Claydons and she personally donated £50 towards buying books.

This extraordinary pioneer of so many beneficial developments for health and well-being did not confine her thoughts solely to assisting people. She delighted the children of Claydon House with the most entertaining and story-like notes sent from the confines of her bed. They would receive these pencil messages from Aunt Florence urging them to suspend mutton bones outside to help the birds get through the winter months.

She would say, “The Tom-tits have sent me a Deputation headed by the little one who, if it were to take off its clothes, would find a roomy dwelling in a walnut. They state that two gigantic black parties, called, they believe, rooks, have feloniously carried off their two best bones – Haste for thy life, post haste.

Florence Nightingale, the perfect mixture of kindness, determination, and remarkable foresight, passed away in her ninetieth year on 13th August 1910. She was mourned by so many across the world but also they rejoiced in her many achievements.

Florence Nightingale_FUNERAL

In her Buckinghamshire days when she pioneered the Health Missioners Scheme in Buckingham, she prepared a letter for the visiting ladies to show or read to her ‘Bucks Cottage Mothers’ It began ,

Dear Hard-working friends,
I am a hard working woman too
May I speak with you?

And will you excuse me tho’ not a mother?”

Indeed, she was a mother, A Buckinghamshire Hero and “Mother-Chief.”



(This article was taken and adapted from the paperback book titled “Buckinghamshire Heroes , written by David Kidd-Hewitt (Countryside Books & first published in 2005: ISBN 1 85306 929 9:  other articles in this book are about, Road Dahl; Bletchley Park: Station X; Sir John Mills; Ken,’Snakehips’ Johnson; Thomas Ball; John Hampden; Dame Francis Dove; John Newton; & Geoffrey Palmer, OBE.

Buckinghamshire Heroes


If you’ve a musical bent…………………….

Florence Nightingale_music

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Cot-Quean : From insult to compliment

“Since you have given us the character of a wife who wears the breeches, pray say something of a husband that wears the petticoat.”

This plea from ‘a Lady’ in a letter to the editor of The Spectator dated Friday September 12th 1712 stared up at me as I casually flicked through a recent acquisition entitled:

THE SPECTATOR. VOLUME the SEVENTH: CAREFULLY CORRECTED: GLASGOW Printed by William Duncan junior                                            MDCCLV11

This 1757 volume drew me into the use of a word that I had totally forgotten about:


This was used a great deal in the 17th & 18th centuries to refer to a man acting as the housewife and meddling in household affairs. It was in the Spectator’s elaborate index which reads as follows:

           “Cot-Queans, defcribed by a lady who has one for her hufband.

I recall that young Shakespeare’s use of this word by the nurse in Romeo and Juliet toward her master Lord Capulet was certainly a tad controversial – but it seems Lady Capulet had no difficulties with her long-time family servant (Nurse) calling her husband a cot-quean, as she immediately added

Ay, you have been a mouse-hunt in your time” as they both exit.


                                           Romeo and Juliet


Hall in Capulet’s house.

[Enter LADY CAPULET and Nurse]


Hold, take these keys, and fetch more spices, nurse.


They call for dates and quinces in the pastry.



Come, stir, stir, stir! the second cock hath crow’d,

The curfew-bell hath rung, ’tis three o’clock:

Look to the baked meats, good Angelica:

Spare not for the cost.


Go, you cot-quean, go,

Get you to bed; faith, You’ll be sick to-morrow

For this night’s watching.


No, not a whit: what! I have watch’d ere now

All night for lesser cause, and ne’er been sick.



Ay, you have been a mouse-hunt in your time;

But I will watch you from such watching now.

[Exeunt LADY CAPULET and Nurse]


It seems the our anonymous lady had read a very biased piece in The Spectator  by the editor (male) about poor husbands who are constantly nagged and hen-pecked by their wives who are wearing the breeches about the house. She felt it was time to adjust his readers’ perceptions. Here is her letter in full (adjusted only to replace the plethora of “f’s ” with our modern use of  “s” etc.)


Mr Spectator,

You have given us a lively picture of that kind of husband who comes under the denomination of the hen-peck’d;  but I do not remember that you have ever touched upon one that is of the quite different character, and who, in several places of England goes by the name of a Cot-Quean.

I have the misfortune to be joined for life with one of this character, who in reality, is more a woman than I am. He was bred up under the tuition of a tender mother, ’till she had made him as good a housewife as herself. He could preserve apricots and make jellies before he had been two years out of the nursery. He was never suffered to go abroad, for fear of catching cold; when he should have been hunting down a buck, he was by his mother’s side learning how to season it or put it in a crust; and was making paper boats with his sisters, at an age when other young gentlemen are crossing the seas, or travelling into foreign countries.

He has the whitest hands that you ever saw in your life and raises paste better than any woman in England. These qualifications make him a sad husband.: he is perpetually in the kitchen, and has a thousand squabbles with the cook-maid. He is better acquainted with the milk-score than his steward’s accounts.

I fret to death when I hear him find fault with a dish that is not dressed to his liking and instructing his friends that dine with him about the best pickle for a walnut, or sauce for a haunch of venison.

With all this, he is a very good-natured husband and never fell out with me in his life but once upon the over-roasting of a dish of wild fowl. At the same time, I must own I would rather he was a man of rough temper, that would treat me horribly sometimes, than of such an effeminate, busy nature in a province that does not belong to him.cot_queen_4

Since you have given us the character of a wife who wears the breeches, pray say something of a husband that wears the petticoat. Why should not a female character be as ridiculous in a man, as a male character in one of our sex?

I am, &c


Well, how times have changed. The more such descriptions went on, the more we seemed to closing on on a combination of the so-called ‘modern man’ sharing the burdens of housework and the plethora of celebrity chefs who make a living being in charge of a kitchen and all the domestic duties therein. So has Cot-Quean finally swapped its insult in the past to a compliment today?



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‘FROM OUR BOW-STREET REPORTER’ The Cato Street Conspiracy of February 23rd 1820

Cato-Plaque©SPUDGUN67FROM OUR BOW STREET REPORTER_IMAGE       ‘From Our Bow-Street Reporter,’ The Times (London: England) 25 Feb 1820:3 [1]


Sunday, February 23rd, 2020, is the two hundred year anniversary of a much, misunderstood ‘dastardly plot‘ in London, England to assassinate the prime minister, Lord Liverpool and all his cabinet ministers as they dined at a private residence in Grosvenor Square. The plot was thwarted by the Bow-Street Runners and has, in our modern, turbulent, political times, been reduced to a little-known historical foot-note; however, it is so very much more than that. [2]

The current prime minister would do well to mark this anniversary and take heed of the message it contains.

For those of you who have seen Mike Leigh’s wonderfully crafted historical drama Peterloo (2018) – a film marking the 200th anniversary of the wicked atrocity known as the Peterloo Massacre, The Cato-Street Conspiracy is the real-life, sequel – yet to become the film it deserves to be. 

Peterloo_1The Peterloo Massacre took place at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, Lancashire, England on Monday 16 August 1819 when cavalry charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

It is also reflects a quite remarkable moment in print media history that has slipped by almost unnoticed.

That is to say, the stalwart, pioneering Thomas Barnes’s editorship of The Times newspaper and William Innell Clement’s equally pioneering works of pictorial genius in the Sunday Observer –  both serendipitously coming together for a brief moment in time during February and March two hundred years ago this year and creating a media watershed in reporting styles that deserves all the recognition it can get.

Without more ado, here is the result of my original research marking the two hundred years since the reporting of the Cato Street Conspiracy of February 23rd 1820, with the necessary footnotes for anyone interested in taking this a little further – it deserves more scholarship than hitherto.

CATO_STREET_STABLEWRETCHES                          Source: The Times Editorial (London, England), Tuesday, Feb 29, 1820; pg. 2; (the                                              conspirators rented stable premises in  Cato-street, Edgware in London)

The exposure and subsequent print-media reporting of the Cato-street conspiracy of February 23rd 1820, has been woefully ignored by academia and surprisingly so, given the rise and rise of criminology and its continual forays into its historical heritages.[3]

When the watershed moments of ‘Crime and the Media’ literature appeared in the 1970’s, there was a flurry of interest into the horrors of the Peterloo Massacre of August 1819 in order to highlight the multitudinous and exceptionally cruel disregards of a manipulative and corrupt government and its determination to control print-media content, but little regard paid to the innovative and evolving style of late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century media reporting. Indeed, as far back as 1961, Raymond Williams in his classic study, ‘The Long Revolution,’ was clearly aware of these significant academic failings.[4]

His ‘general-defects’ as he termed them are still seriously under-researched as this paper aims to demonstrate: They are:

  • ‘..a quite widespread failure to co-ordinate the history of the press with the economic and social history within which it must necessarily be interpreted.

  • Even more, there is a surprising tendency to accept certain formulas about the development, which seem less to arise from the facts of press development than to be brought to them. The general cultural expansion has been interpreted in a particular way, and the history of the press has been fitted, often against the facts, to this general interpretation.’[5]

The momentous discovery of the Cato-street conspiratorial plot to assassinate senior government ministers, including the prime minister, Lord Liverpool should have left a highly significant academic marker, if not for historians in general, certainly for the new wave of radical criminologists keen to right the wrongs so clearly highlighted by Williams, particularly in terms social and economic contexts.[6]

However, the brief myopic focus on Peterloo and the subsequent social control excesses of the repressive, so-called Six Acts, as well as the  significance of the Black Act a century earlier (1723),  left the Cato-street plot as an insignificant and somewhat ‘loony’ side-show rather than a watershed moment in both media reporting style and illustrative ambitions which it deserves.[7]

This paper will make a first attempt to address this neglect – if only to offer future students of all persuasions a worthwhile historical haven from the obsessive focus on crime and the mass media of the 1960’s and 70’s and the misleading academic worship of so-called media generated ‘moral panics’ and their over-hyped cast of ‘mods and rockers’.[8]

The Cato-street conspiracy, its cast and crew and its influence in changing newspaper reporting styles and illustrative ambitions, particularly those of the Sunday Observer and The Times newspapers should be the worthy recipients of the real watershed entitlement a dozen or so decades earlier in the 1820’s.

How did the news of the Cato-street conspiracy break?

The government controlled publication the The London Gazette, established in the seventeenth century, to combat what it termed ‘scurrilous gossip and rumour’ – but in essence, was used to ensure a free-press was unable to evolve without penalty and censorship, produced one of their Extraordinary issues the same night that Cato was detected. It was circulated and posted before dawn on Thursday morning February 24th.[9]

Important government notices had a multitude of city, town and village official sites in which they would be posted and, in essence, the addition of ‘Extraordinary’ to their title was the equivalent today of important breaking-news and in this case also contained the dizzy attraction of a thousand pounds reward for providing the whereabouts of a certain Arthur Thistlewood. But as ‘breaking news’ this was indeed extraordinary, because as Stanhope so perceptively notes: ‘The authorities had acted with commendable and indeed suspicious alacrity; though the Gazette is dated the 24th, it was signed by Sidmouth on the 23rd, that is the very night of the arrests. It must therefore have been prepared within four hours of the events which called it forth, and Sidmouth was probably waiting to sign such a document. According to the Morning Observer, it was issued at 3am.[10]

In addition, as noted by the Morning Post, they laid claim to be the first newspaper to break the news because they had already began publishing their morning edition for Thursday 24th breaking the news of ‘Horrible Plot of Radical Reformers’ before they even received The London Gazette Extraordinary themselves.[11]

This form of distributed news spread like wild-fire and early-rise workers gathered around the scattered posting-sites in the very moments of a new dawn-breaking, the day after Cato had also been broken. This is what they read:

Cato poster

Cato-smithers                           Drawing of Arthur Thistlewood depicting his wilful murder of Richard Smithers, police                                 officer on the evening of February 23rd 1820 in the stable-loft in Cato-street, Edgware.

Also, before we can turn our attention to the innovative role of The Times newspaper and other print media in reporting the Cato-street plot we must also give due acknowledgment to the role of the broadside in providing the more regular historical equivalent of what today we term ‘breaking news’ and especially providing the lure of the latest sensational murder story.

Indeed, nowadays we glance at such news scrolling across the wonder of a twenty-first century digital screen, but this taken-for-granted provision of ‘breaking news’ does have a significant ancestry of its own. It consisted of the posting of notices, bills and broadsides as fast as the printer was able to distribute them. Consequently, both broadsheets and broadsides were sang about, sold and posted in their thousands in the streets of all large cities. Some left in coffee and chop shops, barbers and bars, taverns and theatres of all cultural denominations.

When news of a plot to attack his Majesty’s ministers broke, apart from the extraordinary issuing of a government gazette or similar posting, this would be the main source of such a dramatic news event or ‘moral outrage’ story available to the general population.

It’s really a form of printed ‘town crier’, written almost as if it was being shouted at the top of the voice to the populace but unlike its human form, capable of carrying intricate wood-cut illustrations and being read over and over again – one to another and, as stated earlier, left – literally – on pillar and post. The potential for major inaccuracies leading to that somewhat twenty-first century tainted phrase ‘fake news’ was also rife and indeed the Cato-street plot was no exception in its reported form. Ballad printer, Mr. Pollock of Union-street, North Shields – a prolific writer, printer and distributor of ‘near the knuckle’ lyrics involving death, lust, sex and murder as well as politically themed melodies with titles such as ‘Whartonian orgies, calculated for the meridian of South Shields’ had, by Friday evening February 25th  1820, arranged for the mass distribution of a broadside he headed:

Cato plot poster

This was one long sheet (16 inches x 5.5 inches) and absolutely packed tight with text; in this case it was a ‘running’ news-sheet recording the Cato-street plot gradually unfolding, firstly ‘London on Thurs Evening Feb. 24th, then Bow-street 12o’clock,  and finally  Friday Evening Feb,25th [12]

It is difficult to discover why he then got the intended venue for this treasonable plot so very wrong, given that it had evolved over Thursday Feb 24th to late Friday 25th unless it was a deliberately planned piece of misdirection – but why? Here’s his opening text for   ‘London, Thursday Evening, Feb. 24th, 1820.


London, Thursday Evening, Feb. 24th, 1820.                                                      [13]

Henry Bathurst’s home (Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) was never the intended venue, it had always been publicised that this planned Cabinet dinner would be at Lord Harrowby’s (President of the Privy Council) on the evening of February 23rd at number 39 Grosvenor Square. It was also known that the guests at this dinner would be; Earl of Liverpool; Lord Chancellor Eldon; Mr. Vansittart; Earl Bathurst; Lord Castlereagh; Lord Sidmouth; the Earl of Westmoreland; Lord Melville;  the Duke of Wellington; Mr. Canning; Mr. Robinson; Mr. Bathurst; Mr. Wellesley Pole; and the Earl of Mulgrave.

Mr. Pollock also added an additional piece of ‘plotting intelligence’ in such a way it appeared that the Cato-street conspirators had, themselves, made a choice of the most suitable venue for them. ‘They had made themselves acquainted with the residences of all the Ministers, but  it was at the house of Lord Bathhurst, on account of its extreme loneliness, that the bloody scene of their assassination was to have been transacted.’[14]

Well, we know that this Cabinet dinner was advertised to be taking place at Grosvenor Square – a mere fifteen minutes walk from Cato-street – as a lure to Cato’s leader Arthur Thistlewood, engineered by the controversial government spy George Edwards.
Pollack would likely have been unaware of the government’s own ‘honey-pot plot’ to attract the conspirators into a spy-driven booby-trap, so it seems likely he engaged in one of his trade-mark flights of fancy with broadside marketing, rather than accuracy, in mind, unless there is still a significant piece of the Cato-street jigsaw we have yet to discover [15]

As claimed, the first newspaper to reveal the Cato-street conspiracy was The Morning Post. News of the ‘The Cato Street Conspiracy’ broke on the evening of Wednesday February 23rd and hit the streets the following day led by The Morning Post ie:


                                    Morning Post, Thursday February 24th, 1820, issue 15319         


Before we examine the neglected features of the actual print and illustrative media reports of that event of Wednesday evening in Cato-street on February 23rd 1820 – there is a crucial ‘prequel’ required  in order for us to fully understand the woeful academic neglect of this watershed moment in the history of crime and the media.

The Sunday Observer and The Times: A Serendipitous Relationship

The proprietorships and editorial stances of newspapers during the later part of the 18th century and early 19th century was somewhat of a muddle and in that muddle was included one very significant Sunday publication, The Sunday Observer, that was to play a crucial part in the reporting of the Cato-street conspiracy some twenty-nine years after its shaky start on December 4th, 1791. Peter King encapsulates this media merry-go-round thus;

‘..multi-vocal, sporadic, brief, and sometimes chaotic styles of reporting created a kaleidoscope of different and often contradictory messages about, for example, the prevalence of violent crime, the effectiveness of policing, penal institutions and the quality of justice meted out by the courts.’[16]

This newspaper, alongside The Times which had become a significant reporting source for London based crime as well as in-depth coverage of magistrates’ reports at the ‘Public Office, Bow-Street’, would, serendipitously, form an alliance of both print and visual journalism unprecedented for its independent stance against a harsh government, accused of  draping itself in the bloody code of repressive laws and then aggressively supplementing that abhorrent style of civic power with the heinous Peterloo Massacre on August 16th 1819.

Both papers also provide clear examples, curiously ignored by media historians and most criminologists, of how significant movement can occur rapidly from the media stable of Young & Cohen’s ‘Mass Manipulative’ model of the press to that of the more liberal ‘Commercial Laisse-Faire’ model of structured ideological biases and, possibly back again! [17]

Within three years of its launch by W.S.Bourne, The Sunday Observer was an insignificant gossip rag, sinking into debt to be rescued briefly by Bourne’s brother pumping around £1,600 into the coffers to pay creditors. Its launch mantra ‘Unbiased by Prejudice – Uninfluenced by Party….Whose Principal is Independence,’ was quickly traded-in by a new proprietor William Clement in 1814.

As owner of The Morning Chronicle, Bell’s Life in London and The Englishman, this powerful press magnate negotiated a government subsidy – the deal being that the Civic Power, in this instance Lord Sidmouth, was able to influence and direct the political stance of the paper to suit the government’s own propaganda purposes against radical extremism – however they chose to define it.

So from Bourne’s initial but thwarted ambitions of heading towards a ‘Commercial Laissez-Faire’ model of press reporting, it was quickly and firmly stabled in the government quarters of manipulation.

Indeed the manipulative fringe benefits for Sidmouth meant he was able to recruit the papers star reporter, one Vincent Dowling, nicknamed by the Observer as ‘Mr. Scoop’ (later to become the editor of Bell’s Life in London when William Clement died in 1852).

Apart from his reporting and investigative skills, Dowling’s reputation was considerably enhanced when visiting the House of Commons on Monday evening, May 11th, 1812 and at around 5.15pm, he heard a pistol shot. He immediately ran to the lobby and seized the assassin John Bellingham who had just murdered Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.PM_shot

Dowling in his role as journalist reported:

‘The deed was perpetrated so suddenly that the man who fired the pistol was not instantly recognized by those in the lobby, but a person passing at the moment behind Mr Perceval promptly seized the pistol and which the assassin surrendered without resistance.’

The ‘person passing’ was himself.  Interesting to note that so aggrieved were many of the population about this harsh government regime, that when the coach arrived to convey the assassin to Newgate Prison, a large mob who had gathered outside the House, tried to rescue Bellingham, even though they would have no idea who he is, or why he had assassinated the prime minister. Life Guards were needed to take control of the crowd. We are now only seven years away from Peterloo and eight years from Cato-Street and the latent public mood is starting to more clearly manifest itself against the aggressive intolerances of the ‘Civic Power.’

So began the government spy network in earnest, overseen by Lord Sidmouth and particularly aimed at undermining the Spencean Philanthropists, eventually taking us directly to the Cato-street conspiracy and its significance for two key watershed moments in London-based newspaper reporting styles both for the Sunday Observer and The Times – one pictorial and the other heralding an innovative editorial and journalistic style of reporting ‘From Our Bow Street Reporter. [18]

However, having recruited Vincent Dowling in 1815, Sidmouth was keen to uncover more about the followers of Thomas Spence who had died the previous year.
Thomas Spence was known to have forty highly dedicated ‘disciples’ present at his burial who were pledged to keep his ideas in the public domain. This was an anathema to the government’s determination to deny any attempts at parliamentary reform, so, apart from Dowling, Sidmouth had also recruited another spy, John Castle who was in fact a less dedicated member of the Spenceans and Sidmouth had ensured that the Chief Clerk at Bow-street, John Stafford oversaw what was intended to be a growing government secret spy network.

This marks a very turbulent political  period whereby Sidmouth’s intensive spy-network surveillance of key Spenceans, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, James Watson and Arthur Thistlewood led to prosecution attempts in December 1816 by the ‘Civil Power’ for reported treasonous oratories at a meeting in Spa Fields, Islington. Indeed, this led to Arthur Thistlewood experiencing what might be called a ‘dress rehearsal’ for a charge of ‘High Treason’ in the dock at the Old Bailey. The defendants were all acquitted once the defence revealed that the sole sources of evidence against them came from paid informants and was legally unreliable. Just over three years later, of course, in February 1820, Arthur Thistlewood would experience a very different outcome when facing this same treasonous accusation once more, this time arising from the Cato-street plot as well as a charge of the murder of officer Smithers on the evening of Wednesday February 23rd 1820.

The significance of this earlier failed prosecution attempt by Sidmouth for our media analysis into the Cato-Street conspiracy is two-fold.

Firstly, The Times newspaper noticeably intensified its growing cynical editorial stance towards the government as well as the so-called Spencean-radicals, clearly moving towards a greater independence of thought, not to mention a highly satirically flavoured approach to what was clearly ‘something’ coming to a head.

It was that ‘something’ that was eluding the media’s, or rather the editor Thomas Barnes’s purview, but now we know of the Cato-street conspiracy;  rapacious and politically suspect government spies such as George Edwards, and one might say the radical flamboyance of the leading Spenceans , Hunt, Watson and Thistlewood, The Times leading editorial for Saturday September 11th 1819 – approximately five months before their news pages would be full of the Cato-street conspiracy, makes interesting, precursor, reading.[19]

‘The outcry which has been raised against Radical Reformers as constituting a body of men, either atrociously wicked or miserably foolish -, or indeed, as being composed of both knaves and fools – has been one on in which the better part of the people of England joined unanimously from the moment when whatever was definite in the schemes of these demoniacs began to be clearly unfolded and understood.’[20]

Clearly we see Thomas Barnes continuing his editorial stance to side-swipe the government’s ultra-heavy hand in its approach to what he regards as a people’s clamour of political reform and simmering public outrage flowing from the tragedy of the Peterloo Massacre on August 16th   – a matter of weeks previously – and not in one iota, supporting the government’s claim that all such ambitions emanate from those possessed by evil spirits. It could well explain the relative ease with which Thistlewood and indeed government spy, George Edwards, were later able to recruit fellow conspirators for the Cato-street plot in taverns and in the street.

Cato- libertyLiberty suspended! with the bulwark of the constitution: Cruikshank (1817) :On a solid platform, the base of a dismantled printing-press, ‘BRITISH PRESS’, Castlereagh, Eldon, and Ellenborough display to armed ranks of Sinecurists below, the body of Liberty, gagged and bound, hanging from a gibbet which projects to the right from the press, which suggests a guillotine. She holds a document: ‘Magna Charta’, ‘Bill of Rights’, ‘Habeas Corpus’

However, Barnes goes on to present us with a scenario of such thoughtful and predictive depth, (unfortunately too long to produce in its entirety here) that the Cato-street activities, a matter of months later, almost appear as one strand of inevitability.

So, it is between the horrors of the Peterloo massacre and the astounding audacity of the Cato-street plot that the real print-media reporting revolution lays.[21]

It is here where media history has failed to lift key moments of editorial, journalistic and – as we will shortly see – innovative visual moments into the mainstream scholarly field.

We can, this paper suggests, legitimately regard Thomas Barnes himself as both a credible historian as well as political and social theorist who has made lengthy and incisive reflections based on contemporaneous source material, much of it ephemeral and now lost to contemporary researchers.[22]

Hence when we read his editorials, and the early nineteenth century presentations of ‘breaking news’ – particularly that of the Cato-street conspiracy – yes, it comes from a newspaper editor, not an accredited academic researcher and this editor has significant vested interests in selling newspapers and making money.

However, it also comes from the pen (literally) of an editor who graduated from Cambridge in 1801, and whilst a young academic in London became a significant member of a literary circle that include Hunt himself, as well as Lamb and Hazlitt – writing incisive parliamentary sketches for the Examiner under the pseudonym ‘Criticus.’

In order to provide perhaps a tad-more justification for this paper using Mr. Barnes as a key figure in pointing historians, both political, historical and criminological, to a missing watershed period in print media history,  here is a unique ‘character reference’ from a significant academic biographer, Richard Garnett.[23]

‘A series of sketches of leading members of parliament by him, which originally appeared in the ‘Examiner’ under the signature of ‘Criticus,’ was published under the same name in 1815. …Barnes was at the time an advanced liberal, but by 1817 had sufficiently moderated his views to assume a position independent of party by accepting the editorship of The Times upon the retirement of Dr. Stoddart. He speedily proved himself the most able conductor the paper had up to that time had, and placed it beyond the reach of competition not more by the ability of his own articles than by the unity of tone and sentiment which he  knew how to impart to the publication as a whole.’[24]

So here we have a useful academic benchmark from which to judge our reading of his editorials and ‘breaking news’ items cited in this paper. Here is an extract of that significant editorial of Saturday September 11th, 1819 setting the scene for our later foray into the reporting of the Cato-street conspiracy;

‘Unfortunately, a cause of personal and domestic alienation between the upper and lower classes in the manufacturing districts had already begun to operate on the tempers of both. The reduction of wages and the scarcity of food had made the workman clamorous against his master; the rudeness of his menaces, and the violence of his complaints, produced in the master a corresponding sentiment of anger and disgust; the seditious leaders recruited largely amongst a famished people, and the minds of the affluent throughout certain parts of England were agitated by the double apprehension of seeing their own property wrested from them, and the State itself overturned. The malady spread itself all around and infected the whole class of men of property amongst whom (we speak now of certain districts) it became the fashion to consider the great body of the poor as eager for any crime, however monstrous, and as fit objects for intimidation, coercion, or chastisement no matter what form it might be administered or sanctioned by what slender pretext.’[25]Cato_Rich_poor_

This editorial maybe regarded as a personal statement and hardly ‘evidence’ of academic historical depth, but clearly, Barnes is beginning to place newly emerging pieces, happening contemporaneously, into a radical, media-generated jigsaw of some deep conflictual intensity within which conspiratorial plotting is evidently occurring from a range of possible sources. He had begun this particular editorial journey with the phrase;

‘It is curious to trace the march of men’s minds in relation to that political subject which has of late so deeply engaged them’[26]

His insatiable curiosity for tracing this ‘mental march,’ driven by such unprecedented political events as Peterloo, this paper suggests, began to herald a far more independent and pioneering form of both political journalism and crime reporting for which The Times already had the most prolific output of all the London newspapers. It was in this editorial he reminded all readers of individuals, ‘..dreadfully wounded in the streets of Manchester on a certain day,’ as well as those who had died of the atrocious and barbarous sabring they received, and he leaves us with his condemnation of the government in these words;

‘But from the songs of drunken triumph which first assailed us, for the putting down of these unarmed insurgents, how have the conquerors sunk into dismay, and its necessary attendants, pitiful subterfuge and evasion!”[27]

Secondly, in another editorial in the same issue, disguised as news, Barnes turned his attention to the ‘Radicals’ and in a very cleverly-crafted news item concerning certain plans for a grand parade heralding the arrival of ‘Orator’ Hunt into London from his trials and tribulations in Manchester, Barnes managed to portray their own misplaced grandeur, petty personal squabbles over how to suitably laud Hunt and above all, the beginnings of what The Times referred to as;

          ‘RUPTURE AMONG THE RADICALS.’ Cato_ruptured radicals

The gist, humorously explored, portrays what The Times refers to as the ‘ultras’, being Messrs Watson, Thistlewood, Waddington, Preston, Moggeridge & Co,  in direct conflict with the ‘junta’ of Messrs Galloway, Evans (junior), Ireland and others all seated in the White-Lion Tavern in Wych-street, London, as to the most appropriate way of welcoming Mr. Hunt to London. The landlord Mr. Birt was becoming increasing concerned at what The Times  referred to as ‘a discussion, more boisterous than amusing or edifying followed, in which 4 or 5 at least attempted to address the Chairman at once.’[28]

This quickly turned into Dr. Watson chairing ‘The Committee of 200’ and Mr, Galloway (so-called Chairman of the ex-Committee) exchanging deeply sarcastic appraisals of who was the most loyal and trustworthy follower and true friend to Mr. Hunt and whether there should be a public procession with drums, kettles, fifes and flags or just a grand dinner or both ?’ – The core of what ended as a tumultuous scene was based on the following dispute:

[Mr Galloway] ‘..resolved that Mr. Hunt was entitled to a “public welcome” but he conceived this to apply to a dinner only and not to the raree-show of a public procession. He disapproved altogether of that measure, as calculated to produce mischievous results, for however peaceable and orderly might be the designs of those who call themselves the friends of Mr. Hunt, it was well-known that the enemies of reform were capable of committing the most atrocious acts for the purpose of throwing back the disgrace upon the Reformers. He could scarcely imagine that those who had determined upon the procession were the real friends of Mr. Hunt and certainly they could not be in his confidence.’[29]

[Dr. Watson] ‘..violently repelled this. He repeated that the gentlemen who acted with him, friends to Mr. Hunt, had come there by invitation and they not only knew that the procession was determined upon but they actually approved the measures adopted for the purpose..The Doctor then read the following bill. “Public procession on Monday September 13th, 1819, to introduce heroic champion of free representation and people’s rights, Henry Hunt Esq., after his providential escape from the Manchester massacre, triumphantly into London. The procession will commence at Islington at 12 o’clock and proceed to Finsbury-square, Sun-street, Bishopsgate-street, Cheapside, round St. Paul’s, Ludgate-hill, Fleet-street, to the Crown and Anchor Tavern, Strand, where a dinner will be provided at 6 o’clock for subscribers, at 7s. 6d a ticket. The people are requested by their friends to convince their enemies by their unity and harmony, that they are the real advocates of peace, goodwill and order; and are particularly desired to attend to the directions of the Committee, who will appear with white wands and scarlet favours.” ’[30]

In his wry and incisive way, Barnes brought his account of this radical circus to a suitable conclusion of pettiness;

‘To describe what followed would be impossible…‘At about 1 o’clock, we left the party contending who should pay for the room, the deputation of five [Galloway] or the present committee [of Two Hundred: Watson]. Mr. Waddington swore he’d be d—-d if they should pay, for “they were invited.” Others said they had elected their own Chairman, and proceeding in their own way, had made themselves responsible. In this way they fought on, but want of rest compelled us to retire from the contest.”[31]

During this tavern debacle when Mr. Galloway had recommended that Dr. Watson and his friends should be cautious how they ‘armed their foes with weapons furnished by imprudence or misconduct.’ In response, when Dr. Watson had declared his peaceable appeal to subscribers to equip themselves with white wands and scarlet favours, one cannot help thinking that perhaps a certain Mr. Arthur Thistlewood, listening to and despairing at such trite matters as these taking on a mantel of false importance, had weapons other than white wands and scarlet favours in mind to settle this unyielding government stalemate once and for all, a mere five months later.

From Our Bow Street Reporter

Bow_Street_MicrocosmBow Street Police Court

Friday February 25th 1820 was a watershed moment for The Times newspaper. Thomas Barnes had held his nerve since The Morning Post had broken the news of the Cato-street assassination plot the previous day. The Post’s attempt to seduce readers with the ‘Authentic Particulars’ of the Cato plot, he knew to be premature. No editors had enough information at that stage to grasp the sheer incredulity and magnitude of this so called ‘Horrible Plot of Radical Reformers.’ Also, as discussed, published very early on Thursday morning (3am) was the Governments own London Gazette Extraordinary (Thursday, Feb 24th: Whitehall Feb 23rd ).

With his new, innovative, steam-driven printing technology and growing reputation to continue to distance his paper from all others when it came to independent journalism, he saw this momentous post-Peterloo collision between (some) known radical reformers, Lord Liverpool’s government, now increasingly tarnished with cruelty and indifference to the people it governed, and what appeared to be an assassination plot of such bizarre ambitions apparently emanating from an Edgware stable-loft,  a mere fifteen minute walk to the  grandeur of Grosvenor Square. This required a sharply-drawn, clearly demarcated new dedicated journalistic style. He would continue to carry news items imported from other news media but he would create a new Times signature that no other paper carried. ‘From Our Bow-Street Reporter,’ establishing the foundation of a legacy whereby “Authenic Particulars” could really be just that.

A Times’s journalist would, from now on, be working closely with the Bow-street judicial and policing authorities – not quite embedded journalism as we take for granted today – but certainly a first step to specialist criminal court/crime reporter. Consequently, that Friday’s edition of The Times for 25th February was unprecedented in scope and content. It carried a dozen linking news stories of considerable length.

  • Horrible Conspiracy To Assassinate His Majesty’s Ministers

  • London Gazette Extraordinary Thursday, Feb 24th: Whitehall Feb 23rd This was the Sidmouth item offering a one thousand pound reward for Thistlewood which  had originally been published on the instructions of Sidmouth at 3am Thursday morning.

  • Apprehension of Thistlewood.

  • Account of Thistlewood (From an evening paper).

  • Another Account – this copied ballad printer, Mr. Pollock’s Broadside – complete with the incorrect location, but pointed out as such by Barnes.

  • Times Editorial headed: ‘London, Friday, February 25th, 1820’ – this linked the reader back the previous pages with the opening line ‘We return with most painful feelings to the detestable conspiracy...’

  • Additional Particulars.

  • Arrest of Thistlewood.

  • Another Account.

  • Further Particulars Respecting The Murder of Smithers By Thistlewood.

  • From our Bow-Street Reporter.

  • More Apprehensions.

Barnes was keen to explain to his readers why The Times had not published a word about the Cato plot until Friday with these words ‘…the first tidings of the arrest of the conspirators did not reach us as soon as we might have been wished. To remedy this defect, we kept the press open the whole day, and continued to publish the occurrences as they took place and the aggregate will be found in this day’s journal.’

It also became clear in this ‘aggregate’ edition of The Times, that, through information gleaned from the Bow-Street reporter, and his own incisive style, he’d create a form of ‘comparative moral compass’ that could ascertain for the public consumption the degrees of depravity of such conspiratorial acts. One hundred and fifty years before Chibnall was to publish ‘Law and Order News’ in 1977, credited as the first to provide a study of crime journalism in London, Barnes had already hit upon Chibnall’s ‘journalistic rules of relevancy’.[32]

 So this oft referred to ‘refreshing analysis,’inside the 1970’s watershed bubble of ‘new criminology’ providing useful analytical ‘professional news imperatives of journalism,’ when pulled back to the 1820’s and applied to the media coverage of Cato-street by The Times, fares even better.

Chibnall claimed that there are at least eight professional imperatives which act as implicit guides to the construction of news stories: These are:

1. Immediacy (speed/the present)

2. Dramatisation (drama and action)

3. Personalisation                  (culture of the personality)

4. Simplification                    (elimination of shades of grey)

5. Titillation                           (revealing the forbidden/voyeurism)

6. Conventionalism                (hegemonic ideology)

7. Structured access               (experts, power base, authority)

8. Novelty                              (new angle/speculation/twist)

Chibnall also provided further professional imperatives that lead to what he terms at least five sets of informal rules of relevancy in the reporting of violence…They guide the journalists’ treatment of violence by asserting the relevance of:

1.  Visible and spectacular acts.

2. Sexual and political connotations.

3. Graphic presentation.

4. Individual pathology.

5. Deterrence and repression.

Now by being aware of these ‘journalistic rules of relevancy’ the rationales for the selection and treatment of features relating to the coverage of violence, for example, are better understood.[33]

It seems Thomas Barnes was way ahead of the game and that another journalistic style was being further honed, that again, is a precursor to what media historians and criminologists in particular were claiming emerged predominantly during 1970’s.

You only have to look at the list of imperatives above and all of them can easily be found within the Cato-street saga in abundance, even the sexual connotations, whether it is the many women waiting in fainting-fits to gasp at Thistlewood on trial or revelations that Davidson was so fond of ‘the fairer sex’ he ended up with three wives, two of them living under the same roof. [34]

There are, of course, no end of individual pathologies to be explored and the plethora of visible and spectacular acts began right from the start. Also, Barnes’s comparative moral compass provided a very concise graphic presentation.

Barnes begins to construct the comparative moral compass of the Cato-Street Conspirator’s actions, as known at these early stages, with those already known from the Colonel Edward Marcus Despard conspiracy of 1802 to seize ‘strong points’ in London such as the Tower of London, Mansion house and the Bank of England, immediately after assassinating King George III.

He posits that when Despard and his associates met in the Oakley Arms public house on Oakley-street, Lambeth, 18 years ago on November 16th 1802;

  • There were no arms found amongst the conspirators.

  • Stafford, Chief Clerk of Bow-street went into the room himself – unarmed.

  • Stafford simply presented his warrant to the leader who promptly surrendered.

  • Despard was taken peaceably to prison.

  • Around 40 men were present in the conspirators’ room.

He compares this with Thistlewood in the loft at Cato-street.

  • There was an unprecedented arsenal of arms, many of a new design.

  • George Ruthven, the Bow-street Peace Officer* and others went into to loft, armed. (*Peace, rather than Police-officer was the term of that period)

  • Thistlewood, the leader, refused to lay down arms and murdered Smithers a peace officer and three other officers were wounded.

  • Thistlewood and others fled and had to be sought under the announcement of a reward.

  • In numbers, the assembly of 40 might be about equal to that in 1802 in Oakley-street.Cato_loft_1

Barnes’s journalistic advice for his readers was as follows:

“Things present, as we said on a recent occasion, appear larger by their nearness, but Despard’s conspiracy terminated in the just and tranquil execution of the criminals; and it may serve to calm the public mind, now somewhat in ferment, to express our conviction, that in no long time, and after as little turmoil and confusion, the conspiracy of Thistlewood will be spoken of with the same indifference as is now that of Despard.
Thistlewood has shown the more sanguinary hardihood of his character by murder, but Despard possessed a greater consequence and personal influence, more especially among the Guards and soldiery, by his military talents and rank in the army which he disgraced.’

Barnes’s journalistic conclusion was just as clear and concise:

  • It presents, we fear, a lamentable view of the degradation to which our nature is capable when it wholly casts off the fear of GOD and belief in his religion.

  • It is true, everything that is charged must not be considered proved.

  • Neither would we prejudice even these wretched men who are to take their trial for their lives.

  • No, let them have the advantage of those laws which they are charged with attempting to overthrow – of those Christian principles, which, it may be feared, they have relinquished and despised.

  • Crime which breaks the bonds of civilised society must be condemned.

  • Subversion of public tranquillity by murder is intolerable.

However, only one week later, the new feature ‘From our Bow-Street Reporter’ would have no court proceedings to attendChibnall’s seventh professional imperative  – Structured access (experts, power base, authority) had made itself known.

While Cato SlumbersCato sleeps

While breathless, closely-squeezed, tight-black texts proclaiming, ‘Accounts,’ of…’Further Accounts’ of.. ‘Another Account’ of…the Cato-street conspiracy and ‘From Our Bow-Street Reporter,’ galloped tirelessly across the inside pages of The Times during that last week in February, 1820, other kinds of conspiritorial plots were being hatched.

First and foremost, Lord Sidmouth took this opportunity to grasp back control of print media content. The Cato plot gave him as much ammunition to do so, as that found in that now infamous stable loft in Edgware.

Murder, sedition, high treason were more than afoot, these offences, and many more involving large arsenals of home-made weapons of war, were about to burst onto the streets of West London on the evening of Wednesday 23rd of February, 1820, set to murder, pillage and vanquish the democratic leadership of England with horrific plans of beheading goverment ministers while they dined together at Lord Harrowby’s Grosvenor Square address.

No more powerful example could have been proferred to him to demand total press silence on the forthcoming trial and for all newspapers to cease their scurrilous speculations and personal details of the conspirators. Hence the recently appointed Lord Chief Justice, Sir Charles Abbott, a mere two years into the job, was the mouthpiece Sidmouth used to make the proclaimation legal. There would be no reporting of the trials until after the passing of the sentences.

Editorial protests, inevitably followed, but the propriators knew Sidmouth had won this round and could close them down, or even taken them over for his own purposes under legal deputation, so while one of the most newsworthy events of the nineteenth century was about to be staged, all the reporters could do was silently build up their story-lines and collect as much detail as they could for a fortcoming media-whirlwind, possibly a month or more away. Here’s The Times opening lines to their editorial of Friday March 3rd, 1820, merely one week since they first reported on that remarkable Wednesday night in Cato-street.

‘The Cato-street plot or conspiracy now slumbers for awhile, during the interval which passes between its detection and prosecution.’[35]

They go on to declare, however, that the government is in uncharted territory because they cannot find any legal basis for such a gagging under British democracy and declare their ignorance as to what measures the government intends to use to enforce their silence. They are quick to point out the hypocrisy of Sidmouth and his fast-failing political colleague, Chancellor Vansittart’s subsidised newspaper the Courier making more scurrulous and libelous remarks than any other daily paper, yet continuing to operate just as they like with an agenda to tone down the serious nature of the Cato-street conspiracy.

‘But during this period of suspense, never was crime so feasted and revelled in, as this which inspires all good men with horror, by the agents of the Government, The Courier newspaper would take the whole of it upon itself: no-one must praise a Bow-street officer for his courage, but it; though it’s praise, with favour be it spoken, is of no great value. No one must know anything about the plot but it; so that we, who wish much for the prompt execution of the law and are as well aware as Mr. Vansittart of the predudicial operation of the Courier upon the justest measures of Administration, begin to fear that, if the writers of that journal are allowed to riot long upon the horrible transaction in question, they will deprive it of half of its atrocity.’[36]

Barnes is on very strong moral, if not legal ground, given that evidence can be clearly be gleaned to show that ‘certain’ ministers continued to council against the public being given accurate information about the Cato plot other than from what The Times refers to as ‘certain Ministerial journals.’[37]

A government propaganda plot, claim The Times, is being orchestrated through the Courier with its ‘malignant stupidy’ and Barnes, with his trade-mark ‘thinking aloud’ style writes of a trumped-up charge against the editor of the Morning Chronicle.

‘The Chronicle is charged by the the Courier with having excited to treason and murder by previously advocating assassination – a charge from which, we may observe, the Courier itself hereforeto acquitted the Chronicle. This whole charge of assassination brought against the press, sprung from a swaggering, over-weening, upstart fellow, whose good luck, far exceeded his merits, has turned his brain…What do they mean by suffering their tool thus to abate and reduce the atrocity of a plot, to all outward appearance so horrible, in order that he [Mr. Vansittart] may be able to tax a writer of a character infinitely above his own, with practicipation in it?’[38]

There now follows a watershed moment in pictorial journalism that, again curiously, has by-passed the very social historians, criminologists and others legitimately claiming to convey foundational or at least significant moments in the history of the press. Combined with the scant attention paid to the Cato-street conspiracy as marking a change in reporting styles and print-presentation in the area of ‘crime and the media’, the next move in this story eminating from the editorship of the Sunday Observer, shook the establishment hard and tapped into a public demand so rapacious for news of the plot that it still astounds this author that it tends to remain an insignificant side-show rather than a momentous change of journalisic direction so familiar to us in the twenty-first century.

Here is that moment that readers of the Sunday Observer for Sunday March 6th 1820, were treated to and this was a stupendous example of what was to herald the emergence of pictorial journalism, certainly as far as newspaper crime reporting was concerned.

So while on Friday March 3rd, Barnes reluctantly contemplated the dead-news weeks ahead, following a slumbering Cato, leaving him to merely racket-up political and moral salvos at the government, Clement was busy waking Cato up with a spectacular first.

The Observer had chosen this key moment of the Cato-street Conspiracy to become. ‘the first newspaper to avail itself of the revived art of wood engraving.’[39]

It is true, The Times had experimented with a wood-cut illustration of Robert Owen’s agricultural and manufacturing villages of Unity and Mutual Co-operation in 1817 (August 9th) but did not continue and struggled with the more difficult and costly means of engraving on copper. The Observer had persevered with the copper plate system but then Clement chose this moment of intense public interest in crime news to blaze an innovative news illustration trail from which all newspapers have never looked back.


The Cato-street subject matter gave Clement some amazing illustrative scoops.

As well as ‘Stable Where The Cato-Street Conspirators Met,’ the Observer for March 5th 1820, also crafted a wood-cut illustration of an interior view of the loft as well as detailed drawing of some of the weaponry such as hand grenades and daggers. It was almost an instructional diagram of how to make a grenade or dagger. For example the ‘sectioned’ grenade drawing showed a cylindrical tin box with the information that it contained 2ozs of gunpowder, some pitched tow, bullets, old nails, spikes, pieces of iron and broken files and a tube fuse filled with damp powder. A dagger made from a bayonet was also depicted as suitable to mount on the top of a pike handle and certainly captured the public’s imagination much more so than the many hundreds of thousands of typeset words devoted to the plot.Cato_weapons

“Cato-Street Conspirator”  The Observer March 12th  1820

Crowds of people had been wending their way to Cato-street after the news broke standing and pointing just in the manner indicated by the Observer’s sketch. In fact, in their Thursday edition for March 2nd, The Bow-street Report in the Times, recounted that the Earl of Grosvenor and his son were among Tuesday’s throng at the end of February.

‘The noble Earl was admitted into the premises where the diabolical gang were assembled, by a boy in the employ of Firth, the cow keeper who is confined in Tothillfields-bridwell on a charge of high treason. He examined the whole of the premises very particularly: and when he was in the loft appeared and expressed himself extremely shocked at the visible appearance of the blood of the unfortunate Smithers upon the carpenter’s bench.’[40]

                       “Cato-Street Conspirator”  The Observer March 12th  1820

Alongside the press media’s changing styles of crime reporting in this ‘pre-trial hiatus’ new editorial directions began to firm up. In a sense, it was less of a hiatus and more of a series of key moments that stimulated the new journalistic directions more fully.

While Barnes pushed on ahead with snappy, incisive editorials and his new feature, ‘From Our Bow Street Reporter,’ Clement continued to tap into his newly crafted and lucrative financial and rapacious public curiosity market of pictorial images of crime scenes, weaponry, and murder,[41]


                                              “Cato-Street Conspirator”  The Observer March 12th  1820

Clearly they had both pioneered more journalistic integrity and innovation on the back of a seemingly random and excessively violent event than they have ever been given credit for by those who should have spotted their worthy ‘watershed’ statuses – and this was just the beginning, with the trial and punishments to come, and many more political and legal battles to fight, meanwhile settle back with your paper and find out more ‘From Our Bow Street Reporter.’


1-cato COVERS

[1] ‘From Our Bow-Street Reporter,’ The Times (London: England) 25 Feb 1820:3 The Times Digital Archive.
[2] Kidd-Hewitt, David: The Cato Conundrum, (2016) – ‘e-book and paperback’ – Amazon (Publish Nation) – George Ruthven, Principal Bow Street Runner solves ‘The Cato Conundrum ‘ in a runaway, blood curling adventure set in 1822. Join this amazing adventure with George Ruthven, Billy Lilly and Hannah. George Ruthven is not a fictitious character – he really was responsible for revealing the original Cato-street Conspiracy plot in February 1820, but two years later in February 1822, he realizes that this was only the beginning and the real plot is still to be revealed – He exposes its incredible audacious and blood thirsty character but will it be too late to save lives and, indeed, the government of the day from being overthrown and destroyed?
[3] In particular, Cohen, S. and Young, J. (eds) The Manufacture of News: Deviance, Social Problems and the Mass Media (London: Constable 1973) ;  Chibnall, S., Law and Order News: An Analysis of Crime Reporting in the British Press (London Tavistock Publications. 1977) and Fitzgerald, M., McLennan, G, and Pawson, J. (eds) Crime & Society: Readings in History and Theory (London: Routledge: In Association with the Open University Press 1981)
[4] Williams, R., The Growth of the Popular Press” in The Long Revolution , Chapter3  (London 1961)
[5] Williams, Raymond  (ibid)  Chap. 3 p.195
[6] After all, there was a successful assassination of a British prime minister, Spencer Perceval only eight years prior to the Cato plot in May 1812. The social and economic context of the assassin appears reflective of those attributes assigned to the poor working class recruits corralled by both Thistlewood and Edwards for the Cato plot , ie: extreme frustration, exasperation and anger at the government’s cruel insensitivities  to the people it governed with an iron-fist under the legal cloak of the Six Acts.
[7]  For example, the case made by John Stanhope of a ‘desperate and forlorn effort on the part of obscure and unimportant ultra-radicals’. Indeed Stanhope goes much further in indicating why history has neglected them: ‘A more unheroic lot of conspirators than those who met together that night in an upper room of a stable near the Edgware Road could scarcely be imagined.’ Stanhope, J., The Cato Street Conspiracy, (London 1962) p.7
[8] See, Kidd-Hewitt, D., Crime and the Media: A Criminological Perspective, in Kidd-Hewitt, D., and Osborne, R. Crime and the Media: The Post-Modern Spectacle (Pluto : 1995), particularly pp. 2-3 on the theme that this debate requires, ‘a greater awareness of its ancestry.’
[9]  “During the 17th century, potentially ‘reckless’ publishing of articles – often just scurrilous rumours issued in pamphlet form – was thought to endanger national security, and this led to a climate in which the printing of any news not pertaining to the coverage of events aboard, natural disasters, official royal declarations and the most sensationalist of crime reporting, was largely prohibited.”
[10] Stanhope, J., The Cato Street Conspiracy, (London 1962) p.22
[11] The Morning Post (London, England), Thursday, February 24, 1820.
[12] Source: Printed ephemera from the John Johnson Collection: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford (Feb:1820)
[13] Pollack, ‘Conspiracy: A Particular Account of the Treasonable Plot Formed for the Destruction of His Majesty’s Ministers!!!’ (North Shields) 25th February, 1820
[14] Pollack, ibid, Source: Printed ephemera from the John Johnson Collection: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford , February 25th 1820.
[15] In fact, it was Lord Sidmouth who would have provided Pollock and other selected ‘publicists’ with the details of the failed assassination plot and the subsequent man-hunt  plus one thousand pounds reward for Arthur Thistlewood. Indeed, the Civic Powers’ News Sheet, London Gazette Extraordinary, was issued as early as 3am on Thursday February 24th and although I have absolutely no evidence to offer you, I feel that this was a deliberate act by Sidmouth to misdirect ,in the publics’ mind, the scene of the plot from Grosvenor Square to Mansfield Street and to the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. Indeed, so much of my academic research into the Cato-street Conspiracy threw up myriads of fictional possibilities, I published these possibilities (and many more) as an historical fiction: See: Kidd-Hewitt, David: The Cato Conundrum,  (2016) – ‘e-book and paperback’ – Amazon & Lulu (Publish Nation)
[16] King, Peter (2007) Newspaper Reporting and attitudes to crime and justice in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century London, Continuity and Change, 22 sm: Illustrated London News (London England) Saturday, June 21, 1879; issue 2088 p. 590
[17] Cohen, S. and Young, J. (eds) The Manufacture of News: Deviance, Social Problems and the Mass Media (London: Constable 1973) See: The Process of Selection pp.15-21 & also Kidd-Hewitt D., Crime and the Media (ibid: 1995) pp. 13-15. Also, King makes the crucial and wider assertion that there is a ‘significant gap’ in the criminal justice history of this period and the very crucial observation that ‘the varied law and order news of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has remained almost completely unstudied.’ (King ibid p.75)
[18] Interestingly, this particular phrase was first used by The Sunday Observer on October 13th, 1816 when reporting under the heading of Quarrel at the Bar i.e.”We have learnt from our Bow-street reporter…..” The first time it appears as a by-line heading ‘From Our Bow-Street Reporter,’  is in The Times (London, England), Friday, Feb 25, 1820; pg. 3; Issue 10864, heading up their very first Cato-street conspiracy news report. It then continues as a regular ‘short-cut’ feature for readers to access the latest revelations in the print media’s attempts to uncover the full extent of this fast-moving, treasonous and highly newsworthy plot.

[19]Grammar warning – Thomas Barnes, would populate a single sentence with around 50 – 70 words
[20] The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 11, 1819; pg. 2; Issue 10722.
[21]  It is worth noting that in his 1960’s landmark publication, The Long Revolution (1961), Raymond Williams, commenting on the government’s continued interference  to bribe and control newspapers, was able to claim, ‘When one of these newspapers, The Times, in the early nineteenth century claimed its full independence, it found it was there for the taking, and with the new mechanical (steam) press as its agent, a powerful position, and wide middle-class distribution, could be achieved. The daily press, led by The Times, became a political estate, on this solid middle-class basis.’ Williams, R., (1961) The Long Revolution, (Chatto & Windus, London, 1961)  p.197
[22] Fortunately, the Bodleian Library at Oxford houses the renowned John Johnson Collection of Ephemera
[23] Richard Garnett C.B. scholar, librarian, biographer & poet, (1835-1906)  Superintendent of the British Museum Reading Room in 1875, and Keeper of the Printed Book in 1890, from which post he finally retired in 1899.
[24]  Richard Garnett (1885) Thomas Barnes (1785-1841) London. 1885.
[25]  The Times, 1819 (ibid ) p.2
[26]  The Times, 1819 (ibid) p.2
[27]  The Times, 1819 (ibid) p.2
[28] The Times, 1819 (ibid) p.3
[29] Rupture Among the Radicals, The Times (London, England), Saturday, Sep 11, 1819; pg. 3; Issue 10722
[30]  (ibid)
[31] (Ibid)
[32] Chibnall. S., Law and Order News: An Analysis of Crime Reporting in the British Press (London, Tavistock Publications, 1977)
[33] Kidd-Hewitt, D., A Criminological Perspective. in Kidd-Hewitt (ed.) Crime and the Media: The Post Modern Spectacle, (Pluto, London: Chicago) 1995 pp.1-24.
[34] Kelleher, P., The Lives of Thistlewood, Davidson, Brunt, Todd & Ings: The Leaders of the Cato Street Conspiracy who were lately Executed at The Old Bailey Collected from the Most Authentic Sources, With Original Letters etc.: Printed by  C. A. Madden, Green Walk, Blackfriars Road, London, 1820.
[35] Times (London England) 3 March, 1820:2 The Times Digital Archive:
[36]  ‘but it’ being  The Courier newspaper of course. The Times (London England) 3 March, 1820:2 The Times Digital Archive: Web 26th Aug. 2018
[37] (Ibid)
[39] M.J., ‘Illustrated News: A Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Pictorial Journalism: Illustrated London News (London England) Saturday, June 21, 1879; issue 2088 p. 590
[40] ‘The Conspiracy,’ The Times [London, England] 2 March, 1820:2
[41] On March 8th 1820, p.1, The Times published a notice from the Observer which said ‘The Observer of last Sunday, March 5th containing exterior and interior VIEWS of the PREMISES in Cato-street will be on sale at the regular price of 7d during this week.’ Clement also promised more to come in the next issue of the Sunday Observer.



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Ascot’s Royal Assassin

Ascot_4The first stone rebounded off the wall, just missing the window.
The second, larger and much heavier stone didn’t. It went straight through the open window, striking the man inside directly on his forehead, causing him to stagger back and cry: ‘Oh! God, I am hit.’

The unknown assailant had been about to hurl a third missile, but he was grabbed by a naval officer and others nearby rushed to do the same. He was in danger now of being assaulted by an angry crowd but was taken into custody by Bow Street police officers.

He was detained and appeared before Sir. F.A.Roe, the Chief Magistrate of Westminster, within minutes of the assault. Meanwhile, the victim, hit by a jagged flint-stone, regained his composure and reappeared at the window with his wife – his hat apparently having saved him from the full impact of the assault, although a red swelling had appeared on his forehead.

The missing information that puts this curious tale into context is that the location of the incident was the royal enclosure at Ascot racecourse; the injured man was King William IV; and the date was 19th June 1832. The race crowd of course, numbered several thousands, many of whom witnessed the assailant’s attack on the king.Ascot_5_ladies

There were numerous police on duty, and the custom was for Chief Magistrate of Westminster to be in attendance on all such occasions, just in case. Now that moment had arrived, and he was needed to hold court in a room under the grandstand at Ascot.

Meanwhile, rumours spread rapidly around the racecourse about an assassination plot against the king, the noise of the crowd becoming deafening as their gossip and shouting breached the walls of the improvised court room. The mystery assailant took on different guises according to the rumour. Large, swarthy and ogre-like; a military man from across the seas; a strange foreigner;Ascot_3_ROAD

Even a policeman was in the bidding in the crowd’s desperate guessing game as to who, why, and how.

  Those able to squeeze into the courtroom under the grandstand could not believe their eyes when they saw the man being detained on a committal charge of, “Having feloniously and traitorously assaulted our Sovereign Lord the King by throwing a stone with intent to kill his said Majesty.” The penalty for such a crime was certain death, and here, before the instant Ascot court stood the plaintiff.

He was short, looked very old – at least in his seventies – and was dressed in the tattered garb of a sailor. His most striking feature. however, was a crudely hewn wooden leg.ASCOT_WOODEN LEG_2Theories of swarthy foreigners, ogres and villainous plots were starting to collapse all around. Here was a real mystery: why on earth would such a wretched old man, hindered from escape by a wooden leg, commit such a serious crime?

He was very composed before the assembled crowd, which consisted mainly of those working for the royal family and attached to the royal suite. He chose to say nothing about his attack on the king, only to supply his name, which was Dennis Collins. Was he insane? He did not appear to be so. Moreover, he had walked all the way from London, slept in a shed at Windsor the previous night, and then walked to Ascot to attack the king. He was committed to Reading gaol for further questioning.Ascot_3_ROAD

The eager press would have to wait until the following Tuesday to find out the declared motive of one Dennis Collins, would-be assassin of King William IV.
Tuesday came, the magistrates came, the press came, but Collins did not appear as scheduled at the Wokingham Court. More rumours abounded. Had he escaped? The public wanted to see this mystery assassin. Under orders from Mt. Maul – solicitor to the Treasury, Collins had been kept at Reading gaol and would undergo his hearing there away from the public view. This fuelled the public imagination even more; he must truly be a dangerous man.

By 2 pm on Wednesday, June 27th, a dozen magistrates or so arrived at the Reading hearing to serve their king and see justice done against the traitor. A substantial part of that afternoon was spent arguing amongst themselves as to who would be the named magistrates on the hearing paper and sign a high treason warrant for committal to Abingdon Assizes: they couldn’t all do it.

Once the pecking order was agreed, and the many witnesses again described the stone throwing attack.ASCOT_WOODEN LEG_1

Dennis Collins was asked what he had to say in his own defence. Was this going to be the final exposure of a long-standing conspiracy to assassinate the king, with Collins as the ringleader?

With confidence, he told the story of how, last December, as an out-pensioner of Greenwich Hospital, he had an argument with the ward keeper, telling him he had no business sweeping the room more than once a day. This led to blows, and Collins’s expulsion and the confiscation of his naval pension. As an old injured sailor, that was all he had to live on.

‘I might was well be hanged or shot, as go about starving,’ he said. Every attempt he had made since December to restore his right to his pension met with refusal, including his petition to the king himself on April 19th. The reply from the admiralty was that the king could do nothing for him.

‘I suffer from arbitrary power,’ he concluded and then apologized for attacking the king. This, however, could not save him from committal to  Abingdon Assizes on charges of high treason.

When his trial began on August 22nd, the indictment read that he did, “Compass. imagine, devise, and intend the death and destruction of our Lord the king.”Ascot_William IV
King William IV

This was just the beginning of a long list of charges that referred to his malicious and traitorous intent against the king. The Attorney General was prosecuting and he reminded the court that, ‘The prisoner was charged with the highest crime known to the laws of England.’

The prosecution was without complication. Collins was seen in the act of assault: two stones were thrown and a third found in his hand. Witness after witness could testify to the facts of the crime; they were not in dispute. The whole case for the defence had to rest on intent. Did this old pensioner intend to kill His Majesty or cause bodily harm?

Mr Swabey for the defence, undertook a job of peeling away the persona of the assassin to substitute that of an old serving sailor, “Ground down to the soil by poverty.” He went on to say, “Hunger had deprived him of his reflection and he hazarded his life in the incomprehensible gratification – incomprehensible to the sane mind – of throwing a stone at the king.” The final flourish was to claim his client was ‘non compos mentis’ at the moment he committed the act. The only conspiracy was with himself. The problem for the defence was the fact here was an old man with a home-made wooden leg, who had managed to walk all the way from London to Ascot, arm himself with stones, and proceeded to attack the king. It did not have the element of spontaneity and impulse claimed by Mr. Swaby. A second defence lawyer, Mr. Carrington, used a different tack, claiming his client had no opportunity of escape or concealment, and the weapon chosen was hardly that of an assassin.

The jury took fifteen minutes to find Collins guilty, not of wanting to destroy His Majesty, but to cause bodily harm. To the jury’s obvious dismay and shock, this was to make no difference to the sentence pronounced by Mr. Justice Bosanquet, who told Collins. “That you be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and that you be hanged by the neck till you are dead; that your head then be severed from your body , and your body divided into four parts to be disposed of as His Majesty shall think proper, and may God Almighty soften your heart and bring you repentance.”

The jury did not intend this and immediately signed a petition to spare Collin’s life, “As the assault arose from ignorance.”

Collins languished in Reading gaol awaiting a decision to this surprise appeal for leniency. It came the following year, on Saturday 16th March 1833, when a much stouter, fitter and more colourful seventy-five year old Collins appeared before Berkshire Assizes.

The Devizes and Wiltshire  Gazette, Thursday March 28th, 1833 reported thus:

“Dennis Collins, the old pensioner who threw a stone at His Majesty, is ordered to be transported for life – so that the poor old man will have the satisfaction of being once more on the element on which he passed so many years of his life. During his confinement at Reading gaol, his personal appearance had undergone considerable alteration. He had become considerably stouter, and his rough, hard-looking, weather-beaten countenance had assumed a florid complexion and a plumpness, which destroyed much of the marked character of his features. His dress, since his conviction, was most grotesque, all of the right side of it being bright yellow and all of the left side of a purple brown. His wooden leg – a new one worn for the first time on his trial – was painted sky-blue and to complete the tout ensemble he wore a blue cloth cap with a red border and a white tassel on top.”

Ascot’s one-time assassin died at Port Phillip in Australia in the spring of the following year.

Ascot_trader joe

At least he left a “legacy” of colour at Ascot .














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The Petit Beurre Mystery*

Wycombe abbey_2crop‘Stands there a school in the midst of the Chilterns
Beech-covered hillsides encircle it round
Ivy and creepers entwine the old Abbey
Health and contentment within are found.’
(Wycombe Abbey School Song, 1901)


The icy waters closed over the girls’ heads as they screamed and thrashed about.
Desperately they struggled to survive but the powerful winter currents had other plans. Cries of anguish, terror and pain wrought the air, ‘Please help us, don’t let us drown.’

The young schoolmistress woke with a start. She sat alone in her sparsely furnished room, trembling with shock at the scene she had just witnessed. It was a recurring nightmare so real that she had to do something about it. However, she had not worked at Wycombe Abbey School very long, and she did not want the headmistress to think she was strange or unstable.

Whenever these vivid dreams occurred, all she could do was to remain awake. She would sit in bed for the rest of the night, sipping tea and munching her favourite petit beurre biscuits to take her mind of that terrible vision. The girls in her nightmare tragedy were clearly from the school. There was no mistaking their distinctive dark blue uniforms. She even recognized some of their faces, or thought she did.

They seem to blur into one special girl whose eyes, filled with fear, would look directly at her, pleading for help as the water closed over her head. Eventually this dream became a torment that she carried around with her day after day.


Was it a warning, she wondered, a premonition perhaps? Before long she plucked up courage to speak to Miss Dove, the headmistress, about her experience and the terrible worry she felt. Miss Dove was sympathetic, if a little concerned about the mental anguish this young teacher was suffering. She always put the girls first and her staff were expected to sacrifice everything to ensure that the welfare of the pupils was paramount. No one could give of their best while coping with sleepless nights and such anxiety. However, the teacher felt better having shared her burden and the dreams did begin to fade and then stop altogether.

Unbeknown to that young teacher, Miss Dove herself had experienced dreams that also saw her girls in the fast flowing waters of the River Thames. But, in Miss Dove’s dream the girls were not in difficulties; on the contrary, they were accomplished rowers. She had dreamt that she was standing on Marlow Bridge when she noticed an eight-oar boat coming towards her. She too recognised the Wycombe Abbey School colours, and, again, was able to make out the faces of individuals girls.
 Dame (Jane) Frances Dove (1847–1942)

All this had left Miss Dove with one important thought. If her dream could come true, as she hoped, so could the terrible tragedy witnessed by the young teacher. She had already considered instituting swimming lessons as part of the school’s activities. but now they were essential. There was to be no boating on the nearby River Thames until all the girls had learned to swim.

The school prided itself on producing the finest educated young ladies possible, but with much more than just academic talents. Miss Dove believed strongly in the fostering of athletic skills in girls, curtly dismissing any claim that such activities were only male prerogatives. In a remarkable statement for its time and only two years after her pioneering work in the founding of the school in 1896, Miss Dove had written an essay entitled, ‘The Cultivation of the Body, in which she said “We do not desire girls to be brainless athletes any more than we wish that they should be delicate or stunted blue-stockings.’
Right from its late 19th century beginnings, Wycombe Abbey had become a much sought after public school for girls. The enterprising and far-seeing Miss Dove, true to her principles that girls were at least equal to, if not better than boys, based her school on the male public school model and then took it that much further in terms of the ‘Health and Contentment’ so heartily sung about in the school song of 1901.
Dove_3She also allowed a great deal of fun to be had at the school: “Let us have games of all kinds, lawn tennis, fives, bowls, croquet, quoits, golf, swimming, skating, archery, tobogganing, basketball, rounders and hailes,’ she wrote.
Wycombe Abbey School Cricket Team 1906

For Miss Dove there was ‘no finer exercise than swimming.’ That and her passion for Swedish Gymnastics, that claimed to provide systematic training of all the body’s muscles.

True to progressing her dream, Miss Dove, had, by 1904, encouraged the formation of a ‘boat committee’ which took every advantage of the magnificent school lake. A few pupils even took to the waters of the Thames in July 1904 under the scornful gaze and sarcastic comments of the ferrymen at Townsend’s Wharf at Bourne End.
When, led by another young teacher, Miss Batchelor, the girls asked for two poles and two paddles, one boatman said in a scathing tone. ‘Oh you be going to do some work, you be?‘ and the men all laughed.

It was, however, on another visit to that same wharf in Bourne End a few years later, in the winter of 1907, that our main story unfolds.

It was a crisp, frosty Saturday on February 2nd 1907. The girls awoke earlier than usual just to be sure that the weather hadn’t changed. Squeals of excitement told that it had not. The school grounds were covered in a heavy white frost and the lake was frozen solid.

Today they were going skating.

Skating on the school lake, however, was much too dangerous and strictly forbidden by Miss Dove. But this didn’t matter because their trip was to be much more exciting. The whole school of two hundred girls was going to a popular skating area in Bourne End called Cockmarsh.
dove-cockmarsh meadow
This damp, boggy piece of land was transformed by frosty winter weather into a magnificent natural skating rink, totally safe and fantastic fun.
After a swift but nutritious breakfast – Miss Dove had very specific views on the value of porridge to start the day – they set off to catch the 8.28 am train from High Wycombe to Bourne End. All of them were under strict instructions to represent the very best image of the school.

With their skates tied around their necks, they clutched their packed lunches, lots of chocolate and other goodies to ward off the cold. This was going to be a great day out. There was plenty of excited chattering and giggling about the great time they were about to have and the boys they might bump into – literally.

The train chugged through the frosty winder morning, steam billowing across the frozen landscape and in a matter of twenty minutes they were alighting at Bourne End Station. Already people were arriving from all directions to enjoy a Saturday on the ice. To reach Cockmarsh, however, there was another exciting adventure to experience. A ferry ride across the Thames. The river’s flow was too fast to allow it to become frozen enough to walk on so this was the only way to reach the skating meadow on the opposite bank.

Ferries were already busy plying their trade from Townsend’s Wharf across to Cockmarsh, and soon it was the turn of the Wycombe Abbey girls to cross. They split into groups and the first set off to arrive moments later on the Cockmarsh side of the river.
Wycombe Abbey girls break for lunch at Cockmarsh, Bourne End (1919)

The second party soon filled up the punt with excited girls anxious to join their companions already on the other wide, who were busy putting on their skates.  The ferryman swung the punt around so that the bow faced the opposite bank and had just set off when, in the words an eyewitness, ‘Two or three impetuous spirits thought they might fill up a small vacant place so they jumped for it.
Immediately this happened, the stern was forced below the fast flowing freezing cold water of the Thames. It rushed into the punt, swamping the occupants and tipping around thirty of them into the icy cold river. All was panic and confusion and screams for help.

Some of the young women had been thrown into deeper waters than others, whilst those who could, scrambled out, pulled by willing hands. Those in deeper water were forced to brave the shock of their sudden cold immersion and swim to the bank. Some girls were certainly out of their depth and screaming with shock but, encouraged by shouts from those on the bank, made it to their eager helpers who pulled them shivering from the river. ‘ Here is a press report the following Monday Febuary 4th 1907
Dove_paper_Nottingham_shadowSource: Skating Tragedies . The Nottingham Evening Post (Nottingham, England), Monday, February 04, 1907; pg. 5

When it became clear that all had survived, it also seemed clear that Miss Dove’s insistence on learning swimming skills had paid off. One group of shivering girls was rushed to the nearby Ferry Hotel where the landlady, Mrs. Cleve, wrapped them in blankets  beside the pub fire, The other group hurried to the Railway Hotel and were also made warm and comfortable. Messages were sent to Wycombe Abbey School for dry clothing to be dispatched as quickly as possible and a mixture of all sorts of cosy, warm clothes eventually arrived at both hotels.Dove_paper_shadow_1
Source : “Skaters’ Peril” Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (Manchester, England), Monday, February 04, 1907; pg.

All subsequent reports of the incident agree that the girls were very brave and in remarkably high spirits given the nature of their ordeal. They were much sadder, however, when they saw their friends who had made the ferry trip safely, returning from their skating fun, but in their own way, they knew they had experienced a remarkable adventure and a fortunate escape.
However, whilst the South Bucks Free Press,the following Friday,played down the danger and reported  ‘An Exciting Incident and Amusing Adventure.‘ the eyewitness reporter for the South Bucks Standard provided a more realistic assessment.

Under the headline, ‘Startling Accident near the Ferry: Young Ladies Immersed’,  it took a far more more serious line. Taking into account that there was an exceptionally heavy frost that day and the girls had been tipped suddenly into icy waters wearing heavy coats, boots, scarves and gloves, carrying skates and packed lunches, then under some circumstances this might have ended more tragically. What the South Bucks Standard referred to as the possibility of ‘…a fatal termination.’

The report paid tribute to ‘....the brave and healthy outlook on life and its happenings which their school precepts induce them to hold.’

After congratulating the victims on their escape and plucky behaviour, certain others at Wycombe Abbey got to thinking about the young teacher who had now left the school and how she awoke startled on so many occasions with her terrible dream until she had the courage to mention her fears to the headmistress. We do not know if, secretly, Miss Dove paid silent homage to that teacher’s second sight which had led her to issue the all important directive that, without exception, every one of her girls must learn to swim.

There is, however,one more intriguing part to this story – a piece of information that does not appear in the newspaper reports about the Bourne End ferry incident. A piece of information that, at first glance, seems relatively trivial and can be found only in the school’s own termly journal, The Gazette of June 1907.

Recalling what happened on the morning of February 2nd under the heading ‘Skating Holiday,’ it records the accident very much as the newspapers had except they blamed the ferryman for allowing too many to board and then pushing off from the bank too suddenly. Whoever was to blame, however, makes no difference to what follows in The Gazette’s report. Apart from the hats, gloves, scarves and other items of clothing that were left floating in the river, the magazine records:

There were innumerable “Petit Beurre” biscuits, which, had been bought for lunch, in the water and when the other lost articles were collected and sent back to Wycombe, some industrious individual carefully gathered together all the scraps of biscuit and returned them as well. They have since been much enjoyed by the swans on the lake.

Who on earth would bother to do such a thing as collect scraps of broken, soggy Petit Beurre biscuits from an icy river and take the trouble to return them, anonymously, but neatly wrapped, to the school? Was this the final mysterious sign that those endless nightmare nights endured by the young teacher had achieved their purpose?
petit beurre

Second sight is a rare gift indeed. It was now up to Miss Dove to realise her dream.


*This true story was first published in 2003 in a collection entitled Buckinghamshire Tales of Mystery and Murder researched & written by David Kidd-Hewitt and published by Countryside Books in Newbury Berkshire. (


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The Other Side of Roald Dahl


High over the Buckinghamshire village of Great Missenden, the morning sun casts its glow across the sloping, grassy churchyard that dips down towards the early bustle of the school run and commuter traffic. Shadows slide across flowers, toys and tributes of all kinds that mark the memories and emotions of many whose loved ones now lie untroubled by the frantic scrambling in the valley below. Extraordinarily large footprints lead off into the morning dew from the comfort of a warmly weathered circular seat inscribed with the names of Olivia, Tessa, Theo, Ophelia, Lucy, Neisha, Charlotte and Lorina.

Whoever the visitor was, their stride was as gigantic as their footprints. Closer examination reveals that the footprints are cast in stone and not, after all, transitory clues left by an early morning visitor paying their respects. Follow the footprints down, vainly trying to match the stride, and you will reach a polished granite memorial marked like many others with a small container of silk flowers.

Before you can read the inscription, you will, as likely as not, notice this memorial is not, after all, like many others. For this smooth dark green surface set into the gentle slope is scattered with an assortment of sweets: two damp cellophane wrappers revealing love hearts; a tube of Smarties; some chocolate bars in various stages of disintegration; a toffee or two; and perhaps a note accompanying one or more of the sugary gifts. For these sweets are both gifts and memorials – an ever-changing tributary collage created by the young (and sometimes not so young), who revere and continue to enjoy the everlasting magic and adventure they have been given by the man who now rests in peace in this parish churchyard. The footsteps, guiding the way, belong to the Big Friendly Giant, and they halt almost as if he were standing there, gazing at the inscription carved deeply into the stone

13 September
23 November

By the Giant’s side, those who choose can see little orphan Sophie; she shared the BFG’s adventures, which began in this very village of Great Missenden.

‘What happens when a giant dies?’ Sophie asked.
‘Giants is never dying,’ the BFG answered. ‘Sometimes and quite suddenly, a giant is disappearing and nobody is ever knowing where he goes to. But mostly us giants is simply going on and on like whiffsy time-twiddlers.’
The BFG, 19821

Whiffsy Time-Twiddling

Whatever brief moments of imaginative flight one may enjoy, courtesy of the genius of Roald Dahl, when you take time to look behind this most loved, successful and well-known children’s writer; when you engage in a modest amount of ‘whiffsy time-twiddling’, you discover you are in the presence of a true hero.

Before the literary fame which was to transform his life and bring so much reading pleasure to children and adults everywhere, Roald Dahl had already proved himself an extraordinarily intricate, engaging, courageous and inventive character. Frighteningly diverse, he was able to turn his hand to almost anything he cared to and certainly was always able to take control of the most difficult personal situations. Dahl had the drive to pluck and push solutions through the darkest tunnels and out into the light.

To explain this side of Roald Dahl, we need to see him, not as a world famous author, the lone figure in his writing hut, sleeping bag around his legs, board across his lap, yellow pad and sharpened pencils at the ready, but as perceptive inventor, philanthropist, and, when the occasion warranted it, a tenacious fighter and deeply affectionate family man. It is only then that all the rest makes sense, when his legacy is fleshed out beyond the confines of the book cover and film script.

Childhood, Hot-Bottomed Fagging and Chocolate

Before we reach this ‘other’ Roald Dahl, we need to get to know the boy born in Llandaff Wales on 13 September, 1916.
Harald Dahl and Sofie Hesselberg from Norway had married in 1911. Harald was the co-owner of a shipbroking business in Cardiff. Roald had four sisters but as a three-year-old was faced with two family deaths when his eight-year-old sister Astri died of appendicitis and his father died of pneumonia, both in 1920. His mother, Sofie, was so precious to him. The importance of being loved and not being alone was a theme that was to occur frequently in his career as an author. He was always clear that his mother ‘….was the absolute primary influence on my own life. She had a crystal-clear intellect and a deep interest in almost everything under the sun. She was the matriarch, the materfamilias and her children radiated round her like planets round a sun.’ (Memories with Food, 1991)

Change ‘matriarch’ to ‘patriarch’ and we can begin to see in this observation an indication of what Roald himself would become to his own family. His intellect, fired by a vivid imagination, would lead not only to fantastic tales, but to Dahl the inventor, and is beautifully illustrated in the opening to his book of childhood and adolescent memories entitled My Year:

‘When I was a little boy, I had a tiny boat made of tin (there was no plastic in those days) which had a very small clockwork motor inside it, and I used to play with it while I was having my bath. One day the tiny boat developed a leak in its hull and it filled with water and sank.

For many weeks after that, I would lie in my bath worrying about whether my own skin would develop a leak in it just as the little boat’s hull had done, and I felt certain my body would fill with water and I would sink and die. But it never happened and I marvelled at the watertightness of the skin that covered my body.’
My Year, 1993

This was a boy who, aged nine, created a Conker Practising Machine, capable of taking on six conkers at a time. A boy who, excited by his Christmas gift of a Meccano outfit, decided not to follow the many examples of what marvels you can construct, but to create something that had never been built before and, more than likely – by any stretch of the Meccano imagination – has not been built since. By stretching a wire from the roof of his house, over the top of a footpath to a nearby fence (around 100 yards), he was able to use the special grooved wheel and metal struts to make a device capable of speeding down this sloping wire with a hanging cargo of five used Heinz soup cans – cans now filled to the brim with water. A string leading back to his eager hand would tilt the water out when jerked and, ideally, when passing over innocent pedestrians on the footpath.

‘Soon two ladies dressed in tweed skirts and jackets, and each wearing a hat, came strolling up the path with a revolting little Pekinese dog on a lead. I knew I had to time this carefully, so, when they were very nearly but not quite directly under the wire, I let my chariot go. Down she went, making a wonderful screeching-humming noise as the metal wheel ran down the wire and the string ran through my fingers at great speed.

Bombing from a height is never easy. I had to guess when my chariot was directly over the target, and when that moment came, I jerked the string.

The chariot stopped dead and the tins swung upside down and all the water tipped out. The ladies, who had halted and looked up on hearing the rushing noise of my chariot overhead, caught the cascade of water full in their faces. It was tremendous. A bull’s-eye first time.’
My Year, 1993

dahl_2_B&WThis one priceless example contains many of the traits of the adult Roald Dahl we are about to uncover: inventive intellect, doing something no one else has done, practical joking, perceptive timing, risk taking and bombing.

He survived a tough boarding school education, fraught with bullying but glistening with sporting success, particularly boxing – it seems a contradiction that this tall ‘soft-faced’ lad, who could box and play a good game of cricket and was excellent at squash, would become such a bullies’ victim. But for bullies read ‘Boazers’ – these were ‘career’ bullies, part of the English public school system which thrived on the rules and rituals of ‘fagging’. Perhaps we could even credit this bizarre system for encouraging his mind to ponder and wander, while warming the Boazers’ frost-covered outside toilet seat. He recalls Boazer Wilberforce’s pearls of wisdom on taking charge of a satisfactorily winter-warmed seat prepared by Dahl, ‘Some Fags have cold bottoms, and some have hot ones. I only use hot-bottomed Fags to heat my bog seat. I won’t forget you.’ (Boy, 1984)

What we can credit to his time at Repton is a love and amazing knowledge of chocolate. Inside the complex imagination of that teenage boy, who knows exactly when the seed was sown for the later creation of one of his most famous literary and film successes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? The famous Cadbury chocolate factory, in an ingenious marketing initiative for its day, would send new chocolate bar creations for the boys of Repton to taste, test and comment on. Dahl had found his forte and recalls a dream, ‘I used to picture a long white room like a laboratory with pots of chocolate and fudge and all sorts of other delicious fillings bubbling away on the stoves, while men and women in white coats moved between the bubbling pots, tasting and mixing and concocting wonderful new inventions.’ (Boy, 1984)

In this dream, Roald would go on to create the most miraculous chocolate taste in the world. From that time onwards, he kept his love of chocolate honed and always maintained that school history lessons would be better served by teaching the names, not of kings and queens and their reigns, but of chocolate bars and the dates they were created.

Going Solo

The clues are steadily emerging to understand this man’s remarkable persona. A man of great practicality and adventure, Dahl opted for a real challenge rather than reading for a degree and at 17 joined the Public Schools Exploring Expedition to Newfoundland. Here was adventure, excitement and danger, wandering into uncharted territory, blank spaces on existing maps – perhaps he might find a gold mine, he thought.

He didn’t, and in September 1934, aged 18, he joined the oil giant, Shell. Languishing in the London office, he was frustrated knowing that others were exploring the world on Shell’s behalf. His patience was rewarded, however, when after four years of tolerating this (and many chocolate bars later – he turned their wrappings into a giant silver ball, a surreal calendar of being office-bound), he was posted to Dar es Salaam. Camera always by his side, Dahl used the opportunity to store up experiences that would come tumbling out later in his writing days. It is no coincidence that the tarantula in a friend’s shoe and the green mamba sliding across the floor would be fodder to his hugely successful adult writings such as Tales of the Unexpected.

Less unexpected was the declaration of war in 1939. Now 23, Dahl immediately joined the Royal Air Force in Nairobi. Here, with difficulty, he bent his lanky frame into the cockpit of a Tiger Moth and learnt to fly over the Kenyan Highlands. His Meccano bombing ingenuity as a boy now saw him flying over the Iraqi desert; no empty soup cans filled with water this time, but real weapons as he spent six months learning to shoot, navigate and dive-bomb. Later, trying to land an unfamiliar plane – a Gloster Gladiator – for re-fuelling, he crash-landed and was engulfed in flames. Dahl had fractured his skull but managed to escape serious burn injuries. He was, however, temporarily blinded and remained swollen and in great pain for some time. With characteristic determination, he pushed to fly again with the now much depleted 80 Squadron and this time he would see action and emerge a hero. During April, 1941, flying a Hurricane, he took part in raids over Athens against the invading Germany military, resulting in dog-fights during which he succeeded in downing several enemy aircraft. Dahl is credited in the official records with having shot down six enemy aircraft which, in a hectic period of five weeks solid fighting, was of heroic status. He no doubt would have notched up more but blinding headaches from his earlier crash saw him reluctantly invalided out. Here were more experiences for the author inside waiting to emerge.

Dahl’s American Adventures

Following his heroic feats as a pilot, Dahl became bored. His imagination required feeding and so began an intense interest in collecting modern art. His boredom was staved off through this new passion and the celebrity network it encompassed.

Then a new posting came through. Dahl was appointed Assistant Air Attaché to the British Embassy in Washington, a post that would also connect him to the British Intelligence Services. His imagination would never go hungry again.

Dahl loved Washington and the celebrity party circuit in the States and women in particular loved him back. He was an injured fighter pilot hero, young, lanky, handsome, very witty, connected to the secret services, albeit very loosely, and he had tales to tell.

All RAF pilots were familiar with gremlins – they waited until you were airborne and then out they would gleefully come, as this extract from ‘Song of the Gremlins’, attributed to the RAF Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, testifies:

White ones will wiggle your wingtips
Male ones will muddle your maps
Green ones will guzzle your Glycol
Females will flutter your flaps
Pink ones will perch on your Perspex
And dance pirouettes on your prop
There’s a special middle-aged Gremlin
Who’ll spin on your stick like a top’.

During this time he became acquainted with the famous novelist CS Forester of Captain Hornblower fame, who encouraged Dahl to write about his experiences. The result was his first foray into professional authorship with ‘Shot Down Over Libya’, which appeared anonymously in the US magazine Saturday Evening Post in August 1942. But Dahl hooked a far bigger fish when his knowledge of gremlins reached the ears of a certain Walt Disney and now Hollywood was keen to meet this extraordinary story teller.

Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia were to give way to lightweight propaganda and training movies during these war years, but now Disney wanted Dahl’s gremlins. Except they weren’t Dahl’s gremlins; they belonged to the RAF who, to a man, claimed they existed. Gremlin lore as recounted by Dahl reached the bizarre stage of Disney attempting to confirm actual sightings, descriptions and even accent. It was a masterpiece of a spoof with Dahl pulling as many legs as he could. When Disney’s animators at Burbank tried to capture their likeness, Dahl told them, ‘I am very glad to see that you had no definite views about Gremlins not wearing bowler hats, but their omission in your drawings did cause a little trouble.’ Disney titles for the project ranged from ‘Gremlin Gambols’ and ‘Gay Gremlins’ to ‘We’ve got Gremlins’.

‘Stalky’, as Walt Disney called Dahl, was in his element, living an expenses-paid life in Hollywood and pulling so many legs it’s a wonder Burbank didn’t collapse. In the event, the film was never made but the story was published as a picture book in 1943 entitled, Walt Disney: The Gremlins (A Royal Airforce Story by Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl).

The author inside had finally made his debut – this was Roald Dahl’s first book. He signed with a literary agent and articles came tumbling out for the likes of Harpers, Cosmopolitanand The Ladies’ Home Journal.

Dahl was on his way to fame, fortune and Great Missenden but there were many tragedies to overcome on the way

The English Village Idyll

Roald’s mother Sofie had moved from Kent to Buckinghamshire, firstly to Grendon Underwood, then to Grange Farm, Great Missenden and then to Amersham. Roald settled in at his mother’s Grendon home determined to continue as an author. As she moved, Roald moved with her. At the Amersham address and as restless as ever for other interests, he took up greyhound breeding with the local butcher Claud Taylor. This friendship led to other pastimes such as tickling trout and poaching pheasant. The contrast with Hollywood couldn’t have been greater and brought Dahl into the Buckinghamshire village idyll he was to adore for the rest of this life. Sometimes he pretended not to enjoy it because that always got a reaction and he thrived on reaction. As he increased his output of short stories for adults and developed broadcasting contacts with the BBC, he was relentless searching for a niche he couldn’t quite identify. He also still suffered back pain from his flying accident which would always remain with him.

While the author blossomed, there was another passion inside Dahl. Together with an equally passionate, influential, multi-millionaire friend from his Washington days, Charles Marsh, a newspaper and oil tycoon, he created a charitable trust in 1949 called the Public Welfare Foundation. This philanthropic work was originally targeted at 200 needy families in Limehouse, London to assist the acquisition of education and medical care. Philanthropy continues to flourish in his name under the Roald Dahl Foundation based in Great Missenden, and aimed at the whole of the UK, and nowadays focussing on grants for literacy, and the medical areas of haematology and neurology. The original Public Welfare Foundation, however, was quite an amazing achievement and a tribute to Dahl’s caring nature – a trait not often enough realised as it could be swamped by his penetrating, jagged humour and satirical wit. For example, rejecting his friend Marsh’s offer of vitamins to give to the poor, Roald is claimed to have said that the poor, ‘do not give a **** for vitamins and do not understand them, they wouldn’t eat them even if they were told they were aphrodisiacs.’

Love and Marriage

At 35, Dahl found himself back in America ‘house-sitting’ for Charles Marsh and writing hard. His thoughts turned to Buckinghamshire as he wrote a series of local stories under the titles, ‘The Ratcatcher’ and ‘Rummins’. He was, however, receiving his fair share of publishers’ rejection letters which displeased him. What did boost his ego and turn his head was his meeting with Hollywood actress Patricia Neal. It was at a party hosted by Lillian Hellman and she provocatively seated them together. If she had a plan, it worked and they became inseparable and married at Trinity Church, New York, in July 1953.

Great Missenden visits followed to meet the Dahl family (Roald’s sister Else and her husband John lived nearby) but New York soon claimed them back. Patricia’s career was not only based in the States but her fairly substantial income put her as the main wage-earner. Roald was writing but not earning a great deal from his efforts. News of Pat’s pregnancy in the summer of 1954 brought them back to Great Missenden where they bought ‘Little Whitefield’, now famous as Gipsy House. This was to become the life-long base of that other author waiting to emerge – Roald Dahl, children’s author.

Meanwhile, as a short-story writer, Dahl was doing exceptionally well, his macabre adult humour scoring a record publishing run for Someone Like You. The New York Times compared him to Saki and O Henry, Maupassant and Maugham. To his satisfaction it won a Mystery Writers of America Award. On 20 April, 1955, Olivia Dahl was born in a Boston Hospital. Roald was elated, his friends impressed by his rapid transformation into a doting father figure. This was to be a hectic period of trans-Atlantic crossings between Great Missenden and New York, while Roald continued writing and Pat got back into acting.

At Little Whitefield, Dahl looked after Olivia, and, with his practical nature at the fore, built his now famous writing hut in the substantial garden of this lovely Georgian house. This was his writer’s ‘womb’ as he termed it. It was a place to disappear from one world to create another.

He also added the equally famous Gipsy Caravan as a restoration project. While Dahl’s practical side flourished, the creative juices were not delivering at the same pace and depth – he sensed that another direction awaited him but he could not tie it down. Pat was busy in America and Roald was completely absorbed in establishing their Great Missenden home, and in particular, a vegetable garden. Onions became his passion. Indeed, vegetables and fruit were one day to be transformed into all kinds of new varieties in children’s fictional worlds yet to emerge – quite literally, the seeds were being sown for that moment when snozzcumbers and flying giant peaches would be known the world over.

Dahl the Dad

In April 1957, Tessa Dahl was born in an Oxford Hospital. The Dahls were a close family, particularly as Roald’s mother Sofie, now in her seventies, was also living nearby in Great Missenden with Roald’s sister Else and her husband John at a house called ‘Whitefields’. Pat continued to be frantically busy making films and working in live theatre. Elstree to Broadway to Missenden to Hollywood became familiar routes and then once more she was pregnant. By the summer of 1960, baby Theo joined his two sisters.

Dahl’s short stories were becoming increasingly popular in England and good reviews led to satisfactory sales. Ironically, American reviewers were becoming less kind to him but the adult public on both sides of the Atlantic loved him and his short story collections such asKiss Kiss flew off the shelves in the early 1960s and began to interest European publishers. Then he put his first step on the bottom rung of what was to be his most successful literary ladder. His early sense that there was another direction, that there was another author inside, now had the necessary catalysts to release the other Roald Dahl.

Olivia and Tessa, now aged five and three, quite literally set their father’s imaginative chemistry fizzling and bubbling with joyful, scary stories especially created just for them. What could be more enthralling at a cosy bedtime moment than when Dad recounted the story of orphan James, escaping his cruel aunts by hiding in a magic peach which falls to earth squashing and killing the pursuing aunts. Then by air and by sea the magic peach takes James and his new-found insect friends to America, ending up on top of the Empire State Building. He was to turn this bedtime story into the manuscript for James and the Giant Peach but first, Dahl and his family were about to enter one of four very long and painful episodes – dark tunnels that required all of Roald’s undisputed ingenuity to reach for the light at the end.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

It was 5 December, 1960. Roald was in America working on ‘The Centipede Song’ for James and the Giant Peach when Pat burst into the room with devastating news. Cosy in his pram, four-month-old Theo had been out with his nanny who, tightly clutching Tessa’s hand, was on her way to collect Olivia from nursery school while Pat enjoyed some shopping. In a sickening instance of carelessness, a taxi-cab rounded the corner just as the nanny crossed the road pushing the pram ahead of her. Screams and screeching filled the air as the taxi shunted and crushed the pram into the side of a bus. Theo was horrifically injured and rushed to hospital. To make matters worse, a second instance of carelessness occurred when a nurse overdosed this frail and seriously injured baby with an anticonvulsant which had to be pumped back out. Theo hung on to life but developed hydrocephalus, a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid pressure to his brain.

At this stage, understandably, 99.9% of parents would have to watch and wait while the medical experts took charge. Roald represented that point one of a percentage of a parent who could not do that. Although Theo would live, the constant draining of fluid from his brain by a small tube and inefficient shunt valve was not reliable. Any blockages could create blindness and fevers and possibly worse. Dahl reached into his creative practical depths and, like the boy who exhibited such ingenuity with a Meccano set in a fun moment, the adult, in this most serious of times, was determined to re-invent the mechanics of this clumsy technology. As a great organiser, networker and inventor all rolled into one, together with Pat, he worked to raise money for Theo’s exorbitant medical bills, delivered the finished manuscript for James and the Giant Peach and then retreated to the relative safety of Great Missenden. Theo rested at home, the inefficient shunt inside his head of great concern to Roald and Pat as it had to be replaced by invasive surgery eight times over a 30-month period.

Tessa was enrolled at the local Gateway nursery school and Olivia went to nearby Godstowe, just outside High Wycombe. In these early days of Theo’s recovery, Dahl the inventor re-emerged. He remembered the times that he used to go to Amersham to fly model gliders, making the acquaintance of Stanley Wade, a hydraulic engineer, also a keen model plane flyer. This turned Roald’s mind more than ever to the possibility of working with Stanley on improving the valve technology that was so crucial to Theo and many others like him. The Great Ormond Street doctor treating Theo, Kenneth Till, shared Dahl’s concerns for better technology. Between Wade, Till and Dahl, sketches and ideas flowed as they sat at the kitchen table at Little Whitefield, or met in Stanley’s machine shop near High Wycombe.

Within little more than a year and a half, they had not only patented the Wade-Dahl-Till Valve, and had been featured in the foremost medical journal, The Lancet, but had brought it out as a working product on the medical market at cost price (they all agreed not to take a profit) and it became a world-leader, able to safely relieve conditions such as Theo’s. Fortunately, Theo was to get much better over the next few years and no longer needed such a device, but many thousands of other children across the world did.

Charlie is Born, but Death takes its Toll

During the early 1960s, Pat was happily ensconced in their Buckinghamshire home, now renamed Gipsy House, enjoying village life with her newly-minted children’s author, and their three children. The book James and the Giant Peach, still available only in the United States, had sold a staggering 6,500 copies – a great success. Roald’s Repton days began to invade his writing hut in the smell, texture and fantasy of chocolate and those bubbling laboratory vats he had dreamt of as a teenager.

Charlie’s Chocolate Boy, which he had already submitted as a work in progress just prior to Theo’s accident in New York, was now retitled and revised as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was hopeful of even greater success with this new story. But, no sooner out of Theo’s tunnel, the family were plunged back again into dark days. An outbreak of measles at Godstowe caught up with Olivia and, despite emergency medical care, she died. It was 17 November, 1962 and the family mourned her deeply as she was laid to rest in Little Missenden.

Dahl withdrew into himself and we can never know what torments he endured in his ‘writer’s womb’ and at Olivia’s grave-side. Pat was equally devastated but also concerned about Roald’s mental condition. He needed to know that heaven contained dogs for Olivia to be with and not just humans – and sought ecclesiastical advice from the Archbishop of Canterbury, his old Repton headmaster. He was angry not to get the confirmation he sought. Writing children’s fiction no longer featured in his thoughts. Pat, on the other hand, needed to be busy to cope with her mental anguish and she threw herself into as many roles as she could land, both television and film. A year later, Pat was pregnant once more.

Cruelest Fate and Truest Love :Growing Fame

Dahl’s third daughter Ophelia was born in May 1964. His son Theo was much better, the shunt which had been given to him to alleviate his hydrocephalus had now been totally removed, and Roald began storytelling again, this time to Tessa and Theo. The world of children’s fiction, however, was soon to taste the wonders of Mr Willy Wonka and his mysterious chocolate factory. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was published in America in September 1964 – the first print run of 10,000 copies sold within four weeks. The second rung of his new ladder had been reached.

The fame of his wife Pat – actress Patricia Neal – had also been growing and her love of their Great Missenden home and being with her family made being away in the States difficult. However, her income was substantial compared to Roald at that time and could not be forfeited. The film Hud, with Paul Newman, had the film critics acclaiming her performance for which she received an Oscar. Hollywood was pulling her back.

Both Pat and Roald were at new beginnings in terms of international fame and recognition yet, to Dahl’s considerable annoyance, UK publishers had had to be persuaded to publishJames and the Giant Peach, which appeared in 1961, or 1964’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. By February the following year, there were still no takers for the new Roald Dahl, and the family followed Pat to Hollywood for her latest film role with John Wayne calledSeven Women. Only Roald and Pat, of course, knew she was pregnant once more but no one could have known about the third, dreadful, dark tunnel ahead.

Disaster Strikes

Only four days into the shoot of Seven Women, Pat was enjoying sharing bathing Tessa with the family nanny when a thunderbolt of a pain tore through her head. Roald did not hesitate for one moment and immediately contacted the neurosurgeon that had dealt with Theo, Charles Carton. Within the space of that phone call, Pat was unconscious, her body convulsing. In hospital, she murmured, ‘Who is in this house? What are the names of the people in this house please?’ and then she slipped into a coma. Pat was pregnant and close to death; it was a stark reality.

In all, Pat had suffered three strokes and Carton’s team worked through the night to remove the haemorrhaged blood threatening her brain. This operation severed the temporal lobe which controls speech and movement. It was a gamble to save her, but, should she survive, her condition would be a serious one. Survive she did, but it took over two agonising weeks before she came round. Amid the family’s unbridled joy at her recovery, her transformation was truly startling.

Wearing an eye patch, unable to speak, unable to move her right side, her hair cruelly shaved away, her mouth twisted to a slight curl; it was a difficult image to store in place of the real Patricia Neal, Oscar-winning Hollywood actress and mother to her three surviving children. More important, she was still pregnant. Roald, the ultimate patriarch, came to the fore, and took charge of who could and could not see Pat. He set about organising her recovery, because he could not envisage anything other than a full recovery. He would lead them all back into that light at the end of the tunnel once more and that light would be in Buckinghamshire, not California.

A Village Pulls Together

Great Missenden saw a dejected and depressed Pat. She had lost everything that made her a beautiful Hollywood actress – her looks, her voice and her memory and, as if things couldn’t be any worse, her right leg was now encased in a brace.

Roald pushed and prodded her into village walks, conversations and shopping – he was convinced that softly, softly would not work and for some appeared to be over-zealous, even cruel.

Village neighbours were recruited to help Pat learn to read again, but of more immediate importance at that time was the safe delivery of her baby. In surgeon’s gown and mask, Roald watched the birth of their daughter Lucy Neal Dahl on 4 August, 1965. Now Lucy was safe and healthy, Roald orchestrated his master plan. He needed to work and to bring in money and to realise his prediction that Pat would make a full recovery. Luckily, work came quickly in the form of an offer to write the screenplay for a James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. Roald took up the challenge.

Village neighbour, Valerie Eton-Griffiths, who he had learnt had recently recovered from a thyroid complaint, received a phone call ‘out of the blue’ from Roald asking if she would ‘work’ with Pat.

Unclear what ‘work’ meant in this context, Valerie recounts: ‘I came down to Gipsy House and there was Pat sitting at the kitchen table staring – the saddest face you’ve ever seen. I did not know what to do but for some strange reason when Pat saw me walk through the doorway, I knew I was going to help her.’

She couldn’t have been more perfect as Pat’s saviour. In fact Valerie worked with Pat for five days a week for the next two years, transforming her abilities to speak and enjoy life once more. Valerie’s experience with Pat not only led to their deep and continuing friendship, but she went on to pioneer The Chest and Heart Association which became the Volunteer Stroke Service that continues to undertake so much invaluable assistance to stroke patients today. Even the present-day aims of the VSS reflect exactly what Valerie had made possible for Pat during those dark days in the mid 1960s, ie: ‘improving quality of life by building confidence and improving morale.’ Of Roald, Valerie recalls: ‘I thought it was a magnificent effort, the way he worked and managed Pat and the children – he took over the lot.’

In fact, the ever-inventive Roald arranged for Pat and Valerie to go to Hollywood to make an information film called Stroke/Counter Stroke to show the world that recovering from such a severe set-back can be achieved. Roald had firmly but safely negotiated their way out from that dreadful tunnel.

The film You Only Live Twice was a smash hit and Roald could quite rightly bask in his script-writing glory. Thanks to Valerie, Pat was well enough to take on a film role in early 1968, less than three years since her stroke. It was called The Subject Was Roses. Valerie worked with her as script-prompter. Thanks to Pat’s talent as an actress and Valerie’s sheer hard work on script prompting, Pat was nominated for an Academy Award. In the event her co-star got it, but what an achievement by Pat and Valerie – no award was needed to appreciate that.

Stormy Times

Sadly, on 17 November, 1967, the anniversary of Olivia’s death, Roald’s beloved mother Sofie died aged 82. Roald himself was in extreme pain from his old plane crash injury and it seemed his ever stalwart spirit was fading. Even he could only take so many knocks.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang appeared to come to his rescue: his second venture into film script work. Was he now on another new rung of the ladder? As it turned out, he wasn’t. Script disputes between Dahl and director Ken Hughes led to him disowning it.

In fact the next few years were characterised by Dahl pushing to enhance his own film-scripting reputation, but finding working with directors often as volatile as himself, who had the power to alter and criticise his work, a major irritant. Roald regained his stride with the 1970 publication of best-seller, Fantastic Mr Fox, a book he dedicated to the memory of Olivia.

During the 1970s, stormy times started to build. Roald’s frustration with UK publishers reluctant to fully launch him in his home country was understandable, given his emerging US successes. They certainly acknowledged and published Dahl, the writer of adult stories, but continued to give the impression they thought he was merely masquerading as a writer for children. Even Dahl himself was confused about how to balance the two genres and continued to attack both. He needed his definitive UK success badly.

Stormy times also began to characterise his marriage to Pat. She had been steadily working to rebuild her career and had now added TV commercials to her repertoire. They bickered, argued, chased their own careers, came back together, bickered and argued – the spiral of a collapsing marriage spun and spun. Perhaps they had been through too much together – too many dark tunnels – and they were plain tired.

Roald was in pain, his back and hips could be agonising and his often abrasive manner not always eliciting the empathy he secretly craved. His stern outer shell was a formidable armour against soft intimacy. Even the children did not see their father as a ‘cuddler’. Granddaughter Sophia Dahl was later to recall, ‘He was not a big hugger’.

The storms crackled and broke when Roald met Felicity Crosland. Felicity, Liccy to her friends, was responsible for organising Pat’s wardrobe for the Maxim coffee television commercials. Emotionally it was both a complex and engaging time as Liccy became a friend of the family at Gipsy House and gradually more than that to a smitten Roald. Liccy found him very romantic, his family found him wanting in his honesty about his feelings for both Pat and Liccy.

Meanwhile, Roald continued pushing his UK publishers and by 1975, Danny the Champion of the World was in the bookshops, followed in 1977 by The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. In the same year, Roald’s physical pain was eased somewhat by a hip replacement. His mental anguish, however, about the future of his marriage, and his relationship with Liccy, continued to complicate life. It was now 1979; he retreated to his famous writing hut, sleeping bag around his legs, writing board across his lap, pencils and yellow pad to hand, souvenir hip-bone on his desk, and became the ultimate children’s author once more. One year later he had created The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine and the foundation for what would become Revolting Rhymes. The year 1980 was a watershed in Dahl’s future, both personally and professionally.dahl_1981
Roald Dahl :Illustrated London News (London, England), [Saturday], [December 26, 1981]; pg. 24:

Divorce and Marriage: Reaching the Top of the Ladder

Pat and Roald divorcedin 1983 and Liccy and Roald were married that same year. Liccy and her three children, Neisha, Charlotte and Lorina, were now firmly part of Roald’s life alongside Tessa and Theo, now in their twenties, and teenagers Ophelia and Lucy. Pat was living at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Professionally, Roald flourished and from that hut at the end of a pleached lime walk across the garden from Gipsy House emerged the works that would finally place him at the top of the ladder of children’s fiction: The BFG, The Witches and Matilda.

It was also the period when the superb illustrations of Quentin Blake, already used in some of Dahl’s early work, came into their own, and are now inextricably welded into the Dahl magic.

Also in 1983, Dahl won the Whitbread Prize for The Witches, a book he dedicated to Liccy. He generously donated the £3,000 prize to a children’s hospice in Oxford. His philanthropic character would always surface where children were involved, personally ensuring that his donation went to buy equipment for disabled children or into research for neurological disorders and dyslexia. By the late 1980s Roald had the great satisfaction of seeing virtually everything he had so painstakingly created and crafted published all around the world and in many languages.

The international fame he had always sought came in abundance and the family gatherings at Gipsy House were now ones of much more contentment and implicit conciliation. Roald was a familiar figure in the village and much sympathy was elicited when, in 1985, he had two operations for cancer of the bowel which left him debilitated. In fact Roald was becoming ill with leukaemia. A fourth and final tunnel lay ahead. It was 1990, Roald continued writing and any rift that had existed between himself and Pat, or between Liccy and Pat, was now healed as Pat flew over for Theo’s 30th birthday. She would never see Roald again.

Tragic events were still to haunt them as Liccy’s 26-year-old daughter Lorina died from a brain tumour. Less than eight months later, that autumn, Dahl was in an Oxford hospital very seriously ill and in agonising pain, the family in great distress. Roald Dahl died from a rare blood disorder on 23 November, 1990. He was 74.

Dahl’s English Village Legacy and Beyond: A Galaxy of Dreams

In his memory, two major Buckinghamshire-based creations have been constructed, everyone involved somehow conscious of this punctilious world-famous children’s author looking over their shoulders to check what they are doing in his name. Liccy has no doubt that he would have loved the Roald Dahl Museum in Aylesbury that opened in 1996. It is constructed for children, not for adults. The latter are certainly not allowed to crawl along Fantastic Mr Fox’s tunnel, but can possibly peer into The Giant Peach with their children’s permission.

In the village he loved is a very special creation that opened in June 2005. It is the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre – a tribute to his working life and there to promote his favorite cause, literacy and literature for children. It is housed in a cleverly restored old coaching inn, its historical facade now brightened by an image of the BFG looking towards the very orphanage windows into which he blew his dreams and where his adventures with Sophie began.

‘If you is really wanting to know what I am doing in your village,’ the BFG said, ‘I is blowing a dream into the bedroom of those children.’
The BFG, 19821

Across the world, this remarkable author and children’s hero has blown a galaxy of dreams into children’s lives and given them literary enjoyment beyond measure.

The sun slowly relinquishes its command over the day, the last flickers of its gaze leaving a warming caress over the circular seat so lovingly inscribed to the children he loved. Carved into the paving slabs that are set around the base of the seat is a very special rhyme that requires the reader to walk around each of the children’s dedicated seats starting from Olivia, past Tessa and Theo and on to Ophelia, then Lucy and Neisha, to Charlotte and finally to Lorina.

We have tears in our eyes
As we wave our goodbyes
We so loved being with you we three
So do please now and then
Come and see us again
The Giraffe and Pelly and me

As you ponder the significance of this special family tribute, a last glance down to the polished granite memorial reveals yet another change of scene to the tableaux of affection that continue to move across its surface. Three giant onions nestle next to a butterfly on a stick and a small bag of sand and seashells. Wedged by the bag is a hand-written note covered in children’s signatures. It is a note that only children can create, one of great simplicity yet hosting emotions of startling depth and profundity. It reads:

We send you a few grains of sand from the Mediterranean Coast – this blue and hot sea that has always been the origin of such civilisations. If you could put some of that sand on the grave where Roald rests, our memories stay in every one of its grains.
Lots of kisses
6th Level Class
Cami del Mig School
Barcelona, Spain

Dahl_3_1Rest in Peace – Roald Dahl, 1916-1990

1Extracts from Dahl’s works used by permission of Dahl and Dahl Ltd.


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WATCHMANThis blog is very specific in its intentions to reinforce (once again) that nothing is new in this world, merely re-arranged.
For example, the constant questions about,’What are prisons for? Or ‘Should we invest more money in rehabilitation?’ Immediately followed by ‘What is rehabilitation?’ Other old chestnuts such as ‘What are the police for?’ – ‘How should they be best organised and funded?’ have also dominated my fairly long career as a criminologist – but really nothing changes and the frustrating part of all of these questions and many more of the same ilk – is that they are raised by politicians and statutory bodies as if they are fresh and new and nobody had thought to ask or research them before.
Whereas the truth is that these same political policy-makers are really not interested in innovative policies, new, effective, equitable & just workable suggestions or stumping-up the funding for what would be long-term budgetary savings – they’d rather cut resources – often to the bone – and go for the short term-immediacy of a cost-cutting political agenda. This is not mean to be a rant or a politically biased piece but hard figures continually show that cost-cutting measures, particular for policing, decade upon decade, involving all political parties, have become the props of political prestidigitation.

I recall interviewing one of my professional criminology ‘icons’  – Professor Keith Bottomley as he prepared to take on the Presidency of the British Society of Criminology in 1999 and he encapsulated the situation perfectly that I was feeling at that time (and still do – just change the dates) [1]

“I think that in the 1980’s, for criminologists who were interested in trying to put their ideas into practice – to change the system – things changed very significantly. For example in the various ways in which the academic community were consulted: the Advisory Council on the Penal System was abolished by the Conservative Government, and it felt as if, in the 80’s, irrespective almost of what policies the Conservatives brought in, criminologists were being sidelined, or marginalized or rejected.
So, that was, and continued to be, (almost up to 1997) quite dispiriting.
Very much like a midlife crisis.”
WATCHMAN_8[Criminal Justice Matters no. 34 Winter 1998/99 pp. 19]

In fact when Professor Bottomley went on to develop this point with me, and provide a specific example of his own research team’s work at the University of Hull, it was clear that the ‘tick-box /archive’ mentality of the government that I was experiencing with my own Home Office funded research was far more serious than I had realized.[2]

No-one seemed to care  about the findings and suggestions, merely that the exercise had been carried out under a proclaimed government policy initiative. The initiative seemed to be, to  carry out the research but for goodness sake take no notice of its findings – that’s not in the political job-spec and is bound to cost money.

“Professionally there was a sort of mid-life crisis for some of us within academic criminal justice studies,” continued Professor Bottomley.  “You wondered why you were there. Most of the policies that were introduced by the Conservatives in the 80’s and early 90’s seemed to have no regard whatsoever for evidence-based research. They were very much driven by ideology, by their concern in the latter years to go along with public opinion in terms of their perceptions of crimes and the policies about crime prevention and offenders. You felt that there was a risk, on the applied side, of criminology being put on the scrap heap.” [ibid p. 19]

I then asked Professor Bottomley: “Do you have an example of this  ‘side-lining’ affecting your own research work?” His answer provided exactly the point that I feel we are stuck with today and as mentioned earlier, has also been my experience when working with my research team on ‘Violence in the Workplace’ for the Home Office. [3]

“One of the more recent research projects for a team of us from Hull was a commission to evaluate The Wolds, the first private prison quite near to Hull.”
Photograph by Roger Gilbertson:  H.M. Prison Wolds, Everthorpe, East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Date 22 May 2006.

“When we were commissioned to do this by the Home Office, the Conservatives were opening Wolds Prison and said this would be an experiment to see how the privatization of prison worked. ‘We’ll wait to see the outcome of the evaluation before we decide on whether it should be extended.’ – they said . Almost within months of our project starting, and certainly within a year of The Wolds being opened, the Government decided, irrespective of any sort of evaluation, either political or professional, to go ahead with the programme of contracting out prisons. So what was the point of this research?” [Ibid p.19]

Now, my  reason for the title of this blog ‘Stand By The Watch’ is the real déjà vu I experienced reading that same title in 1949 publication called Mr. Gay’s London, written by A.P. Herbert [3]

I  say déjà vu  but this is not strictly true as the piece I now want to re-produce from Herbert’s book is from the year 1733 and I was not – to my knowledge – part of that society and yet when I read it – it makes me think of the relationship between all the current political funding issues surround the policing of the metropolis in 2018 and the pleas being made by their earlier incarnation – The Watch – and their inadequate funding and similar cries for proper recognition of the extremely valuable role they play. I’ll not comment on it further but reproduce it word-for- word and it is compelling reading.

I would be really interested to learn if you see the beginnings – two hundred and forty-five years ago –  of ‘the same -old, same-old’ that we are experiencing today. Also the sense of police pride and commitment in doing their job for ‘their inhabitants’ as they refer to them, is impressive – their altruism to protect their ‘patch’ from roguery is clear but their future funding is not – hence their plea to ‘Stand by the Watch.
 Implicit in this piece is a message for any serious, so-called democratic government that wants effective policing in the twenty-first century, let alone the late eighteenth century, when pleas for proper policing support were also paramount.
{Please note that use of capital letters and other punctuation/spelling used below are reproduced as originally written}

“Proceedings At the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer for the City of LONDON and County of MIDDLESEX: 1772/3

WILLIAM RAVEN was indicted for stealing an Iron Rail, value 2s. the Property of Arabella Scattergood*, March 22nd 1733.

William JamesThis Bar fell in the Airey, and alarmed me and the Watch.

James Fleming I am Watchman in Cavendish Square. As I was standing in my Watchbox between 2 and 3 in the Morning. I heard the fall of an Iron Rail, and running out I saw the Prisoner coming from the Steps at Madame Scattergood’s Door with a Bar in his Hand.  As soon as he perceiv’d me, he took to his Heels, and I ran after him.
He threw away the Bar and ran by the Duke of Argyl’s down King-street. I cry’d out, stop Thief, he got past the first Watch, but was stopped by another Watch, and he was not out of my Sight till he was taken. The Moon was up, but it was a little cloudy, though not so much but I could see him.
Jonathan Dickenson, Watchman. As I called Two o’Clock in Marlborough-street, I found a bar of some Pallisades bent, and looking farther I found another in the same Condition. Upon this I thought there was some Roguery going forward; so I planted my Lantern in the middle of Blenheim-street, that my Inhabitants might see I was upon my Duty and then I went aside and stood upon the Watch, and presently I heard a cry of stop Thief.
Says I to my brother Watch, You go down Tyler-street and I’ll go down Little Marlborough-street. and so we did. I met the Prisoner running with his drawn Sword (for he is a soldier) and I knocked him down.
My Liberty has lately been very much robbed, which is a sign that it is pestered with Rogues: I have lost a great deal of Iron and Lead – not that it was my own, but my Inhabitants; and as several Attempts have been made, they had lost a great deal more if it had not been for the Care of the Watch, which is a Sign that the Watch have not neglected their Duty; and if the Watch should sink, by consequence my Inhabitants cannot stand.
And therefore, pray my Lord, stand by the Watch whatever you do, or else my People will be undone; they will be robbed, and have their Throats cut and their Houses burnt about their Ears.

WATCHMAN_10.jpg The Prisoner has threatened to be even with the Watch; but he did not say which one of them; therefore I hope the Watch will be protected. When I knocked the Prisoner down, he reeled six Yards before he fell, and then said I had killed him.WATCHMAN_4.jpg

Luke – Watchman. I heard a cry of stop Thief and met the Prisoner running with his drawn Sword; I made a blow at him, but he put it by with his Sword; I called out to Jonathan Dickenson  who knocked him down. The Prisoner was upon Guard, and had his Accouterments on. I found this Chisel in his Cartridge Box.

The Jury found him Guilty

He was transported.



[1] Kidd-Hewitt, D., ‘Digging For the Truth: Keith Bottomley* talks to David
Kidd-Hewitt as he prepares to take up his role as president of the British Society of Criminology.’
 Criminal Justice Matters  no. 34 Winter 1998/99 pp. 18-20
*At the time of my interview Professor Keith Bottomley was Head of the Centre for Criminologyand Criminal Justice at the University  of Hull and President
elect of the British Society of Criminology

[2] Kidd-Hewitt, D., Consultant & Research Director (Centre for Social & Evaluation Research {CSER} for UK Home Office Report on Violence at the Workplace funded under the government’s ‘Safer Cities’ initative (1991)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Herbert, A.P., Mr. Gay’s London, Ernest Benn Ltd, 1949.pp. 135/6 – Taken from “Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer for the City of LONDON and County of MIDDLESEX in the Years 1732 and 1733″

*No – you can’t have her name! – Already taken in my new series The Remarkable Adventures of Arabella Scattergood

p.s. Apologies for the gap until my latest blog made it to the publish button. I am working on a new historical fiction but more exciting is that I have been fortunate to be invited to host  “The Afternoon Show” on award -winning local radio station Wycombe Sound 106.6 fm – available on radio player wherever you are – every Wednesday 13.00 to 16.00 hours – hope to meet you there. Wycombe Sound_1

Release your Literary Leanings; experience Poignant Moments; hiss at Dastardly Deeds; tingle at Gentle Hauntings – what more could you want on a Weds afternoon? Well maybe a little mischief & great music. Join me, DKH 13.00-16.00 every Wednesday  on multi-award-winning Wycome Sound 106.6 fm



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Don’t Let My Music Die

Miss Lilian Pretoria Marks felt life was passing her by. What future was there for a young lady working as a grocery assistant on thirty shillings a week in the market town of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire in England.

It was 1920, the Great War was over, and fun times should be around the corner, not just shelves stacked with groceries and the promise of the local ‘palais’ at the week-end. An excursion to the Grande cinema in Desborough Road to see a Pearl White adventure or a visit to the Jolly Butcher in ‘The Narrows’ was the nearest life got to excitement until, at the end of August that year, she came across a bizarre advertisement in The Bucks Free Press that caught her imagination:BAILEY 001_A.jpg
Bucks Free Press 27th August 1920

Writing back could do no harm and she could learn a new skill. She fitted all the personal qualifications, so why not? She wrote and she received a reply that requested her to visit  a house in Furlong road, Bourne End any evening after 6pm. This was, after all, the new decade of adventure and excitement following the privations of the war, so why not live for today and see what this highly paid job was all about.


After a long weekend thinking about it, she decided that come Monday evening after work, she’d pay a visit. So it was, on that Monday September 6th 1920, young Miss Marks, grocery assistant of High Wycombe, found herself outside this Bourne End address contemplating the possibility of being involved in something that would change her life for ever.

The door opened and a smiling, clean-shaven man in his early thirties introduced himself as George Bailey and invited her in.
George Bailey_resizeHe wasted no time in enthusiastically explaining what lay behind his unusual advertisement. Ushering Miss Marks into the front room, he told her that he was setting up a musical academy in nearby Little Marlow. He explained that he had invented a new way of learning and teaching music and if she studied his system hard for two weeks she could then advertise it and take on her own pupils. He wanted to recruit around seven or eight young ladies to be his pupils at the new academy so they could become proficient enough to spread his remarkable invention of a new musical notation to others. This would revolutionize the teaching of music, he claimed, as his system did not use sharps or flats and was written in one key.
To his question of whether she was at all musical, Miss Marks asked if he meant piano or singing?
“Piano,” he replied.
He assure her that he could teach her all that she needed to know. He then moved on to the part of the advert that referred to her build and asked her to take off her hat and stand against the door so he could examined her figure more clearly.

Miss Marks took off her hat and unfastened her coat. Bailey also took hold of her hands and examined them. Clearly satisfied, he said he would pay her three guineas a week. She should give in her notice to the grocery store in High Wycombe, inform her parents of this new opportunity and write to him again when she was ready to start as his pupil alongside the seven or eight other young ladies he expected to employ at his Little Marlow Musical Academy.

He also added that it would be more practical for her to stay overnight on two or three occasions a week with some of the other young ladies under his tuition so it could be a proper learning experience and not broken up by long journeys between High Wycombe and Marlow.

Miss Marks promised to consult her parents and let him know. In the second week of September, she received a letter from Mr. Bailey, dated September 10th, thanking her profusely for her visit and inviting her to start tuition with him in the week commencing 27th September. The letter asked her to bring all she needed to stay overnight at his new academy and to arrive for an early start so he could draw up a suitable timetable of instruction. The final agreement was for Miss Marks to meet George Bailey with her overnight bag on the morning of Wednesday 29th September in Little Marlow.


Complete with businessman’s bowler hat and raincoat. George Bailey greeted his new pupil as arranged and took her to his ‘academy’.

This turned out to be Barn Cottage in Little Marlow. As he politely ushered her into the drawing room, Miss Marks felt much more at ease to be introduced to two other young lady pupils – a Miss Winifred Field and a Miss Gladys Edwards. This certainly looked as if Mr.Bailey’s promise that she would be a pupil with other young ladies was indeed correct and in the corner of the room was a piano. Bailey wanted to start immediately, so without showing Miss Marks to her room, he began explaining to his class of three, the nature of his newly invented musical system. Part of the instruction involved Miss Field playing the piano from traditional music notation whilst he explained on paper sheets how his invention would change this and make it easy for anyone to learn and teach music. All three concentrated on George Bailey’s enthusiastic introduction until around one o’clock in the afternoon.

The only brief distraction that morning was the sound of a young child talking in an adjoining room and also Miss Marks thought she caught a glimpse of a dress or possibly an apron passing by the drawing room door, which was slightly ajar. So there are others living in this house she thought. Anyway, instruction was over for the morning and it was arranged that Miss Field and Miss Edwards should leave and return the next morning for the second tuition session and that Miss Marks would stay overnight as planned. Bailey asked Miss Marks what arrangements she had made for lunch but she said she had left it up to him what should be done. He then gave her four shillings  to buy lunch in Marlow and was very clear that she should not under any circumstances, return to Barn Cottage until 7pm that evening.

Miss Marks set off into Marlow and spent the afternoon and early evening there, waiting to return and unpack her portmanteau. It was rather a long time to wait but, things were turning out just as Mr. Bailey had promised and she was excited.
bailey-cottageAt 7pm sharp, Lilian Marks knocked on the door of Barn Cottage. George Bailey greeted her and showed her into the dining room. He explained that while she had been out, two more pupils had arrived from Scotland and being very tired after their long journey, had gone to bed. In fact there should have been a third pupil arriving but for some reason she had not done so. Anyway, tuition would begin the next morning and now there would be five pupils, possibly six if the missing lady turned up. The academy was taking shape.

George Bailey then picked up Miss Mark’s case and led the way to her room so she could settle in before supper. She heard a child crying in the next room and called down to Mr. Bailey, asking if she should go and see what was wrong. “No, I will see to it,” he replied immediately, making it clear she was not to investigate.

She unpacked and heard him next door soothing the child, who did eventually stop crying. She went back downstairs and had supper in the dining room with Bailey who occasionally popped out to see if the missing pupil was to be seen. He would not talk about the child except to say, rather mysteriously, that if the child cried again, he would have to go through Miss Mark’s bedroom to comfort it. He did not reply as to why that was necessary when he could use the main door as before rather than cross her room to the interconnecting door.

Miss Marks joined him outside on the lawn for about three-quarters of an hour, both looking out for another young lady on her way to Barn Cottage, but no one came. It was coming up for 9pm, so she decided it was time for her to go to bed.

Bailey said he would stay up until 11pm in case the new pupil had caught the last train to Bourne End. From her room, Miss Marks heard Bailey going up and down the stairs and about 11 pm he shouted upstairs that the other girl had not arrived.

Lilian went to secure her door but found it was not possible to lock it. She could comfort herself with the knowledge that two other young ladies were in the house and everything he had promised so far had happened. She was however, puzzled about the child, and her brief glimpse of a woman passing the door. Was he married? She blew out her candle and tried to sleep after what was turning out to be quite a strange adventure.

Moonlight streamed through her window and, half asleep, Lilian was aware of the latch on her bedroom door slowly being lifted. Creeping past her bed was George Bailey wearing an overcoat over his pants. He made straight for the child’s bedroom.

Miss Marks did not know what to do. He had said he was going to pass through her room to check on the child, so once more he had done exactly what he had told her. She was probably worrying over nothing.

A little time elapsed and George Bailey re-appeared in her room and whispered, “Miss Marks, have I disturbed you?”

Lilian Marks said nothing, she did not know what to say.

George Bailey went to the side of her bed and once more asked if he had disturbed her as the child had cried out. Miss Marks knew this to be a lie because she would have heard the child had it cried. She was now worried and said to him, “No it has not or I should have heard.”

Bailey, ignoring her comment, said, “I’m going to ask you a very great favour.”

She asked what it was, and he said it was “ sit on the armchair behind the door.”

This was now seriously wrong, thought Miss Marks, who began to panic. George Bailey questioned her about why she could not go back to sleep and she told him she could not while he remained in the room and he should go. He explained that he needed to ask her a question, which was, “What do you think of the cottage?”

This was now getting gravely out of hand, thought Miss Marks, and said she did not want to discuss this now and he should leave her room. Bailey ignored her protests and said, “How would you like to be the mistress of the cottage?”

Miss Marks was now highly agitated at the way this was going but he went on to add that he had come for one thing and if she couldn’t decide it, he would and he sat on the side of the bed and then quickly tried to climb into bed with her and to rape her.

She fought him off but he was very strong and he pushed her down each time she tried to prise him off. She struggled hard and did manage to escape from the bed and run to the window shouting for help but Bailey pulled her back and said there was no one to hear her cries.

By now Miss Marks was hysterical and George Bailey was talking fast and furious, saying that he wanted her to be the mother of his children. She shouted he was to leave her alone and he had tricked her. He admitted that there were no other young women in the house and he had come to her room solely for the purpose of having sexual intercourse with her so she could have his children. She said, in her confused state, “It is ridiculous talking, that can never be.”

Throughout the night Bailey made repeated attempts to assault her. She sustained bruises on her arms chest and legs but he did not succeed in raping her. Towards dawn while Lilian Marks cowered, terrified from him, he stayed silent and then he asked, “Are you going to say anything about what happened?”

Miss Marks did not reply and he stayed there in glowering silence.

Dawn broke, Lilian not daring not to  sleep or further antagonize him. Bailey, sitting on the armchair was muttering. By 8am, Lilian thought it was best to humour him, so asked if she could go downstairs and prepare breakfast. He agreed she could do that while he went and had a shave.

Whether Lilian thought about making a run for it and changed her mind is not clear, but she did go downstairs and began to prepare breakfast as if nothing had happened. Bailey came downstairs for breakfast and he brought the young child who she had heard crying, introducing her as Hollie, aged three. He asked if the child looked like him.

Lilian said she did. He explained that he was the child’s uncle and Hollie’s mother was unwell and living in Swindon. Lilian asked if he was married and Bailey said that he was not.

Breakfast over, Lillian cleared everything away and, as if nothing had happened, he asked her if she was ready to begin lessons. She explained that she was too upset and shaken by events and wished to leave. Bailey then asked her to go to the village for him and buy some ham, fruit and cakes for lunch as he was expecting Miss Field and Miss Edwards at any moment. He gave her six shillings and sixpence to make the purchases.

Miss Marks went to her room rather than the village, got everything ready to leave and stayed there until 11.30am when there was a loud knocking on the front door and Bailey answered it. It was Miss Field and Miss Edwards.

Quickly Lilian put on her coat and slipped out the back door, heading for Cores End about two miles away and went straight to the vicar’s house where she blurted out to a startled Reverend Allen all that had happened to her.

The vicar arranged for her to get home to her parents and once her father learnt about what had happened to his daughter, he cycled all the way from High Wycombe to Cores End to speak with the Revd Allan.

Around 3pm that afternoon, the vicar went to Barn Cottage to talk to George Bailey. Bailey answered the door but claimed not to know a Miss Marks amongst his ‘thirty pupils’. As the Revd Allen prepared to leave, Bailey suddenly recalled a Miss Lilian Marks visiting him in a state of great distress. The vicar, however, had not mentioned to Bailey that Miss Mark’s first name was Lilian. A distressed woman appearing on a doorstep would hardly reveal her first name to a total stranger. When Revd Allan returned to Cores End he found Mr. Marks waiting for him. They decided to report George Bailey to the police.

It was the afternoon of Thursday 30th September when Superintendent George Kirby from Wycombe and Inspector William West from Marlow received from Mr. Marks a complaint of a serious assault against his daughter. Inspector West visited Barn Cottage the following morning to speak with Mr. Bailey but there was no one there and the cottage was locked, although some windows were open upstairs.

Superintendent Kirby agreed to meet Inspector West the next morning, Saturday, at Barn Cottage to investigate further. The truth about George Bailey was about to emerge. He was already under police surveillance by Marlow police who had witnessed some thirty women calling at either Furlong Road or Barn Cottage in response to his advertisement. They tried the doors but all were locked. However, the Inspector climbed through the window, saw a front door key on the mat and was able to let Superintendent Kirby in.

No one was about and in fact the table was laid ready for tea with bread and jam, butter and cakes and some kind of pudding. This was hardly the scene of someone leaving in a panic knowing that they are likely to be reported for a serious sexual assault. Upstairs told a different story. In the back room where Lilian had heard the child crying were two camp beds, one of which was covered by a large counterpane and underneath that particular bed was what appeared to be a large bundle of sheets. When the officers investigated more closely, they found the body of a young woman who had obviously been dead for a couple of days and whose flesh had a strange discolouration. They immediately arranged for two doctors to attend from Marlow and they both agreed it was death by poison. The cottage was sealed off as a crime scene and the hunt began immediately for George Bailey.

On Sunday October 3rd, the famous Home Office pathologist Doctor Spilsbury carried out a post-mortem at the crime scene, removing the contents of the stomach for analysis at his London laboratory, but one thing was clear, the young woman was in an advanced state of pregnancy, so there were now two victims of this tragic crime.
Doctor Bernard Henry Spilsbury: Home Office Pathologist

The body was identified as Kate Lilian Bailey, aged 22, Bailey’s wife of just over four years. Bailey’s real job was as a milkman for Mr. Hall the local dairyman, who had only recently taken him on. He had said he used to be a milkman for the Express Dairy Company, which turned out to be true. He did, however, omit to tell Mr. Hall that in 1913, he was arrested and sentenced to six months hard labour for embezzling money from them.


The milk may have been guaranteed absolutely pure, but there was lots more to learn about George Arthur Bailey, or should it be Arthur George Bailey, or even Ronald Gilbert Treherne, or perhaps Tremayne? He had been known to various police forces since 1908 when he had spent many spells in prison for fraud, forgery, and embezzlement and had become an army deserter to add to his crimes. His unfortunate pregnant wife had also suffered committal to prison as a result of his crimes for passing cheques he had forged and young Hollie, who Miss Marks wanted to comfort that terrible night, had been born in Winchester Prison.

Now Hollie’s mother was dead, poisoned, so where was Hollie now and more to the point her father, George Bailey?

It was in fact on Saturday evening October 2nd that P.C.Poole of Marlow police, who knew what Bailey looked like, spotted him and together with Detective Sergeant Purdy of the Berkshire Constabulary, arrested him at Reading railway station. P.C. Poole had been sent there just in case Bailey turned up, and he did. From Reading police station, he was taken to Marlow, questioned and charged with the wilful murder of his wife Kate Lilian Bailey.
But where was the child? Bailey had been to Swindon and left Hollie with his sister there and was apparently intending to return to Barn Cottage. On Monday, 4th October, Bailey appeared at Marlow Police Court for committal proceedings, was charged with murder and remanded to Oxford Prison.
bailey_oxford prison
He made a second appearance at Marlow the next morning and was then sent back to Oxford Prison to await his trial at Aylesbury Crown Court.

Daily Mail for October 5th, 1920, led with the following story:Bailey_Daily Mail.jpgAs a result of the inquest discovering Mrs. Bailey had been poisoned by prussic acid in her tea, and now the revelation that Mr. Bailey attempted to rape Miss Lilian Marks at that same house having seemingly murdered his wife there, the newspapers were becoming more and more incredulous as this bizarre and tragic story unfolded. Here is the Nottingham Evening Post for October 28th 1920, page 4

The trial began in January 1921 and Bailey pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ but the evidence against him was overwhelming. Miss Field and Miss Edwards both appeared in court and described their dealings with Bailey, corroborating everything that Lilian Marks had said about the recruitment process and the music. Further damning evidence was that he had actually been in possession of four bottles of the same poison at the time of his arrest at Reading railway station. Also a letter was found on him addressed to the coroner via the police. In it he admitted to poisoning his wife and it went on to outline his intention to return to Barn Cottage to give her a last kiss, murder baby Hollie then kill himself “I should like our three bodies laid together,” he had written.

On Monday 17th January, 1921, the judge sentenced George Bailey to death. [1]

The fact that he had murdered his wife and intended his daughter Hollie to suffer the same fate was horrific enough but the trial revealed something else that sent shudders around the court and put into stark context the reasons for his trespass into Miss Mark’s room on the night of 29th September which resulted in his assault on her.

On the afternoon of the 29th September when Miss Marks was in Marlow waiting to return to the cottage, Mrs. Bailey had been seen by a neighbour apparently in good spirits. She had indeed been the woman who Lilian glimpsed through the doorway that morning while she was receiving tuition with Miss Field and Miss Edwards. Bailey had slipped stramonia* in her tea that very afternoon and when she felt unwell because of this drug, he had put her to bed in the back room where he fed her with prussic acid and, in a perverse attempt to ease the agony of that poison, gave her chloroform.

*Datura stramonium, known by the English names jimsonweed or devil’s snare, is a plant in the nightshade family.

In answer to the counsel’s question, “Where was your child then?” Bailey answered “In bed with my wife.”

The court was horrified as he went on to explain that he left his little girl next to her murdered mother and then had to concentrate on not letting Miss Marks enter that same room to comfort the crying child. That’s why he insisted on entering her room and staying with her until the next morning.

When Miss Marks went downstairs to prepare the breakfast, he had bundled the corpse under the bed and brought Hollie downstairs pretending that she was his niece. That three year old child had spent fourteen hours lying next to her murdered mother and Miss Marks had spent the night with that same murderer in her room who then attempted to rape her and make her pregnant.

Only a little over four months had passed since Miss Marks answered what the newspapers referred to a “a curious advertisement” in the Bucks Free Press, but things would never be quite the same for Lilian Marks. That advert certainly did change her life.

Hollie was brought up by her grandmother in Devon and the subject of her real parents was a forbidden area of questioning. Her own imagination and snippets of overheard conversations led her to believe her parents had died in some sort of suicide pact. Three marriages and five children later, she began to seek the truth about her parents.

Discovering she had been born in Winchester Prison, she also checked up on a vague memory about Oxford Prison and found her father had been executed there for murder in 1921, She obtained her mother’s death certificate which recorded death by poisoning.

So it was, at the age of 66, she wrote to the Bucks Free Press asking them to help her find out the truth about that day in Little Marlow when she was only three years old. Robert Perrin, feature writer at the paper listened to her story and together they visited Barn Cottage. Hollie recounted how she used to have recurring nightmares where she would be clawing at a mound of earth because she knew a body was underneath but would stop before uncovering it. Now knowing the tragic reasons for that horrific dream, she was starting to understand the torment of her thoughts over the preceding years.

As for her father’s claim to have invented ‘the musical notation of the future’, it had been dismissed in court as, ” Grossly grotesque, resembling a crude drawing of a trail of tadpoles seeking an incubator.”

Bailey,  however, passionately defended it to the end. After an unsuccessful appeal against his death sentence,George Arthur Bailey was executed on March 2nd 1921 at Oxford Prison. His last words were revealed by his High Wycombe solicitor and they were, “Don’t let my music die.” [2]



[1] It was also a significant case as women had only recently been permitted serve on juries and this was the first case in which women jurors condemned a man to death.
bailey_jurors.jpgSource: Daily Mail January 18th, 1821 p.4

women jurors
First mixed jury  waiting to be sworn in at the Central Criminal Court old Bailey: Source: Illustrated London News, Saturday, January 22, 1921

[2] Also in the same paper was the following editorial which relates to the sexist attitudes that have prevailed when it comes to women and the law: It really is worth reading in order to understand the context of this case in relation to the changes in allowing women to sit on the jury in a  murder trial:



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The Mystery Of The Death Of Judge Albert Prince & The Stavisky Affair

democideWell, since the recent events at Salisbury, when the cloak and dagger activities of possible state-sponsored assassination attempts began to rattle around that Cathedral City, I’ve been waiting to see the rare use of the word ‘democide’ but it seems Rudloph Rummel’s (1932–2014) excellent definition is still waiting in the wings, ie: “the murder  of any person or people by their government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder.”NERVE_POSTER

This double-agent story, of course, triggered memories of the 2006 murder of Alexandar Litvinenko in London, but as a criminologist, I was taken back further to another controversial case of the 1930’s known as,”The Stavisky Affair,” in France.

However, this was not a double-agent cold-war spy case at all, but an incredibly intricate and clever embezzlement that engulfed major French political figures forcing the Premier of the time, Camille Chautemps (1885-1963) to resign. En-route we have a government-run pawn-shop swindle; a bogus medical clinic scam, duping pregnant women; a murdered judge and fashion model, and two innocent children and apparent ‘suicides’ of the Russian-born instigator, Serge Alexandre Stavisky and other ‘players’ – dying in mysterious circumstances and mysterious places. Also the sheer scale of this scandal encompassed not only France and Russia, but Spain, America and England and is so intricate and complex a mere blog cannot cope with it!

So why am I even going there?

Two reasons – firstly you may well like to set off on your own volition and have a deeper a look this if it’s a new story to you – it really is worth doing, but my second reason was to re-visit one unsolved mystery that occurred as part of this whole scandal – the mysterious death of Mr. Albert Prince, a judge of the Paris Court of Appeal and to do this by paying tribute to the excellent Illustrated London News of March 17th 1934 by using their skilfully- crafted illustrated investigative ‘adventure’ – taking their readers some way into the murky shadows of what appears to be some form of state-sponsored murder [1]

[Just to add,  in the light of the recent Oscar winning film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, – this case even contains a similar tactic used to expose the French police with a  campaign of inflammatory posters bearing the name of the Independent Deputy for Marseilles, Simon Sabiana, accusing him of standing back from solving Judge Albert  Prince’s murder case because of a police cover- up about its own involvement. [2]

Okay, for the moment assume you’ve dipped into a TV soap having never watched an episode before. Here is the Sunday Times piece for March 18th 1934 (p.21) that can quickly give you the gist of how sensational it all was and you’ll notice  a mere passing mention of the murder of Monsieur Albert  Prince. That’s where we will stop and take our detour courtesy of the London Illustrated News, eight-four years ago this week.

SUNDAY TIMES_PRINCEb.jpgAlso – here is a brief extract from a very competent précis of the whole set-up to start you on your own journey if you wish to take it: “A colossal swindle perpetrated by Serge Alexandre Stavisky brought scandal and ruin down on the heads of some of France’s most esteemed government leaders in the years preceding the outbreak of World War II.  L’affaire Stavisky filled reams of official court transcripts as prosecutors attempted to sift through conflicting evidence to learn how it was possible for a Russian-born swindler operating out of a government-supervised pawn shop to cause so much chaos in the marketplace. As the court pondered, hordes of angry citizens standing outside the Chamber of Deputies chanted, “Assassins! Thieves! Staviskys!” A new word had entered the French lexicon of popular slang.”

Are you ready to enjoy some wonderful (rare) sketch illustrations and start your criminological journey to try and solve this ‘cold-case’ murder of 1934? This reconstruction is the work of writer, M. M. Albéric Cahuet (1877-1942) & artist, André Galland (1886-1965) to which full credit and admiration is duly given.

Overview by Albéric Cahuet– 

On February 21st 1934, the mutilated body of Mr. Albert Prince, A Judge of the Paris Court of Appeal was found on the railway line near Dijon. From June 1925 until October 1931, Mr. Prince was at the head of the financial section of the Public Prosecutor’ s Office and therefore he might have been able to throw considerable light on certain aspects of  The Stravinsky Affair. For that reason it was at once assumed that he had been murdered in order that his lips might be sealed. The first results of the post-mortem showed there were no knife or bullet wounds on the body. Later, Dr. Khun, having examined the body and made various tests, affirmed that he had found in the tissue traces of a toxic substance of a narcotic nature. The police were baffled and as this is written, the mystery remains unsolved. The following points may be made in connection with this very plausible reconstruction. In January a stranger presented himself at the house in which Mr. Prince’s mother lives in Dijon, asking after Madame’s health and was told the name of her doctor – Dr. Ehringer. Evidently, it is argued a careless note was made, for in telegraphing to his wife on arrival at Dijon, Mr. Prince, presumably given the name by the stranger, who is thought to have met him there, wired it as ‘Hallinger’. On February 20th some person unknown rang up Mr. Prince in Paris and told him that his aged mother was to be operated on in Dijon that evening and begged him to come at once. Thereupon the Judge, never doubting the authenticity of the message, caught the 12.32pm train from Paris. He reached Dijon at and six minutes later sent the telegram to his wife saying that his mother was going  on as well as could be expected and that he was starting for the nursing home. His movements between the time he left the Hôtel Morot, Dijon and the time his dead body was found on the line at Combe-Aux-Fées are unknown. The argument advanced is that he was lured nominally to “La Providence” but actually to  Combe-Aux-Fées to meet his death – death which must seem to have been caused by a train; even, it may have been due to suicide. But the knife found by the body was blood-stained but the body had no mark of a knife wound. The conclusion is that the knife was left as a symbol – a sign of revenge and a threat to the living who might be called to given evidence in the Stravinsky Affair. A motor-car with dimmed headlights was seen standing near the railway close to the spot where the body was found, at the presumed time of death. Mr. Prince’s mother was never a patient at “La Providence.”  Here is the reconstruction by artist André Galland.


Stavisky_2On February 20th, 1934, Albert Prince left Paris for Dijon, summoned to his mother’s bedside by an authoritative telephone call. At the Gare De Lyon, Monsieur Prince caught the 12.32 pm train for Dijon. Was he being shadowed? An important witness has stated that he was. During the journey from Paris to Dijon, Mr. Prince it  may be assumed dealt with notes and documents carried in his portfolio  – possibly, indeed with material concerning ‘The Stavisky Affair’. Was he spied upon in the train?Stavisky_4
The train reached Dijon at 4.44pm and Mr. Prince got out. Everything suggests that he was stopped at this moment by a stranger who introduced himself as a messenger from the doctor named as attending Mr. Prince’s mother. (Possible the owner of the authoritative voice that send the judge on his death-journey)Stavisky_5
At the station post-office, Mr. Prince sent a telegram to his wife, saying that his mother was reported as being as well as possible after her operation and that he was going to the nursing home. The name of his mother’s doctor was incorrectly spelt, Hallinger instead of Ehringer.Stavisky_3
Leaving the station. Mr. Prince walked to the Hôtel Morot close by. Apparently the mysterious messenger who had met him on his arrival, took good care not to be seen with him in the telegraph office or at the hotel thus guarding against future identification.At the Hôtel Morot, Mr. Prince booked a room and filled in the particulars required by the registrar, desposited his suitcase (but not his portfolio which was found by his body, minus certain papers,) and went out. It was evident that he was in a hurry.Stavisky_6Here theory begins: Mr. Prince allowed himself to be driven into the country in the belief that he was going to “La Providence” to which he had been told his mother had been removed. Its wall is on the left.Stavisky_7
But the car passed “La Providence” (possibly with Mr. Prince stunned or drugged) and continued up the Chèvre-Morte Road, and, by way of the Route Nationale and under the little railway bridge to the Combe-Aux-Feés. At the Combe-Aux-Feés, Mr. Prince’s death was assured and the body was borne up a short incline leading to the little wall beside the railways line.On the right is a hut in which the body could have been hidden in an emergency.Stavisky_8
The wall having been crossed with ease, the murderers, seeking to place the body on the line, slid and dragged their burden by way of a patch of small loose pebbles. Ten minutes latter a goods train passed crushing and breaking the body which had a broken cord around one of the ankles.Stavisky_9
One reconstruction of the last stage of Mr. Prince’s death-journey: The judge was driven to and past “La Providence” – the car then traversing the Chèvre-Morte Road,and turning righr into the Route Nationale to reach the  Combe-Aux-Feés
A second reconstruction of the last stage of the death-journey: The car went past Talent following the Troyes Road until it reached a lonely spot sat which Mr. Prince (drugged or already dead) could be secreted until he could be borne to  Combe-Aux-Feés by night.
A dog on a neighbouring farmstead was heard howling about the time of the death – reacting traditionally to the passing-by of a dead body (note from me: this may be a translation quirk or there’s some kind of folk-lore insertion purported here by Albéric Cahuet– surely he means the dog was merely alerted by strangers passing!)


X – point where body found: (1) Paris-Dijon railway line (2) Combe-Aux-Feés quarry in which a car would be moved about or left without being seen from the road  (3) The shortest incline leading to the railway line (4) The Fountaine-Aux-Feés (5) Inaccessible road down the valley (6) Cultivated ground near Talant (7) The Rover Ouche.


Well- there you have the story as presented to the readers of the London Illustrated News week-ending March 17th 1934 – a really intriguing piece of history enacted eight-four years ago. Interesting that traces of a toxic substance of a narcotic nature were found by one doctor and immediately that line of inquiry was shut down and the doctor taken off the register. This is all gold-dust to conspiracy theorists – but probably,  in this case, genuinely so.  What do you think?


[1]The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, April 01, 1934; pg. 13; Issue 5790.


[2] Poster Campaign against Police.  The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, April 01, 1934; pg. 13; Issue 5790.


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