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As observed on the Membership page, our monthly meetings usually feature a Turn by one of the Members. These can take many forms, but often manifest themselves as addresses on diverse esoteric subjects. It struck me that it might be nice to preserve these lectures in written format, which is why I’ve added this page. Some of these first appear in the monthly Newsletter—just one of the many benefits of Membership. Conventional wisdom has it that no one goes to the Internet for a long read, in which case I’m wasting my time. But for the sake of flying in the face of convention, here goes. Before long we’ll have a body of learning to rival the British Library.

The Colony Room

A Farewell to Egon Ronay

A History of the Rolls-Royce Aero Engine

A History of Gentleman’s Clubs in London

Duelling For Dummies

Inspector Maigret: Smoke and Mirrors

Fitzrovia Pubs

Famous Typewriters

The T-Team

Breaking the Rules

The Military Life of the Duke of Wellington

The Faeries of Kensington

Woolworth’s: The Rise and Decline of a Five-and-Dime Dynasty

“We Didn’t Have a Uniform As Such…”: Fashion in the British Army During the Second World War

The French Invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797

The Drones Club

Voyaging Through the Strange Seas of Thought: Travel, Nostalgia and the Triumph of the Imagination

Important Penny-Farthing News

Over The Line (a short story)

Primordial Hat Lore Discovered

In the Land of the Long White Cloud, Part 1

You Mean They Can Make Wine in America?

The Sayings of Noël Coward

1908

Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen

Flight Lieutenant Gordon Brettel DFC

The Silver Bullet: A Monograph on the Martini

The Eight Kinds of Drunkennesse

The Assassination of Georgi Markov

In Search of Sheri-Dan

Obituary Euphemisms

The Adelphi Theatre Murder

A Letter From the Colonies

1907

The New Sheridan Guide to Hangovers

A Journey to Vienna’s Coffee Houses

Some Interesting Discourses on Strong Drink

Life Without Butter

Satanism: Separating Fact from Myth

A Weekend Invitation

Nina Hamnett, the Queen of Bohemia

Suits You, Sir

 

 

 

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The Colony Room

  By Torquil Arbuthnot

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 46)  

In 1948 a Jewish lesbian called Muriel Belcher got permission to open a private club, with a drinks licence between 3 and 11 pm. In those dismal days (and indeed up to the late 1980s) pubs shut from 2.30 till 5 pm leaving thirsty people with nowhere to slake their thirst unless they belonged to a private watering-hole. Muriel Belcher came from a well-to-do Jewish family and had run a nightclub in Leicester Square, the Music Box, during the war. The Colony Room was so named after Muriel Belcher’s then girlfriend, a Jamaican called Carmel, and decorated, in a rather desultory fashion, in bamboo and leopardskin.

Francis Bacon happened upon the club on its first day of opening, and got on so well with Muriel Belcher that she offered to pay him £10 a week to bring in “interesting” people and wealthy patrons. The club soon became a haunt of louche Soho, with members such as Dylan Thomas, Lucien Freud, John Minton, the two Roberts, Colin MacInnes, Jeffrey Bernard, George Melly, Noel Coward, John Deakin and many others. For many celebs, such as Dennis Hopper, David Bowie and Tennessee Williams, the Colony Room was the place they wanted to drink in when in London. Even Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon used to pop in.

Muriel Belcher was not exactly welcoming and was known for her sharp tongue. All members, whatever their sex, were addressed as “Mary”. Those she disliked were “cunts” but those she particularly favoured were addressed as “Cunty”. (Indeed, the word “CUNTY” was etched on to the cash register when I used to frequent the club.) Apparently the novelist John Braine lurched in there in the 1960s, and Muriel Belcher took such a dislike to him that she kept calling him “Miss Hitler”. He never returned.

“Cunt” remained a common unit of conversational currency in the Colony Room. Recently I was chatting to a member about an acquaintance of his. “What’s he like?” I asked. Michael said sonorously, “He’s a cunt. He’d heard I’d described him as a cunt and came up to me in Frith Street the other day and said, oh so plaintively, ‘Why did you describe me as a cunt, Michael?’ I said, ‘Because you are a cunt.’ He went away…”

The MP and possible Communist spy Tom Driberg was a member. A “confirmed bachelor” of the Joe Orton cottaging type, Driberg used to turn up at the club with a different young man in tow every week. Breezily describing the youngster as “one of my constituents” he used to dismiss the youth with a handful of coins and an order to go and play on the fruit-machine.

The membership was always small, never rising above 200 or so, and the annual fees negligible (about £150 in 2008). It has been described as the most exclusive club in London. One couldn’t apply for membership: one had to be asked. The only criterion for membership was that one wasn’t “fucking boring”. There was also no attention given to whether one was famous or not. One Evening Standard journalist who used to meet Francis Bacon there said somewhat huffily: “It is hard to see now, as the West End hums with salubrious private members’ clubs, restaurants and bars, what attracted aristocrats, artists, actors and anarchists to the Colony. It certainly wasn’t to meet someone famous: on the occasions I drank there with Bacon, no one could have cared less who he was.” Well, yes, that was precisely the point. The membership was always eclectic: when I used to drink there one could be chatting to a famous actor one minute and a plasterer’s mate the next. There was no distinction made in the club.

Muriel Belcher ran the place until she died in 1979. She bequeathed the place to her barman, Ian Board (known as “Ida”), who was if anything even ruder than her, and who sported a magnificent purple nose courtesy of his fondness for brandy. When Ian Board pegged out in 1994 the club was taken over by his barman, Michael Wojas. Ian Board’s ashes were kept in a bust of the old josser himself, on top of the fridge behind the bar. Wojas was educated at Haberdasher’s Aske’s school and then read chemistry at Nottingham University. In 1981 he came down to London and took a job as barman in the Colony as a stop-gap measure. Initially Ian Board was so suspicious of Wojas that he used to hide the day’s takings in the club before he went home. As he was pissed at the end of the night he could never remember where he’d hidden the cash so Wojas and he would spend the first hour the next day searching for it, usually finding it stuffed in the piano or behind a mirror.

In the 1980s and 1990s the old membership started to die off. Fortunately there was no shortage of “interesting” drinkers in Soho and the club was soon home to the YBAs such as Damian Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin and others. Wojas also started music nights when the likes of Billy Bragg and Suggs would play, and also “celebrity barman” nights when Kate Moss and Sam Taylor-Wood took a turn behind the counter. Wojas was always to be found sitting on the barstool closest to the door where he could keep an eye on things in the mirrors behind the chimneypiece. He once said of his role in the club, “I am the proprietor, bar manager, lavatory attendant, psychiatric counsellor, odd job man and accountant.”

I first went to the Colony Room in, I think, 2004. I’d been drinking with Happy Gatwick (chairman of the old Sheridan Club) and Fran Colomb in Trisha’s, a drinking dive on Greek Street. We got chatting to a chanteuse called La Celine who dresses as a guardsman and sings music-hall songs she composes herself. She was having a birthday party in the Colony and invited us along, presumably because we were good little drinkers. Anyway, we rolled up at the club in Dean Street, pressed the doorbell, and climbed the grimy stairs to the first floor. The Colony Room was just one smallish room, painted a depressing shade of bottle-green, the walls covered in paintings, drawings, photographs and tat. The artwork, I noticed, included originals by Bacon, Freud, Michael Andrews, Hirst, Auerbach, Emin, Sebastian Horsley and various others. There was a drawing of Prince Charles having a wank. There was also a gold-plated Kalashnikov AK47 in a glass case. There was some grubby bankette seating to the side and a couple of barstools. The room was crammed with 40 or 50 people all smoking and drinking and chatting as if all three activities were about to be rationed. I went to the bar and ordered a bottle of champagne, divining correctly that a request for a bottle of beer or a glass of Diet Coke would be met with an amiable invitation to go fuck myself.

I proceeded to do what was expected of someone in the Colony Room, i.e. get very drunk and talk bollocks. I remember (vaguely) chatting to the bloke who played Spider in Coronation Street and having a chat about pistol shooting with someone else. A Glaswegian redhead called Karen (now a New Sheridan member) came over to me and asked if I wrote for The Chap, and we then talked of the Modern Times parties which she’d heard about. Not long afterwards two Colony Room stalwarts came up to me and said (and bear in mind this is the most exclusive club in London at that time) “You’re the sort of person we want in the Col. D’you want to join?” Obviously I’d never been so insulted in my life and told them to fuck off. I later found out this was the correct (instinctual) response. Had I shown eager interest the offer would’ve been forgotten. For various reasons I never ended up joining the club, and when I finally started reaching for my wallet and the membership fee the place had folded.

The Colony Room closed in 2008 but for three years Minna and I used to pop in there regularly as the guests of a couple of members. The company was always entertaining and always eclectic. As Sebastian Horsley said, “The Club reminded me of an alcoholic tardis. It was minute on the outside but huge on the inside and you went there for love, which they served by the glassful.” At one time or another I chatted to Stephen Fry’s boyfriend and his brother and his girlfriend; a French mirror designer who had the disconcerting habit of resting his head heavily on one’s shoulder while talking; various angry lesbians who thawed once one was rude back; legendary barman Dick Bradsell; two heavily-bearded gents in three-piece tweed suits and ZZ Top beards called “The Rubbishmen of Soho”; and numerous amiable drunks. The first time I met Michael Wojas, the owner, we were both so drunk we shook hands and managed inadvertently to headbutt each other. Wojas, towards the end of his life, was described as “looking like a blade of grass growing under a bucket”.

I was in there one evening with Minna and Karen and I got chatting to some dark-haired woman with a Lancashire accent. She commented on my skin problem and opined it was the result of eating too much cheese. Ever the gentleman, I told her that, come to that, she had huge nostrils. We then got on famously and she ended up sitting on my knee, to Minna’s obvious amusement. The Lancashire lass went off to powder her nose and Minna and Karen asked, giggling furiously, if I knew who I’d been talking to. “Nope,” I said. I was then told I’d been talking nonsense to Lisa Stansfield.

Another time Minna and I were in there and some has-been actor type started showing off, for some reason, about the writer Cyril Connolly (editor of Horizon during the war). As I’m interested in the 1930s and 1940s, and a connoisseur of Connolly’s writing, the has-been had met his match. As he name-dropped ever-more obscure Connolly articles, I could quote from them. He ended up flouncing off to the bar, a broken man. Earlier he’d been telling us he’d got his tan “summering in the Bahamas” with the Duke of Somewhere. As he left us Karen’s friend said in a loud voice, “Tan in the Bahamas, my arse. Touch of the tarbrush more like.”

The Colony Room closed in 2008 for mysterious reasons. The rent was only £12,500 a year but Michael Wojas claimed the club couldn’t afford it. He didn’t pay the rent and the landlord chucked the club out of the premises. Wojas then decided the artwork in the club was his and auctioned it. Some of it was sold before some sort of legal suspension was applied when the original artists (such as Horsley and Hirst) objected. Westminster Council then slapped a ban on the landlord turning the club into flats. The club split on two lines, some members taking a pro and some an anti Wojas line. Rumours abound to this day. All I can say is that £12,500 is a piffling sum and that I’ve seen £1,000 taken at the bar on a not-very-busy Friday night at the club.

Michael Wojas used to turf people out at 11 pm (we then used to crash various Soho private members’ clubs) with the words: “Rush-up, dash-up, spend-up and fuck off.” Like anyone who’s ever been there, I miss the place a good deal.

 

 

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A Farewell to Egon Ronay

 

By Ronald Porter

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 45)

 

Egon Ronay, author of the famous Egon Ronay Good Food Guides, died on Saturday 12th June at the incredible age of 94. As a food and wine writer, I met him on many occasions. I liked him. He was always charming and always had something interesting or witty to say.

He was born in Hungary on 24th July 1915. His family had their substantial estates confiscated by the Russians after the war, so Egon fled to England and started helping out at a restaurant in the West End. He later opened up his own restaurant near Harrods in 1949 to great success. Later, in 1957, he published his first Good Food Guide. They sold like hot cakes and, over the next few decades, he became a much admired and respected food critic. He sold the rights to his books to the AA in 1985 but later claimed them back and published his last guide, in conjunction with the RAC, in 2005. He died at his house in Berkshire with his wife and elder daughter by his bedside.

Over the years, I collected many copies of his guides. They were highly readable and appeared far more reliable, to me at any rate, than all the rival publications put together. In fact, in the early 1960s, when I started to get seriously interested in food and wine, at the tender age of about 12, there were only two publications apart from Ronay’s. One was a slightly stuffy book called The Ashley Courtney Guide. The other was the Which? Good Food Guide. It relied, too heavily for my liking, on reports from readers who tended, so I thought then, not to know a lot about food or anything else for that matter.

Egon’s Guides were very useful to a novice like me. I found his tips priceless. For example, he would always point out to readers that astronomically dear restaurants did, on certain days and at certain times, dirt-cheap, set- priced meals. That was a godsend to some one like me. I only had pocket money to spend plus, from time to time, hand outs from rich aunts and uncles. It was through Egon’s books that I got to know about the cheap, fixed-price menus at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. And thanks to Egon, I became a persistant attender of the Causerie at Claridge’s, where you could help yourself to masses of food, at a bargain basement price—and go up for more as often as you liked. As a teenager, I lunched and dined there as a king, and very often with real Kings, albeit most of them “ex”, deposed former heads of state!

That fabulous, regal existence came to an abrupt end in the mid-Sixties. The then Chief Executive of the Savoy Group, Ramón Pajeres, decided it would be more profitable to close the Causerie and re-open it as an expensive drinks bar, also selling rather pricey nursery food. When I reminded him of this dreadful deed a few years ago, he smiled and said, “Yes, it was crowded with your sort. But we could not afford to subsidise the hard-up genteel set any longer!’’

Another of Egon’s tips, to the down-trodden folk like me on to their last million, was Afternoon Tea at London’s smartest of smart hotels. He pointed out, quite correctly, that their afternoon teas were loss leaders. They were a way of enticing people in who would not normally afford go there and “encourage them to experience a great hotel”. To be honest, after reading his books, I did not need much more in the way of “encouraging”. In a very short time, I was on first name terms with the Irish Maitre D’ at the Ritz, the late Michael Toomey. Nothing could keep me away from the cream and jam scones, the ham sandwiches, the delicious cakes and creamy pastries, served with piping hot cups of tea from a silver pot. I frequently saw people like Hardy Amies at the next table. And at other tables there were cabinet ministers like Norman St John Stevas and Christopher Soames. As a hard-up undergraduate, I would often take tea at the Ritz and sit, in utter poverty, amidst the splendours of the Ritz Winter Garden, in the days when the fountain actually worked! Although I was hard-up, I refused to be poor. And how could you be poor, with umpteen waiters ready to serve you delicious food in the finest of fin-de-siècle surroundings?

Of course, there are criticisms that can be made of his guides. He would sometimes spend far too much time talking about the interior of the restaurant, how it was decorated, the flower arrangements, the state of the table cloths, the state of the furniture, the patterns in the carpets and the condition of the curtains. After dealing with all that, you would be lucky to get a sentence or two on whether the food was any good and if it was worth the money. But then he was aiming at an English audience. And the English are unduly influenced by such matters. So, I must admit, am I!

He claimed his inspectors were unobtrusive and “anonymous”. So if you saw a chap at a table in a restaurant with a pencil and a notebook, writing furiously every time he tasted the food, looked at the wine list or the menu, you were supposed not to draw the inescapable conclusion that he was a food and wine writer!

He was one of those foreigners who wanted us to believe the myth that before he arrived in England, our food was dreadful. Now, because of rationing and shortages during and after the war, our food was a bit boring for far longer than it should have been. But I do not agree it was universally awful. My mother’s house, in the Forties and Fifties, always had an excellent choice of food every day of the week. She had high standards right up until she died in 2002. So did a lot of other English housewives. And we had some excellent restaurants during and after the war, as we still do today. Had he never heard of Simpsons, the Goring Hotel and the restaurant at Selfridges, to name but a few in London? I admit that, on being asked by the then Transport Minister in the early 1970s, he did help to improve the cuisine in motorway service stations. But some of us, like me, still mourn the virtual disappearance of the old Wonderloaf bacon butty, oozing with melted margarine from the heat of the fried bacon!

Finally, he claimed to be totally independent and never to take money for product endorsements or be beholden to anyone. This is not the whole truth. His guides were full of adverts related, in some way, shape or form, to the world of food, wine and travel. In one guide I have just looked at, I have been told to drink Schweppes, to try Tio Pepe, to use gas from Mr Therm (did we have a choice in those days?), to cook with Sheffield Stainless Steel, to “keep going well, keep going Shell” and reminded that “Esso Blue means happy motoring”.

Ronald Porter was the food and wine critic for What’s On for 20 years, a job he now does for the London Press Club’s magazine. He is also a regular contributor to The Conservative History Journal and the magazine of The National Liberal Club. He also writes regular obituaries for The Independent, The Times and the The Daily Telegraph.

Ronald’s Tips for Pennywise Eating

Breakfast at Weatherspoons

Egon Ronay was an advisor/consultant to the pub chain Weatherspoons. They do a Big British Breakfast offer in most—not all—of their pubs. You get a huge plate of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, beans, black pudding, mushrooms, etc, plus tea and toast for about £6. You must order it before 12 noon.

City Hall, Queen’s Walk, London SE12AA

One of the best bargains currently available is the restaurant at the Greater London Authority’s City Hall, next to HMS Belfast and a five-minute walk along the river from London Bridge tube/rail station. It’s not open in the evenings but you can have a three-course lunch for about £7 including a soft drink and coffee, and you can buy wine there too. Closed at week ends and bank holidays. Mayor Boris Johnson frequently lunches there.

The Ritz Hotel, 150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR

The Ritz still does fixed-price set menus for luncheon and dinner. I think these are a better bargain than their teas which are now about £40 pounds a person and must be booked way in advance (not so for dinner or lunch). The Dining Room is splendid—probably the best in any hotel in London, or Europe for that matter.

 

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A History of the Rolls-Royce Aero Engine

 

By Robert Loveday

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 44)

 

To my mind, there is no sound more exciting and evocative than the sound of a Rolls-Royce piston aircraft engine, preferably a Merlin on the front of a Supermarine Spitfire. Not merely because of its gut-shaking power and heart-snapping roar (you can hear it on the video on page 9), but because there’s so much history stacked behind it—the brilliance of the engineers that built the engines, the exploits of the machines they powered and the tales of derring-do, pluck and bravery of the men that piloted them. And it tells a story that you could well argue has played a part in the history of this nation and indeed the wider world.

That story begins with Charles Rolls, who was born on 27th August 1877 in London, third son of the 1st Baron Llangattock. He was educated at Eton, where his love of things mechanical earned him the nickname “Dirty Rolls” (ahem) and later at Cambridge, where he studied mechanical engineering.

He was a “Toad of Toad Hall” character—the archetypal rich dilettante. A founder member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain, he bought his first car at 18. In 1904, he founded Rolls-Royce with Henry Royce (the plan being that Royce would build the cars, while the more flamboyant Rolls would sell them).

But by 1906, Rolls’ interest in the business was already beginning to wane in favour of aviation, and he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce to design an aero engine. Rolls was a pioneer aviator and balloonist, making over 170 balloon ascents. He was also a founding member of the Royal Aero Club in 1903.

In 1909 he bought a plane and made more than 200 flights. Sadly, on 12th July 1910, aged 32, Rolls was killed in an air crash near Bournemouth when the tail of his aircraft broke off during a flying display. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident, and the eleventh internationally.

But during the global cataclysm that was the First World War, Rolls-Royce did start producing aero engines. Their first, in 1915, was the Rolls-Royce Eagle. (I should mention that all Rolls-Royce piston aircraft engines are named after birds of prey.)

This was a V12 liquid-cooled engine, delivering up to 350hp—and consuming 24 gallons of fuel an hour. The first aircraft it powered were the Handley Page “0” series of bombers—huge aircraft for their time (with a 100ft wingspan, comparable to a modern short-haul airliner), which were conceived as long-range bombers in 1915 after someone at the War Office asked for “a bloody paralyser of an aeroplane”. They didn’t have much of an effect on the course of the war, but were nonetheless impressive because of their size. It was also used on the De Havilland DH4 two-seat bomber—often cited as the best aircraft of its type in the First World War, as it was faster and flew higher than anything the Germans had.

However, the most notable aircraft it powered was the Vickers Vimy. Also designed as a bomber, it entered service too late to see action in the Great War, but gained considerable fame by making record long-distance flights—the greatest perhaps being the first non stop crossing of the Atlantic in June 1919 (just ten years after the first crossing of the English Channel, by Louis Bleriot).

The flight was undertaken by two plucky Brits—pilot Captain John Alcock (aged 27 at the time), and his navigator Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown (33). Both were war veterans, but both had been shot down and taken prisoner. This meant they had fairly limited flying experience, especially with so large a plane (Brown had been an observer, and had taught himself aerial navigation while a prisoner. He had almost no experience as a navigator before the flight of the Vimy).

The aircraft was modified with extra tanks that carried 865 gallons of fuel. And as it was made of wood and canvas (as were all aircraft of its time) you can imagine how flammable it was. Its top speed was around 100mph, and its cramped open cockpit was equipped with only the most rudimentary instruments, with practically none for blind-flying.

At 1.45pm on 14th June 1919, on a makeshift airfield outside St John’s, Newfoundland, Brown opened the throttles. Barely clearing trees at the end of the field, they looked ahead at almost 2,000 miles of ocean.

It was a flight from hell. Shortly after takeoff their radio broke down. Then one of the exhaust pipes on the starboard engine melted—they could do nothing about it. The first few hours were uneventful—then at 5pm a fog bank appeared. They had to fly through it, and it was so thick they couldn’t see their wingtips. Then they flew into a huge weather front. Visibility was nil—disoriented, they went into a spiral dive from 4,000ft, pulling out just above the waves.

“The salty taste we noted later on our tongues was foam,” Alcock was later to report. “In any case the altimeter wasn’t working at that low height and I think that we were not more than 10 to 20 ft. above the water.” After their narrow escape, the pair grinned, ate sandwiches and drank a bottle of beer.

They flew on into the night—frozen. Brown had few opportunities to get a fix with his sextant, but got a star shot near midnight. At 3am it started to rain, which turned into snow, which filled the cockpit. Then ice started to form—a potentially deadly hazard. The only solution was for Brown to stand up in the cockpit, at 8,000ft, and chip the ice off vital instruments and controls. (Some accounts have him climbing out on to the wing, though this is slightly fanciful as Brown was partly lame, and it would have been difficult to clamber out on to the wing past the Vimy’s propellers. A member of Charles Kingsford-Smith’s crew did climb out on to the wing of a plane to fix an ailing engine during the first flight across the Pacific—but that’s another story…) ly after 7am the pair sighted land, and eased the aircraft down. They tried to land near Clifden, in Connemara, Ireland—in the middle of a bog—and they nosed over and crashed. They had flown 1,890 miles in around 16 hours.

Both received an immediate knighthood from George V. Sadly, Alcock died in an air crash just six months after the flight. But their aircraft has been repaired—and you can go and see it at the Science Museum, London.

The next notable engine that Rolls-Royce produced was the Kestrel, from 1927 onwards. This delivered around 550hp and incorporated a number of technological advances such as supercharging (compressing air inside the cylinders to develop more power at high altitude) and a pressurised cooling system.

It was used on a variety of different aircraft—chiefly the Hawker fighter and bomber biplanes of the 1930s, the mainstays of the RAF at the time. You can see a Hawker Hind and Hawker Demon flying at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, Bedfordshire.

Ironically, it was also used to power prototypes of the Messerschmitt BF 109—chief fighter aircraft of the Luftwaffe and nemesis of the Spitfire during the Second World War—and the infamous Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber, after Rolls-Royce loaned some engines to Nazi Germany in exchange for an aircraft to use as a test bed! Confirmation, if it were needed, of the perfidious nature of the Hun.

But by far the most impressive engine constructed during the Interbellum period was without doubt the Rolls-Royce “R” series—R standing for racing. Another liquid-cooled V12, this monster had a capacity of 37 litres, consumed 3.5 gallons of fuel a minute, and was eventually tuned to deliver a staggering 2,800hp.

Their chief use was in the technologically advanced Supermarine “S” series of racing seaplanes (designed by R. J. Mitchell, who later designed the Spitfire), which were used in the Schneider Trophy races of the 1920s and 1930s.

The Schneider Trophy was a prestigious international prize competition for seaplanes that first took place in 1913. At first held annually, it then went biannual. If a nation won three races in five years, they would retain the cup. Great Britain won the contest with the Supermarine S5 and S6 in 1927 and 1929, with the aircraft flown by the RAF High Speed flight. But due to the global economic depression, in 1931 the British government withdrew support.

However, a private donation of £100,000 from Lucy, Lady Houston allowed Supermarine to compete and win on 13th September at Cowes against only British opposition, with reportedly half a million spectators. The Italian, French, and German entrants failed to ready their aircraft in time for the competition. The aircraft, the Supermarine S6B, set a world airspeed record of 407.5 mph on 29th September 1931, the first aircraft to break the 400mph barrier. And once again, you can see it—and the Schneider Trophy itself—in the Science Museum, London.

(You can get a decent idea of the Schneider Trophy races and the genesis of the Spitfire by watching the 1942 movie The First Of The Few. There are a few inaccuracies—R. J. Mitchell died of cancer rather than by working himself to death—but it does feature a splendid turn by David Niven as a raffish pilot.)

Anyway, the massively powerful R engine wasn’t just used in aircraft—it was used by Sir Malcolm Campbell, and later his son Donald, from 1931 to 1951 in their record-breaking Blue Bird cars to set land speed records as well. Sir Malcolm managed 300 mph on 3rd September 1935 on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah and Captain George Eyston’s massive Thunderbolt car used two R engines to achieve 357mph.

They were also used to break water speed records—twin R engines were used by Henry Seagrave in the powerboat Miss England II to travel at 100mph in June 1930—though tragically the boat capsized and he was killed in the attempt. Miss England III reached 120mph in 1932 using the same engines.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the R engine was the experience it gave Rolls-Royce’s engineers, enabling them to build the company’s most famous engine—the Merlin.

First running in 1933, and initially known as the PV12 (denoting it was a private venture, i.e. without government funding), the Merlin was once more a liquid-cooled V12 of 27 litre capacity. It originally delivered 1,030hp in 1938, but was eventually boosted to deliver 2,060hp in 1945 thanks to improvements in supercharging and fuels. In all, around 150,000 Merlins of all marks were constructed.

It was used to power the legendary Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft, whose exploits in the Battle of Britain and beyond are legion, as well as the Avro Lancaster and De Havilland Mosquito bombers, and the North American Mustang long-range escort fighter.

But not everything powered by a Rolls-Royce engine was a success. For example, the Fairey Battle was a three-seater single-engine light bomber developed to replace the Hawker biplanes of the 1930s. Although, as an all-metal monoplane with retractable undercarriage, it looked modern enough, by the time it entered service it was obsolete—too lightly armed (with just one machine gun for defence) and 100mph slower than the Me 109.

When Hitler invaded France, Battles were called upon to perform unescorted low-level attacks against the advancing German army. This put them at risk of attack from fighters and within easy range of anti-aircraft guns, and their losses were horrendous. In the first of two sorties carried out by Battles, on 10 May 1940, three out of eight aircraft were lost; in the second raid, a further 10 out of 24 were shot down. Despite bombing from as low as 250 feet, their attacks had little impact on the advance.

On 11 May, only one Battle out of eight survived. The following day, five Battles attacked bridges to slow down the German advance; four of them were destroyed with the final aircraft crash-landing back at its base. Two Victoria Crosses were awarded—posthumously.

Two days later, in a desperate attempt to stop German forces crossing the Meuse river, an all-out attack was launched against the bridgehead at Sedan. The Battles were attacked by swarms of enemy fighters and were devastated. Out of a strike force of 63 planes, 35 were lost. In six weeks almost 200 Battles had gone down, with 99 lost in just six days. After the fall of France, the Battle was very quickly withdrawn from front-line service and relegated to training duties.

Even the Merlin itself had a few technical hitches. Its development caused regular problems until a Rolls-Royce engineer hit upon a brilliantly simple and brilliantly clever solution—they would take a random engine off the production line, run it until it broke down, and then whatever part had failed was immediately redesigned and improved.

A more immediate issue was the carburettor design. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, it became apparent that the Merlin-engined RAF fighters had a serious problem with their float-type carburettors while manoeuvring in combat. The negative G-force created by suddenly pushing the control stick forward and lowering the nose of the aircraft into a dive resulted in the engine being starved of fuel, causing it to cut out unless pilots rolled inverted before diving. The opposing Messerschmitts, with fuel-injected engines, didn’t suffer from this, and their pilots could escape by simply pushing the stick forward and diving away meaning the British pilots couldn’t follow.

Salvation came in the form of “Miss Shilling’s Orifice”. Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling, a young engineer working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, came up with a disarmingly simple solution. She introduced a simple flow restrictor: a small metal disc much like a plain metal washer. After it was fixed into the engine’s carburettor, it was able to reduce the fuel starvation of the engine, and once again the RAF was back in the game.

Some of the Merlin’s greatest successes were also engineering bodge-jobs. The Avro Lancaster was originally a two-engined design called the Manchester, and used two Rolls-Royce Vulture engines—these were one of the company’s real duds, with an unenviable reputation for bursting into flames. So Avro engineers hurriedly stretched the wings a bit, fitted four Merlins—and they had a winner on their hands. The Lancaster went on to be one of the RAF’s most capable aircraft, famously taking part in Operation Chastise—better known as the “Dambusters” raids—in 1943.

It was a similar story with the North American Mustang. This single-seat fighter from the USA was also a bit of a dud, performing miserably with its original Allison engine. When one was loaned to the RAF, Rolls-Royce engineers hit upon the idea of using a Merlin in it instead. The result was another world-beater—and the long-range escort fighter needed to escort the US daylight bomber formations into Germany, gaining air superiority from the Luftwaffe and paving the way for victory in Europe. To quote Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, “When I saw the Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the war was lost.”

In the jet era, the company was just as successful. So successful in fact, that in the early Fifties engines such as the Nene (all Rolls-Royce jet engines are named after rivers) were licence-built by the USA—and even the Soviet Union, after several were donated to Russia by the UK as a “goodwill gesture”. In the same decade it produced the mighty Avon, which powered the English Electric Lightning, an interceptor with truly stellar performance—it could reach Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) and fly to the edge of space (and still does; go to Thunder City in South Africa and for a few thousand quid you can take a ride in one). Currently, Rolls-Royce engines have around 40% of the global market, powering the Airbus A380 (the world’s largest passenger aircraft), the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the RAF’s latest fighter aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon.

So over 100 years of aviation, Rolls-Royce aero engines have been at the forefront of progress and innovation—and look set to continue to do so. You can imagine that Charles Rolls would have been very proud indeed.

 

Engines in the Flesh

There are plenty of places to see these classic aircraft in action, as well as in static displays.

• The best perhaps for airshows is Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The museum features regular displays of classic aircraft throughout the summer, as well as a huge collection of static aircraft, including an American B52 bomber.

• On a much smaller scale is the Shuttleworth collection at Old Warden, Bedfordshire.

It has regular airshows plus a collection of truly vintage aircraft, including the oldest airworthy British-built aeroplane, from 1912.

• A comprehensive static display can be found at the RAF museums, at Hendon and Cosford, near Birmingham.

• And of course, you can go and see Alcock and Brown’s Vimy and the Supermarine S6 at the Science Museum, London.

 

 

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A History of Gentleman’s Clubs in London

 

By Seth Alexander Thevoz

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 43)

 

Orson Welles, in a 1960s documentary on “Swinging London”, curiously decided to talk about London clubs. He thought them the antithesis of “swinging”. He said, “The club is the sanctuary of the English gentleman; the place where he goes to get away from his wife. The fact is that there’s not one wife on the whole sceptred isle who can get a foot through those massive doors, much less an American. And what’s even worse, an actor.”

Yet Welles was not unusual in being wrong on several counts. Whilst many wives were indeed excluded from London clubs, it is not accurate to say that they were off-limits to women—for several mixed and women’s-only London clubs sprouted up in the late 19th century. Nor were many clubs off-limits to actors, with some, like the Garrick and the Beefsteak, being founded with actors in mind. And an American such as Welles would have been made very welcome indeed at the American Club on Piccadilly which existed for much of the 20th century.

The lack of available sources on London clubs—combined with much rumour, innuendo and speculation—has created an enormous amount of mystique about them. My own doctoral research, into their political impact in the mid-19th century, focuses on one aspect, but their ubiquitousness as a Victorian obsession was considerable.

Clubs and politics were closely intertwined because of the effect of the three Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 on the foundation of clubs. Each time a large group of people was enfranchised, the vote became a major status symbol—these people now considered themselves middle-class, and had “arrived”. Naturally, the first instinct of a middle-class arriviste was to join a club. Unfortunately, the existing political clubs—partly because of restrictions on membership numbers and long waiting lists—wouldn’t have them. Consequently, the post-1832 electors set about establishing more inclusive clubs such as the Carlton and the Reform. These were not inclusive enough to let the post-1867 electors join, so they set up their own clubs like the Junior Carlton, and the Devonshire. (The Junior Carlton co-founded by Disraeli notably preceded the Reform Act which he saw introduced the following year.) The process happened again in the 1880s with the Constitutional and National Liberal Clubs both preceding the Third Reform Act—and these were both monolithic ‘super-clubs’; the first of a new breed of palatial late Victorian establishments providing for over 5,000 members from across the country, as opposed to the smaller clubs, typically limited to 300–1,000 members, up until then.

There is a widespread belief that clubs were an exclusively aristocratic preserve. This is true of the original 18th century gambling clubs. But by the time they spread to their greatest extent in the late 19th century, most were very much a middle-class institution—and lower-middle-class at that. The notion that great statesman could be found sipping port in the corner is false. Instead, most members would typically be “on the make”. Indeed, the young Benjamin Disraeli was a fanatical clubman from the 1830s to the 1860s, but his use of clubs seems to have declined sharply once he reached the top of “the greasy pole” and became Prime Minister. This promise of contact with the great and the good against their weariness to be accosted in their club is well-illustrated by an incident at the Carlton in the 1980s, when Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington was asked why he spent all his time at White’s when he could be spending more time in the Carlton, where he was also a member. He responded, “I go to my club to avoid the kind of people one finds in the Carlton.”

The phenomenal growth of working men’s clubs around Britain in the late nineteenth century, particularly focused across London, should also be viewed in the context of the gentlemen’s clubs of London. The two should not be confused—they had entirely separate memberships, and indeed working men’s clubs had different aims and were at least initially the product of Christian self-improvement ideology, as expressed by the Rev. Henry Solly from the 1860s onwards. Nonetheless, they were aspirational, and attempted to repeat the basic club business model and to introduce it to new sections of society in order to give them responsibility. Also, like many gentlemen’s clubs, they soon departed considerably from their original founding ideals, and became primarily focused on their social agenda. Furthermore, while there was a wide divergence in the type of premises, with many poorer working men’s clubs having sparse and underfunded facilities, the larger ones enjoyed extravagant clubhouses which compared quite favourably with the smaller gentlemen’s clubs. Thus despite very separate spheres for the different memberships, working men’s clubs and gentlemen’s clubs shared the same basic assumptions about a controlled environment for members.

The most common club business model was pioneered by the Union Club in 1797, which was the first to be jointly owned by its own members. The previous business model, which became much rarer, was the proprietary model, in which the club was run for profit by a group or individual, much as a pub might be. Several proprietary clubs such as White’s and Boodle’s switched to becoming members-owned clubs in the nineteenth century to ensure their stability. Meanwhile, the proprietary model was taken to the limit by the United Club in Mayfair, which was actually an extension of the adjoining United Hotel, with the former owned by the latter. After being named in court proceedings, it discouraged other clubs from going down quite such a commercialised route.

The increasing number of gentlemen’s clubs presented numerous opportunities for husbands to either avoid going home for most of the evening, or at least provided them with alibis for enjoying less reputable nights on the town, naturally leading to some jealousy at home. Partially in response, the late nineteenth century saw experimentation with women’s clubs. The very first was the short-lived Ladies’ Institute on Grosvenor Square, which also served as the office of The English Woman’s Journal. Unfortunately, the journal racked up considerate debts and the club closed its doors in 1867, after only seven years—but the club served as an exemplar to others. The next few decades saw the arrival of such clubs as the Ladies’ Army and Navy Club for the wives and daughters of officers, and the Ladies’ Athenaeum for ladies with an interest in the arts. Yet, despite central premises, these clubs often suffered from precarious funding and their buildings were often less impressive than the purpose-built clubhouses for men, being more typically a converted townhouse. A typical case is that of the Ladies’ Athenaeum on Dover Street, which was wholly dependent upon the patronage of Lady Randolph Churchill. When she passed away, the club could not remain solvent for more than two years.

There were also some experiments at mixed men’s and women’s clubs such as the Empress Club and the Lyceum Club. Unfortunately, they were a casualty of the Oscar Wilde scandal. One of the most prominent of their number was the Albemarle Club on Albemarle Street, where the Marquess of Queensbury tried to visit Oscar Wilde and left his calling card addressed “to Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite [sic]”, which led to Wilde’s disastrous libel suit. The citing of the club in subsequent court proceedings—and staple mentions of both Wilde and his wife being members—had a dramatic and negative effect on the reputation of mixed clubs. Barring a few clubs founded around specific gender issues, such as the mixed-sex Suffrage Club of the 1910s, mixed clubs rapidly died out, and it was not until the 1970s (and in some cases the 2000s) that many gentlemen’s clubs began admitting women. Thus clubland was briefly a mixed-sex environment with women’s clubs and mixed clubs in the late nineteenth century, but these were often the first clubs to close in the early twentieth century, leaving it a largely masculine environment in the early and mid twentieth century.

Clubland was also overwhelmingly white. Formal racial barriers to club membership were rare—although the ultra-Protestant National Club made a point of excluding Jews and Catholics. Despite the scarcity of formal barriers, it was extremely rare for clubs to admit members from Britain’s ethnic minorities. There were some examples, such as the Jewish member Henri Louis Bisscoffsheim at the Carlton in the 1870s, and the Parsi Indian member Dadabhai Naoroji at the National Liberal in the 1890s, but these were exceptions rather than the rule. The system of “blackballing” nominations for new members made it unnecessary to cite the rationale behind rejecting nominees, and so it is difficult to quantify precisely how great a barrier racial prejudice was to club membership, even though something may be inferred from the Guards’ Club stipulation that they admit no Irish or Welsh Guards, until well into the mid-twentieth century.

London’s expatriate communities responded by setting up their own clubs—there were not only four Irish clubs, a Caledonian Club and a separate Scottish Club, as well as a Welsh Club, but also clubs such as the Scandinavian Club, and the Canning Club for Latin Americans. (George Canning’s tenure as Foreign Secretary saw a great rapprochement with South America.) Numerous other groups also had their own club, particularly the professions, such as the Coventry Club for diplomats and the Smithfield Club for cattle breeders, both of which were on or near Piccadilly. The legal profession, with the Inns of Court providing club-like facilities in central London, were conspicuous in their absence, barring the short-lived Law Club of the 1830s, which operated from the back of the Law Society on Chancery Lane.

St. James’s has traditionally been the heart of clubland. The main clubs of the 18th century were all built on or directly off St. James’s Street; but from the establishment of the Guards’ Club in 1815, Pall Mall increasingly became the focus of London clubs, until competition became fierce among clubs wishing to relocate to the street, with the Royal Automobile Club demolishing the War Office building to pave the way for their new clubhouse in the 1900s, and the Kennel Club operating from the somewhat incongruous address 29a Pall Mall.

Ultimately, London clubs dominated much of central London. An estimated 400 gentlemen’s clubs, with anything from 50,000–200,000 members, and 188 working men’s clubs with 72,524 known members, dominated a large slice of London life. They reached their peak in the 1880s and 1890s, before the ravages of the First World War and changing social habits. For many Victorian men—and some women—they were the social venue of choice, with members being able to control who they met. They allowed members on often fairly modest incomes to have access to extravagant rooms. In being founded around themes such as political parties, the military, or schools and universities, they became entrenched “respectable” Victorian institutions. They were a focal point for different trades and professions, with membership often conferring a sense of achievement. Furthermore, as Antonia Taddei has observed, clubs had extended so far by the late Victorian era that almost any middle-class man could find at least one club which would admit him sooner or later.

Further Reading

For amusing anecdotes, look no further than:

Anthony Lejeune, The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, Malcolm Lewis, London, 1979. (Sumptuously illustrated but rare and generally selling for in excess of £100.)

John Timbs, Club Life of London, 2 vols, Richard Bentley, London, 1866. (Many, many subsequent reprints until 1908, most of them in 1 volume editions. Contains anecdotes of the clubs, coffee-houses and taverns of the metropolis during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries)

For a more serious, perceptive and scholarly look at clubs, I can strongly recommend the following essays, articles and papers:

W. Fraser Rae, ‘Political Clubs and Organisations’, Nineteenth Century, Vol. 3 (1878) pp.908–32

Jane Rendell, ‘The Clubs of St. James’s: places of public patriarchy—exclusivity, domesticity and secrecy’, Journal of Architecture (1999) pp.167–89

Amy Milne-Smith, ‘A Flight to Domesticity? Making a Home in the Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, 1880–1914’, Journal of British Studies, 45:4 (2006) pp.796–818

—, ‘Club Talk: Gossip, masculinity, and the importance of oral communities in late nineteenth-century London’, Gender and History, 21:1 (2009) pp.86-109

Antonia Taddei, ‘London Clubs in the Nineteenth Century’, University of Oxford Discussion Papers in Economic and Social History, No. 28 (1999)

And, of course, I can’t help but mention my own ongoing research into London clubs, for a Ph.D. thesis on ‘The political impact of London clubs, c.1832–1868’.

 

 

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Duelling For Dummies

 

By Anton Krause

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 41)

 

For the purposes of this article a duel can be defined as an engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons, over a matter of honour, conducted according to an agreed set of rules or conventions. Duelling was commonly practised in European society between the 11th and early 20th centuries.

The purpose of a duel was often not to kill the opponent (although that may be the outcome) but instead to gain satisfaction, that is to restore one’s honour by demonstrating a willingness to risk one’s life for it. Whilst the duel is often likened to, and may have evolved from, the previous trials by combat, duels differ in that they have no official sanction and their intention was not to determine guilt or innocence. In fact duels were illegal in most of Europe for much of the time that they were practised, although they were socially accepted; participants in a fair duel were rarely prosecuted and if they were were rarely convicted.

Duelling was an upper-class past-time. Only gentlemen were considered to possess honour and so only they could lose it, and duelling was reserved for social equals. If a gentleman’s honour were offended by a member of the lower classes he would not duel with him but more likely beat him with a riding crop or whip for his insolence or have his servants do it for him.

As duelling became more popular formalised sets of rules began to appear. Although they differed slightly from nation to nation they were very similar. The conventions set out below were common to many of these codes and not taken from any one single document:

1. After an offence, either real or imagined, the offended party would demand satisfaction of the offender, either verbally or with an insulting gesture. This could consist of throwing down the gauntlet. Contrary to popular conception the challenger would not issue the challenge by slapping the offender in the face with a glove but by throwing the glove on the floor at the offender’s feet. The offender would signal their intention to accept the challenge by picking up the glove and slapping the challenger.

2. All duels must take place during the forty-eight hours succeeding the offence, unless otherwise agreed, but at least twelve hours after the challenge, to provide a cooling-off period during which matters could be settled verbally.

3. Each party would appoint a second to represent them who would agree on a suitable field of honour where the encounter would take place. Advantageous criteria for a field of honour would include isolation, to avoid discovery and interruption, and jurisdictional ambiguity, to make it less likely that the victorious party would be prosecuted. Common land or islands in rivers dividing two jurisdictions would be ideal locations.

4. Duels typically took place at dawn when few passers-by would be stirring and poor light would mask the identities of the participants. Swordsmen duelling at dawn often carried lanterns and some fencing manuals incorporated them into their lessons, using them to blind opponents or parry blows.

5. The seconds would mark out the combat area (roughly 20 by 6 yards marked by dropped handkerchiefs) and the starting spot of each duellist (two feet between the tips of their extended weapons). To leave the field of play was considered an act of cowardice and would signify defeat without honour.

6. The seconds would also check that the weapons were of equal length and see that they were rinsed in antiseptic to avoid infection. This was not a hugely successful precaution, however, as the two most common causes of death from duelling were drowning in one’s own blood due to a punctured lung or dying days later from an infection in a minor wound.

7. The sword-bearing hand could be gloved or wrapped in a handkerchief but no end was allowed to hang down that might catch the opponent’s point.

8. Combatants were required to throw off their coats and unbutton their shirts to show that they wore no armour or protective clothing. This is considered to be the reason men’s shirts button the opposite way to

women’s as it makes it easier to unbutton with the left hand.

9. At the drop of a handkerchief or the cry “Allez” the fight would commence, with the seconds close at hand with sword or cane, point down, ready to stop the fight if the rules were transgressed. Doctors would also be in attendance.

10. Unless previously agreed combatants were not allowed to ward off opponents’ blows with their unarmed hand and if they transgressed the offending hand would be tied behind their backs. (This is from the 1836 Code and would not have applied during the rapier-and-dagger era).

11. Opponents were allowed to stoop, rise, vault to the right or left and turn around each other “as practiced in the fencing lessons and depicted in the various treatises on the art”.

12. When one man was wounded the fight was stopped by his second (by raising his cane or sword and crying “strike up the blades” and the wound inspected by a surgeon.

13. Fights could be fought

a. To first blood (rare, considered dishonourable and unmanly), in which case the duel would end here with honour satisfied.

b. Until one party was unable to continue, in which case the wound would be inspected and the combatant possibly sent back into the ring, or

c. Until death (also rare, although death often resulted from the second case).

14. If two serving officers were involved and one were to receive a disabling injury, had the duel been arranged with the permission of the injured party’s commanding officer it would have been considered a battle wound and entitle the bearer to a pension.

15. There were even special regulations for bishops, despite their being forbidden to fight by the church.

 

The formality of the duel favoured weapons that enforced physical distancing. Brawling was not considered gentlemanly. This first meant swords and then later pistols which did away with physical contact altogether. For many years both weapons were used and a choice could be offered by the challenger. Surprisingly, pistols were generally safer. As Lord Peter Wimsey put it, “A bullet, you see, may go anywhere, but steel’s bound to go somewhere.”

Over the centuries the European sword gradually got smaller and lighter, evolving from the two-handed broadsword of the era of chivalry, through the hand-and-a-half or “bastard” sword to the rapier. The rapier was the first true civilian sword, its name coming from the Spanish espada ropera, or “sword of the robe”, and it was designed to be worn with civilian clothing. Although light enough to be used in one hand it was still too heavy to be easily manoeuvred between attack and defence and was often paired with a companion weapon. This could be a parrying dagger or main gauche, a buckler (a small shield which straps to the fist) or even one’s cloak if attacked unawares (hence the term “cloak and dagger”).

Following the rapier came the French small-sword, a weapon that was very light and manoeuvrable and required no companion, leading to the side-on stance seen in modern fencing, with the unarmed hand out of the way. The small-sword, the predecessor of the modern épée, was a thrusting weapon only, with no cutting edge and no weight to facilitate effective cutting penetration. What it did have, however, was the deadly combination of a razor-sharp point and blinding speed. As the sword became lighter fencing masters and practitioners realised that the thrust was much more effective than the cut, being both faster and less telegraphed, and the fact that a punctured torso was likely to lead to the loss of a major organ. For these reasons the small-sword is considered by many to be the ultimate duelling blade.

To give an idea of the numbers involved here are some statistics from various European countries:

 

• A bill outlawing duelling (one of many) was passed in the House of Commons in 1844. In the debate one member reckoned that during the reign of King George III there had been 172 duels, 91 of which had led to fatalities.

• King Louis XIII of France outlawed duelling in 1626 and duels remained illegal in France ever after. At least one nobleman was beheaded for fighting a duel during Louis’ reign and his successor Louis XIV intensified efforts to wipe out the epidemic of duelling. To no avail. Between 1685 and 1716 French officers fought over 10,000 duels leading to over 400 deaths. Note that the number of duels is high but the percentage leading to death quite low and it was often said that duelling in France was treated as a fashion accessory. Mark Twain once quipped that, “The French duel is the most health-giving of recreations owing to the open-air exercise it affords.”

• In Italy from 1879 to 1889, 2,759 duels were reported, 93 per cent with swords; 3,901 wounds were inflicted, 1,066 serious, 50 fatal.

 

Duelling was never eradicated but gradually it became less fashionable as the new scientific age came in. Fencing became a sport and duelling with sharp blades was considered barbaric. Boxing also took some of its mantle as the Queensberry Rules encouraged gentlemen to settle their grievances in the ring with gloves rather than swords or pistols.

As Oscar Wilde said, “To abolish war, show it not as wicked but as vulgar.” It didn’t work for war but it did for duelling. In the end it disappeared when it came to be considered not gallant but vulgar.

 

 

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Smoke and Mirrors

 

By Sean Longden

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 38)

 

Though primarily now known in the UK courtesy of numerous TV adaptations—in which the Parisian detective became a sort of Sunday evening figure, like some Gallic Miss Marple—Inspector  (or to give him his correct title Superintendant) Jules Maigret is possibly 20th Century literature’s greatest crime fighter—or at least my favourite.

Like so much that we associate as quintessentially French (the great singer Jacques Brel or the ridiculous Johnny Hallyday, or wonderful food) Maigret was actually the creation of a Belgian. Liège-born Georges Simenon was one of the century’s most prolific authors—producing some 400 books including 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring his favourite detective. He was also a prolific lover, with more than 3,000 women reportedly passing through his bedroom—although many of the tally were reportedly prostitutes.

Written between 1931 and 1972—by which time the detective, if we are to go by the clues within the books, would have been somewhere between 65 and 88—the Maigret novels sold millions of copies worldwide. In 1931 Simenon produced an incredible 11 Maigret books, with six more the following year. Interestingly, earlier this year I visited Book Barn in Somerset. If anyone hasn’t visited it, it’s a haven for book lover. As its name suggests, it’s a barn full of millions of second-hand books. But despite Simenon having sold millions of copies of hundreds of books since the 1930s, I could not find a single copy in the entire barn. It was a bitter blow.

Over the years, Maigret became a timeless character, always seemingly on the verge of retirement. Hints within the books put his date of birth somewhere between the 1880s and 1907. According to one book, Maigret was born 1884 in Saint-Fiacre, France, although different birth dates can be concluded from different books—in one book his birthdate is 1907—making it unlikely he could have solved his first case in 1916, as is suggested in another novel. He is married to Louise, who is almost exclusively referred to as Madame Maigret in the books, and they had a daughter who died at birth. Such is the detail given of Maigret’s dometic life that in France it is even possible to purchase a cookery book based on Monsieur and Madame Maigret’s favourite dishes.

Five foot eleven tall, broad shouldered, with powerful hands, he is a physically imposing man and hardly the obvious image of a thoughtful detective. However, these books provided us with a character whose strengths were less an ability to search for minute clues—rather, he observed his suspects, focussing on flaws in their character and details of their behaviour to build his case, before allowing the criminal to reveal themselves.

Just as all literary crime-fighters have their foibles, Maigret has plenty of interesting habits. Yet he is less flawed than many of his ilk. Simenon knew how to build a subtle character without need to resort to the worn clichés of dark secrets and hidden vices. There is no place for mistresses in Maigret’s life—he is a devoted husband. But he does have very particular interests and it is these details of Maigret’s life that I shall focus on.

Firstly, I am not a great fan of the detective novel. I appreciate Simenon’s way of using Maigret—allowing him slowly to build up a picture of the crime and the criminals—never rushing in, never arresting people even when he is certain of their guilt. Instead, he prefers to create a subtle trap, allowing the suspect to be lulled into a false sense of security and slowly incriminate themselves.

Yet it was not the elements of the crime-solving process that attracted me to Maigret. Of course I was struck by Simenon’s ability to conjure up vivid images of Parisian life, having always been enamoured by the 1930s as the end of an era. I also adored the way a city’s weather is portrayed.

However, on my first encounter with Maigret, in the book A Bar By The Seine, I was taken by another element. Just a few pages in, Maigret takes a break from his investigations to answer a vital question—what hat should he purchase? Should it be the classic elegance of a brown high-crowned bowler or maybe something in grey? I was hooked.

Reading a selection of the books at the same time as I was re-reading the James Bond novels, I was struck by something that suited my own way of thinking. Bond is seen as the great style icon. However, one should always remember that somehow Bond, though devoted to the artistry of the Savile Row tailors, seems to have a peculiar love for short-sleeved polyester shirts. He even wears nylon underwear. I realise this put him at the cutting edge of 1950s modernism, but as a character Bond was at the start of an unsettling new world that led over the next thirty years to the shellsuit. It a new world of which I am not a great fan. Maigret marks the end of the old world of pure fabrics, heavy cloths and agonising decisions over whether to wear a raincoat or overcoat. A world that, I suppose, I yearn for.

It didn’t take long to realise that clothes, alcohol, smoking and a general disregard for the modern world were as important (at least to me as a reader) as the solving of crimes. As a lawyer notes in one of the novels, “Maigret is a detective of the old school.” He then notes that Maigret is out of date, a man who, by the 1950s, was out of step with the modern world. This is a detective who lives and works in central Paris. He is devoted to his wife and—harking back to a forgotten era—he is a man who often goes home for lunch. A favourite thing for me is the relationship between Maigret and his wife. Suitably, she is Alsatian—that is, from one of France’s less fashionable regions. From her background Maigret gets his love of sauerkraut and vins d’Alsace. To me, that makes her more interesting—and less obvious—than had she been from one of the more fashionable regions. For a modern reader it would be ridiculous were she to be from the fashionable Provence region—so half French/half German Alsace makes perfect sense and adds to the charm of the books.

In his office Maigret has fought back the tide of modernism by refusing to allow central heating to be installed. Instead, he insists that his stove remains in place, preferring the heat of a real coal fire, which helps him to concentrate and thus sets him up for solving crimes. In one unforgettable moment, at the end of his investigation, Maigret gives cocaine to an unfortunate female addict who was involved in his case. Always unconventional, at another point he allows a convicted killer to escape in order to track down the real perpetrator of the crimes. He is a deep, complicated, highly intelligent man. He makes notes in a small cheap notebook, that he seldom needs to consult. When a suspect receives a beating from Maigret or his men, it is not to force a confession but to allow him to observe the victim’s reactions. When he threatens to frame a suspect for living off immoral earnings, you know that this is no idle threat—he would do it without raising an eyebrow. As his British friend, Inspector Pyke, who travels to Paris to observe his methods noted, “Maigret has no method at all.”

            Just like his creator Georges Simenon, Inspector Maigret is a devoted pipe smoker. Every image of the detective seems to feature a pipe, which he fills from a worn leather tobacco pouch, and his office is usually full of swirling smoke. His colleagues even have to warn him to stop smoking when he enters a hospital—a far cry from today’s world of Health and Safety in which smoking is forbidden almost everywhere. Indeed at times, the trademark hat, raincoat and pipe combination is so familiar that-it risks the idle observer confusing him with the other French icon, Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot.

Yet there the similarity ends. Maigret himself has no comic elements. He is dedicated to his work, allowing no interference with his methods. During one case he uses the excuse of leaving a pipe behind to go back and ask some follow-up questions, returning to his suspects hoping to catch them unprepared (not unlike the similarly heavily-coated Lt Columbo). At times, he uses his pipe to buy time—especially when talking with the twin evils of suspects and meddling superiors—using a few puffs to compose himself, preparing his next answer. As many of us know, the pipe has a luxurious calming quality, allowing the holder an air of detachment that no other smoking device allows. Even by arranging his pipes in front of himself on his desk, Maigret uses the time to compose himself and concentrate. We do not learn which tobacco he smokes but do learn that it is only a pipe he smokes—not cigars, not cigarettes.

The books are also full of drinking references. Maigret is never seen drunk. He enjoys drink, consumes it regularly and routinely but it never dominates his life—even though he is known to have a drink with breakfast. Just as in his investigations, he remains in charge whatever the appearance might be. He uses going out for a drink as an excuse for avoiding his bosses. He has a drink for every occasion: beer is his tipple of choice (after all, as he points out, he is not of the cocktail generation)—usually a small one with lunch or the regular tray of beer and sandwiches fetched from a nearby bar to keep his team going during late-night investigations. When they telephone the bar to ask for beer, the patron asks if they require sandwiches as a matter of course. The requests of Maigret and his team are familiar, meaning that the bar sends over a waiter to bring the beer and sandwiches on a tray.

Here’s a man who likes to go for a walk rather than take a cab back to his office—the walk both clears his head and gives him an excuse to stop for a beer to quench his thirst. Sometimes he returns to his desk at lunchtime to find that his devoted staff have got a glass of beer waiting for him. Like most of our continental neighbours he likes his beer cold, in a small glass and with a foaming head.

But there are moments when nothing but a glass of plum brandy will do—meaning he keeps a bottle both in his office and at home. His wife knows exactly the time to offer him that or to give him framboise with his coffee. Or a rum. And he likes a hot toddy for a cold damp day. Or a light white wine whenever he goes out with Madame Maigret.

He knows his drinks, worrying about how many stars appear on the label of the brandy he buys in a bar. When whiling away time in an unfamiliar café he studies the labels of aperitif bottles—the bottles familiar to him as those he remembers from the cafés of his childhood. Unlike most of us, who might order a coffee when we have drunk too much brandy, Maigret orders brandy to take away the cloying taste of too much coffee. He is a man who knows waiters and barmen throughout Paris—a 20-year relationship is nothing unusual. After all Maigret lived in a time when the barman and waiter were appreciated for their craft, not just some Polish girl looking for employment far from home. He can summon them at a glance and know that he’ll get the drink he wants.

In the novel The Yellow Dog, Maigret leaves Paris for a seaside town. There he is able to set himself up in a local bar. It is his natural environment. The biggest concern is that someone poisons a drink, making it unsafe to drink anything for a time. When asked about a particular location, he summons up his memories of the place. His first memory is the light white wine he had drunk with the meal. That is how he builds his memories.

Maigret was the product of a novelist with a deep interest in clothing. In Simenon’s novels the reader meets a character who use the swapping of bespoke suits for some cheaper ones as a way of casting off the life he is bored with. When he wants to return to this life it is his tailor he returns to.

One journalist noted Simenon’s interest in clothing: “Now in front of me I have Georges Simenon, très élégant, in a cashmere sweater, gray flannel trousers, ocher shoes made to the foot, which is to say, hand-made. But I didn’t come to see Simenon to speak of his shoemaker... although his shoe-racks and wardrobe are very impressive—something like sixty pairs of shoes, a hundred fifty outfits of all types, so many shirts and shoes that on the first floor of the house there’s a large room especially fitted out as at a tailor’s, with a dressing room and sets of mirrors that allow you to verify the drape of a jacket on your back.”

Looking at a biography of Simenon I noted a picture of his wife during the 1930s. She is wearing the perfect period sailor suit, complete with wide trousers. In a novel of the same period the outfit appears again on a woman at a summer’s Sunday afternoon riverside party. In the same book, Maigret gets his first break in the invest-igation when visiting a hat shop and agonising over what to chose. Later he visits a second- hand clothing shop, giving the attentive and specialised reader the opportunity to imagine the beauty of all those heavy woollen overcoats and thick formal jackets that would have lurked in the 1930s equivalent of a vintage clothing stop. For me, such places are a dream—places one seldom actually finds.

Georges Simenon’s own interest in clothing, and pursuit of good manners, can be seen from one anecdote regarding his response to one actor who played his character. Jean Richard had a long run playing the character on French television. However, Simenon is said to have disliked Richard’s Maigret because he did not take his hat off when he entered a room. Simenon had always used Maigret’s hat as a device—he always removes it when speaking to ladies, but leaves it on to register displeasure with a female.

Without a doubt the Inspector is a traditionalist. Almost without fail he wears an overcoat or raincoat—often agonising over which to wear for the weather. His overcoats have a velvet collar, which seems rather ostentatious for someone who is quite staid. Yet one must remember he is—as we would say—an Edwardian man. The velvet collar is of that period, quite traditional.

Unlike most cinematic and televisual depictions of Maigret, the novels show his preferred hat as the bowler—rather than the broad-brimmed trilby most commonly shown. In the novels, his felt hat was only worn after 1945, when fashions had changed. Whilst television interpretations set in the 1930s tend incorrectly to give him this hat.

We know he prefers his clothes to come from a tailor, favouring a Jewish man in the Rue de Turenne. He wears a three-piece suit—always wears his waistcoat—in grey or black. Like his overcoat, this is of a heavy wool. His trousers are held up by braces, but he takes a dislike to ones made from bright silk. Ever the traditionalist, he wears a shirt with detachable collars, in an era when such collars were beginning to disappear. Only occasionally in the post-war period did he occasionally wear integral collars, following the fashions of the period.

Even in the heat of the Riviera, Maigret needs to remain formal, wearing a coat to remind those around him that he is on duty and not on holiday. This is not a man for wearing shorts and flip-flops. Yet he has a softer side—despite the formality of his bearing, he yearns to take his jacket off and potter around in his shirtsleeves.

During one case Maigret gets his lead when he becomes concerned about a suspect’s clothing—in particular his brown suit. The man denies ownership of a blue suit yet owns a blue overcoat. Maigret is confused—why would the man own a blue overcoat if his only suit is brown? After all, it is a terrible clash.

Even Mrs Maigret assists her husband. In one case she provides the clues by her observations about the clothes and shoes worn by a female suspect, noting that a servant’s shoes did not match with the dress of a duchess.

In one book, Maigret And The Idle Burglar, Simenon uses my favourite descriptions of Maigret as a troubled and solitary man, wrapped in his own thoughts and refusing interruptions. When this happens, we are told he is in a “Brown Study”. It conjures up images of something I would like to turn from a state of mind into a reality—a tobacco-stained smoking room

complete with leather chair, bookcase and whisky glass. It’s a place where I would happily while away the hours, regardless of whether or not I had any crimes to solve.

 

 

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Fitzrovia Pubs

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 37)

 

In his 12-volume novel A Dance to the Music of Time Anthony Powell mentions several pubs in that area north of Oxford Street known as Fitzrovia (after the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street).

In A Buyer’s Market the antique dealer Mr Deacon’s shop is located nearby: “Charlotte Street, as it stretches north towards Fitzroy Square, retains a certain unprincipled integrity of character, though its tributaries reach out to the east, where, in Tottenham Court Road, structural anomalies pass all bounds of reason, and west, into a nondescript ocean of bricks and mortar from which hospitals, tenements and warehouses gloomily manifest themselves in shapeless bulk above mean shops.”

Three of the Fitzrovia pubs mentioned (in the novel Books Do Furnish a Room, as frequented by X. Trapnel, based on the writer Julian Maclaren-Ross) are The French Polishers’ Arms (probably based on the Bricklayers’ Arms), the Marquess of Sleaford (probably the Marquis of Granby), and the Hero of Acre (almost certainly the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place).

The Hero is described thus: “one of those old-fashioned pubs in grained pitchpine with engraved looking-glass (what Mr Deacon used to call a ‘gin palace’), was anatomised into half-a-dozen or more separate compartments, subtly differentiating, in the traditional British manner, social divisions of its clienele, according to temperament or means: saloon bar: public bar: private bar: ladies’ bar: wine bar: off-licence: possibly others too.”

In his various autobiographical writings, Julian Maclaren-Ross often wrote about Fitzrovia and its pubs. The Bricklayers’ Arms, he notes, was “better known as the Burglars Rest because a gang of burglars had once broken into it and afterwards slept the night on the premises, leaving behind them as evidence many empties… The Burglars was a quiet house, useful for a business talk or to take a young woman whom one did not know well.”

The Black Horse on Rathbone Place was apparently a sombre Victorian pub, as befitted the suggestion of plumed hearses implied by its name, with a narrow tiled passage leading to the various bars divided by partitions of scrolled and embossed glass, including a Ladies’ Bar (no gentlemen admitted) “where old dears in dusty black toasted departed husbands with port and lemon from black leather settles”. Maclaren-Ross says that the funereal atmosphere had so affected the late proprietor “that he had set out deliberately to commit suicide by drinking solidly for three days and nights behind closed doors, and when these were eventually battered down by police his dead body was found surrounded by empty bottles on the saloon bar floor”.

The Marquis of Granby had a reputation as the pub where the most fights broke out, “despite the efforts of the landlord, an ex-policeman, to keep order and put down disorderly conduct. Gigantic guardsmen went there in search of homosexuals to beat up and rob and, finding none, fought instead each other: one summer evening, in broad daylight, a man was savagely killed by several others in a brawl outside while a crowd gathered on the pavement to watch and was dispersed only by the arrival of a squad from Goodge Street Police Station nearby, by which time the killers had made their getaway in someone else’s car.”

Entering the Wheatsheaf shortly after this incident, Maclaren-Ross was surprised to find it empty except for a local tart who told him, “Oh, they’ve all gone to see the bloke being kicked to death outside the Marquis dear,” and added that the sound of the thumps was “somethink awful”.

In the 1940s the focus of bohemian life shifted from the Fitzroy Tavern to the Wheatsheaf. The pub was a Younger’s Scotch Ale house and the door to the saloon bar was down an alleyway dominated from above by a perspective of tall tenement buildings with steel outside staircases in the Tottenham Court Road beyond. Maclaren-Ross noted that the alleyway was “often blocked by motor milk-vans owned by two stout Italian brothers who ran a small creamery business round the corner of the alley. When the milk-vans were parked too high up and customers had difficulty in squeezing past to enter the bar, the Wheatsheaf landlord would fling wide the door, and slapping the sides of the vans, shout with flailing arms at the Italian brothers who grinning good humouredly would shift their vans further down. The name of the brothers was Forte.”

The saloon bar of the Wheatsheaf is described as “not large but cheerful, warm in winter, and always brightly lit, good blackout boards fitting tightly over the windows of armorial glass [still there today] and the floor spread with scarlet linoleum. It had mock-Tudor panelling and, inset round the walls, squares of tartan belonging to various Scottish clans.”

Apparently “curtain up” on an evening in the Wheatsheaf was “signalled by the arrival on the dot of six of Mrs Stewart, who lived on her old-age pension in one of the tenements at the foot of the alley... Mrs Stewart was a very small elderly lady dressed in black silk with yellow-white hair and she arrived always carrying two evening papers in which to do the crossword and an alarm-clock to time herself by.” Maclaren-Ross’ habitual corner was at the bar next to Mrs Stewart’s table and he says it became his duty to “to keep Mrs Stewart’s place, to pass over the Guinnesses in exchange for the exact money produced from her purse, and to see that well-intentioned idiots did not try to help her with the crosswords, a thing she hated above all.”

Other Wheatsheaf regulars included “the old Home Guard who though extremely old wore on his tunic medal ribbons of more campaigns than even he could possibly have served in”. Another was the orange-faced woman (so called because of the many layers of make-up which she wore which made it impossible to assess her age), “whose presence in the pub made it sound like a parrot house in the zoo and who was reputed to have green silk sheets on her bed (though no man was brave enough to investigate the rumour)”. There was also Sister Ann, “the tart who was more respectable than many other female customers”:

“Sister Ann was short and wholesome-looking and always wore russet-brown tweeds and a round russet-brown hat in shape like a schoolgirl’s. She used no make-up except for two round red spots on her round apple cheeks, for she was no common brass and her chosen clientele wanted nothing loud or flashy, consisting as it did of middle-aged or elderly businessmen from up North who liked the sort of girl that might have been a sister to them (she was shocked when I suggested this relationship was incestuous and said she was surprised to hear a man of my education using nasty dirty words like that to a woman, and she certainly never did anything of that sort, thank you dear).

“Ann’s beat was under the Guinness clock in Tottenham Court Road: ‘You catch them going into the tube or coming out for a day up in London dear, and maybe they’re lost and don’t know where to go or they don’t want to catch a train home just yet awhile, either way they’re glad to spend an hour or two with a girl they can talk to quiet like, poor blokes.’”

The Wheatsheaf is still the scene of bohemian London life. Groups such as the Sohemian Society meet there, and it hosts book launches and editorial meetings of The Chap magazine.

 

 

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Famous Typewriters

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 36)

 

Here’s a selection of writers and the typewriters they used:

 

Raymond Chandler: Underwood Noiseless.

 

Agatha Christie: Remington 5 (portable).

 

William Faulkner: Underwood Standard Portable, Royal KHM.

 

Ian Fleming: Royal portables (one was gold-plated).

 

Dashiell Hammett: Royal De Luxe.

 

Ernest Hemingway: Corona 3, Underwood Noiseless Portable, various Royal portables, Halda portable.

 

Jack Kerouac: Underwood portable (On the Road was typed on a continuous roll of paper).

 

Rudyard Kipling: Remington Noiseless (in late life).

 

George Orwell: Remington Home Portable (a name variant of the #3).

 

Anthony Powell: Olympia SM 9.

 

J.B. Priestley: Imperial Good Companion.

 

Georges Simenon: Royal 10.

 

John Steinbeck: Hermes Baby.

 

Mark Twain: Sholes & Glidden.

 

John Updike: Olivetti MP1 portable.

 

P.G. Wodehouse: Monarch; Royal (bought reluctantly when the Monarch died).

 

William S. Burroughs: Throughout the 1950s he owned various typewriters, since he was constantly pawning them. Many of his manuscripts were done on a Remington. The Naked Lunch was typed from handwritten notes by Jack Kerouac, presumably on Kerouac’s Underwood. In a 1965 Paris Review interview Burroughs says he uses a Facit Portable. By the 1970s he was using an Olympia SG1.

 

 

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The T-Team

 

Combining Ian Fleming, Nazi scientists, daring military advances, James Bond villains, safe breakers released from Wormwood Scrubs, archetypal British muddling through and a twelve-year old bottle of Scotch,T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945 could only be a book from the pen of a New Sheridan Club member. It might sound like a novel, but historian Sean Longden, who earlier this year entertained the club with a history of fashion in the British Army, has turned his attention to one of the last forgotten true stories of World War Two: T-Force.

 

By Sean Longden

 

(Newsletter No. 35)

 

Established in late 1944, “Target Force” was given the role of searching Germany for secret weapons, research facilities and the scientists responsible for Nazi projects such as nuclear and chemical weapons, jet engines, V2 missiles and high-speed submarines. During the advance into Germany, T-Force set off alone, often occupying towns and factories in advance of the main British forces.

Their tactics were simple: rush to the target, secure the perimeter, detain all the staff and then send in teams of scientific experts to assess what they found. The sight of these scientists, fresh from UK universities and research facilities, dressed in military uniform and surrounded by grubby British infantrymen, must have perplexed the civilian population.

They employed various methods to ensure the cooperation of German scientists. One obstructive and unrepentant Nazi was subdued by driving a tank up to his factory and pointing the gun through his office window. Expert “safe crackers”, who had been released on licence from prisons in the UK, were then set to work blowing off the doors to reveal secret documents. In one port, T-Force soldiers came under fire from sailors on the deck of a battleship. They returned fire, then boarded and took control of the vessel, laying claim to being the only British army unit to capture a German battleship.

What T-Force located was staggering. At one target they entered two miles of underground tunnels in which jet fighters were rolling off the production line. Most notably, T-Force located a nuclear research laboratory hidden beneath the straw-covered barn floor in which scientists were still hard at work. On a more gruesome note, T-Force secured the main German chemical weapons research facility and with it uncovered photographs showing how Nazi scientists had tested a new generation of gases—including Sarin and Tabun—on concentration camp inmates. They also searched for V2 rockets which were later used by the British in post-war missile tests.

What made the success of T-Force more remarkable was that this elite unit was not selected from the usual suspects—commandos, the SAS or paratroopers. Instead it was a melange of wounded soldiers recently released from hospitals, victims of “shell shock”, former artillerymen and sailors from landing-craft crews. There were both old hands and virgin soldiers among the ranks, not forgetting the aforementioned scientists and criminals. As for the officers, the commander of T-Force was given the job simply because, as the army’s head of chemical weapons, he had nothing else to do. His staff included renegades like Brian Urquhart, famously released from the Airborne Corps HQ following his opposition to Operation Market Garden, the attempt to hasten the end of the war by dropping 30,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines to capture eight key bridges.

And then there was Major Tony Hibbert, another maverick officer who had once parachuted in the full dress uniform of the Royal Horse Artillery, complete with riding breeches, riding boots and spurs. His reason was simple: he didn’t want to be late for dinner. However, by the time he had joined T-Force his sartorial standards had dropped somewhat: he was forced to wear trousers split from hip to ankle to accommodate his broken leg and plaster cast.

It was Hibbert who was responsible for T-Force’s crowning achievement, the capture of the German port of Kiel. In early May, 1945, he was ordered by the Allied headquarters to take a force of 500 men to secure the maritime research facilities in Kiel. The only problem was that the Germans had just signed a ceasefire, prohibiting any movement for the three days prior to VE Day. With the ceasefire in place he was refused permission to move, leaving him the dilemma of having to disobey one set of orders so as to be able to fulfil another. Unfazed by this dilemma, Hibbert took the matter into his own hands. Clutching a bottle of the finest 12-year-old single malt, he entered the office of the man who had refused to sign the order for T-Force to advance. The result: one very drunk officer whose hand was guided by Hibbert to sign the movement order. Hibbert himself had not been drinking, having sacrificed his precious whisky for the greater good.

Just hours later T-Force, with the broken-legged Hibbert in the leading jeep, had raced to Kiel, secured the necessary research facilities and taken the city’s surrender. It was the British Army’s last advance of the war in north-west Europe. The story did not end there: his prize for defying orders and taking Kiel was to be placed under arrest by a British general who had planned to make a ceremonial entry to the town but instead arrived on VE Day to see T-Force hanging their washing out. Fortunately, one of Hibbert’s friends handed him a bottle of champagne so he could celebrate VE Day whilst under arrest. The incident ensured that Major Hibbert claimed the dubious honour of being under arrest on both the first and last day of World War 2—on 3rd September 1939 he had been arrested for crashing his commanding officer’s car, in the process destroying the unit’s entire monthly supply of beer and spirits.

In the post-war years T-Force did not disappear but remained hard at work. At first they concentrated on clandestine operations to smuggle scientists out of the Soviet zone of Germany, to ensure they could not become communist tools in the emerging Cold War. They sent hundreds of important scientists back to the UK for interrogation or employment. They also worked to extract industrial secrets, bringing back billions of pounds worth of technological equipment to help rebuild Britain’s exhausted industries. During this period they worked hard to ensure nothing of importance fell into Soviet hands. One tactic was to disrupt the work of the Soviet reparation teams that travelled Germany in search of equipment. T-Force officers held parties where they got the Russians drunk, then switched inventories, meaning the Russians had no record of what they had laid claim to. Another tactic was to urinate in their petrol tanks, ensuring they were delayed from reaching their targets, allowing the T-Force teams to continue their work unimpeded.

Yes, I hear you ask, but where do Ian Fleming and his legendary creation James Bond fit into this story? It is well known that Fleming worked for Royal Navy intelligence during the war and that he created “30 Assault Unit” (30AU), a commando team responsible for searching for intelligence. What is less well known was that the success of 30AU inspired the High Command to create T-Force. Further to that, Fleming sat on the committee that selected the targets searched for by T-Force. Indeed, 30AU (including Patrick Dalzel-Job, the man often credited as the inspiration for James Bond himself) worked alongside T-Force in Germany.

Yet the connection does not end there. In 1945 one of the T-Force investigation teams at work in Kiel reported that the unit’s primary target—a brilliant scientist named Dr Walter—was an unrepentant Nazi who would one day re-emerge as “a villain on screen or in literature”. How right he was. Dr Helmuth Walter, Germany’s foremost designer of hydrogen-peroxide-powered rocket and jet engines, and twelve of his staff were soon taken to the UK to continue his work on high-speed submarines.

Then in 1955 Dr Walter made a shocking return in the pages of the third James Bond novel Moonraker. Without even disguising the scientist’s name, Fleming’s new novel gave the public Dr Walter, the assistant to Hugo Drax, a British multi-millionaire who is the financier for a top secret hydrogen-peroxide-powered missile project entitled “Moonraker”. The project itself, under the direct control of the fiendish Drax, is worked on by a team of fifty German scientists, all ex-Nazis, who have been taken from Germany to work on the missile—just like the real Dr Walter and his team.

The similarities do not end there. In Moonraker the British are concerned about Russian amphibious operations—fearing they might land commandos on the coast of Kent to hijack the project. In 1945 Major Hibbert had been warned that he needed to reach Kiel swiftly to secure Dr Walter, fearing that the Russians were likely to use amphibious commando operations to snatch the doctor. The connection between T-Force’s work and the inspiration for Moonraker can also be seen by the unit’s investigation of a German weapons research facility named Rheinmetal-Borsig. In Moonraker, the villain Drax is described as a former employee at the plant. Indeed, even the dash, élan and wilful disdain for the rules displayed by Major Hibbert showed Bond-like qualities.

Beyond the Bond connection, the success of T-Force and its implication for the security of the western world in the post-war period, means the officers and men of T-Force can truly be described as Britain’s first “Cold Warriors”.

 

“T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945” by Sean Longden is published by Constable on 10th September

 

 

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Breaking the Rules

 

By Artemis Scarheart

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 34)

 

Rules claims to be the oldest restaurant in London and—other than an obscure pie shop somewhere—probably is. Over the years I have had some truly excellent meat there, reared on their private game reserve somewhere in the t’North (it’s just past Watford, I think. Watford is in Scotland, isn’t it?). But for a few years there have been rumblings that it’s not quite as good as it used to be. And to be fair there is, or at least was, an element of truth to that.

It stopped being the kind of place you would see a Tory grandee having a quiet word with a Chief Constable and became a fixture on the tourist trail. To be blunt, it became better known and the internal snob never likes that—rather like the annoyance one feels when one’s favourite beat combo becomes a popular beat combo. At least I know that The Furbelows will never leave me (enough of that!—Ed). But when the craving for good meat and excellent surroundings kicks in and you can’t get a table at the Club, Rules it is.

That is how I found myself in there one recent Sunday, m’good lady and I having popped to the Knights Bar in Simpson’s beforehand for a sharpener and now relaxed, easy and ready for a slap-up feed…

“The lamb sir? Or perhaps the steak? We have several excellent cuts. I believe we may have some of the chicken left, I’ll check with the kitchen… Yes we do, some plump young birds left. Or perhaps sir would like the crab to start? The creamed potatoes are excellent tonight, madam. And perhaps you would like a cocktail after your meal? Why, in the Rules Cocktail Bar of course, sir.”

“Rules has a cocktail bar?” I demanded, my voice rising slightly.

“Why, yes, sir. A recent addition, just upstairs.”

“But this is surely a listed building, a temple to British gastronomy. Dickens ate here! You can’t start ripping out the private dining rooms to build a silly little bar where hoi polloi gather to drink over-priced, over-sugared, over-iced mohitos! The American Bar at the Savoy became a complete dump when they let standards drop and now you’re doing that here? Is nothing sacred?”

“I assure you sir that it has been done in the finest way possible. And if you will quietly sit down and enjoy a rib-eye steak, chef here will release your arms, the police won’t be called, your lady friend will stop weeping and you can see for yourself after you have dined.”

So it was, dear reader, that I tucked into a most excellent meal despite the gnawing fear about what monstrosity had been constructed upstairs. Rules has certainly turned itself around again—portion sizes are bigger, service is back on track, the stout in the pewter tankard was cold and the food is delicious. The tourist may buy a meal but the stalwart will live in a place like Rules and they have remembered this. There is not a bad table in the house and they have made excellent provision for single diners. Indeed it was very heartening to see the old buffer population had returned and was perched around the place like musty parrots in tweed.

After the last drop of gravy had been mopped up with the last shard of potato, we headed upstairs. Cocktail time. At Rules. The area it was located in used to be a private dining room. Not one of their biggest, but a nice first-floor room at the front of the building with seating for around a dozen and a small bar/serving area in the corner. What they have done is take off the door, opened out the opposite, previously closed, room and created a room which runs the length of the building. I must say I was pleasantly surprised—a good number of tables, all spread out with their own space, an unobtrusive bar at one end, light and airy. I had feared that they would try to be trendy but they have kept it muted and in line with the rest of the building. It had a feeling of space sadly lacking in modern cocktail bars that try to cram more and more tables in.

But what about the drinks? It is a very short menu as you can see, and also a very inventive one:

 

Rules 76

Brut Champagne, Ketel One Vodka finished with lemon juice, syrup and a splash of Apricot Brandy

 

Le Blonde

Brut Champagne, Absinthe, Mure, Peche finished with Wasabi Vodka

 

Smokey One

Plymouth Gin, a wash of Isle of Jura Malt infused with a flamed peel of orange

 

Dirty One

Ketel One Vodka, olive brine muddle with a dash of Noilly Vermouth and one very large olive

 

The Charles

Tanqueray Ten Gin, Maraschino & Absinthe finished with a dash of grapefruit bitters &

a touch of syrup

 

Chorus Girl No. 2

Ciroc Vodka, Merlet Fraise des Bois, berries and lime, charged with soda

 

The Critic

Beija Flor Reserva Cachaca, Amer Picon, Cointreau, Formula Antica

and Cinzano Orancio

 

The Edge

Southern Comfort, Honey Vodka, violet essence and Maraschino, finished with a dash of syrup and the heat of fresh horseradish

 

Bloody Mary

Ketel One Vodka and Brian Silva’s bespoke blend of spices & juice

 

Golden Negroni

Plymouth Gin, Campari Orancio and Poire William

 

I have to confess many of the ingredients were unknown to us, so we were unsure what to order. Eventually we made the plunge and ordered a Rules 76, The Edge, a Chorus Girl No. 2 and a Smokey One. (Have to get stuck in, otherwise what kind of rigorous scientific experiment would this be?) Trial and error was the order of the day and we each ordered one that we found undrinkable but the other did not, so all four were polished off. The flavours were very challenging and many of the potions didn’t look like they would work at all, but it was this very fact—the strangeness—that made the evening so interesting.

Usually I stick to old favourites and only try “house drinks” if they look particularly exciting or interesting. Too many bad experiences have left me out of pocket with only a small glass of what appears to be icy kerosene to drink. But the Rules bar positively encourages you to experiment and boldly plunge into the unknown, which is a refreshing feeling in such a solid and traditional place. Dozens of decades of heritage downstairs, bold new world upstairs—without the need to resort to neon, illuminated glasses or fancy tricks.

Even though we were stuffed, we pecked at the snacks that were available. Nuts, a usual cocktail bar mixture, but perfectly passable. The service was very informative and even went as far as to bring us the hand-painted bottles of exotic foreign ingredients we could not identify so we could smell and taste them separately. Apparently some of the ingredients are not made any more so every mouthful makes them rarer, rather like having white rhino burgers without the guilt.

I buttonholed the bar wallah and asked him why they were keeping this place something of a secret. It seems they want word to spread the old fashioned way, to people who would be likely to come to Rules anyway. An interesting tactic when you consider the cost of abolishing a private room and what loss of revenue that must bring, but they seemed cheerful and sure that this would work. Their attitude permeated the place and digestion was helped massively by not having to stumble into the street immediately after dinner, but instead being able to relax with a few drinks upstairs.

All in all the Cocktail Bar at Rules is well worth a visit. Centrally located, exotic menu (though they will mix up anything you want), good staff, nice room with light and air and uncrowded. I think it will always be a better place to go after dining rather than just for a drink, but stick it on your list and next time you fancy a steak and a cocktail combine the two in the same venue.

Radical I know, but this is apparently the twenty-first century so we should all do our bit to move forward into a bright new future.

 

Cocktails by Brian Silva supported by Michael Stevenson

 

35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB Restaurant Reservations: 0207 836 5314

Private Rooms Reservations: 0207 379 0258

Open every day: Monday–Saturday midday–11.30pm and Sundays midday to 10.30pm

 

 

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The Military Life of the Duke of Wellington

 

By Lord Finsbury Windermere Compton-Bassett

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 33)

 

Arthur Wellesley was born around 29th April,1769 in Dublin. (I say around, as some sources say 1st May, so there is a little uncertainty. Incidentally, Napoleon was born this same year.) Arthur was the fourth son—and third of five surviving—of the Earl of Mornington, at this time Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin.

Wellesley was born The Honourable Arthur Wesley and remained a Wesley until at least his campaigns in India. It is unclear why he decided to change his surname but both sides of his family had been Wesleys and Wellesleys, and he was often known as either. Perhaps he felt Wellesley was a little more distinguished. He spent a great deal of his childhood in the family homes in Ireland and this is where he began his military appointments.

He was schooled at Eton from 1781 to 1784. However, 1781 was also the year his father died. A somewhat unsuccessful gambler, the Earl left many debts. In 1785 the family moved to Brussels, where Arthur enrolled at the French Academy of Equitation at Angers, spending a year there before moving back to Britain. At Angers he learnt French and became an excellent horseman—two skills that became very important in later life.

At this time he was not seen as outstanding at anything. Indeed, his mother remarked that “he is fit for powder and nothing else”. Upon his becoming a soldier she said, “Arthur has put on his red coat for the first time today. Anyone can see he has not the cut of a soldier.”

 

Military Life

On 7th March 1787 he was commissioned an Ensign in the 73rd Foot, a Highland Regiment. An Ensign is the equivalent of a Second Lieutenant in the infantry today and the main function of an Ensign was, as the rank suggests, carrying the regimental colours. Thanks to family connections Richard, one of his elder brothers, managed to get him a position as Aide-de-Camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland—a job that took him away from soldiering, doubled his pay and allowed him to attend as many balls, parties and soirées in Dublin as he could manage.

On Christmas Day 1787 he transferred to the 76th Foot (another Highland Regiment) and was promoted to Lieutenant. He continued his duties in Ireland for a few years, rising militarily by transferring to the 12th Light Dragoons in 1789, then in 1791 to the 18th Light Dragoons, this time with the promotion to Captain.

Around this time he fell in love with Kitty Packenham, daughter of the Earl of Longford, and in 1793 asked her brother—the recent new Earl of Longford—for permission to marry her. He was refused, on the grounds that he was too young, too much in debt, and did not have a promising career in front of him. Arthur was apparently heartbroken, and—a keen violin player—he burnt his violins in a fit of frustration, never playing again in his life.

He resolved to pursue his military career with vigour, and later in 1793 became a Major in the 33rd Foot—an English County regiment this time rather than a Scottish Highland one. A few months after this appointment, his brother lent him the money to purchase a Lieutenant-Colonelcy; at the age of 24 he became commanding officer of the King’s 33rd Regiment of Foot.

            (From the formation of the British Army until 1871, young men could simply purchase ranks from Ensign up to Lieutenant-Colonel. Prices varied considerably between regiments, but young men with enough cash could command a battalion on the field of battle without any military experience. Arthur may seem young at 24 to command a regiment, but Edward Paget, a cavalry general in the Peninsular War, was a Lieutenant-Colonel at 19, as were two others. Sir Henry Walton Ellis, CO of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Waterloo, was bought an Ensign’s commission by his father when he was only three weeks old, and a Captaincy at 13.)

In 1793 Arthur got his first experience of battle. The Duke of York led an expedition to Flanders and the 33rd Foot was part of the army. The two-year campaign was, overall, a failure but, Arthur observed, “At least I learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson.” Arthur also learned how to manage his battalion under fire and the merits of the “line versus column”—more of which later. (This campaign also brought us the nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York”, so that’s two good things to come out of it.)

 

India

Less than a year after returning, the 33rd was despatched to India in 1796. Arthur wrote: “I am nimmukwallah... that is, I have eaten of the King’s salt, and, therefore, I conceive it my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his Government may think proper to employ me.” His brother Richard, Lord Mornington, was now Governor-General of India—which led to  friction between Arthur and more senior officers, over whose heads he was often given important tasks.

Recently promoted to full Colonel, he now had the chance to command more than a single regiment. The shortage of senior officers in India meant everyone had to “step up” a rank and assume more responsibilities. Colonels often found themselves commanding Brigades three or four regiments strong—usually a role for a Major-General.

The army had been sent to subdue Tippoo Sultan, one of the most powerful native rulers in India. The British had defeated him some ten years before, but now he was encouraging the French to send a force to help him drive the British out of India. The British, under General Harris and Major-General David Baird, were marching on Tippoo’s fortress capital of Seringapatam; on the way, on 27th March 1799, the Battle of Malavelly took place, Arthur’s first action in India.

At Malavelly Arthur had command of 11 battalions—his own 33rd and ten native. His tactics are important to note: he was on the defensive with all his battalions formed up in line two ranks deep, one next to the other, on a low ridge. Tippoo’s army were lined up opposite. Suddenly a column of 2,000–3,000 infantry formed and began to advance towards Arthur’s command. Arthur waited until the enemy were only 60 yards away, then had his men fire a volley and advance. Under the combined impact of a volley at close range followed by a bayonet charge, the enemy ran. Disheartened even before a battle proper had begun, the rest of Tippoo’s army retreated. The 33rd lost just two men.

The storming of Seringapatam was to be altogether different. Around this time Arthur suffered his only ever defeat. It was more a skirmish than a battle, but he was in command and it annoyed him greatly. He was ordered to carry out a night attack to clear a wood of the enemy but his attack was defeated through confusion: the 33rd got lost in the dark and stumbled around getting shot at by people who knew the terrain. There was hand-to-hand combat too—an officer was killed by bayonet and it is likely Arthur used his sword on this occasion (one of the few times he did). Casualties were only 25 men but Arthur never again ordered a night attack unless it was impossible to do otherwise.

 

Seringapatam

After this setback the siege progressed well and on 4th May 1799, the assault took place. As sieges go, it was relatively easy—the British took the fortress with the loss of just 389 men, a tiny amount given they were assaulting a fortified position. Tippoo Sultan was killed and his forces lost 8,000 men. Arthur had command of a reserve Brigade during the assault and was not needed to take part in the actual fighting.

Arthur was made governor of Seringapatam, and thus of the State of Mysore—a very important and prestigious job for a new officer just out from home. This angered Baird in particular, who believed he deserved the honour, both as senior to Arthur and for leading the assault on the fortress. But Arthur was not just  brother of the Governor-General: he had great skill in administration and diplomacy, which Baird lacked. Arthur wrote years later: “Baird was a gallant, hard-headed, lionhearted officer, but he had no talent, no tact; he had strong prejudices against the natives; and he was peculiarly disqualified from his manners, habits, etc., and it was supposed his temper, for the management of them.”

Arthur spent the next couple of years mainly as an administrator, but occasionally leading military expeditions to defeat local warlords and rebels, which he did with every success. In September 1802 he learned he had been promoted to Major-General and it was soon after this that he commanded an army against the Maratha Confederacy of west central India, winning a battle that I believe, as he did, was the greatest achievement of his career—including Waterloo.

 

Assaye

Arthur’s army was 24,000 men strong but he decided to split his force into two, giving Colonel Stevenson of the East India Company one half, and commanding the other himself. The majority of Arthur’s force was of native soldiers—his only British troops were the Foot regiments of the 74th, 78th and 80th, and the cavalry of the 19th Light Dragoons. The 80th he gave to Stevenson and so began a two-pronged advance against the Marathas.

It was Arthur’s force that first came upon the enemy position, drawn up in line on the other side of the River Kaitna and completely blocking his advance. Stevenson was a day’s march away, but despite Arthur’s army being at half-strength, he felt there was no time to waste and decided to attack. But how to get across the river? Local guides informed him there was nowhere to cross, but Arthur personally carried out a reconnaissance, during which he found a ford between two halves of a village, at Waroor. He therefore ordered the army to cross: it marched along the front of the Maratha army, crossed the river, then formed up for battle on the other side. During this manoeuvre the Marathas changed position in order to face the new British threat, and it was also at this time, as Arthur was crossing the river with his staff at the head of the army that his Orderly, with his three spare horses and canteens of water, had his head taken off by a roundshot.

The Maratha army was almost 100,000 strong, with over 80 artillery pieces lined up against him. Arthur was outnumbered almost ten to one. But he realised that over 60 per cent of the enemy force was cavalry, so defeat the infantry and artillery and the day should be won. He placed great faith in his ferocious but disciplined Highland infantry and his one regiment of British cavalry had larger and more powerful horses than any Indian ones.

Arthur’s infantry advanced in line, with the cavalry and artillery in support. The 74th accidentally inclined right towards the heavily defended village of Assaye itself rather than going straight ahead, and ran into trouble because it became the sole target for a great proportion of the enemy line, and it was also out of range of support from the rest of the British army. It formed a square against a mass of enemy horsemen, but was being shot to pieces. However, things were going far better elsewhere. The British force advanced head-on against the enemy, into the smoke and cannon fire of the enemy gun line. At 60 yards the British line halted and gave a volley at the enemy—a second volley followed, and the enemy gun line disintegrated. Following up with the bayonet, the British took control of the gun line, reformed and repulsed an attack by enemy forces coming up in support—who were finally driven off the field in a cavalry charge by the 19th Light Dragoons. This charge also saved the 74th, who suffered horrendous casualties.

It was in this battle that Arthur had two horses killed from under him—one shot during the first advance, and the other speared in the neck during a melee at the gun line—when he again had to use his sword to defend himself. For all his mastery of strategy, Arthur was not afraid to get right in the middle of the fighting with his men. A Scots officer, Colin Campbell, later commented, “The General was in the thick of the action the whole time. I never saw a man so cool and collected as he was.”

But the battle was costly: Arthur had inflicted casualties of at least 6,000 on the enemy and completely broken them, but out of the 5,800 British troops actually engaged, 1,594  were killed or wounded.

After Assaye he took part in only one other major engagement, that of the siege of the fortress of Gawilghur. It was extremely heavily defended, particularly with artillery, but Arthur and Stevenson were combined and their successful assault lost only 126 British against over 4,000 Indians. This victory, together with the victory at Delhi of another British force, caused the Marathas to ask for peace and a treaty was signed the following year.

By now Arthur was growing tired of India, remarking, “I have served as long in India as any man ought who can serve anywhere else.” In 1805 he travelled home with his brother, whose tenure as Governor-General had ended.

It was also in 1805 that he met, for the only time, Admiral Nelson, by chance at the Colonial Office. Arthur later wrote: “He entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself and, really, in a style so vain and silly as to surprise and almost disgust me.” At this point Nelson apparently left the room for a moment, obviously to find out who Arthur was, after which, “All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished…I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more.” Within a few months Nelson was dead. The two men now lie close to each other in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Having amassed £42,000 from his Indian exploits, Arthur was now rich and relatively famous and in September 1804 he was made a Knight of the Bath. Now his second proposal to Kitty Packenham was accepted and they were married in April 1806.

 

The Peninsular War

In 1807 Napoleon, fresh from defeating the Austrians, Russians and Prussians in central Europe, turned his attentions to the Iberian Peninsula. Arthur, now a Lieutenant-General, was sent to Portugal where he defeated the French at the Battles of Rolica and Vimeiro in 1808. But he was then superseded in command  by Generals Dalrymple and Burrard—who had not actually taken part in the battles Arthur had just won. Not known for their competence, these generals soon signed the controversial Convention of Cintra, which stipulated that the Royal Navy would transport the French army out of Lisbon with all their spoils of war. When the British government found out, Dalrymple, Burrard and Arthur were recalled to Britain for a Court of Enquiry—which found that Arthur had signed the preliminary Armistice but not the Convention, so he was cleared of any wrongdoing (and in fairness he was only acting under orders of a superior officer at the time).

Meanwhile another British army, this time in Spain, had appeared at first successful before retreating back to the port of Corunna. Sir David Baird (of Seringapatam fame) lost his right arm and the army commander, Sir John Moore, was killed, though the British force was successfully evacuated.

Eager to be back in action, Arthur submitted a memorandum to Secretary of State for War Lord Castlereagh on the defence of Portugal, stressing its mountainous frontiers and advocating Lisbon as the main base because the Royal Navy could help defend it. Castlereagh and the cabinet approved the paper, and appointed him Commander-in-Chief of all British forces in Portugal, simultaneously raising the number of men available from 10,000 to 26,000.

Back on the Peninsula with reinforcements, Arthur took the offensive in April 1809. In the Second Battle of Oporto, he crossed the Douro river in a daylight coup de main and routed Marshal Soult’s French troops. He then marched through Portugal and joined with a Spanish army to defeat the French at the Battle of Talavera. For this Arthur was created “Viscount Wellington of Talavera”, but it was, to use one of Arthur’s later phrases, a close-run thing. A French night attack nearly succeeded, with a good proportion of the Spanish forces running away at the sound of their own gunfire. And with Soult’s regrouped army threatening to cut them off at the rear, the British were compelled to retreat.

In 1810, a newly enlarged French army under Marshal André Masséna invaded Portugal. Despite the great victory at Talavera, British opinion now was that Arthur was doing nothing and making no attempt to bring the French to battle. But first he slowed the French at the Battle of Buçaco (where again he used a ridge and the “line versus column” tactic), then blocked them from taking the Lisbon peninsula with a series of massive, interlinked earthworks known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. These lines were what Arthur had been planning during the lull after Talavera and he managed to keep them so secret that not even the majority of his army knew about the defences until they were ordered to garrison them. The French invasion of Portugal broke down and retreated after six months—without even trying an assault anywhere along the lines, deemed impregnable even by the enemy.

The next year saw see-saw campaigns in which the British nearly drove the French from Portugal but also suffered some horrendous casualties—at Albuera the 3rd Foot (Buffs) lost 85 per cent of their men. The French retained the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, guarding the mountain passes into Portugal—it was to these crucial fortresses that Arthur now turned.

In 1812, Arthur, now a full General, finally captured Ciudad Rodrigo as the French went into winter quarters, storming it before they could react. He moved south quickly, besieged Badajoz for a month and captured it in one bloody night. After consolidating Portugal, he took his army into Spain again and won a decisive victory at Salamanca, liberating Madrid. As a reward he was created Earl and then Marquess of Wellington, and given command of all Allied armies in Spain, becoming Generalissimo of all Spanish forces.

After more see-sawing Arthur led a new offensive in late 1813 through the hills north of Burgos and switched his supply line from Portugal to Santander on Spain’s north coast. Continuing to outflank the French lines, he caught up with and defeated the army of Napoleon’s brother Joseph at the Battle of Vitoria, for which he was promoted to Field Marshal—a rank reserved only for Britain’s best and most successful Generals. There was now no higher military rank he could obtain. At Vitoria, however, the British troops broke ranks to loot the abandoned French wagons instead of pursuing the beaten foe, and this caused an enraged Arthur to write to Earl Bathurst the famous line, “We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers.”

After taking the fortresses of Pamplona and San Sebastián, and winning battles over Soult’s reorganised French army, Arthur invaded southern France, beating Soult yet again at Nive, Orthez and Toulouse. Immediately after Soult evacuated the latter city, news arrived of Napoleon’s defeat and abdication.

Hailed as conquering hero and now famous throughout Europe, Arthur was created Duke of Wellington. (Many of his titles and ranks were bestowed upon him while the war was still in progress—when he got home he was awarded all his patents of nobility in a unique ceremony lasting a full day.)

After the war, he was appointed ambassador to France and, on 2 January 1815, his Knighthood was converted to Knight Grand Cross—again the highest honour that could be bestowed upon him.

 

Waterloo

On 26 February 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France, regaining control of the country by May. Arthur arrived in Belgium to take command of the Anglo-Allied army of British, Germans, Dutch and Belgians, stationed alongside the Prussian forces of General Blücher—a 72-year-old cavalryman, veteran of countless wars and a passionate hater of all things French. Napoleon defeated the Prussians at Ligny on 16th June, whilst his second-in-command Marshal Ney fought an indecisive battle with Arthur at Quatre Bras that same afternoon—Arthur apparently rode to the battle in full dress uniform, having been at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels when told of Napoleon’s invasion. His horsemanship came into play again:in a reconnaissance he was surprised and pursued by French cavalry, and rode straight at the 42nd Highlanders. Shouting at them to lie down, he leapt over their ranks.

These battles compelled the Anglo-Allied army to withdraw to a more defensible position—a ridge on the Brussels road, just south of the small town of Waterloo. Two days later, on 18th June, the Battle of Waterloo was fought.

This was the first time Arthur had encountered Napoleon, but he did not command the army he wished for, his army of the Peninsular days. “I have got an infamous army,” he stated, “very weak and ill-equipped, and an inexperienced Staff.” He commanded an army of only 25,000 men trained to British standards: the rest were poorly trained soldiers from Dutch and Nassau forces—some of whom had fought for Napoleon during the Peninsular War.

Napoleon wished to keep the British and Prussians apart as much as possible, and he sent 33,000 troops under Marshal Grouchy to intercept Blücher. Arthur’s comparable gamble was to leave 17,000 men around the town of Hal, north-west of the Mont Saint Jean, to protect against any attempt by Napoleon to drive him away from the sea and safety, but also to provide Arthur with a fresh reserve with which to fight the following day, should the action on 18th June prove inconclusive, as at Quatre Bras.

Napoleon’s tactics have been criticised as lacking in the brilliance he exhibited earlier in his career. His plan on the day was to pin Arthur’s right with overwhelming cannon fire and an attack on the fortified chateau of Hougoumont, to draw reinforcements away from Wellington’s centre-left position, then shatter this position with an all-out infantry assault in the column formation, the usual French tactic in battle.

Hougoumont held out, only modestly reinforced from time to time by Arthur, who realised exactly what Napoleon had planned. The subsequent infantry attack by the French was destroyed by Allied heavy cavalry, who in turn however suffered over 50 per cent casualties from French cavalry counterattacks. As the British were still holding on to the ridge, Napoleon’s only option left was an all-out assault on the Allied centre, leaving no effective force to hold off the Prussians. At this point Arthur chose to reorganise the defensive line, and the watching French took this as the prelude to retreat, resulting in waves of French cavalry attacking the completely unbroken Allies, to which there was only one solution—the forming of squares. At this point, a combined attack by French infantry and artillery, firing point-blank into the squares, would probably have caused devastation and a French victory. But co-ordination in the French army was haphazard. The squares held out, and the French cavalry assault, having to charge uphill through muddy terrain over sunken roads and ploughed farmland, petered out.

Now the Prussians arrived, driving in Napoleon’s forces on the east of the battlefield. Napoleon made a last attempt to destroy Arthur’s centre before his two enemies could link. At six in the evening, the fortified farmhouse of La Haye Sainte, lynch-pin of the Allied front just as Hougoumont was for the Allied right, was finally taken—but only after the defenders, elite light infantry from the King’s German Legion, ran out of ammunition.  Arthur redrew the remnants of his front and prepared for the final assault, at which point he is said to have prayed: “God, give me night or give me Blucher.” Though he might have seen thousands of men advancing on to the battlefield from the east, he did not know that the dark uniforms in the distance were the forces of Blücher rather than those of Grouchy.

At this point Napoleon sent forward the Imperial Guard: never defeated in battle, an elite of an elite and a regiment for veterans only, held in reserve to provide the decisive blow at moments like this, it branched out in a two-pronged attack to finish off what Napoleon believed to be an Allied army on the point of annihilation. But Arthur had prepared an ambush for the Guard: they ran into a surprise counter-attack from British infantry (by coincidence mainly the British equivalent of the Imperial Guard, the Foot Guards, whom Arthur personally ordered, shouting, “Up Guards, and at them!”) concealed still behind the all-important reverse slope. Suddenly faced with red-coated two-deep ranks firing the classic controlled battalion volleys, the Imperial Guard faltered, retreated—and triggered a mass panic. The entire French army disintegrated, leading Arthur to comment afterwards, “I have fought the French as often as anybody…and I never saw them behave ill except at the end of the battle of Waterloo. Whole battalions ran away and left their arms piled.”

Arthur ordered an advance of the Allied line as the Prussians overran the French positions to the east, and the French army was routed completely. Arthur and Blücher met at the inn of La Belle Alliance on the road bisecting the battlefield. It was agreed that the Prussians would pursue the French to France, the British following after a night of rest.

On 22 June Napoleon abdicated again and was transported to Saint Helena. Waterloo had marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars once and for all—and the end of Arthur’s military career.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, died peacefully at Walmer Castle in Deal on 14th September 1852, aged 83. On his arm was found a bracelet placed there by his wife when they were young.

Undoubtedly Arthur Wellesley was a great soldier. He could plan campaigns in a country as large as India while managing the rations of a single battalion, could survey a battlefield as army commander or take part in the hand-to-hand fighting. He had a dry sense of humour, commenting to a friend : “If writers would adhere to the golden Rule for an Historian, viz. to write nothing which they did not know to be true, the Duke apprehends that they would have but little to tell.” But I think one of his finest quotes ever has to be: “We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France!”

 

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The Faeries of Kensington

 

By Eugenie Rhodes

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 32)

 

Kensington, the royal borough in London, home of Queen Victoria in her youth and later of Diana, Princess of Wales, has a strong link with faeries. The place was firmly marked on the faery map, so to speak, when J. M. Barrie, who himself seems to have had much of the Otherworld about him, chose it as the location where Peter Pan spent his infancy prior to boyhood in Neverland. “I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long time among the fairies,” Peter tells Wendy.

It was in these gardens that Barrie met the Llewellyn Davies boys, George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nico, who, amalgamated into one, became the immortal boy who never grew up. Michael, brilliant, charming and captivating, and Barrie’s favourite, was the closest prototype of Peter Pan and it was he upon whom the statue in the gardens was based. The statue was unveiled on May Day 1912 and still stands surveying the Serpentine Lake which divides Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens. Walking parallel to the Flower Walk and up past the Round Pond, the palace and the Sunken Garden, the visitor approaches The Peter Pan Playground, outside of which is a tree copiously adorned with carvings of “The Good People”.

In medieval days the land belonged to the De Vere family. Robert De Vere was the best friend of King Richard II who, according to modern-day clairvoyant Edwin Courtenay, had links with faeryland. His emblem, the white hart (deer), is, Courtenay says, “a fairy beast” and Richard’s colours, white and red, are Celtic Otherworld colours.

About three hundred years ago the park had its apotheosis in a long poem entitled “Kensington Garden” which reads as a type of faery imitation of Virgil’s epic work The Aeniad. The author is the splendidly named Thomas Tickell, just the sort of man, you might say, to write about faeires. He tells us how the area was even more beautiful when it was a faery court:

 

Far sweeter was it when its peopled ground

With fairy domes and dazzling towers was crown’d

Where, in the midst, those verdant pillars spring

Rose the proud palace of the elfin king…

 

This was in the days of Albion (another name for England) who, writes Tickell, was the son of the sea god Neptune and a mortal woman.

Albion had a descendant, also called Albion, who was kidnapped by Milkah, a faery. (Faeries had a reputation for stealing human babies). Milkah loved him devotedly and brought him up as one of her own kind:

 

Each supple limb she swath’d, and tender bone,

And to the elfin standard kept him down…

Yet still, two inches taller that the rest,

His lofty port his human birth confessed,

A foot in height, how stately did he show!”

 

 (In Tickell’s poem faeries are understood to be tiny but this perception is by no means true of all traditions.) Albion was not only the tallest of the elves but also the handsomest and most graceful.

Kenna, the daughter of the faery king, King Oberon, fell in love with the appealing youth, now nineteen “as mortals measure time”, the poet carefully tells us (Faeryland operates by a different clock). Albion, in turn, passionately reciprocated her feelings. “Bless’d be the hour when first I was convey’d/An infant captive to this blissful shade,” Albion told her; to which Kenna replied, “No prince of fairyland/Shall e’er in wedlock plight his vows with mine.” However, hardly had she spoken when her scowling father appeared and declared war, banishing Albion and, with scant respect for the lovers’ pledges, giving her hand in marriage to her faery suitor Azuriel.

The wretched, lovelorn Albion wandered to the river Thames where he appealed to his divine forebear for intercession. Neptune championed Albion’s cause and a mighty battle ensued between Albion’s army and Azuriel’s. At first Albion had the upper hand and clasped Kenna in his arms, but his triumph was shortlived. King Oberon asserted himself with his vast faery army. The poet admonishes:

 

Forbear, rash youth, th’unequal war to try

Nor, sprung from mortals, with immortals vie.

 

He admonishes in vain—Albion is too much in love to be sensible. A javelin thrown by Azuriel pierces his breast. He dies murmuring his beloved’s name.

Neptune knocks down King Oberon but can only stun him: “…he lay/stunn’d and confounded a whole summer’s day/At length awaked (for what can long restrain unbodied spirits?)…” The poet knows that though the faeries can appear in human form their substance is astral, not corporeal.

Kenna, her heart broken, remained by the corpse of Albion. Then she picked a plant and, with the aid of its juice and an incantation, transformed him into a snowdrop, “a flower that first in this sweet garden smiled”.

Centuries later she returned to the site, long abandoned, to inspire the gardeners and builders who at the end of the seventeenth century were constructing a palace for the king and queen, William of Orange and Mary Stuart, and laying out the grounds.

The faeries, it is said, are back again. They are shy of being seen: “They to their cells at man’s approach repair” but when the gates are locked come out to play. Thomas Tickell tells us Kenna is “pleased in these shades to head her fairy train”. The faeries are alive and well in Kensington Gardens.

 

 

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Woolworth’s: The Rise and Decline of a

Five-and-Dime Dynasty

 

By The Earl of Essex

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 31)

 

Frank Winfield Woolworth was born in 1852 in a modest farmhouse in Rodman, upper New York state. He was the son of a potato farmer but aspired to be a merchant and he worked for six years in a dry goods store. The first three months were unpaid, the owner exclaiming, “Why should I pay you for teaching you the business?”

While there he noticed that leftover items were priced at five cents and left on a table for customers to pick up—at a time when it was normal for the customer to hand the sales clerk a list of the things they wanted, rather than selecting the merchandise themselves.

Woolworth liked the idea of the goods all being priced the same, so he borrowed $300 and opened a store, where all the goods were on display and priced at five cents, in Utica, New York, on 22 February 1875. It failed within weeks.

Undeterred, he realised there should be a choice of prices, so he opened a second store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in April 1875 with goods priced at five and ten cents. It was called The Five and Dime Store. This was successful and he and his brother Charles opened a large number of five and dime stores. Woolworth urged a lot of his family members and friends to become partners, including his old employer.

By now he had married Jennie Creighton in 1876 and had three daughters: Helena Maud Woolworth McCann, Edna Woolworth Hutton and Jessie May Woolworth Donahue.

The five and dime stores had separate names but in 1911 it was decided to bring them under the creator’s name. And so the

F. W. Woolworth company was incorporated with 586 stores. The business was now generating so much cash that Woolworth was able to build the company’s headquarters in New York for $13.5 million without recourse to borrowing. At the time it was the world’s tallest building at 792 feet.

Woolworth’s wealth also financed the building of Winfield Hall, in Glen Cove, Long Island, in 1916. The grounds required 70 full-time gardeners and the 56 rooms dozens of servants. The décor reflected his fascination with Egyptology, Napoleon and spiritualism. There was a huge pipe organ which, combined with a planetarium-style ceiling. created an eerie effect when he played it. The pink marble staircase which alone cost $2 million.

For all his wealth Woolworth suffered an untimely death aged 66 in 1919. He had a fear of dentists and succumbed to complications following a tooth infection. He was interred in the family mausoleum.

Woolworth had pioneered the then unique concept of buying goods from manufacturers and putting them on display so customers could see and handle them, with a fixed price, negating the need for haggling. He felt the idea would work in Britain too, saying,

“I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here.” In fact when the first shop opened in Liverpool in 1909 everything was priced at thruppence and sixpence. He was there at the opening and it was a huge success.

Stores were opened in Preston, Manchester, Leeds, Hull and London over the next three years. At one point a new outlet opened every 17 days. The UK company eventually became larger and more successful than its American parent. In the 1920s local councils were begging Woolworth’s to open in their towns.

The chain began selling records under its own name in 1923 and by the 1930s it was the No. 1 music retailer in the country with gramophones in stores so you could listen before you bought.

From the first store toffees, boiled sweets and chocolate were sold by weight but in 1958 the company pioneered the concept of “pick and mix”, with customers self-selecting confectionery. By the 1980s Woolworth’s was Europe’s largest confectioner.

The British company sold everything from stationery to garden furniture at reasonable prices and became affectionately known as “Woollies”. It came under separate British ownership in 1982 and was floated as a separate British company by its owners, Kingfisher, in 2001. However, it was downhill from here: falling sales led the company to sell its freehold stores to raise cash and after losses of £725 million in the first half of 2008 it fell into administration and eventual bankruptcy in January of this year. After failing to reach agreements with its bankers and landlords it now exists in name only, as an online shop.

In the States the company incorporated lunch counters as precursors to the modern shopping mall. The idea was widely copied and was a fixture in the down-towns of America in the first half of the 20th century.

In the 1960s the five and dime merged into the later discount store idea: Woolworth’s created Woolco in 1962, along with competitors K-Mart, Target and Wal-Mart. With this increased competition Woolworth’s lost its focus and its edge; the Woolco stores eventually closed in 1982, but continued in Canada until 1994, the remaining 144 shops being sold to Wal-Mart.

Woolworth’s also created a number of other retail chains with specialist sporting goods and footwear, including Footlocker.

In July 1997 Woolworth’s closed the remaining five and dime stores. The lower prices of the other big discount chains and the expansion of the grocery stores led to its demise. Woolworth’s changed its name to Venator and in October 2001 changed again to Footlocker Inc.

If F. W. Woolworth was a model of hard work, ingenuity and ambition, some of his descendents failed to live up to his example by a considerable measure—perhaps precisely because of the wealth into which they were born. Jimmy Donahue was the second son of Frank’s daughter Jessie. His father James had received a dowry of $5 million from Jessie and was a self-employed stockbroker with one major client—his wife. But he was an inveterate gambler and drunk who neglected his wayward son. He eventually committed suicide.

Jimmy was born in 1915. He had no employment to speak of and didn’t really need any, though he was a sometime actor and producer. He was a roving ambassador, visiting Woolworth stores. Barbara Hutton, his cousin, would finance these trips: “Would $5,000 be enough for the week?” Although often pictured in the company of women he was a notoriously louche homosexual at a time when it was illegal. Through his society connections he befriended the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and was said to have been her lover for four years.

Barbara was the only daughter of Edna Woolworth Hutton and Franklyn Laws Hutton. At birth she was dubbed the “Million Dollar Baby” but eventually, her troubled life made her better known as the “poor little rich girl”. Her father was the wealthy co-founder of New York stock broking firm E. F. Hutton. She was also a niece by marriage of the magnate Marjorie Merriweather Post of General Foods.

Her father, although financially astute, was a compulsive womaniser, which drove her mother Edna to suicide. Barbara was only six when she discovered the body.

On her 21st birthday she inherited $50 million from the Woolworth estate, the equivalent of $1 billion today. Her father had abandoned her and she lived with various relatives and her governess “Tikki”, who remained with her to the end. Her closest friend and confidante was Jimmy Donahue.

As one of the wealthiest women in the world she had no need of a career and sought fulfilment in companionship—she was to marry seven times. In 1933 she married Prince Alexis Mdivani, a soi-disant Georgian prince, whom she divorced in 1935. He was a prince without money or a country, a recurring theme in Barbara’s life. He belittled her, gambled and drank heavily and had many affairs. He netted several million in the divorce settlement but was to die soon after in a car crash.

In 1935 Barbara married the Danish Count Curt Heinrich Eberhard Erdmann Georg von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow. He was extremely abusive to Barbara both verbally and physically, leading to a savage beating that left her in hospital and him in jail. He forced her to change her nationality to Danish so that he would have greater access to her money.

With him she had her only child, Lance, and nearly died in the process, with the result that she could not have any more children. She drifted into drug abuse and anorexia, which was to haunt her for the rest of her life. They divorced in 1938. She gained custody of Lance but, like her father, left her child to be raised by a governess and private boarding schools.

In 1939 she moved to California as war threatened and there met and married Cary Grant. He was one of the biggest movie stars of the day. They were inevitably dubbed “Cash and Cary” by the press but Grant appears genuinely to have loved her and had no need of her money. However, he was unable to cope with her drug-induced mood swings and they divorced in 1945. He received no money in the settlement and they remained friends.

In 1947 she returned to Europe and bought a palace in Tangiers. In Paris she met Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, an expatriate Russian prince of very little means. She married him in Zurich in 1948. In the same year he was the driver of the first Ferrari ever to compete in a grand prix at Monaco and he later won the Targa Florio, the classic Sicilian road race. He ultimately filed for divorce after Barbara attempted a drug-induced suicide.

She next married the Dominican diplomat playboy Porfirio Rubirosa in 1953, but this marriage was to last only 53 days—throughout which he carried on his affair with Zsa Zsa Gabor. Rubirosa, or “Rubi” as he was known, was a notorious gigolo and, allegedly, a political assassin. He supplemented his income by servicing rich women. Harold Robbins based the lead character in his book The Adventurers on him.

Rubi was prodigiously well endowed and had to have his tailors, Dunhill in New York, make specially cut trousers for him. An actress described his weapon as “similar to a wooden pepper shaker, the kind you find in restaurants”. To this day French diners supposedly refer to such pepper mills as “Rubirosas”. As well as an adventurer and racing driver he was a tennis player and world-class polo player. He was romantically linked with Jane Mansfield, Ava Gardner, Eartha Kitt,  Eva Peron and Veronica Lake. In the divorce settlement he received five polo ponies, a private plane and the largest coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic. He was to die in his Ferrari in the early hours of the morning in the Bois de Boulogne in 1965.

In 1955 Barbara married an old friend, Baron Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm, a tennis player. He was a double French Open champion and a national hero, but had refused to kowtow to the Nazi line. She had been instrumental in saving him from death after he’d been arrested on charges of homosexuality. However, after their marriage Barbara caught him in bed with another man and realised he would not be a comforting companion.

Her final husband would be the self-styled Prince Pierre Raymond Doan, who was more interested in her money and other men, with his brother writing her the love poems that she was known to favour. Shortly after this her son Lance was killed in a plane crash. He had recently met her after years away at boarding school and was extremely bitter at the way she had treated him.

Barbara spent her last years in a haze of alcohol and drugs, spending profusely until she was forced to sell her various assets including villas and tiaras at a fraction of their true worth. She was ultimately forced to send her servants to former friends for the return of gifts. Few complied.

Her last days were spent at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where she was a feature at the bar. She would be dressed in an evening gown, in all her jewels, with diamond bracelets and tiara, waiting for a gentlemen or lady to speak to her. They would often receive an expensive token of appreciation. In the end she was bedridden and when she died she had just $3,500 in her bank account.

Barbara had left her family home, Winfield House in Regents Park, London, as the official residence of the US ambassador. It is perhaps appropriate that the first black American President, Barack Obama, has stayed there very recently, as the civil rights movement was started in the 1960s after blacks were refused service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.

So what of Woolworth’s today? In Britain there only remain empty stores as a reminder of a once household name, but the company still exists in the name of Footlocker. And Frank Woolworth’s original concept lives on in the discount stores that exist today, and which continue to thrive in another economic downturn.

 

 

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“We Didn’t Have a Uniform As Such…”

 

Fashion in the British Army During the Second World War

 

By Sean Longden

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 30)

 

Every year thousands of tourists descend on London to witness the pomp and pageantry of Britain’s heritage. At the very centre of this are the traditional military displays of the Changing Of The Guard and the Trooping Of The Colour. These soldiers of the Guards regiments and the Household Cavalry, with their spotless tunics, shining boots and faultlessly synchronised drill, are the very picture of British military tradition. These are the descendants of the men sent all over the globe to serve the Empire. It was a tradition where ability and efficiency were sometimes perceived as secondary to appearance. British military mythology is full of tales of men fighting last-gasp actions, constantly dogged by a Sergeant Major admonishing them for having a button missing. Tales abound of officers fighting colonial wars with their swelteringly hot woollen tunics buttoned to the neck—“Mad Dogs and Englishmen” indeed.

            Twentieth century peacetime soldiering had changed little, with a constant struggle to keep uniforms and barracks spotless. The razor sharp creases, gleaming brass, shining boots and faultless parade ground drill were the bedrock upon which discipline was based and gave men pride in their regiment.

            New recruits during World War Two were subjected to the same exacting standards. Assessing the shock to the “civilian” soldiers one military chaplain wrote: “He is no longer free to dress as he pleases or to go where he pleases. He can be ordered to do things against his will. His whole life is regulated without his wishes being consulted. His personality is merged in that of the group.” Little wonder most of the fighting men would use amendments to their uniform as a way to express their individuality as soon as the opportunity arose.

            Why is it that the American style of WW2 is still perceived as “cool”—how many people in so-called “cargo pants” realise they are wearing a copy of a WW2 American parachutist’s trouser?—yet the British Army style of the period just seems old fashioned? To understand this we must explore the nature of the British uniform. The basis of all British uniforms of the period was the Battledress, a two-piece outfit of blouson jacket and loose-fitting trousers made from rough khaki serge. The battledress remained an unpopular garment and most of its wearers thought they were the worst dressed army on the battlefields of Europe. They laughed that the jacket could make them look pregnant in front and hunchbacked in the rear. Tall thin men found their trousers needed to be pulled in at the waist, the crotch hanging down towards their knees, whilst stout men found the trousers too tight across the seat. One Private recalls: “Who invented the battledress? To begin with it looked slovenly. A soldier is supposed to look smart, but in battledress most of us looked like out-of-work dustcart attendants. When the Australian and American servicemen came to Britain they put our lads to shame. If a bloke got one that fitted perfect when he was standing up it was half way up his back when he bent to pick anything up, and when he straightened up it stayed there. When this happened with equipment on it was most uncomfortable and almost impossible to rectify unless the wearer undid the equipment belt first.”

            There were many other styles of headgear for use when the helmet was not needed. The ludicrous forage caps of the early war years had been replaced in all but a few regiments. The forage cap had served little purpose apart from annoying drill instructors when it fell from the heads of new recruits. In its place most regiments had adopted the General Service Cap, a floppy brown hat not disimilar in shape and design to the “Tam O’Shanters” that remained the basic headgear of many Scottish and Canadian Scottish regiments. This cap—itchy, misshapen and sloppy—was the perfect accompaniment to the battledress.

            The general rule was that berets, Tams and caps should always angle to the right. However there were exceptions. Irish regiments wore theirs to the left. Royal Armoured Corps men learned to wear their black beret to the rear of their heads whilst the Yeomanry they served alongside wore theirs to the side. And paratroops tended to wear their red berets square upon the top of the head. It was all a matter of tradition, designed to instill a sense of identity and cohesion.

            At the outbreak of war the British Army looked far different from the way it would look in 1945. Yet many of these changes would be the result not just of the experience of war but also of the soldiers’ desire to express themselves. Right from the start this was something the army struggled with: serving in France in 1940 General Montgomery had been appalled by his troops’ appearance. “I see men lounging about in the streets with their tunics open, hats on the back of their head…in all sorts of kit; in the same party some men wore helmets, some soft caps, some no headgear at all.” However Montgomery, the first British General to wear battledress rather than service dress, did qualify this by saying that “when battle is joined we can think again”.

            With the failure of the campaign in France and Belgium in 1940 the British public went in search of heroes. The first offering was “The Few”. The RAF pilots of the Battle of Britain were to capture the public imagination—they flew in their shirtsleeves and soft shoes, their necks wrapped in coloured scarves, their hair worn fashionably long. They appeared more like civilians, men who had strayed straight from a university bar or riverside picnic on to an airfield. Considering how young many of them were, this was not far from the truth.

            It was to be two more years before another group of men won the public’s heart—the Eighth Army with its long-awaited victory at El Alamein. Again these men’s appearance would have incurred the wrath of every Sergeant Major on the parade grounds back home. The conditions in the desert prevented the upkeep of old standards and gradually the look changed. Men wore whatever headgear was comfortable—tin helmets, solar topees, forage caps, bush hats, woollen cap comforters and even Arab headdress. The days could be blistering and the nights perishing. Pullovers, unacceptable back home, became de rigeur, their waistbands visible in the gap between battledress blouse and trousers. Clothes were worn to taste in the Eighth Army. Soldiers often sported a combination of tropical khaki drill and battledress, some men in long trousers, others in shorts. Some men wore leather boots, others suede. Many officers took to wearing civilian clothing—“mufti”, as they called it— purchased on visits to Cairo or Alexandria, that they found better suited to local conditions. One officer recalled that when captured by the Italians in 1941 he wore: “no badges of rank, but a golf jacket, a pink shirt into which was tucked a yellow silk scarf, a pair of green corduroy trousers and an expensive pair of suede boots”.

            This was the look made famous in Jon’s “Two Types” cartoon which featured two of this new breed, men who sported large moustaches and carried fly whisks. It was in the desert that Montgomery himself adopted the individual style that was soon to become his trademark. His black tank man’s beret with its two badges and his customary civilian trousers were to become instantly recognisable to troops and public alike.

            These were the men who won the battles that finally turned the tide of war. Not the spotless Guardsmen of postcards and advertisements, but the unkempt men of the less fashionable regiments. And these were the men who continued the campaign through Sicily and Italy where their style underwent more permutations. In the searing Sicilian sun some soldiers adopted the wide-brimmed straw hats favoured by the locals. The unconventional appearance of one Eighth Army soldier finally caused Montgomery to act: “I saw a lorry coming towards me with a soldier wearing a silk top hat. As the lorry passed me, the driver leant out from his cab and took off his hat to me with a sweeping and gallant gesture. I just roared with laughter. However, while I was not particular about dress so long as soldiers fought well and we won our battles, I at once decided there were limits. When I got back to my headquarters I issued the only order I ever issued about dress in the Eighth Army; it read: ‘Top hats will not be worn in the Eighth Army.’”

            The general public back home agreed with Monty that you had to have a victory before you could have the parade. By 1944 the soldiers in England preparing for the invasion of the Continent, learning from returning Eighth Army veterans, were aware that, once battle was joined, the barrack room standards would slip and comfort would become the overriding issue. From 1944 the hard fighting of the Normandy campaign did indeed bring changes. As Alexander Baron wrote to his family on the first anniversary of D-Day: “If you wanted to dress like a comic opera pirate you could.”

            In the heat of summer the soldiers had to change their clothing to make it more comfortable. The warm serge of the battledress was the first thing to go. It was too heavy and rubbed at their necks. At first they unbuttoned their blouses and rolled back the cuffs, then the soldiers removed them, strapped them into their webbing, and fought in their shirtsleeves. The ever-busy gunners of the artillery stood for hours under the scorching sun, reacting to fire orders, laying down barrages. For comfort they stripped off their jackets and shirts—in extreme cases working in bathing trunks—yet all the while with their heads protected by their helmets.

            The relaxation of the standards of discipline over uniforms allowed men to express themselves with small details. They picked up umbrellas from the ruins of villages and marched en masse sheltering under the canopies. Whole units picked roses—the traditional English symbol—from bushes lining the roads of France to decorate their hats. Why this desire to stand out? It is said that the troops were bound first to their own unit rather than to the army as a whole. It was also a way of saying that despite being soldiers they were still civilians at heart. By appearing casual men were attempting to feel casual, as one sergeant explained: “The psychological advantages of going into battle with your tunic collar turned up and one hand in your pocket, when possible, cannot be overemphasised.”

            These stylistic gestures were just the start of a movement. They were young men, with the same fashion interests as men of their age across the world. In the glare of Normandy sunglasses became popular and throughout the campaign scarves were widely worn by the soldiers. For some it was decoration and for others just comfort. Scarves prevented the heavy serge of the blouse from chafing the neck. They could act as facemasks against smoke or dust or could mop up sweat. For the most basic neckwear the soldiers tore strips from their camouflage face veils. Or they might pick up table-cloths from the wreckage of houses and cafés, tear coloured silk from parachutes abandoned after airborne operations or simply take women’s headscarves from local houses. Operation Varsity, the airborne drop to the east of the Rhine, left plenty of variously coloured parachutes littering the fields. In the days that followed there was a craze among soldiers for having the brightest silk scarf. In the final days of the war a German pilot reported how he parachuted into a field to be met by British infantrymen who ignored him and set about cutting up his parachute.

            Even when men retained regulation issue uniform it was not to say they all looked alike. There were still opportunities for personal expression without breaking the rules. Vehicle crews noted how one man might wear battledress, another a tank suit, a third a leather jerkin and so on.

            But while most riflemen could only make minor adjustments to their uniforms some of their infantry colleagues were dressing up to a degree few could have expected before they arrived on the continent. The top hat described by Montgomery was not unique. Out of the line many men took to wearing all manner of headgear—straw sunhats, fur hats, bowlers, trilbys—but it was the top hat that really caught the imagination of the soldiers, who were amused by the upper-class connotations. In the moments before the start of Operation Market Garden General Horrocks noticed a complete carrier crew, waiting for the advance to begin, all sporting tall black hats. During the battles around Oosterbeek, outside Arnhem, one NCO kept his men entertained by walking around in a stovepipe hat that he claimed made him impervious to shellfire.

            Somehow the “high ups” in the army misjudged the mood of the men. While the soldiers were fighting well—succeeding in their tasks and advancing slowly towards Germany—the Provost Corps were being told to check up on headgear. With hundreds of men wearing comical civilian hats the MPs were being instructed to make sure berets and caps were being correctly worn on top of heads, rather than hanging off the side or the back. Judging by film and photographs of the time, it was an order they would never be able to enforce. The MPs themselves were known regularly to ignore regulations by breaking their service caps to change the look.

            Hairstyles were also influenced by war. The extremes of the “short back and sides” so favoured by Sergeant Majors was slowly replaced by more relaxed styles. In preparation for their leading role in the D-Day landings some men adopted unusual hairstyles. Crew cuts became popular and some of the more adventurous, such as some paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division, shaved the sides of their heads for the “Mohican” look. One East Yorkshire Regiment soldier was even seen to have his hair shaved just leaving the three dots and a dash to denote the “V for Victory” morse sign; others shaved their hair into diamonds or square patterns. Haircuts were used by some men as a distinctive mark of their “esprit de corps”. One tank commander noted how the crews of the recovery vehicles in his squadron all went without headwear to show off their shaven heads.

            With the escalation of the fighting in France in the months following D-Day there were to be few opportunities for the front line soldiers to get haircuts or wash their hair and the appearance of most soldiers deteriorated. It would only be once the fighting had died down and leave to the towns and cities of Belgium and France had been initiated that the soldiers could use their 48 hours of freedom to get a professional haircut. Once newly coiffured the soldiers would then go to photographic studios to have their portraits taken to be sent home to their families.

            The only problem was that continental hairdressers seemed to have a very different idea of how men’s hair should be treated than the barbers back at home. They left hair longer than regulation length and used oils and waxes to shape it in a way few soldiers had previously encountered. Men with their hair treated in this way initially found themselves the subject of ridicule. Their mates laughed, calling them “poofs” and comparing them to the pampered poodles carried by French women. But, despite the teasing, hairstyles began to change: the shaven sides and backs disappeared and the tops got longer and wavier. Soon off-duty soldiers were pushing their general service caps back as far as possible to show off ever-growing quiffs, a change that would be realised more fully in the post-war years.

            Another fad was for German belts. These were taken from corpses, picked up from abandoned positions or removed from prisoners. As one man later told me, he had turned over a dead German whose body was still warm, just to remove his belt. He later realised this was a bizarre action for a quiet, young bank clerk. Why was a leather belt with a German eagle and the words “Gott Mitt Uns” so important to him? The answer was fashion. Others decorated their belts with badges taken from the corpses of defeated enemies, like personal battle honours—each marking a unit he had defeated. Such displays were a way of binding units together, even if just one eight-man section. Though most soldiers took pleasure in dressing down whenever they could, when they came into contact with civilians they wanted to be as smart as possible. The soldiers going on leave were irritated that they had to go into Brussels dressed in baggy khaki serge uniforms. Even after pressing out the creases they realised battledress wouldn’t compete with the GIs’ uniforms—the Americans went on leave dressed in smart trousers, skirted jackets, shoes and a collared shirt with tie. The British felt they looked like binmen in comparison and feared the Yanks would “pull all the good looking birds”. Even the officers of 21st Army Group couldn’t compare to the average American riflemen.

            In an attempt to redress the balance the soldiers defied regulations and contrived to get ties to wear whilst on leave. Such was the disquiet among the troops that the rules were changed to correspond with the changes being unofficially made. From late 1944 other ranks were permitted to leave open the top button of their battledress blouse and to wear collars and ties when off duty. For men going on leave it made a welcome change to appear smart and, ideally, impress the local women. The only problem was that few had access to either collared shirts or ties. Once more the soldiers had to improvise and when MPs began to check they discovered men were wearing unauthorised patterns.

            Many had managed to acquire officers’ pattern shirts and ties. Others traded with their American allies, for whom ties were an integral part of the uniform. Some British units shared a collared shirt and tie, given to each man in turn as he went on leave. When it came time for John Mercer to visit Brussels he was fortunate: “One of my mates was a tailor’s cutter. He sat down on his haunches and altered my shirt, and several other shirts, making us collars and ties.”

            Some men took their trousers into local tailor’s workshops and had them altered to give a better fit around the waist and seat and for the legs to be less baggy—similar to the GI’s trousers. However, some senior officers were not keen. The Commanding Officer of the 1/5th Queens Regiment, part of the 7th Armoured Division, ordered checks to be carried out on his men. Between the 15th and 17th January 1945 full kit inspections were ordered with prizes of 48 hour leave passes and free NAAFI issue for the best turned-out men. Tailor’s tickets, indicating unofficial alterations, were just one criteria of the inspections. Officers were also instructed to check uniforms for the correct number of buttons on shirts, that socks were correctly darned, there were no oil stains on battledress, boots were laced properly and that trousers hung in the correct manner. The timing of these checks seems strange since on the 17th the battalion took 68 casualties—men who would not have been spared by having the correct number of shirt buttons.

            The tank and armoured yeomanry regiments had a lax attitude towards clothing. They were military revolutionaries, men who were looking forward to a new kind of war, not back at the battles of two hundred years before. This seemed to have been passed down to the men of the tank crews, many of whom displayed little more than a passing knowledge of the accepted dress codes. The officers of the Royal Tank Regiment considered themselves the elite of mobile armoured warfare, feeling they were more professional than the recently armoured Guards regiments or the dashing figures of the newly armoured cavalry regiments. The cavalrymen thought likewise. They were an elite; they may have traded their horses for tanks and armoured cars but many were still determined to show their fighting abilities with the reckless abandon that had characterised cavalry warfare through history.

            Hand in hand with this came a sartorial style that seemed a direct heir of the cavaliers of the English Civil War. Of all the men making stylistic amendments to their uniforms the tank officers were to display more abandon than most. Unlike infantry officers, who needed to blend in with the other ranks to avoid observation by the enemy, tank commanders were already conspicuous since they were usually visible to the enemy as they needed to sit on the rims of their turrets. There was no point in being disguised and so they dressed as they felt most comfortable. The loading of landing craft in preparation for D-Day was given an almost holiday atmosphere when one Guards officer supervised the loading of his tanks dressed in grey flannels and a white shirt. This was the spirit carried throughout the armoured units. In many regiments it became de rigueur to dress in the “Eighth Army Style” of scarves, cords and desert boots. Not all were actually veterans of the North African campaign but they liked to appear confident, experienced soldiers.

            One tank commander described his regiment: “The officers look as though they are dressed for a fancy dress ball. One has a leather jerkin. Another is wearing denim overalls. One has a cricket sweater on. Others are in full battledress. One or two are in shirtsleeves. Trousers range from sloppy corduroys to sloppy serge.” Other items of clothing seen in use in Normandy included a fur-lined leather jacket and even a Harlequins rugby shirt. Our tank commander recalled one of his officers being reprimanded for his appearance: “He was wearing German jackboots, riding breeches and a coloured scarf in a remote outpost in Holland when the Brigadier unexpectedly appeared. Brig. Scott, a strict disciplinarian but respected leader, ‘bawled him out’—shouting, ‘Get some bloody proper uniform on and try to look like an officer!’”

            While the situation was different in the infantry, many officers there still adopted deliberately relaxed images, as if a direct challenge to the perceived precise military bearing of the German officer class. The monocle-wearing Prussian officer with high-collared jacket, shaven head and duelling scars had long been a comic figure in British eyes, from the First World War to the stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s in characters played by George Sanders and Eric Von Stroheim.

            With service dress put aside for the duration of the war officers, like their men, wore battledress. They were allowed to wear either issue battledress or have an individual suit made by a tailor. If they chose to wear the issue battledress blouse they were allowed to have the collar altered so that the jacket lining was not visible. Instead it could be reshaped and lined with fabric to give the appearance of jacket lapels. Tailor-made garments often had a similar appearance but were obviously better fitting. Photographs of senior officers show a wide variety of styles, some wearing the most basic “Economy Issue” blouses, without alterations, some wearing tailored jackets with various collar and lapel sizes. Some favoured small neat lapels, others preferred wider, open collars. Men like Brigadier Roscoe Harvey favoured a modern image—he wore a battledress blouse with a zipped front giving it the appearance of a civilian blouson jacket. Others like Major General Thomas, commander of the 43rd Division, resembled a cross between a Great War general and the villain in a Victorian melodrama—he wore riding boots, breeches and a long leather coat.

            Not all the officers had the luxury of such alterations. Many did not have the financial backing of the traditional officer class and couldn’t afford the luxury of tailor-made uniforms. This new breed of officer, many from the working classes or the lower middle classes of 1930s suburbia, instead wore exactly the same outfit as the riflemen of their platoons. This in itself was an expression—a challenge to the old ways of the army. Ken Hardy, a young subaltern serving in the Hallams, was one of those infantry officers who enjoyed the anonymity of dressing to merge in with his platoon. He recalled: “I knew about dressing down before I went out to Normandy. I never carried a pistol, I never carried a map and I never carried binoculars. If I did they were underneath my jacket. But I carried a rifle from the word go. I mean, you want to live! We all realised you had to dress accordingly. The senior officers accepted this. They didn’t do likewise, but they realised us platoon commanders weren’t going to live very long if we didn’t dress like privates. It stood me in hellish good stead.” This was a revolt against the old, decorative ways of the gentlemen soldiers and was a reflection of what was to come in the post-war years—both in fashion and throughout society.

            Still, there were some infantry officers who dressed to stand out. Though few, they made an indelible impression in the minds of the men. Peter Young, commanding No 3 Commando, was seen wearing an Arab headdress during the fighting in Normandy. In the final anarchic weeks of the war the SAS were let off the leash in northern Germany to cause chaos and confusion behind the enemy lines. One officer led his jeep patrols wearing a top hat and corduroy trousers. Others took to wearing two revolvers on their belts, giving them the appearance of Western gunslingers. At his briefing for Operation Market Garden General Horrocks noted how few of his officers wore regular uniforms. Steel helmets were nowhere to be seen and berets of various hues were the order of the day. Royal Armoured Corps officers seemed all to be wearing corduroys or brightly coloured slacks. Many artillery officers were wearing riding breeches or jodhpurs. Ties seemed to have been abandoned in favour of polka dot scarves of various colours. Horrocks himself was dressed in a high-necked woolly jumper and airborne camouflaged smock.

            With the onset of winter the soldiers needed more protection than that offered by their battledress, leather jerkins and greatcoats. The problem for the infantrymen was that these brown doublebreasted coats were too cumbersome for use much of the time. They were ideal for wearing when sleeping curled up in the bottom of a slit trench or standing on guard duty, but unsuited to battle. Some soldiers found the solution was to cut off the bottom of the coat, just keeping it as long as the skirt of a jacket. This innovation kept the upper body warm whilst allowing the legs to move unimpeded. The only problem with this was the wearer would also have to endure the shortened coat at night, when it was not large enough to snuggle down in. Instead most infantrymen preferred the wool-lined leather jerkins. These kept the body warm without restricting the movement of the arms.

            Fortunately with the lines static for much of the winter the infantry were able to acquire all manner of clothing to ward off the cold. Necessity once more became the mother of invention as the British and Canadian soldiers utilised whatever they could beg, borrow or steal. Some cut the sleeves from greatcoats and sewed them on to leather jerkins to make warm jackets. In time some official supplies were made available. All manner of winter clothing was issued—duffle coats, Wellington boots, fur-lined RAF boots, sea boot socks and even rabbit fur waistcoats. The soldiers may no longer have all looked like soldiers but at least they were warm. It was the look of the British working man translated into a military setting. I call it the “farmhand with a flourish” look—Wellingtons, woollen jumpers, caps at all angles, gauntlets, scarves and jerkins.

            While many of the troops spent the winter wearing Wellingtons some found a convenient local alternative—in Holland and Belgium some off-duty soldiers took to wearing wooden-soled clogs. They claimed the felt lining made the clogs warmer and more comfortable than issue boots. One soldier was seen wearing the clogs of a Belgian miner, part wooden, part leather, topped with anklets made from the felt linings of mortar bomb cases.

            The British army began to lose its cohesive look. Veterans looked on in wonder at new arrivals in polished boots rather than Wellingtons. Officers couldn’t believe that map cases or holsters still existed. Soldiers joked that they could spot an inexperienced man by his greatcoat—which had obviously never been slept in. Once again, the fashions of the front line were really a badge of identity.

            This identity began to find expression in increasingly comic behaviour. A veteran infantryman of the 7th Armoured Division remembered the behaviour of his comrades: “If you were going down the road and there was a house that had been knocked about a bit, you’d go in and come out with a saucepan on your head. Or they’d pick up a woman’s handbag and wear knickers and a brassiere over their uniform. That was a lovely spell-breaker, especially if you’ve had a rough time. It keeps you sane. Remember we were just kids. We didn’t think as we did when we were in civvy street. We were children, with no minds. So anything like that was marvellous.”

            As the British and Canadian armies charged across northern Germany in the last days of the war little did they realise they were enjoying their last days of stylistic freedom. With the war nearing its end the senior officers began to look forward to the peace and plan for the role of their men in occupying the defeated Reich. Discipline would be the order of the day and they wanted their men to look like a conquering army, not a gang of tramps. In the first days of May 1945, as the 7th Armoured Division approached Hamburg, the men got the first taste of the new regime. Orders were given to them: “No item of unauthorised clothing will be worn and it is the duty of all offrs & NCOs to enforce this order rigidly.” The story was the same throughout 21st Army Group. The officers of the 9th RTR looked on aghast as their crews paraded in a curious mixture of uniforms, that had been altered to meet individual tastes, and looted civilian clothing. They were soon told to discard them. Harry Free of the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment noticed the sudden change: “On active service I was something of a rebel—whilst on recce duties I never wore a hard hat, wore a black leather jacket, air gauntlets, gumboots, a yellow neckerchief and a beret. I was never challenged by senior officers, they seemed to be very lax… No-one had to tell us when the war ended—it was “on parade”, all brasses polished, marching here, there and everywhere—a very strict dress code enforced!”

            In the first weeks after the surrender of Germany the soldiers had to get used to all the old standards. The long-neglected tins of blanco, brasso and boot polish were dug out from the bottom of packs. Buttons and brasses shone again. Belts and webbing changed colour. Sergeant Majors could once again see their faces in toe caps. Hats returned to regulation angles. Collars were turned down, scarves packed away, hands kept out of pockets. Now they were ready for the victory parades.

            Of course, these new standards could not be kept up forever. In the months following the parades and victory celebrations a certain malaise crept into many of those charged with occupying Germany. Those men who had seen their only military role as being to defeat the Nazis were anxious to be demobbed. Those who had already got their demob date, and knew they had but days to go, let their standards slip. One man later wrote of his behaviour: “We slouched across our corner of a foreign field with hats on or off according to our fancy, collars undone, boots unpolished, hands in pockets, with many mouths drooping with our free allowance of fags. We could not have looked much like an all-conquering army.”

            Those who were not getting out so quickly also made modifications to their uniforms—to make them smarter. Tailors were engaged, paid in cigarettes, to make uniforms more flattering. Battledress blouses were brought in on the body  to hang better. Triangles of cloth inserted at the bottom of trouser legs to create a flare.

            The look of this army survived. After being forced to wear hats and have their hair cut for years, men returned to civvy street and abandoned headwear. The quiffs that emerged from beneath berets and caps in the last year of the war became the general look of the 1950s.

            The casual dress of the “Two Types” officers emerged into the post-war world, denting the control the suit had over the wardrobes of the British male. Sports jackets and flannels became the look of the demobbed officer. Old suit jackets that had outlived their matching trousers were resurrected to be worn with contrasting cloths. It was not just the class system that had been levelled: it seemed everybody had adapted the newly casual style upon demob.

            For years it seemed the “farmhand” look favoured in so many units never disappeared from society. In my childhood every dustman, market trader and coalman seemed to be wearing a leather jerkin, maybe an ancient battered beret and a pair of Wellingtons or hobnailed army boots.

            Army service had left its mark on every part of society. A couple of years ago I saw the last remnants of those days when I spotted a pensioner mowing his lawn in a battered leather jerkin and black beret—obviously his gardening clothes ever since demob. With him the fashions of the young men of WW2 will die. The individual flourishes of fashion—worn under the most trying of circumstances—by young men who wanted to express their status as civilians first rather than soldiers are forgotten by a society which instead remembers the fashions that came from across the Atlantic.

           

Sean Longden is the author of “Dunkirk:The Men They Left Behind” (Constable), “To the Victor the Spoils” (Arris), about the reality of the behaviour of British troops in Europe after D-Day, and “Hitler’s British Slaves” (Arris), about the treatment of Allied POWs in Germany.

 

 

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An Account of the French Invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797

 

As set down by Ensign Polyethyl’s Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Uncle

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 29)

 

Rev Arthur Hill Richardson,

St Gwyndaf’s Rectory,

Llanwnda,

Pembrokeshire

 

Written this day of our Lord 20th January 1841

 

My Dearest Descendents,

            I believe that the time may come (in about five generations) when an eyewitness account of the evils and foolishnesses of the French might be a fitting topic to educate the idle English drinkers in a Fitzrovian pub. I set down my account to ensure that all may have a proper understanding of what happened.

            I write this day that I, the perpetual curate of Manorowen, become the vicar of this little chapel, St Gwyndaf’s church, Llanwnda. This house of worship with such a history—where Giraldus Cambrensis once held the living to which I have now been appointed. My writings may never achieve his greatness, but if they can contribute something as a testament to the failure of the French Atheist ambitions then I will be a worthy successor.

            At the time of the invasion I was a youth. My parents were living as Organists in the Cathedral City of St Davids (and a remarkably small city it is, quite the smallest in Britain). Then as now the Pencaer Peninsula, and the nearby town of Fishguard, is very quiet; a rural corner of the furthest reaches of West Wales. There is nothing beyond the headland but the savagery of Ireland. The harbour of Fishguard is good, but very small. The area has no major towns, no industry; it is on no trade routes. The town relies on herring fishing and small-scale agriculture. In generations to come perhaps the pretty little cottages that edge the harbour might be available for holiday lets at very reasonable prices, but for now they are occupied by boat builders, farmers, fishermen and any suggestion that any of them is involved in smuggling is gross calumny. Similarly every ship that is wrecked on the sharp jagged rocks of our coastline is driven there purely by accident or storm. Other coasts might have their wreckers but my parishioners are law-abiding folk. A suggestion to the contrary will limit your abilities to buy any of the brandy with which the area is so well supplied.

            The town of Fishguard’s one proud boast was its guns. In September 1779 a French-American-Irish Pirate bombarded the town, intending to hold the fishing fleet to ransom. One local fisherman had a cannon mounted upon his vessel (purely to aid his Herring fishing, and in no way an indication of smuggling). A few rounds from the Welshman’s cannon were enough to persuade the Pirate to sail away in search of easier targets.

            The shock of the bombardment meant that letters were sent to the Privy Council asking for proper defences to be built. The town provided the land and built the gun emplacement and the Privy Council provided the eight 9-pounder guns and three Woolwich pensioners to man them. The fort was completed by 1785. However neither town nor Privy Council had supplied the necessary Powder. The town requested some from the Privy Council; the Council wrote back saying that the town should buy some. Letters were exchanged, but little was bought. As a result on the day of the events that follow Messrs Mitchell, Benson and Rhodes, our retired gunners, had only three rounds of ammunition and 16 cartridges with which to defend the town.

            So our thoughts now turn to the invaders—and why they should choose to land at Fishguard.

            The French, as we are all well aware, are a depraved lot. They started as Papists and then turned Atheist—so it was only proper that we had been at war with them since 1793. They had revolted, killed their King, and were so crazed by blood and terror that they believed all the world wanted to follow their example. They had involved themselves in America’s revolt, and their pernicious influence was trying to break into Ireland. They even believed that the simple farmers of Wales were longing to revolt against the natural order of society—their reasoning based simply on a few malcontents who were toying with nonconformist Methodism.

            So the French planned a three-pronged attack. One force was to sail to Ireland, another to Newcastle and a third to Bristol. The three attacks were to support each other and lead the local people into revolt.

            The Irish invasion force set sail in December 1796. Led by the Irish traitor Wolfe Tone, they made it as far as Bantry Bay. Unfortunately the only person with any brains behind the expedition, General Hoche, had not told anyone else the plans, so when his ship was swept out into the Atlantic by storms, the plans went with him. Those ships with Wolfe Tone that did reach Bantry Bay did not know what to do and were astonished to discover that there were no cheering armies of Irish supporters. Unable to cope with the adverse winds, the whole fleet decided to return to France without landing.

            Meanwhile the Newcastle invasion force was being boarded on to a fleet of flat-bottomed river barges, with the intention of sailing from France to Newcastle. There the 5,000 soldiers were to destroy local collieries and shipping. Even those of you not familiar with maritime matters may guess that a flat-bottomed river barge is not an appropriate vessel for the

            winter storms of the North Sea. The force sailed as far as the Low Countries before abandoning the project.

            What is curious is that the orders for the Bristol invasion fleet were not now rewritten.

            It was still despatched to support the Irish and Newcastle invasion fleets—which had already limped back to France. Why? I suppose General Hoche had lost interest in the scheme and so did nothing to make the fleet’s success any more likely.

            Even more curiously, the ships in the fleet were brand new, the latest, best—and therefore valuable—vessels, straight from the builders’ dock yards. After the failure of the Irish and Newcastle invasions I am baffled why a man as intelligent as General Hoche would risk ships as valuable as Le Vengeance and La Resistance, two of the largest French frigates, the latter on her maiden voyage. Even the corvette La Constance and the lugger Vautour were new. The ships were commanded by Commodore Castagnier, a man who followed his orders precisely—regardless of the changed circumstances.

            The French army that was to invade Bristol was led by another Irish-American, a septuagenarian called Colonel William Tate, from South Carolina. He had fought against Britain in the American War of Independence. However, after that war he became embroiled in French plans to capture New Orleans and fell foul of the American authorities. In 1795 he fled to Paris, whence he persuaded General Hoche to let him lead the invasion. Thus he gained command of the Légion Noir, named after the colour of their jackets.

            The Légion Noir consisted of 600 grenadier soldiers and 800 convicts. These 1,400 men were armed with only 100 rounds each for the entire invasion. These French troops were led by yet more Irish officers, including one Lieutenant Barry St Leger, who had already had a picturesque life. Born in Ireland, sent to America as a child, returning to Ireland as a teenager, only to be shipwrecked and lose all his goods, picked up by pirates, taken to France, jailed, recognised as a fellow Irish-American by Tate and included in his invasion.

            This motley collection sailed out of Brest on 16th February 1797, flying Russian colours in an attempted ruse de guerre. The convict soldiers were so little trusted by their officers that they were kept in the bowels of the ships still in their ankle chains. (When eventually these men ended up in Pembrokeshire jails their new jailers were astonished to find that they already had calluses and cuts from being kept in chains.)  If the soldiers subsequent claims can be believed then they were not told where they were headed.

            In fact the plan was to destroy Bristol—England’s second largest city, a world-class harbour filled with ships, opinionated sailors, men who know how to deal with irritating Frenchmen. After destroying this seat of naval power the 1,400 ill-armed and untrained men were to march to Chester and Liverpool, avoiding Cardiff, there to meet up with the (now non-existent) Newcastle invasion force.

            As they sailed they revealed themselves to be French, not Russian, by sinking some merchant ships off Ilfracombe, thus ensuring that the alarm was raised and messages sent to the Royal Navy.

            At this point they decided that the winds were bad for Bristol so they changed the plan and sailed for Cardigan Bay instead.

            On Wednesday, 22nd February 1797 they arrived off the coast of North Pembrokeshire. By now all ashore knew they were French. A retired sea captain had walked along the coast keeping watch on them. A customs ship had spotted the fleet and retreated into shallow waters to avoid them. A Pembrokeshire Merchant Ship had been seized and the crew taken prisoner.

            The first ship attempted to sail into Fishguard Harbour, giving our retired Woolwich gunners the opportunity to dine out on the story for the rest of their lives. They fired a single blank round at the ship—and it fled.

            So the French troops were forced to land at Carreg Wastad Point. If you visit the spot you will see that there is no beach, no gentle slope, no landing place. Just jagged cliffs plunging straight into the rock-strewn sea.

            During the landing one launch overturned, drowning eight men, and the artillery was lost. This left 1,400 men—with no horses, transport, artillery, spare ammunition or food—wandering a barren headland. Indeed the reader should remember that in this part of Wales the people do not even speak English, and the invaders had not thought to bring any Welsh translators.

            The French established themselves on a prominent rocky outcrop and started to wave their Revolutionary Flag, in the belief that the locals would flock to them. Why they thought that a Pembrokeshire farmer would know enough of French politics to recognise the meaning of the flag remains unanswered. Unsurprisingly the Welsh instead guided their flocks of sheep and poultry away from the hungry newcomers, preferring to head inland towards safety.

            Thus started the days of rape and pillage. Forage parties were sent to maraud. Every farm, hovel and barn was raided and two farmers were killed trying to protect their livestock. Even this sacred chapel was sacked. Farmer William’s wife was raped and shot and his sheep were eaten. The French seized Trehowel Farm from Farmer Mortimer, to be their headquarters. However, the discipline of their troops was undermined by the fact that, in preparation for a wedding, the farm was stocked to the beams with drink. In fact almost every farm had some alcohol as a Portuguese wine ship, on its way to Liverpool, had recently accidentally, legally and entirely without any local encouragement wrecked itself on our coast.

            Beer, wine, port and plentiful food hurriedly cooked had the usual impact on the bellies of convicts who had been starving in chains. The army fell ill.

            Meanwhile the fleet concluded that they had completed their task in successfully landing the army. So they sailed away, leaving the men on shore watching their only means of escape depart. While this may have been in the original orders—to allow the fleet to sail to support the Irish Invasion—no one had thought to warn the troops. Now enough of their morale and discipline vanished for mutinous men to start threatening their officers.

            Perhaps it was at this point that Commander Tate realised all was not going well—as the Welsh response was now beginning to gather strength. In the field now known as Parc Y French, five untrained farmers killed two French soldiers. Tate watched the scene from the rocks and knew that his invasion was going to be short-lived. Welshmen were now gathering from all across Pembrokeshire, armed with anything they could lay their hands on. A Customs ship at Milford Haven sent their press-gang men and their guns. The lead was stripped from the roof of St David’s Cathedral to be melted into shot.

            And then there was Jemima Fawr. Fishguard’s cobbler, she would then have been in her forties, and a person very capable of getting her way. Armed only with a pitchfork and her opinions, she single-handedly rounded up 12 French soldiers, imprisoning them in St Mary’s Church (where now she is buried).

            During all this commotion the brave lads of the militia and yeomanry were far from inactive. Their leader, Colonel Knox, was enjoying himself at a dinner dance when first news of the French ships arrived. He was not well loved by the local people. His father was a newcomer who had come with his money and had tried to throw his influence around, without succeeding in winning friends. The elder Knox had paid for the local militia force, Fishguard Fencibles, so his son was given the Colonelcy. Colonel Knox was 28 years old with no combat experience.

            His first thought was to gather his men at the Fort. Initial reports suggested there were 800 French, which meant his 150 Fencibles were utterly outnumbered. Any thoughts of an immediate attack were quashed.

            Meanwhile, across the county, militia forces were gathering. Lord Cawdor’s Castlemartin Troop of the Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry was fortunately already assembled for a funeral on the following day. They marched at once to the rescue. As soon as dark fell Lieutenant Colonel Colby of the Pembrokeshire Militia left his troops on the march and galloped through the night to Fishguard to get an accurate situation report. Finding Colonel Knox holed up in the fort and the French marauding through the farmlands he advised ringing the area with troops (at a safe distance) to give an appearance of strength, and to keep a watch on the French. Having given his military advice to the novice Knox, Colby once again galloped through the night, back to his advancing troop column.

            Col Knox and his Fishguard Fencibles were left in the fort as more reports arrived establishing accurate numbers of the enemy as 1,400. Totally outnumbered, he concluded that the only thing to do was retreat, to meet up with the advancing reinforcements. In a life-changing decision Col Knox marched his men away from Fishguard leaving the town entirely undefended. (His order to spike the fort’s guns was angrily rejected by the gunners.)

            The two forces met at Trefgarne Rocks, and promptly argued over who had command and took precedence. The novice Col Knox thought that just because the French had landed in his area that meant that he took command, despite the greater experience of Colonels Colby and Cawdor. Cawdor won the debate and restarted the march, but he did not forget Knox’s presumption.

            The British troops approached the area after nightfall. Col Colby led his Pembrokeshire Yeomanry with the intention of launching a night attack on the unsuspecting French. Unfortunately the French, led by the young Irishman St Leger, were very much expecting it. Perhaps you have not had the experience of trying to make hundreds of men walk silently through the night. I can assure you that their kit rattles, someone coughs, boots tramp, and all hope of secrecy and surprise evaporates. The French realised the British were coming and prepared their defensive line, and in the dark of the night the British could hear that the French were active and expecting them—so the night attack was called off. That was the only military manoeuvring of the invasion and yet, as a result, the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry will be granted the Battle Honour “Fishguard”; the only battle honour to be granted to a regiment on British soil.

            The next morning Tate wrote this letter:

 

To the Officer commanding His Britannic Majesty’s Troops. 5th. year of the Republic. The Circumstances under which the Body of the French Troops under my Command were landed at this Place renders it unnecessary to attempt any military operations, as they would tend only to Bloodshed and Pillage. We therefore desire to enter into a Negotiation upon Principles of Humanity for a surrender. If you are influenced by similar Considerations you may signify the same and, in the meantime, Hostilities shall cease. Health and Respect, Tate.

 

            In an act of phenomenal bluff, Cawdor replied:

 

Sir, The Superiority of the Force under my command, which is hourly increasing, must prevent my treating upon any Terms short of your surrendering your whole Force Prisoners of War. I enter fully into your Wish of preventing an unnecessary Effusion of Blood, which your speedy Surrender can alone prevent, and which will entitle you to that Consideration it is ever the Wish of British Troops to show an Enemy whose numbers are inferior.

 

            Cawdor had at best 660 Fencibles, Militia and Naval men, with no more on the way. Yet his claims of superiority of numbers might have been believable to the French due to the growing crowd of Welsh men and women who were gathering, armed with pitchforks, determined to see off the foreigners. When Tate’s force surrendered, on Goodwick Sands, to a local militia force on February 24th, 1797, the surrounding hills were packed with people. This gave rise to the legend that the scarlet cloaks of the Welsh women looked from a distance like British soldiers and thus fooled the French into believing they were outnumbered.

            The aftermath of the Invasion saw many unexpected consequences. Firstly the King sacked his French chef. Secondly, when news broke in London of a French invasion fleet the immediate result was a panic run on the bank. The withdrawals of gold coins stretched the Bank of England to its limit. As a consequence, just over a week later the Bank issued the very first promissory pound note as paper currency in the form that we know it today. The oldest surviving note held by the Bank is dated 6th March 1797.

            The Royal Navy sailed out to hunt for the invasion fleet, and found the four new French ships off the coast of Ireland, where they were still supporting the non-existent invasion. Once captured La Resistance was renamed HMS Fishguard.

            The French soldiers were reintroduced to their old friends, ankle chains, and thrown into every available prison in Pembrokeshire, before being packed off to Portsmouth’s prison hulks. A few managed to escape, in the process seducing two Pembrokeshire maidens and stealing Lord Cawdor’s yacht.

            Here in Pembrokeshire the most amusing result of the French fiasco was that it broke the reputation of the whelp Knox. Cawdor remembered the insult of Knox’s failure to acknowledge his superiority. And the gunners remembered their fury at being ordered to spike their beloved guns. As a result letters were sent. Cawdor induced his fellow officers to sign a letter threatening resignation if Knox was not sacked. Only Colby, the man who had galloped through the night to speak to Knox, stood by him.

            Knox repeatedly requested a court martial in order to present his case and try to clear his name, but the Duke of York preferred that the matter should be hushed up. Officially Knox and all the other officers had received the King’s thanks, so it was thought best not to look into the matter further. The only option left available to Knox was to challenge Cawdor to a duel. Although I know that they did meet, I am sorry to report that no one knows what happened at that duel. Did they talk? Did they fight? Your guess is as good as mine, but certainly neither was injured at the meeting. But Knox ended a broken man, an object of public ridicule, debt-ridden and living with a woman of easy virtue in London. Thus should end all men who retreat before the French.

            Here I end my tale, recounting events that happened many years ago, when I was a young man. Events that engulfed this remote area; saw this historic chapel desecrated; and which will still be remembered for years to come—at least every time you open your wallet to pay for a drink using paper money, not gold.

            I am and remain your humble Servant and fond Ancestor,

           

            Rev Richardson

 

 

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The Drones Club

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 28)

 

The New Sheridan Club is delighted to announce that it has agreed reciprocal arrangements with the Drones Club.

            The postal address is Dover Street, Mayfair, W1. The windows of its smoking room overlook the street and command the portico and front steps of the Demosthenes Club opposite. Members are kindly requested not to fire brazil nuts from catapults at Demosthenes members sporting top hats.

            The Drones membership is unclear though may be judged with some accuracy at between 140 and 150. A member, a Mr Bertie Wooster, lets us into this secret when he comments on the universal popularity of the annual Darts Sweepstake. “They roll up in dense crowds to buy tickets at 10/-.” The winner “stands to scoop in £56/10/-”. This would indicate 113 entrants. Allowing for absentees the total roll may be estimated at around 145. Of these, fifty-three members have been identified. In informal nomenclature and shorn of titles, as befitting the general atmos, they are:

 

Alistair Bingham-Reeves

Biscuit Biskerton

Monty Bodkin

Jimmy Bowles

Tubby Bridgnorth

Freddie Bullivant

Monty Byng

Hugo Carmody

Freddie Chalk-Marshall

Stilton Cheesewright

Berry Conway

Looney Coote

Nelson Cork

Algie Crufts

Ronnie Devereux

Dudley Finch

Gussie Fink-Nottle

Ronnie Fish

Freddie Fitch-Fitch

Boko Fittleworth

Reggie Foljambe

Aubrey Fothergill

Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps

Tuppy Glossop

Percy Gorringe

Reggie Havershot

Bingo Little

Algie Martyn

Archie Mulliner

Mervyn Mulliner

Freddie Oaker

Horace Pendlebury-Davenport

Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright

Oofy Prosser

Rupert Psmith

Dogface Rainsby

Tuppy Rogers

Freddie Rooke

Bill Rowcester

Oofy Simpson

Stiffy Stiffham

Archie Studd

Reggie Tennyson

Freddie Threepwood

Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton

Hugo Walderwick

Capt. J. G. Walkinshaw

Freddie Widgeon

Ambrose Wiffin

Percy Wimbolt

Dick Wimple

Bertie Wooster

Algie Wymondham

 

Oofy Simpson for a brief while ranked as the Club’s richest property but (though Looney Coote and Bertie Wooster are “stagnant with the stuff”) Oofy Prosser is the undisputed Club millionaire.

            In the dining-room, bread rolls are the accepted point d’appui. The Drones is one of those clubs where they display the cold dishes on a central table, and Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright once hit the game pie six times with six consecutive bread rolls from a seat at the far window. In the smoking-room, lump sugar is the tactical missile.

            Members are also pretty keen on the joke goods element. The plate lifter has had a notable vogue. The dribble glass is a favourite ice-breaker. The surprise salt shaker has had several successes. They still speak, too, of Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright’s emotion when the bread roll he picked up squeaked loudly and a mouse ran out of it. Strong men had to rally round with brandy.

            The annual incursion of outsize uncles, visiting the metrop for the Eton and Harrow Match and descending on their nephews for luncheon at the Drones (where they make for the bar like bison for a water-hole) gave Freddie Widgeon the idea for the Fat Uncles Sweepstake.

            Among the Club’s staff are Bates (hall porter); McGarry (a barman) and Robinson (a cloakroom waiter).

 

 

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Voyaging Through the Strange Seas of Thought

 

Travel, Nostalgia and the Triumph of the Imagination

 

By Des Esseintes

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 28)

 

To explain the import of this somewhat theoretical essay to those more intrepid chaps and chappesses who were doubtless hoping for—nay, expecting—something altogether more dogged, buchaneering (sic) and, not to put too fine a point on it, English—I must perforce utter, however briefly, a few mundanities. I was first asked to help deliver a talk to the assembled eager Chappist throng as long ago as 2006, after I played the part of an enthusiastic Leda to the more experienced rowing deities of Senior Sub and Mr Fischer-Pryce (né Beckwith) during a re-enactment of Mr Jerome’s fictional memoir. I was unable to take part, much to my reluctance and the open joy of the huddled masses. When Mr Hartley asked me to give an illustrated exposition of my forthcoming trip to the Raj, therefore, I was especially eager not to let him down. January was agreed as a suitable time, and I planned a thrilling and almost entirely fictitious account involving daring escapes from corpulent fakirs, ravenous tigers and that voluptuous harbinger of Death, the votaress of Vishnu (formerly of 27 Manor Gardens, Chippenham).

            However, as Mr Wodehouse has put it so perfectly, “It’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.” Having accepted a j*b which in many ways was splendid (monthly salary equivalent to more than twice the annual Indian wage, no taxes of any kind, free travel, free food, a free fine two-bedroomed flat with marble floors in a beautiful park with a rather fine—and free—steam-room on the ground floor, all in return for a nugatory amount of pacing up and down in front of impressionable youngsters declaiming demonstrable falsehoods in the name of Academe), I was less than joyous when I was informed that the visa requirements had been changed, seven months after I signed my contract and a mere six weeks before I was due to travel. Naturally, I was not told of this in advance—only once I had waited for weeks until it was too late to change my flight. All sorts of dreadfully tiresome and dull situations then transpired which meant that the w*rk collapsed, leaving me having to find new employment and accommodation with no notice. After quite a few months of the sorts of social etiquette posers rarely covered in Noblesse Oblige or Debrett’s Modern Manners, I found myself settled again. Into this hard-won tranquillity I must confess that Mr Hartley’s nuanced reminder of my solemn oath made in years of plenty came as something of a depth charge.

            Nevertheless, a promise made is a promise kept—or ought to be, I felt—and so I summoned up my little all whilst putting in the hours at my new Mammon and conjured up something approximating to the following. I cannot say that every prospect will please, but it may at least lead my readers, in the words of my old tutor, to “disagree. Violently”—and that, surely, is something.

            To travel is to be disappointed; to arrive, doubly so. According to the much lamented Sir John Mandeville, author of the astonishingly fertile Travels of Sir John Mandeville: “In Ind and about Ind be more than 5,000 isles good and great that men dwell in, without those that be uninhabitable, and without other small isles. In every isle is great plenty of cities, and of towns, and of folk without number. For men of Ind have this condition of kind, that they never go out of their own country, and therefore is there great multitude of people.”

            Wise, sound chaps.

            Mandeville wrote his enormously underrated book in 1356, and it should be in every library in the land. The whole book is gemlike in its simplicity. It anticipates Huysmans and Wilde; it chides—but how gently and implicitly—the lauded Victorian Age of the Explorer.

            For “Sir John Mandeville”, author of the first and greatest travel guide of all time, never left France.

            The world of this mighty explorer is a fine one indeed for the chap whose explorations have disappointed him. For included in this “factual” account—he even claims that his book was personally edited and vetted by the Pope—are monsters, wonders and riches aplenty:

 

And beyond these isles there is another isle that is clept Pytan. The folk of that country ne till not, ne labour not the earth, for they eat no manner thing. And they be of good colour and of fair shape, after their greatness. But the small be as dwarfs, but not so little as be the Pigmies. These men live by the smell of wild apples. And when they go any far way, they bear the apples with them; for if they had lost the savour of the apples, they should die anon. They ne be not full reasonable, but they be simple and bestial.

            After that is another isle, where the folk be all skinned rough hair, as a rough beast, save only the face and the palm of the hand. These folk go as well under the water of the sea, as they do above the land all dry. And they eat both flesh and fish all raw. In this isle is a great river that is well a two mile and an half of breadth that is clept Beaumare.

            And from that river a fifteen journeys in length, going by the deserts of the tother side of the river—whoso might go it, for I was not there, but it was told us of them of the country, that within those deserts were the trees of the sun and of the moon, that spake to King Alexander, and warned him of his death. And men say that the folk that keep those trees, and eat of the fruit and of the balm that groweth there, live well four hundred year or five hundred year, by virtue of the fruit and of the balm. For men say that balm groweth there in great plenty and nowhere else, save only at Babylon, as I have told you before. We would have gone toward the trees full gladly if we had might. But I trow that 100,000 men of arms might not pass those deserts safely, for the great multitude of wild beasts and of great dragons and of great serpents that there be, that slay and devour all that come anent them. In that country be many white elephants without number, and of unicorns and of lions of many manners, and many of such beasts that I have told before, and of many other hideous beasts without number.

 

Mandeville, like Petronius Arbiter before him and Beau Brummel after him, takes great delight in the lavish (not to say lascivious) lifestyle of his hosts:

 

And the hall of the palace is full nobly arrayed, and full marvellously attired on all parts in all things that men apparel with any hall. And first, at the chief of the hall is the emperor’s throne, full high, where he sitteth at the meat. And that is of fine precious stones, bordered all about with pured gold and precious stones, and great pearls. And the grees that he goeth up to the table be of precious stones mingled with gold.

            And at the left side of the emperor’s siege is the siege of his first wife, one degree lower than the emperor; and it is of jasper, bordered with gold and precious stones. And the siege of his second wife is also another siege, more lower than his first wife; and it is also of jasper, bordered with gold, as that other is. And the siege of the third wife is also more low, by a degree, than the second wife. For he hath always three wives with him, where that ever he be.

            And after his wives, on the same side, sit the ladies of his lineage yet lower, after that they be of estate. And all those that be married have a counterfeit made like a man’s foot upon their heads, a cubit long, all wrought with great pearls, fine and orient, and above made with peacocks’ feathers and of other shining feathers; and that stands upon their heads like a crest, in token that they be under man’s foot and under subjection of man. And they that be unmarried have none such.

            And the emperor hath his table alone by himself, that is of gold and of precious stones, or of crystal bordered with gold, and full of precious stones or of amethysts, or of lignum aloes that cometh out of paradise, or of ivory bound or bordered with gold. And every one of his wives hath also her table by herself. And his eldest son and the other lords also, and the ladies, and all that sit with the emperor have tables alone by themselves, full rich. And there ne is no table but that it is worth an huge treasure of goods.

            Also above the emperor’s table and the other tables, and above a great part in the hall, is a vine made of fine gold. And it spreadeth all about the hall. And it hath many clusters of grapes, some white, some green, some yellow and some red and some black, all of precious stones. The white be of crystal and of beryl and of iris; the yellow be of topazes; the red be of rubies and of grenaz and of alabrandines; the green be of emeralds, of perydoz and of chrysolites; and the black be of onyx and garantez. And they be all so properly made that it seemeth a very vine bearing kindly grapes.

 

You will readily imagine that, thus primed, I was tremendously excited about entering

this fantastic (in every sense of the word) country. Yet this India, O my Best Beloved, no longer exists.

            Would it not be fair to say that the India of gun-toting “Mumbai” gangsters holding sway at the aerodrome, of presumptuous officials demanding buff-coloured documents no Englishman with a sense of dignity possesses—the one that, in its dull way, has the presumption to “exist” in the “real world”—is a pearl that has lost its lustre?

            And yet even the real India once had a rare beauty. But this beauty was never quite what the imagination would like it to be. By way of illustration, many readers will recall the glorious “shot”, as I believe cinematographers like to term it, in Mr David Lean’s A Passage to India, of the Gateway to India, with the sparkling ocean behind it and the fiercely disciplined fighting men of the British Army holding sway in front. The description of how this came together, however, given by Mr Lean’s biographer (Mr Kevin Brownlow), is disquieting:

            “The most intricate model was for the matte shot at the beginning where you get the Gateway of India. That was a triple matte shot. The sea had to be matted at the back, because that’s now a dry-dock area, then the Gateway itself and then the square in front of it where you see the British troops. That is not an open space, but a garden with a statue and parked cars. That part of the matte, with the troops, was shot in Delhi, the Viceroy coming through it in Bombay.”

            Astute readers, their eyes and wits undimmed by tears of gin, will have spotted that the glorious imagination of India is here doubly confounded. First, nostalgia remembers the glorious past when the sea did indeed

come right up to the Gateway itself. But second, and more worryingly, the square in front of the Gateway never was an open space. We are dealing with a place that has not so much lost its lustre as never quite possessed it in the first place.

            We may, in disappointment, veer to the opposite extremity and denounce the modern world as a place of ugliness and despair. It is true that over 60 per cent of the 21 million inhabitants of “Mumbai” live in slums, in often desperate poverty. But the “Untouchables” of the time of the Raj and the Mughal Emperors before it were at least as miserable and downtrodden as now. Travel was, in many ways, more elegant and pleasing to the discerning explorer in the past than now. There is no doubt that the nine day voyage via Imperial Airways, stopping for supplies and refreshments in Paris, Brinois, Athens, Alexandria and Baghdad (then still conjuring images of the Thousand and One Nights rather than suicide bombs and shattered Mesopotamian relics) before heading on to Delhi and Calcutta, would have been a more exciting voyage than that suffered now by the indignant chap, forced to remove his Oxfords by a gum-chewing factotum at the erstwhile village of Heath Row.

            Yet even in what we now like to think of as the great days of travel, when below the great Imperial Airways roaring above floated the elegant palaces of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, minor difficulties would always present themselves. A waiter might spill one’s Martini—a wave might distress one’s coiffure—a houri’s embrace might remind one irresistibly of the clumsier advances of the memsahib.

In short, there never has been a “golden age” of travel. There is no precious metal in travelling.

            I met, during my brief travels in the Raj, many fine specimens of man and womanhood. Yet they had lost something—and so have we. In our correct and noble urge to avoid the objectification of “The Other” as an exotic and thrilling experience and to attempt to understand our fellow creatures as our equals—a fine aim—we gloss over the glories of the differences which once made us delight to travel. This applies equally to travels in the past, of course: many a potentially interesting documentary on the Egyptians or the Hittites has been ruined by reconstructions in which every effort has been made to ascribe viewpoints, hairstyles and attitudes to dental hygiene unique to North West Europe and the USA post-1990 to the inhabitants of Third Dynasty Egypt. In our effort to remove the opera-glass of disdain we have substituted a well-meaning monocle which flattens all difference.

            The phrase “an uncertain world” is bandied around so frequently it has become a cliché. In fact, the world has never been more certain, in the worst sense of the word, than now. Unlike our ancestors we know that angels are not about to deliver us from the sins of the world—that the gods will not descend from Mount Olympus intent upon ravishing us—we know that all life holds in store for us is routine, monotonous and regular. Yet the only solutions to this “uncertainty” seem to be proffered by banks and life insurance companies, few of whose employees tend to be philosophical giants. There is, in fact, only one solution to the limited vagaries of our padded cell of a world.

            We must turn to the final member of our triumvirate—the Imagination. Using this faculty we can design and live in a world fitted to our desires as snugly as a well-cut merkin. We can live in the past, the future, a glorified (or even a more sordid version of the) present; we can wade through distinguished embolisms on a mountain of Jurassic tricycles or dance a solemn fandango with a lunatic King of the Perch-Folk. I wish to make it clear that this resort to Fancy is not my own invention—it has a noble history. Apart from the noble Sir John Mandeville, we have Xavier de Maistre’s delightful Voyage autour de ma chambre:

 

D’ailleurs de quelle ressource cette manière de voyager n’est-elle pas pour les malades? Ils n’auront point à craindre l’intempérie de l’air et des saisons. Pour les poltrons, ils seront à l’abri des voleurs; ils ne rencontreront ni précipices ni fondrières. Des milliers de personnes qui avant moi n’avaient point osé, d’autres qui n’avaient pu, d’autres enfin qui n’avaient pas songé à voyager, vont s’y résoudre à mon exemple. L’être le plus indolent hésiterait-il à se mettre en route avec moi pour se procurer un plaisir qui ne lui coûtera ni peine ni argent?

 

(At any rate, in what way is this method of travelling not suitable for the sick? They will have no reason to fear the intemperacy of the air and the different seasons. The cowardly will be sheltered from thieves—they will encounter neither precipice nor pot-hole. Thousands of people who before me did not dare, others who were not able to and others, finally, who had not thought about travelling, will resolve to follow my example. Would the most indolent being hesitate to place himself alongside me in order to procure a pleasure which will cost him neither pain nor fortune?)

 

The biographer of my namesake, M. Huysmans, writes uncharacteristically well of a particularly apposite episode:

 

In his sedentary life, only two countries had ever attracted him: Holland and England.

            He had satisfied the first of his desires. Unable to keep away, one fine day he had left Paris and visited the towns of the Low Lands, one by one.

            In short, nothing but cruel disillusions had resulted from this trip. He had fancied a Holland after the works of Teniers and Steen, of Rembrandt and Ostade, in his usual way imagining rich, unique and incomparable Ghettos, had thought of amazing kermesses, continual debauches in the country sides, intent for a view of that patriarchal simplicity, that jovial lusty spirit celebrated by the old masters.

            Certainly, Haarlem and Amsterdam had enraptured him. The unwashed people, seen in their country farms, really resembled those types painted by Van Ostade, with their uncouth children and their old fat women, embossed with huge breasts and enormous bellies. But of the unrestrained joys, the drunken family carousals, not a whit. He had to admit that the Dutch paintings at the Louvre had misled him. They had simply served as a springing board for his dreams. He had rushed forward on a false track and had wandered into capricious visions, unable to discover in the land itself, anything of that real and magical country which he had hoped to behold, seeing nothing at all, on the plots of ground strewn with barrels, of the dances of petticoated and stockinged peasants crying for very joy, stamping their feet out of sheer happiness and laughing loudly.

            Decidedly nothing of all this was visible. Holland was a country just like any other country, and what was more, a country in no wise primitive, not at all simple, for the Protestant religion with its formal hypocricies and solemn rigidness held sway here.

            The memory of that disen-chantment returned to him. Once more he glanced at his watch: ten minutes still separated him from the train’s departure. “It is about time to ask for the bill and leave,” he told himself.

            He felt an extreme heaviness in his stomach and through his body. ‘Come!’ he addressed himself, ‘let us drink and screw up our courage.’ He filled a glass of brandy, while asking for the reckoning. An individual in black suit and with a napkin under one arm, a sort of majordomo with a bald and sharp head, a greying beard without moustaches, came forward. A pencil rested behind his ear and he assumed an attitude like a singer, one foot in front of the other; he drew a note book from his pocket, and without glancing at his paper, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, near a chandelier, wrote while counting. “There you are!” he said, tearing the sheet from his note book and giving it to Des Esseintes who looked at him with curiosity, as though he were a rare animal. What a surprising John Bull, he thought, contemplating this phlegmatic person who had, because of his shaved mouth, the appearance of a wheelsman of an American ship.

            At this moment, the tavern door opened. Several persons entered bringing with them an odor of wet dog to which was blent the smell of coal wafted by the wind through the opened door. Des Esseintes was incapable of moving a limb. A soft warm languor prevented him from even stretching out his hand to light a cigar. He told himself: ‘Come now, let us get up, we must take ourselves off.’ Immediate objections thwarted his orders. What is the use of moving, when one can travel on a chair so magnificently? Was he not even now in London, whose aromas and atmosphere and inhabitants, whose food and utensils surrounded him? For what could he hope, if not new disillusion-ments, as had happened to him in Holland?

            He had but sufficient time to race to the station. An overwhelming aversion for the trip, an imperious need of remaining tranquil, seized him with a more and more obvious and stubborn strength. Pensively, he let the minutes pass, thus cutting off all retreat, and he said to himself, “Now it would be necessary to rush to the gate and crowd into the baggage room! What ennui! What a bore that would be!” Then he repeated to himself once more, “In fine, I have experienced and seen all I wished to experience and see. I have been filled with English life since my departure. I would be mad indeed to go and, by an awkward trip, lose those imperishable sensations. How stupid of me to have sought to disown my old ideas, to have doubted the efficacy of the docile phantasmagories of my brain, like a very fool to have thought of the necessity, of the curiosity, of the interest of an excursion!”

            “Well!” he exclaimed, consulting his watch, “it is now time to return home.”

 

Mr Wilde, Huysman’s sometimes over-enthusiastic disciple, puts the philosophical argument for the superiority of the Fantastic over the Actual very clearly in the following passage:

 

People tell us that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that

it reveals her secrets to us; and that after a careful study of Corot and Constable we see things in her that had escaped our observation. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out. When I look at a landscape I cannot help seeing all its defects. It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.

 

And, lest my auditors, already weary of my intemperate volubility, feel that my examples are drawn solely from authors of a more ancient era, here is Mr Douglas Adams—noted Babbagophiliac: “The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

            So what are our conclusions? Although countless more illustrations of the central premise might have been adduced—the fact that we spend most of our time when we do travel reading books or watching films, the inexplicable desire of Englishmen who go abroad for a lengthy period to desire “traditional” meals in an unsuitable climate—the catechism is simple.

            1. The purpose of life is to find one’s place in the universe.

            2. That place is rarely Abroad, and still more rarely Outside, unless the one of 1 is singularly easily-pleased.

            3. Let us therefore remain at Home in Britain; Indoors, behind a nobly sported oak which resists the infamous siren calls of the foreign; and using as our simple yet universal passport a beaker full of the warm South, let us set sail on what Wordsworth called the strange seas of thought.

 

(Disclaimer: None of the above is true. No responsibility is assumed by the author for any outbreaks of especial indolence amongst readers. The true opinions of the author must remain his own.)

 

 

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Important Penny-Farthing News

 

By Clayton Hartley

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 26, December 2008)

 

A Greenwich man has just completed an epic and hugely worthwhile journey around the world on a penny-farthing. Joff Summerfield, 39, who used to run a market stall, took two and a half years to cross 23 countries.

            The last person to achieve this feat was American Thomas Stevens in 1886. It doesn’t look as if penny-farthing technology has come on much since then, but then Mr Summerfield, who is a former Formula One engineer, made his bicycle himself, repairing it as he went along.

            In fact, although he averaged one “decent fall” a fortnight, he only had one major prang, when he was hit by a lorry in New Zealand and fractured his wrist. He just strapped it up and carried on. Other setbacks included being robbed while camping in Prague and dealing with low oxygen levels at high altitude in Tibet.

            In fact Tibet, across the border of which he sneaked his bicycle under cover of darkness one night, was Mr Summerfield’s favourite country, despite encountering a landslide there, plus the absence of tarmac and the gruelling labour of the high passes—the penny-farthing has a hard saddle and no gears.

            I’d like to be able to say that Mr Summerfield conducted his feat in tweed plus-fours but he instead chose to sport modern synthetic clothing. It is heartening to report, however, that he does seem to have worn a pith helmet for the whole journey. Mr Summerfield necessarily travelled light, with just a change of clothes, a stove, a tent and a sleeping bag. He had just £5 a day spending money.

            He also took some 3,000 daguerreotypes, which you may inspect here. “The best man-made site was the Taj Mahal,” he reports, “and the best natural one was the Grand Canyon.” He also stopped off to take part in the World Penny-Farthing Championships in Tasmania.

            Mr Summerfield, who previously crossed America in a Morris Minor, plans to write a book about his adventures.

            If Mr Summerfield’s journey has inspired you, you may like to know that he builds penny-farthings commercially. “It’s the only thing I ride. I’ll be riding it again in a couple of days.”

 

Interesting penny-farthing fact

While holidaying in Copenhagen I discovered this nugget. While Denmark has plenty of history (mostly revolving around them, the Swedes and the Norwegians taking it in turn to take over each other’s countries) there is only one really important historical fact: among the many things built by King Christian IV (who bankrupted the country in the process) was a combined church, library and observatory for the university. The latter is at the top of a 114-foot tower. Instead of stairs, the tower has a spiral ramp inside, allegedly so that Christian could be driven to the top in his carriage rather than having to walk. (In fact Peter the Great once rode up on a horse, hotly pursued by the angry Tsarina in a coach and four. Quite what he was planning to do when he got to the top I don’t know.)

            Anyway, in 1888 this spiral ramp was finally put to good use: they had a penny-farthing race up it. The winner covered the 680-foot course in three minutes.

 

 

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Over The Line

 

a short story

 

By Bernard Shapiro

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 25)

 

Time up the Maungawha Valley dripped.


            Not that it wasn’t wet, which it was in a deluged sort of way, but it was the manner in which time settled on things and covered everything in a lather of moss or mould. Days felt longer, silences louder, storms slower to pass. Even the bush seemed older.


            Mr Longridge was 27 but looked forty. He’d been scrub cutting and odd-jobbing since his father had passed on the house, and it’d left its mark on him, inside and out.


He was lonely. 


            Maybe it was nigh to find a woman to share the chores and time with or better yet a mate to yarn to. He padded off the veranda of the cob hut and set to picking up dead fern fronds behind the stable, which he then heaped in a pile. His mate Mr Allen lived three miles up Calf Creek above the gorge, and by the time he saw the rising smoke and arrived the pork’d be hung, the wood stacked and the strong mead dragged from under the copper. He lit his signal fire and set about the chores while an overcast day ate the heavy grey plumes.


            Just on dark he was smoking his pipe on the front steps, watching it hose down and listening to the water tank overflowing when Allen led his horse out of the bush edge.


            “Mr Longridge!” Allen waved, smeared with mud.


            “You old codger! There’s clothes, fire and a meal inside. Come on—warm yourself up while I see to Betty!”


            On the chiselled rimu bench by stinking pig tallow candles and heady mead Mr Allen let fly with some news.


            “They’ve got wire going up in the next valley, I see.”


            “Fencing us are they?”


            “Telephones, Mr Longridge! Or I’m a blind Kaka.”


            “TELEPHONES! Well good lord! Here?!”


            “Well, no,” smiled Allen, “the Westmead is putting them in, but sure as hot tea they’re coming.”
Longridge threw a faggot of manuka into the clay fireplace and swung the billy off the hook. As he poured the tea, thoughts were racing.


“Y’know... Westmead Saddle isn’t much of a hurdle. I’m reckoning we could get a wire over there, if you’d be for it!”


            “It’s a big job though,” rounded Allen. “We’ll need the help of the rest of the valley—and that’ll take some doing! My brother’s in the Westmead as I speak, Mr Waynesbridge is a good day’s ride away and I’m struck if I know where that Maori family’s taken off to now!”


            “What we need is a good fire to bring ‘em in!” grinned Longridge.


            “What we need,” laughed Allen, “is a telephone!”


            In the morning the river was too high to get the horses across. The next it rained wildly from the South and on the third there wasn’t any water coming down the river at all! Neither of them were eager to brave the gorge until it flooded itself clear and Allen had ‘things to do’ so they agreed on the fire option to round up their neighbours.


            Using the horses as drays they teamed a rotten matai off its perch, down the scrubby slope and into the gorge with the intention that the dam-burst would sort things out in good time. The trunk was lit with great trepidation but they retired homewards with a pig, shot from the saddle.


            That night it blew Nor-East and shook the tin in its fury.


            “Mr Allen!” called Longridge from his bedroom over the racket.


            “Yeah?”


            “We’ll have to think of another method; there’s no way anyone will see the smoke with this wind. It’s blowing the wrong way!”


            “We’ll fix up your roof too!” yelled Allen from the couch, covering his head with a jacket.


            At some stage Longridge must have dropped off to sleep, despite the howling wind, for he woke with a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Outside, the sky glowed with dawn’s early warning of rain and he glanced at the clock on the tallboy.


            Ten past two.


            He lurched upright.
“HELL!”


            “What’s up?” Allen called out.

            “FIRE!!”


            They dragged on their gear, tore out the door and gawped at the clouds, racing low on the ridges. To the West the sky danced aflame, sending ghastly shadows merrily skipping back and forth along the clearing.


            “Grab the horses! I’ll get the shovels and sacks!” Longridge yelled over the storm.


            “Bugger all good it’ll do!” Allen replied, already running.


            By the time they were up by the fire, half the district had got involved. Mr Waynesbridge and his five eldest sons arrived right behind them with a “WHAT THE BLOODY HELL have you two BEEN PLAYING AT!”; the mysterious Whetu brothers complete with extended families were beating madly with wet sacks and a few folks from Westmead had arrived to help below.


            “The whole valley’s filled with smoke and one of the ‘works’ boys’s got a CAT bulldozing a fire break along the ridge,” shouted a sooty-faced chap in a grimy set of overalls. “We’ve been sent over to lend a hand.”


            “You not from Westmead then?” yelled Allen shovelling dirt over some embers.


            “Nup. Work for the Post Office in Westport—chucking some telephone cable in for the locals.”
Longridge and Allen looked at each other and got on with the spadework.

            It was ten in the morning by the time the weather changed to the North again and someone from ‘up there’ started emptying every chamber pot in Heaven. The fire fizzled to a standstill against the ploughed firebreak and with no strong winds to fan it about, it chucked in the towel and gave up the fight.

            Mr Longridge offered up his home to the knackered locals and fire-fighters for cups of tea, refreshments and a place to crash, and while they were there the constable from Westmead dropped in for a ‘chat’.

            “Hear it was you boys started that fire last night?” he asked, getting out his notebook.

            “Ah, yeah,” blushed Longridge. “Um.”

            Allen jumped in to the rescue.

            “Yeh, we were trying to burn off a log jam what had dammed the river below us here. Afraid it was going to kill somebody when it burst. Didn’t reckon on the weather turning the way it did and it really got away on us!”

            Luckily for the pair of them the heavy rain had finally overloaded the dam while everyone was fighting the fire. The constable received a couple of hasty accounts from Mr Waynesbridge’s lads that they’d found the river dry on arrival and so, with a stern warning to all present, left them to it. Longridge turned to Allen.

            “Pfft—quick thinking there, Mr Allen!”

            “Cheers! Now where’s that Post Office bloke...”

            Two weeks later a cable had been draped through the charred tangle of bush and the Westmead gossipers were working overtime on whether the fire had been a deliberate act of ‘The Joneses’ from ‘over there’.

            But the Maungawha had its phones!

            True, they were pre-War ‘genny’ models you had to wind and it was a party line but the novelty of being linked to the outside world in a valley without roads hadn’t worn off. The Post Office workmen had muttered about the lack of access to the rest of the valley from Longridge’s home. A promise hung in the air that perhaps it was about time someone from the ‘works’ dozed a few roads in the district. Time indeed seemed to be catching up with the area.

            It was a big day at Longridge’s cottage, when the entire population of Maungawha Valley turned up to have the party line explained and the first call received. Down the line some Minister in Wellington congratulated them and spoke a few words of encouragement; long distance. If, at all, the Minister’s enthusiasm waned a little at having to repeat his speech several times to different but no less captivated listeners, no-one noticed and afterwards everyone sat around the hangi feeling well-fed and smug.

            But things very quickly turned to custard.

            Next morning at 6am Mr Waynesbridge decided he’d finally order some white pine shingles for his roof. He was an early riser and having been isolated for thirty odd years he could be forgiven his assumption that an operator would cheerfully connect him to the local sawmill, and so he energetically wound the bakelite genny handle on his phone. As a result 6 people fell out of bed! Babies wailed, bells shrilled, lamps were lit, curses flew and every phone in the valley was charged at in panic and disarray.

            “Hello!”

            “What!”

            “Operator?”

            “Who??”

            “WHAT?”

            “Who is this!!”

            “OPERATOR!!”

            “WHO??”

            “WHAT??”

            Eventually it all got sorted out, ruffled feathers soothed and after a few terse minutes the inhabitants exchanged their first proper greetings and pleased, if not droopy comments were made that the phones worked perfectly well thankyou. Life, tattered and chewed, resumed its faltered pace.

            Then the first private call arrived.

            A distant relation of Allen’s had read in the Press that it was now possible to telephone the remote valley and decided to call during dinner time. In fact three families were sitting down together, pipes were lit, smoke hung lazily drifting in the evening leaves and birds were chiming “good morrow” across the still air.

The phones rang one short and one long.

            A table overturned, laden with food; several people tripped over chairs; Mr Allen, in fright, fled into the bush; someone stood on a dog, who turned and bit the offender; a fight broke out amongst the Waynesbridge sons; and Mr Longridge fell off his roof!

            “Hello?”

            “Hello!”

            “Kia-ora?”

            “Robert?”

            “What??”

            “This is Mr Waynesbridge!”

            “Who?”

            “Na, man! He wants Mr Allen!”

            “Who is this?!”

            “What?”

            “Who?!”

            “It’s your cousin Dave!”

            “WHO??”

            “I don’t HAVE a cousin Dave!!”

            “No, no! You mean Mr Allen, eh.”

            “I’m not even RELATED to him!”

            “Who?!”

            “Mr Allen!”

            “Who IS this?!!”

            “You’re Mr Allen’s cousin!”

            “I’M NOT BLOODY RELATED!!”

            “Not you! HIM!”

            “Me?”

            “Who?”

            “AWWW!!!”

            Mr Longridge picked up the phone.

            “Hello.”

            “Hey, Mr Longridge! Some cousin of Mr Allen’s on the line!” CLICK

            “Bloody useless…” CLICK

            “Hang on chum, I’ll get him for you.”

            By the time Longridge found Allen up Calf Creek, three hours later, no-one was on the line and a great feeling of malcontent was beginning to grow over the whole telephone issue. As it was, Mr Allen wouldn’t set foot within a stone’s throw of his phone after that, and Longridge kindly removed it for him.

            I’d like to say that everything worked out for the locals and that they adapted to meet the challenge of modern technology, but one month after the telephone arrived in the Maungawha Valley the lines suddenly went dead.

            Through the misty rain a plume of smoke rose above Mr Longridge’s land and Mr Allen, leading his horse muddily out of the bush edge, found him on his veranda.

            “Mr Longridge!” He waved.

            “Mr Allen! You old, drowned bush rat…”

            Together, they smoked their pipes and watched the pyre of wood and bakelite crackle and hiss in the rain.

 

 

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Primordial Hat Lore Discovered

 

By Clayton Hartley

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 24)

 

While idly sloping around the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum in Cambridge I came across a cabinet displaying some Mongolian hats. I thought that the accompanying text panel provided some food for thought, so I here transcribe it:

 

Mongol Hats

In the Mongol cultural region men’s hats are functional as well as indicators of status and identity. In the past social position was indicated by the kind of hat worn. Noble titles and rank were also indicated by different coloured buttons attached to the hat.

During the socialist period in Mongolia (c.1921–89) hats such as trilbies and berets became popular among men while women tended to wear Russian-style headscarves.

Today different Mongol groups, such as the Buriad, Halh and Oirat, wear costumes and hats as markers of ethnic identity on ceremonial occasions in the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.

            The hats displayed here are mainly worn on formal occasions. Cowboy hats are more common as everyday wear. They provide shade from the glare of the sun but also indicate wealth and power, as younger men tend to wear baseball caps. Different styles of hat continue to distinguish higher-ranking monks from novices.

 

Hats and their Owners

Beyond indicating status and identity hats are literally held to be extensions of their owners. Through long use a man’s hat “holds on to” some part of him. Like a man’s belt, a hat is sometimes considered to be a vessel of the süns (soul).

            Hats should be treated with the utmost respect. One must not step over, or put on, someone else’s hat. Nor should one sit on or cover a man’s hat. This would be to disrespect the hat’s owner and may even cause him harm.

            Ways of caring for hats are varied. When indoors a man will usually place his hat in a high position so that it will not be damaged. During wrestling matches a contestant’s hat is carried by a special attendant-trainer, who stands near him, carefully holding his hat.

 

 

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In the Land of the Long White Cloud

 

By Oliver Lane

 

part one

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No.24)

 

On getting into this mess in the first place

Being a bit of an idiot, I decided some months ago that I would forgo any chance of seeing the Sun this summer, and so spent the last few months Sailing, Flying, and Driving in some of the coldest and most miserable places in the world. Quite satisfied that stories of adventure on the High Seas, battling with pirates and the locals would provide far too much excitement for the more delicate readers of this gentle periodical, the Editor charged me with writing of my recent time in the colonies, and here is my feeble attempt.

            Dr Leavingsoon (a.k.a. Bernard Shapiro) is a well-known name to denizens of the ethereal Sheridan Club, but significantly less so to those who solely attend the events and monthly meetings—perhaps being the most remote member of the Sheridan Club in the world he has very little opportunity to drop in for a sneaky gin on a Wednesday evening. Although I originally got into contact with Leavingsoon for the purposes of a much larger expedition to Egypt, to be conducted by several members of the Sheridan Club and various other men martial next year, it was soon suggested that some members of the British half of the Expedition might wish to travel to New Zealand. Being the only one with the money, spare time or indeed inclination I soon found myself on some hellish flight bound south, with a suitcase full of warm clothes and a long journey on starvation rations ahead of me.

            It took me very nearly the full  journey to come to terms with the fact that I had parted with a small fortune for the pleasure of having a small no smoking sign illuminated just above my head for almost thirty hours, and to be fed food in such small portions that it would make even today’s fashion-conscious foodie blush. But this was nothing compared to what I had to endure upon disembarking.

 

On being initiated into NZ

Convinced that alcohol was the best way to get me accustomed to New Zealand time and cure me of jet lag, Bernard dragged me to his local hostelry of choice, The Twisted Hop. A pleasant pub with a microbrewery, it sold ales good enough (in my opinion) to rival Britain’s best CAMRA-approved tipples. But the truth was in fact too horrible to contemplate: after I’d imbibed a few ales and announced that I rather needed to make a trip to the boy’s room, that unspeakable fiend Leavingsoon produced a pair of manacles and, after a short but charged scuffle, I found myself attached to a table and the key in the fountain. Or so I thought. After excruciating minutes of my needing to conduct business elsewhere, the key was produced with a magician’s flourish by another member of the party—completely unknown to Leavingsoon. I was left with a dilemma: end my own personal torment or get my own back on Leavingsoon? I soon had him splashing about in the fountain. By the time he had thought to look back to complain that he was all wet, I had scarpered off to the loo. What was to come next is too much to recall in a periodical such as this, but suffice to say it involved alcohol, a homosexual Maori and an Aikido black belt.

 

On the Driving Experience

Without even having been given the chance to recover from the previous night’s excesses, or indeed unpack, I found the need to distil my entire existence into one kitbag, throw it into the back of Bernard’s jeep and go for a little drive. This “little drive” was in fact to be a five-day epic, spanning the whole of the south island and covering terrain that would make me want never to leave the magical place. In the course of the week, I had the pleasure of travelling through (and often pitching camp in) great mountain ranges, barren plains, dense rain forest and bone-dry desert. The first day was very much a taste of things to come; for our first lunch break we stopped to investigate a machine-gun nest from the Second World War and, while bored, Bernard burned off half of his moustache with black powder.

            Taking a road tour in a 1942 Willy’s Jeep is a unique experience, especially one so laden as Bernard’s. As they are open-sided vehicles (and the NZ winter is bitterly cold at the best of times) Bernard had ingeniously rigged up side skirts to shelter us from the wind. Although providing much-needed comfort, this had the unforeseen disadvantages of making embarking and disembarking nigh on impossible—and a hilarious sight for anyone nearby—and also acting as a giant sail for any cross winds we might encounter. The Jeep was further laden with the equipment we would need: Jerry cans (lighting up for the first time in a Jeep that stinks of petrol is a memorable experience), a bell tent slung over the bonnet, a long chimney for the Great War wood burner lashed to the side like a piece of artillery, webbing packs hanging off the sides (and tin mugs hanging off them) and all manner of other adventurous paraphernalia. All in all, we looked quite a sight and drew looks wherever we drove.

 

On the Camping Experience

Waking up on the first morning was what I would like to call an ‘emotional’ experience. Having suffered from a mild case of the “can’t be funk’s” (a terrible blight that was to crop up time and time again), we purchased and cooked Pot Noodles for our dinner. I won’t insult the intelligence of the reader by elaborating on the effect of salt on the freezing point of water, or in fact how much salt there is in your typical Pot Noodle, but upon waking after a bitterly cold night and finding the leftovers from last nights scran completely frozen, one is terribly grateful for still having use of all bodily extremities. We both slept that night in our uniforms, wool trousers, jumpers, greatcoats and all, along with two sleeping bags and a wool blanket and still found ourselves frozen near solid. This was to be the order for every night to follow.

            That aside, the camping was truly a magical experience. The evenings were warmed by liberal applications of Hendricks Gin, which I had smuggled into New Zealand at Leavingsoon’s request, and by sharing lots of bawdy stories. To make good time we needed to drive for a gruelling twelve hours a day, meaning we would pitch camp at night. This meant that, apart from what we could shine a torch at, I never knew where we really were until waking the next morning. The view that would greet me each day when I stuck my head out of the tent was worth the trip in itself. What can compare with waking up with the excitement of a child upon Christmas morning, dying to know what is outside and being met by a view so sublime as to inspire even the least artistic of men? Just imagine – finding that you have camped on a white pebble beach, overlooking a milky blue glacial lake framed by vast mist-shrouded mountains! It is true to say that such experiences never, ever leave you, and of this I really am terribly glad!

 

To be continued...

I would like to take the opportunity to wish Bernard and his lovely wife Amy the very best of luck: for as I write they are at any moment expecting their first child. Two better people I have never known and on behalf of the entire club I wish them both very well indeed.

 

 

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You Mean They Can Make Wine in America?

 

By Lainie Petersen

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 23)

 

It may come as a shock to some of our club members, but it is true: Americans have been known to eschew cold fizzy lager for wine on occasion. In fact, we produce quite a bit of it right here in the Former Colonies. It is also true, however, that much of our wine (particularly that which seems to be featured on the websites of UK stockists) is not very interesting. Still, there are some truly wonderful wines (as well as the merely tasty) produced in America, and some of them are even available in the UK. In what will be a monthly column here in the NSC Newsletter, I will be introducing club members to some of my favourites, all of which are available in the UK. But for now, here are some basics about American wines.

 

Varietal vs Terroir

American wines are more likely to be identified by their grape (and in the case of blends) by their colour than where they are produced. On American wine labels, for example, one will often see an identification of the type of grapes used in the production of the wine featured more prominently than any other information. (Incidentally, the location identified on an American wine label refers to where the wine was bottled, not where the grapes were grown.) When Americans order or discuss wine, they typically will speak of it in terms of its varietal (i.e. an American ordering a glass of wine will ask for Pinot Noir or Chardonnay rather than Burgundy or a white Burgundy, respectively). If an American requests, say, a glass of Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Chablis, this can mean one of two things: the American knows a thing or two about “terroir” or the American is completely ignorant of wine and is only ordering this way because this is what they have seen done in the movies.

            Fortunately, however, Americans are becoming progressively more sophisticated about wine and are developing a keen interest not only in grape varietals, but in terroir as well. Movies such as Sideways, plus the interest in good food and cooking in general, have helped this interest along. One of the more exciting developments in American wine has been the proliferation of small vineyards across the country, including some in the southern part of my own state of Illinois. It is becoming more and more common for Americans to inquire after their wine’s pedigree, because they have discovered that terroir does indeed influence a wine’s character and that certain growing regions do produce better wines than others.

 

American Wine Regions

Winemaking has spread throughout the Former Colonies: one can now purchase wine made in New York, Michigan, Illinois, and numerous other states. However, much of our wine (and certainly the most widely distributed wine) is grown and made on the West Coast: California, Oregon, and Washington. Here is a quick introduction to these winemaking areas (as well as my personal opinions of each):

            California: California is our pre-eminent wine-making state, accounting for 90 per cent of American wine production. As such, the wine produced in California ranges from truly awful (think “White Zinfandel”) to truly sublime. I find that “ordinary” California wines tend to be just that: ordinary, dull, and unmemorable (though they also aren’t particularly offensive: I reserve that designation for some of the French and Argentinean swill I have had the misfortune of sampling). Good California wines are both sunny and unctuous, much like the state itself.

            Oregon: Oregon ranks third among American states in number of vineyards (behind California and Washington). However, as far as I am concerned, Oregon simply makes the best wines that America has to offer. Oregonian wines, particularly those from the Willamette Valley, are extraordinarily balanced, reminding me of good French wines. Oregon wines are subtle and relaxed: Quite nice for sipping as well as pairing with foods when one wants the food to take center stage.

            Washington (the state of Washington, not our nation’s capital): Washington is second to California in wine production, and boasts of over eighty grape varietals in its vineyards, most of which are located in its Columbia Valley. However, I am less fond of its offerings than those of Oregon. Washington wines can indeed be delicious, but I have found a certain “dusty” quality in many of them.

 

American Wine Varietals 

There are many grape types in the United States, but some of the most popular are:

            Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay: These are probably the best-known, and most available (particularly by the glass in bars and restaurants), varietals in the United States. Unfortunately, the popularity of these grapes also means that their wines can be incredibly pedestrian. Even worse is the fact that many Americans just don’t know any better, and think that over-oaked/rancid-butter-tasting chardonnay, uninspired merlot, and heavy-handed cabernet are what wine should taste like. This is a sad thing, because I have also had some incredibly delicious wines made from all three of these grapes. Check trusted ratings sources before buying any of these American-made wines, particularly those produced in California.

            Sauvignon Blanc (Fume Blanc) is a crisp white wine that is excellent for sipping on its own, and matches well with goat cheese and lighter types of fish. It also matches well with some notoriously difficult-to-pair foods (especially asparagus and sushi). Most of it is grown in California, and is of generally good quality.

            Pinot Gris (Pinot Blanc) and Pinot Noir grapes flourish in Oregon, and make some truly memorable wines. Pinot Gris from Oregon, in particular, tends to have a lovely spicy quality that may seem odd in a white wine, but adds a warmth and character unmatched by most other whites. Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is a notoriously fussy grape that is often badly handled elsewhere; but again, I have found Oregon Pinot Noirs to be restrained, subtle, and elegant: exactly the sort of treatment that this grape requires.

            Syrah is an ancient grape that is increasing in popularity in the United States: it produces very powerful, full-bodied wines that match well with our splendid beef. California is the main producer of Syrah here in America, and California Syrahs are predictably rich, warm and sunny in character (try one with a particularly good hamburger…it’s divine!).

            Zinfandel is my favourite red variety, and is also a confusing and touchy subject in the American wine world. Confusing, because a lot of Americans understand “Zinfandel” to be synonymous with “White Zinfandel”. “White Zinfandel” is a (usually) insipid pink wine for those who don’t know any better. Proper Zinfandel, on the other hand, is a powerful, luscious red that stands up well to grilled meats, though dry Zinfandel can be a strangely good match for sushi. Zinfandel has a high sugar content, and its alcohol level can nudge upwards to 15 per cent (which can result in some really lovely dessert wines). In any case, when offered, ordering, or speaking about this wine to an American, it is wise to remember the confusion between white and “real” Zinfandel in order to avoid mutual embarrassment.

            The “touchy” aspect of Zinfandel is the result of the (relatively recent) debunking of the notion that Zinfandel is a native American grape. (Genetic testing has revealed, that it is identical to the Italian Primativo grape.) This has led to hurt feelings among some in the American wine community, so it is best to tread lightly in this matter. Again, California leads the pack in its production: if you ever have the opportunity to try Turley Zinfandels, do so. They are magnificent.

            Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are the two exceptions to my general indifference toward Washington wines. Because of their tendency toward sweetness, many American Rieslings and Gewürztraminers can take on a sticky or utterly flat/sweet character that reminds one of spiked Kool-Aid. On the other hand, truly good examples of each varietal make wonderful pairings with Asian foods, and those from Washington not only tend to be well-crafted, but are typically bargains to boot. 

 

Finding American Wines in the UK

 

Finding decent American wines in the UK can indeed

be a challenge, but here are a couple of suggestions:

● If you encounter an American wine that you like, look up the winemaker’s website. Somewhere on the site (usually in the footer) you will find a link that reads something along the lines of  “For the Trade”: Click on it, and there should be a list of the winemaker’s distributors. If there is one in the UK, you can either contact them and ask which shops stock the wines or ask your local stockist to order some for you via that distributorship.

● An important advantage of loyally patronizing small specialty shops is the earned privilege of being able to speak to the proprietor about special orders and stocking what you require. Of course some specialty wine shops will likely have several excellent American wines on offer, while others may well be quite eager to hear your suggestions, particularly if you can provide them with information on the UK distributor.

 

In any case, I do appreciate the members of the New Sheridan Club indulging this Former Colonial’s enthusiasm for her country’s viniculture. I hope that these columns prove both useful and aid in the appreciation of some of the truly fine wines my country produces. Until then, I wish everyone a fine transition into Fall, with the expectation of the sorts of rich, hearty foods (and wines to match) that we all desire with such glee. Bon appetit!

 

 

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The Sayings of Noël Coward

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 22)

 

In honour of our summer party theme [“Mad Dogs and Englishmen”], here are some of the great man’s bons mots:

 

• “You ask my advice about acting? Speak clearly, don’t bump into the furniture and if you must have motivation, think of your pay packet on Friday.”

 

• “I’m an enormously talented man, and there’s no use pretending that I’m not.”

 

• Told a particularly stupid acquaintance had blown his brains out: “He must have been an incredibly good shot.”

 

• On drama critics: “I have always been very fond of them… I think it is so frightfully clever of them to go night after night to the theatre and know so little about it.”

 

• Asked how he would describe the style of his colourful tropical paintings: “Erratic. Actually, it’s known by my friends as Touch and Gauguin.”

 

• Watching Queen Elizabeth’s coronation parade, friends wondered aloud who the little man sharing a carriage with the 400 pound Queen of Tonga might be. According to David Niven, Coward replied: “Her lunch.”

 

• “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar; never spread it about like marmalade.”

 

• “People are wrong when they say opera is not like it used to be. It is what it used to be. That is what’s wrong with it.”

 

• “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”

 

• “Time has convinced me of one thing: Television is for appearing on—not for looking at.”

 

• “I am not a heavy drinker. I can sometimes go for hours without touching a drop.”

 

• “I don’t believe in astrology. The only stars I can blame for my failures are those that walk about the stage.”

 

• “I have a memory like an elephant. In fact, elephants often consult me.”

 

• “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.”

 

• “I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.”

 

• “There’s always something fishy about the French.”

 

 

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1908

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 22, August 2008)

 

So what was the world like a hundred years ago? This handy crib will fill you in on all the gen that really matters.

 

On 1st January 1908 Harry Bensley left for his would-be trip around the world pushing a pram and wearing an iron mask, beginning from Trafalgar Square. Bensley was the subject of an extraordinary wager between John Pierpont Morgan and Hugh Cecil Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale, that a man could walk around the world without being identified. Bensley supposedly spent the next six and half years on the road, claiming to have got as far as China and Japan before the outbreak of World War I rendered the wager somewhat invalid. However, there is no proof that he made it further than Bexleyheath in Kent.

 

On 12th January a long-distance radio message was sent from the Eiffel Tower for the first time; doubtless a notification of surrender.

 

Australia regained The Ashes with a 308 run victory over England. So, no change there.

 

The first around-the-world car race, the New York to Paris race, took place in 1908. Starting in Times Square on 12th February, the competitors drove across the USA (often riding with special balloon tyres on railway tracks where no roads existed) to Alaska where they took a steamer to Vladivostok via Japan. From there they simply drove through Siberia and Manchuria on to the winning post in Paris. The winner, an American team in a Thomas Flyer, arrived in Paris on 30th July.

 

The opening ceremony of the London Olympics was held on 27th April at the White City Stadium.

Great Britain topped the medal tally with 56 golds. Britain won the gold medal in the tug-of-war, when the City of London Police beat the Liverpool Police…

 

The Tunguska event, also known as the “Russian explosion”, occurred near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, on 30th June. The explosion is estimated to have been about a thousand times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Although theories abound as to the cause of the explosion (antimatter, black hole, UFO crash) the explosion was most likely caused by the air burst of a large meteoroid or comet fragment at an altitude of 3 to 6 miles above the Earth’s surface.

 

In November Western bandits Messrs Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were supposedly killed in Bolivia, after being surrounded by a large group of soldiers.

 

Among those pupped in 1908 were: Simone de Beauvoir (famous for sitting in cafés smoking); Stephane Grappelli (famous for scratching away in the Hot Club de France); the English explorer Vivian Fuchs (famous for generating headlines such as “Fuchs Off to the South Pole”); John Mills (famous for being plucky); Rex Harrison (famous for being one of the finest screen cads); Ian Fleming (famous for writing Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang and some spy novels); Don Ameche (famous for his pencil moustache); and Sir Donald Bradman (famous for having a test average of 99.94).

 

The Nobel Prize for literature was won by some German philosopher called Rudolf Christoph Eucken, of whom no one has ever heard, before or since.

 

 

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Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No.21)

 

Carl Gustaf von Rosen was born in Sweden in 1909, the son of the explorer Eric von Rosen. He was also nephew of Hermann Göring’s wife, Carin, which partly explains his early fascination with aeroplanes.

He began flying with a flying circus, but when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, von Rosen went out there to fly relief missions. When Finland was invaded by Russia in 1940 von Rosen volunteered to fly for the Finns, carrying out bomber raids. He even bought the Finns three aeroplanes with money borrowed from a relative. When Germany invaded the Netherlands, von Rosen (who had a Dutch wife) applied to join the RAF but was turned down because of his being related to Göring, head of the Luftwaffe. So he joined KLM as a civilian pilot, flying the dangerous Lisbon-London route.

At the end of the war he returned to Ethiopia, to help train their air force. He left them to become UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjöld’s personal pilot. Hammarskjöld was killed when his aeroplane crashed in mysterious circumstances during the Congo crisis in 1961. Von Rosen had called in sick that day and a reserve pilot took his place.

In 1967 the south-eastern part of Nigeria attempted to break away and form a separate republic, Biafra. The Nigerians resisted this by force (aided by Britain and Russia) and the Nigerian Civil War (also known as the Biafran War) ran between 1967 and 1970. Biafra had no air force of its own so relied on mercenaries to fly both relief and military missions for them. They used the nearby islands of São Tomé as an air base, and it was from there that von Rosen first started flying relief missions into Biafra.

The Nigerian Air Force would try to shoot down these relief flights, to von Rosen’s disgust, and he decided to do something about it. Von Rosen was familiar with a Swedish military trainer called the MFI-9, which was robust enough to be able to carry significant loads of ordnance suspended from hard points on the wings. A number of MFI-9Bs had been constructed in hopes of a sale to the Swedish Air Force, but when the sale fell through, the aircraft became available at a low price. In the spring of 1969 Von Rosen imported five of them to Gabon and transformed them into attack aircraft by painting them green (Volkswagen car paint) and fitting anti-armour rockets under the wings. He rechristened them MiniCoins (an acronym for "Miniature Counter-Insurrection"). Needless to say, the French Secret Service, eager to meddle in something that would annoy the British, helped him purchase and arm the MiniCoins.

Their first attack (flown by two Swedish and three Biafran pilots, led by von Rosen) was on 22nd March 1969 when they attacked Port Harcourt airport. Their second attack was two weeks before my sixth birthday when they launched a dawn attack on Benin airport. At the time my family was living in Benin, only a mile or two from the airport. The Biafran War was in full swing and Benin was only a few miles from the front line. Most expatriates had chosen to stay. I remember being woken up by the sound of the explosions as von Rosen attacked the Mig-17 and Ilyushin Il-28 bombers that I’d often seen parked on the tarmac at Benin airport. About twenty minutes after they’d attacked and flown back to Gabon, the gallant anti-aircraft crew at Benin airport scuttled back from the forest where they’d fled at the first sign of trouble, and began firing blindly into the dawn sky. This went on for a good half hour. I’d been watching the flashes of the rockets and the gunfire from my bedroom window, but was pulled away by my parents. To this day I still think them spoilsports for not letting me watch it all. We had emergency suitcases always waiting in the hallway in case things got sticky for the expatriates, so waited downstairs next to them until things settled own again.

In all von Rosen flew over 25 attacks in the MiniCoins, destroying several aeroplanes on the ground, and putting an important powerplant in Ugheli out of action for six months.

In 1977 von Rosen was back in Africa again, flying relief sorties for the Ethiopians during the Ogaden War against Somalia. He was killed on the ground in July 1977 when Somali guerrillas attacked the camp where he was billeted.

 

 

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Flight Lieutenant Gordon Brettel DFC

 

By Derrick W.Croisdale

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No.20)

 

Gordon Brettell was born in Pyford, Surrey, in 1915. His father was lance-corporal in the Honorable Artillery Company but his principal occupation was a stockbroker; they were a well-off family. Brettell was educated privately, first at Sunningdale Preparatory School and then at Cheltenham College until he was 18. At 15, he almost died of mastoids but recovered, much to everyone’s surprise.

It was only the first of many brushes with death in the 29 years of his life.

At Cheltenham he was a good all-rounder. He took part in debating competitions, rowed, played hockey, rugby and cricket and was captain of his house boxing team (“not a great boxer but pretty tough” was the college assessment). He also sang in a college quartet. In his teens he took his younger brother to a fairground where there was a “wall of death”, a cylindrical structure around the inside of which performers rode motorcycles on the vertical wall. At the end of the performance the audience was asked if anyone would like to have a go. Young Gordon immediately volunteered and amazed everyone by not only riding the motorbike conventionally but repeating his performance sitting on the handlebars.

He went up to Clare College, Cambridge, in 1934 and graduated three years later with a BA. At Cambridge he became secretary to the university Automobile Club and became passionately interested in car racing. This was to be his main interest up to the outbreak of the Second World War. After graduating he became a freelance author writing for boys’ magazines and racing car journals. His favourite vehicle was an Austin Seven “Ulster” which he raced frequently at Brooklands. On one occasion his brakes failed halfway through a race but he pressed on and won by a comfortable margin. Another time he misjudged his speed negotiating one of the steeply banked bends and spun off the top, crashing to the ground. He sustained six bone fractures but was racing again within a month.

On the day Germany invaded Poland, Gordon immediately went to the RAF Recruitment Office and enlisted for service as a pilot. Pending his call-up he worked at Vickers Ltd, Weybridge, on the production of the Wellington bomber. He was called up on 20th January 1940 and did his training at No.5 Service Flying Training School, RAF Bassingbourne. During his training he managed to wangle a flight for his younger brother serving in the Royal Artillery. They flew in a Miles Magister and “beat up” their parents’ home in Chertsey, Surrey. His brother recalls that they dived at over 140mph—upon landing, Gordon apologised for not having dived faster, but the wings were supposed to come off at 140mph.

On 17th February 1941, Gordon got his wings and was commissioned Pilot Officer. His active service was mainly at Biggin Hill with squadrons 92, 124 and 111 flying Spitfires Mk VB. On 4th September he was severely wounded in the head in an action over France. Gordon wrote a detailed account of this action at the request of the Medical Officer who attended him. It was later published in the Sunday Pictorial and Reader’s Digest under the title “There Were Too Many Huns”, using the pen name Pilot Officer Stanley Hope. In the action he was pounced upon by ten ME109s; he managed to damage one enemy aircraft before being compelled to make good his escape by diving down to sea level where the Spitfire was slightly faster than the ME109F. His head wounds caused him to lose consciousness from time to time and blood obscured his vision. He expressed relief that he didn’t have a date that night so he wouldn’t let anyone down if he didn’t make it back. But make it back he did, and made a respectable landing. The surgeon who operated on him gave him the pieces of metal he removed from his skull as a memento. A later citation for his DFC states that after his injury “he resumed operational flying with renewed zest”.

Gordon has been described variously as “a careful planner”, “impetuous”, “a ladies’ man”, “a gentleman and a gentle man who never lost his temper”, “modest” and—by an American pilot who evaded capture after a later catastrophe for which Brettell was arguably to blame—“a great guy”. Perhaps it was all these qualities that led to his court martial on 14th April 1942. Two weeks previously there had been an Officers’ Mess party to which a number of WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) had been invited. Gordon befriended one of the WAAFs who, late in the evening, said she would have to leave because transport was waiting to take them back to their airfield. Gordon must have exercised his charm because he persuaded her to stay the night and also promised to get her back in time for morning parade. He was court martialled because, true to his word, he got her back—in his Spitfire. Dispensing with parachutes, he flew sitting on the WAAF’s lap. The official record states, “Tried by General Court Martial at Biggin Hill on 14.4.42 under Sections 39A(1)(b) and 40 Air Force Act; that ‘When on active service was likely to cause damage to aircraft by improperly and without authority carrying a passenger, neglected to wear his parachute harness contrary to Regulations’. Guilty. Sentence: severe reprimand.”

On 2nd August he was posted to 133 Squadron as a flight commander. The squadron was in action almost every day. The busiest was on 19th August in support of the combined operation at Dieppe. Gordon was at readiness from four o’clock in the morning and took part in all four missions flown that day, finally touching down at nearly nine o’clock in the evening in bad visibility. The air fighting had been fierce but the squadron acquitted itself exceedingly well, destroying or damaging 16 enemy aircraft without any loss. In this action Gordon shot down a FW190.

No.133 Squadron was one of three “Eagle” squadrons in the RAF, comprised mostly of American volunteer pilots. The squadron had been formed in August 1941 under Squadron Leader George A. Brown, who famously addressed the young Americans: “Gentlemen, no Englishman is more appreciative than I to see you American volunteers over here to assist us in our fight. It is going to get a lot tougher as time goes by, so take a good look around this room—because a year from now most of you will be dead.” The young pilots were dumbstruck. In fact, in the following 13 months, 23 pilots were killed, 13 in action and 10 in accidents.

An emotional day was 19th August 1942, the date of the first raid by B17s of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) on enemy-occupied Europe. No.133 Squadron was given the honour of escorting the 12 B17s in a raid on railway yards in Rouen, which they did without loss. The main hazard was the trigger-happy air gunners in the B17s, who couldn’t tell the difference between Spitfires and ME109s. After being shot at on the return journey the squadron dived to sea level and left the B17s to go home alone.

At the beginning of September, the RAF began to re-equip the squadron in readiness for the transfer to the USAAF. To deal with the transfer formalities, the American Squadron Leader Carroll McColpin was summoned to London for a few days. His place was taken by Gordon Brettell.

On 26th September the squadron was to escort a group of B17s to Morlaix in Brittany. There was heavy cloud, but navigation was not going to be a problem as the squadron would be vectored by RAF Exeter. When they reached the rendezvous point there was no sign of the bombers, so they were ordered to circle and wait. In fact the B17s had left 20 minutes early but had not bothered telling the RAF. Moreover, an unexpected 100mph wind at the operational height was rapidly carrying the squadron towards Brittany. By the time RAF Exeter realised what was happening, the Spitfires were out of radio contact.

Brettell made two inexplicable decisions. The first was to keep circling after radio contact was lost. Eventually they did spot some B17s heading north, but by this time fuel was running low so he decided to abort and head for Bolt Head. His second odd decision was to take the whole squadron down out of the clouds to get bearings, when one plane would have done. They spotted the coastline and a large port that they took to be Plymouth. In fact it was Brest, the most heavily defended port on the Atlantic coast. In seconds, 11 of the 12 Spitfires were lost, either shot down or forced to crash-land or bale out from lack of fuel. Four pilots were killed, six were captured. One baled out, evaded capture and eventually made it back to England, having been jailed in Spain for a while. The twelfth plane had aborted earlier with engine trouble and crash landed near Kingsbridge.

Brettell’s plane was hit by two cannon shells that reduced the port wing to a skeleton. Unable to bale out, he hit the ground at 200mph. He later spoke well of the German soldiers who extricated him from the wreckage and administered morphia. He was well treated in hospital but delayed telling his parents about his injuries in case they were worried. By the time he was on the mend, however, he wrote, describing that he had “four broken ribs, three broken vertebrae, left shoulder blade broken, right sholder blade dislocated, a sprained knee, a large cut on my head, a very squashed-in chest, a ricked neck, two marvellous black eyes, a broken tooth. I also gathered that I had a fractured skull, but I think I must have misunderstood this because my head never felt the least bad… These ailments, though not individually serious, do look slightly formidable when lined up in a row.” Less than a month after the crash, he said that all he felt was a little, rapidly vanishing stiffness.

Three days after he was shot down, Gordon was awarded the DFC, citing his 111 sorties over enemy-occupied territory and his great “keenness to engage the enemy”. Meanwhile, Brettell himself was headed for Stalag Luft III, a POW camp for Allied airmen 100 miles south-east of Berlin.

He became a regular escapee. On one occasion he and a Belgian prisoner were making for the Baltic Sea, hoping to sail for Sweden. It was winter and they came upon a wide frozen river. Unsure if it would hold their weight they crawled across on hands and knees, testing the strength of the ice as best they could. Eventually reaching the far side, exhausted and cold, they sat down for a rest. Almost at once they heard a rumbling—and a column of German army vehicles came driving down the middle of the river.

With each escape, Gorden was recaptured after a few days and sentenced to two weeks’ solitary confinement in the “cooler”. On one occasion he apologised to the Luftwaffe Commandant, Colonel Friedrich-Wilhelm von Lindeiner-Wildau, a professional and honourable soldier, for the trouble he might be causing him. The Colonel silenced him by striking the table with his fist and announcing that it was the duty of an officer to escape!

Gordon became a member of the forgery team which prepared documents for would-be escapees. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the planned escape by tunnel which would become known as the “Great Escape”. The entrance to the tunnel, codenamed “Harry”, was in the room Gordon shared with half a dozen other POWs. When the time was ripe for the escape, a ballot was held to determine who would be in the first batch to escape through the tunnel. Gordon was one of those selected.

On the night of 24th March 1944, 81 prisoners escaped through the tunnel. Gordon and two others were free for two nights but were recaptured after being reported by a suspicious railway booking clerk as they were making good progress for the Baltic.

Hitler was furious about the escape and ordered 50 of the escapees to be shot. Gordon was one of those selected and he was killed by Gestapo Captain Reinholt Bruchardt on 29th March on the outskirts of Danzig. The camp Commandant was arrested and charged with negligence. At his trial he was asked what he would have done if Hitler had ordered him to shoot the prisoners. He replied that he would rather have shot himself. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment. Not so fortunate were three German electricians: they were executed for allowing large quantities of wire to fall into the POWs’ hands.

The cremated remains of the 50 escapees were returned to Stalag Luft III. Colonel von Lindeiner, while awaiting his trial, paid for materials and tools to enable the POWs to build a stone memorial. This was completed towards the end of 1944 and on 4th December a remarkable ceremony was held. Attending were senior German officers, 15 POW officers representing the nations of the dead, members of the Swiss Legation, an Anglican and a Roman Catholic priest and a guard of honour of German soldiers. A POW bugler sounded “The Last Post” and the guard of honour fired a volley of shots. In the middle of a savagely-fought war, it was an act of great nobility and courage by the Germans who took part.

For his part in the escape, Gordon Brettell was mentioned in dispatches.

 

© Derrick W. Croisdale, 2008

 

 

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The Silver Bullet: A Monograph on the Martini

 

By David Bridgman-Smith

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No.18)

 

1. Introduction

American journalist H.L. Mencken once suggested that there is only one American invention as perfect as the sonnet; the Martini.

Today, there are various drinks masquerading as the Martini, such as those that claim to taste of Key Lime Pie or Black Forest Gateau. In light of this, here is a quick definition.

A Martini is a cocktail traditionally made from gin and vermouth, which is served in stemmed glassware. It is typically garnished with a lemon twist or an olive. Although originally made with gin, it has recently become commonplace to replace this with vodka.

The dryness of a Martini is a reference to the amount of vermouth it contains: the less vermouth the Martini proportionally contains, the dryer it is.

How to chill a Martini glass when there is no room in the freezer: Before you begin preparing the drink, fill the glass with clean ice and then top up with clean, chilled, still water (preferably bottled). Once the drink is ready to pour, dispose of the ice and water from the glass and shake it to ensure that no drops of water remain. Strain the drink and serve. It may seem a minor detail, but in my experience it really makes a difference.

 

2. History

Like a great many things, the exact origins of the Martini are somewhat hard to determine; however, there are two accounts of how the drink began that seem to be, from research, the most widely cited.

 

Story No.1: Julio Richelieu, Martinez

In 1870, a miner entered Julio Richelieu’s saloon in Ferry Street, Martinez. Walking up to the bar, the miner dropped a tobacco sack of gold nuggets on the bar weight-scale and requested that Richelieu fill a bottle with whiskey for him. Having received his full bottle of whiskey and feeling somewhat short-changed, the miner asked for something more. Richelieu mixed a drink, dropped in an olive in the glass and declared it “The Martinez Cocktail”.

 

Story No. 2: Jerry Thomas, San Francisco

This is a similar story to the first, although it takes place at the other end of the journey. In this story, it was famous bartender Professor Jerry Thomas, well known for mixing “The Blue Blazer”, who invented the Martini. Thomas had travelled to San Francisco in 1849 arriving at the height of the Gold Rush. Thomas then returned to New York and subsequently moved back to San Francisco, where he set up a bar in the Occidental Hotel in Montgomery Street. A traveller on his way to Martinez, California entered the hotel bar, threw down a gold nugget and asked for “something special”. To which Thomas

replied: “Very well, here is a drink I have invented especially for your trip, we shall call

it the Martinez.”

Whether Thomas invented the original Martini is unclear. Nevertheless, it was thought for a long time that Thomas provided the first published recipe of the Martini in the 1887 edition of his bartender’s guide. However, even then there are some reports of a recipe for “The Martinez” being published three years earlier in O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartender’s Guide.

In addition to these two accounts, here are a number of other claims for the origin of the Martini:

• Bartender Martini di Arma di Tuggia at the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York is said to have made the drink for John D. Rockefeller and is claimed to have created the first incarnatation of the modern Martini in 1912.

• There are reports dating from 1763 of German musician J.P.A. Martini drinking Geneva and dry white wine.

• The Oxford English Dictionary has claimed the drink was named after the Martini & Rossi drinks company founded in Turin, Italy in 1890.

• Some believe there to be a link between the Martini and the Martini-Henry Rifle used by the British Army, as both the firearm and the drink had a kick.

Regardless of the inconclusive exact origin of the Martini, it seems that the original drink has undergone something of a transformation in order to become the drink we know today.

The timeline and appropriate dryness ratios below (gin:vermouth) are taken from The Martini Book by gin company W.A. Gilbey Ltd. The writers themselves suggest that every thirty years the Martini gets one part dryer.

 

1860 1:1 Martinez

At this time the drink was known interchangeably as the Martinez, Martine and Martini.

From O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartender’s Guide (1884)

 

Martinez

2 dashes of curaçao

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Half a wine glass of gin

Half a wine glass of Italian vermouth

 

Byron suggests that the Martini is: “the same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky”.

 

1890 2:1 The Original Martini

The book Louis’ Mixed Drinks (1906) contains two recipes for the Martini; the one below is possibly the first published recipe of the “Dry Martini”.

 

Dry Martini Cocktail

2 dashes of orange bitters

1 dash of curaçao

1 liqueur glass of French vermouth

2 liqueur glasses of dry gin

Fill mixing glass with ice, stir well, strain into a cocktail glass and squeeze a small piece of lemon peel on top.

 

1920 3:1 The Prohibition Martini

From 1915, drinks became colder as refrigerators began to replace ice boxes. A 1920s New York drama critic, George Jean Nathan, is reported to have rigged up a series of strings and pulleys from his front door latch to his refrigerator. When he turned his key to enter, the cocktail shaker in the refrigerator was gently agitated and the Martini ready for consumption by the time he reached the fridge door.

 

1950 4:1 The Martini

It became a fashion to have Martinis of ever increasing dryness and a very dry Martini became the mark of an individual with refined taste; this led to a number of inspired methods of vermouth management, including the invention of specialist devices.

In 1966, an experiment in Chicago involving 3,426 people was conducted with the purpose of classifying tastes in Martinis. Each individual dialled a drink of their chosen strength into a machine known as the Martini-Matic. This led to the following results:

 

Profession                               Preferred Strength (gin : vermouth)

Teachers, Factory and

Office Workers                       3:1

Salesmen, Buyers

& Engineers                            4:1

Advertising Agents                  5:1

Publishers                               7:1

Source: Gourmet Magazine (1968)

 

It was also in the 1960s that devices to control minute amounts of vermouth accurately, such as the “Martini Spike”, came on to the market—further indicating a preference for the very dry Martini.

 

3. How To Keep Your Martini Dry

As the preference for dryer Martinis progressed, so did investigation into the problem of how to make a drink with the minimal vermouth. This resulted in various creative solutions:

• The popular “In & Out Method”, used by many bartenders today. It involves filling the mixing glass or shaker with ice, pouring in vermouth and then straining it away, resulting in vermouth-coated ice. Another method involves rinsing the cocktail glass or shaker with vermouth. 

• It is also possible to introduce the vermouth to the Martini with the use of garnishes, such as olives or lemon rinds, which have been steeped in vermouth.

• In addition, a number of gadgets have been invented with the aim of achieving maximal dryness:

 

Martini Spike

This was produced in the 1960s by Gorham’s and resembles a silver-plated syringe (as depicted on the front cover of this issue of the Newsletter), neatly packaged in a velvet-lined box. The increments on the side allow the user to add an exact amount, in cubic centimetres, of vermouth to their drink.

 

Martini Dropper

A long, thin pipette designed to fit into the top of a bottle of vermouth. The bulb of the dropper often resembled an olive and the device was produced by a firm called Invento. This device allowed the user to add a mere drop of vermouth to the mix. Whilst not having the precision of the Gorham Spike, it does allow for a much smaller amount of vermouth to be added.

 

Martini Stones

Invented by Fred Pool, these are small marble stones that are soaked in vermouth and then added to the mixing glass or shaker along with the gin. The vermouth-soaked stones produce a very dry drink. According to their inventor, the stone also neutralizes the acidity of the vermouth, thus improving the taste.

 

The Atomizer

This is popular when using the Diamond method of mixing (see below). Essentially, the inside of the chilled glass is sprayed with vermouth from a perfume atomizer before chilled gin is poured in. A variation is to spray a mist of vermouth over the top of the finished drink. Alternatively, it can be sprayed into the mixing glass or shaker before mixing.

 

The Martini Tester

Another invention related to the dryness of a Martini, but not actually used to measure or dispense vermouth, was the Gilbey Martini Tester. This was produced in the mid 1960s by Gilbey and originally sold for $1.95. The tester was designed to measure how dry a specific Martini is and is described as being a must for every “Master of Martini”. The author is currently working on making a working reproduction of this device.

As well as these more practical methods, there have been, in the history of the cocktail, some more eccentric and elaborate practices:

• Whisper the word “vermouth” over the drink

• Expose the drink to the written word “vermouth”

• Wave a vermouth bottle over the drink

• Allow a single beam of sunlight to pass through the vermouth bottle and onto the bottle of gin or finished drink

• A bartender’s tip is to add a drop of vodka to an otherwise all-gin Martini to create an even dryer taste.

 

4. Shaken vs Stirred

Possibly one of the most controversial topics in cocktail making is the question of how to mix your Martini: do you stir or do you shake? In an attempt to assess the various arguments, let us first look at the different methods.

 

The Shaking Method

Mix the ingredients and ice in a cocktail shaker by shaking it vigorously until condensation or frosting appears on the outside of the shaker. Traditionally if a Martini is shaken, a stainless steel Manhattan shaker is used.

 

The Stirring Method

Mix the ingredients with ice using a long, thin spoon or mixing rod by whirling it around until the ingredients are cold. A mixing glass or glass pitcher is usually used for this method.

A shaken Martini is more thoroughly and vigorously mixed, which not only makes it colder but, as more of the ice melts, makes the drink more diluted.

Shaking also introduces air bubbles into the drink, which aerates the mixture. An immediately noticeable consequence of this is that the drink becomes slightly cloudy.

The presence of air bubbles also alters the taste of the drink, as the bubbles tend to restrict the flavour of the gin, giving the drink a sharper taste. A combination of both the increased dilution and the presence of air bubbles result in a drink that has a less oily texture.

A study by Biochemists at the University of Western Ontario in Canada indicated that due to the aeration and presence of air bubbles in a shaken Martini, more antioxidants were produced, arguably making the drink healthier.

The more gently-mixed stirred Martini is characterized by not being as cold and being less diluted than its shaken counterpart. The stirring method produces a clear, or certainly clearer, Martini. The absence of air bubbles, as well as the lower dilution rate, in a stirred Martini results in a drink that not only has a smoother texture, but also offers a more pronounced and defined flavour of the gin.

According to W. Somerset Maugham, as quoted by his nephew, “Martinis should never be shaken. They should always be stirred so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of each other.”

There is, incidentally, another method of preparing a Martini which involves neither shaking nor stirring.

 

Diamond or Pouring Method

Pre-chill the gin and stemmed glassware in the freezer. Add a small amount of vermouth to the chilled glass, either by rinsing or using an atomizer to spray the inside of the glass. Add the chilled gin and garnish the drink.

The advantage of this method is that it creates a similar chill factor to the shaken Martini, but with the minimal dilution of a stirred Martini. The disadvantage is that due to the very limited mixing involved, anything more than the merest whiff of vermouth tends to spoil the result and so this method is only for people who like their drinks very dry.

In conclusion, the author believes that the correct choice of method when mixing a Martini is one of personal taste. One recipe book from the 1950s suggests that,“Clear mixtures should be stirred, cloudy ones should be shaken.”

Even so, there is not necessarily a correct answer. However, it should be noted that the shaken Martini, with its less oily texture and a less pronounced flavour of gin, is often preferred by palates that are not accustomed to, or would not usually drink, gin. Thus, this method makes for a good introduction to gin Martinis, leaving the individual, thereafter, to decide what is to their liking.

 

5. The Cultural Martini

The cultural influence of the Martini in literature, film and wider society is considerable in comparison to most other cocktails and is subject to enough material to warrant a paper in its own right. Here is an introduction to some of the possible content of such a paper.

Some famous Martini drinkers include:

• Sir Winston Churchill. An avid fan, Churchill preferred his Martinis naked; that is to say, without any vermouth. In fact, it is said that he thought it enough to merely bow in the direction of France. Being a member of Boodles Gentlemen’s Club in St James’s, along with author Ian Fleming, Churchill was very keen on Martinis that used the exclusive gin that was made for his club, Boodles British Gin.

• Ian Fleming. A great Martini lover himself, and creator of probably the best known fictional Martini drinker. He invented his own variation of the Martini, The Vesper, published in his 1953 book Casino Royale.

• Ernest Hemingway. Described “The Montgomery”, a 15:1 ratio Martini, in his book, Across the River and into the Trees. A keen Martini drinker in 1944, after the liberation of Paris, he led two troops of French soldiers to the Ritz hotel. Upon their arrival, a frightened assistant manager asked if he could be of service, to which Hemingway replied, “How about seventy-three dry Martinis?” 

• Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock prepared his Martinis with gin and a cocktail shaker and, with regards to the dryness, he is reported to use “five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth”.

• Kingsley Amis

• Robert Benchley

• Humphrey Bogart

• Noel Coward

• W.C. Fields

• F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the New Sheridan Club for the opportunity to write and present this talk; Dottie, who was of great assistance in my research; Massamiliano of the Duke’s Hotel, who introduced me to the Diamond-method Martini (and a very nice drink it was too) and Sarah of Henry’s Bar in the City of London who made what is probably the most memorable Martini I have ever had.

Finally, my special thanks to S.L. Miller whose support, encouragement and critical editorial eye have made this paper possible.

 

Bibliography

 

Byron, O.H. The Modern Bartender’s Guide. New York. (1884)

Muckenstrum, Louis. Louis’ Mixed Drinks with Hints for Care and Service of Wines. New York: Dodge Publishing Company. (1906)

Hemingway, Ernest. Across the River and into the Trees. London: Jonathan Cape. (1950)

Fleming, Ian L. Casino Royale. London: Jonathan Cape. (1953)

Tanqueray, Gordon & Company Ltd. Gordon’s. London: A.F. Galt & Company Ltd (1950s)

Gilbey, John H.P. The Martini Book. London: W.A. Gilbey Ltd. (n.d.)

Maugham, R. Conversations with Willie: Recollections of W. Somerset Maugham. New York: Simon & Schuster. (1978)

Conrad, Barnaby III. The Martini. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. (1995)

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Palin, Michael. Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure. London: Weidenfield & Nicholson. (1999)

Schott, Ben. Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. (2004)

Stone, Nannette. The Little Black Book of Martinis. New York: Peter Pauper Press Inc. (2004)

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Reed, Ben. Martinis. London: Ryland Peters & Small. (2006)

Trevithick, J.R. 1999. ‘Shaken, not stirred: bioanalytical study of the antioxidant activities of Martinis’. British Medical Journal [Online] 18th December. 19:1600-1602. Available at: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/319/7225/1600 [accessed 2nd March 2008]

Hess, R. 2002. Shaken or Stirred. [Online]. DrinkBoy. Available at: http://www.drinkboy.com/Essays/ShakenOrStirred.html [accessed 1st March 2008].

Passmore, Nick. 2006. In Praise Of The Silver Bullet. [Online] Forbes. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/2006/03/13/Martinis-cocktails-hemingway-cx_np_0314featB_ls.html [accessed 24th February 2008].

Wilson, Jason. 2007. Sometimes, Respect Starts With a Pour Down the Drain. The Washington Post. [Online]. 21st March. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/20/AR2007032000273.html [accessed 2nd March 2008]

Gadberry, Brad. The Martini FAQ. [Online]. v1.09. 12th January 2008. Available at: http://www.rdwarf.com/users/mink/Martinifaq.html#famous [accessed 1st March 2008]

 

 

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The Eight Kinds of Drunkennesse

 

(From Pierce Penilesse, His Supplication to the Divell, by Thomas Nashe published 1592 and brought to our attention here by Mr Arbuthnot)

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 17)

 

The first is Ape drunke, and he leapes, and sings, and hollowes, and daunceth for the heauens.

The second is Lion drunke, and he flings the pots about the house, calls his Hostesse whore, breakes the glasse windowes with his dagger, and is apt to quarrel with any man that speaks to him.

The third is Swine drunke, heauy, lumpish, and sleepie, and cries for a little more drinke, and a fewe more cloathes.

The fourth is Sheepe drunke, wise in his owne conceipt, when he cannot bring foorth a right word.

The fifth is Mawdlen drunke, when a fellowe will weepe for kindnes in the midst of his Ale, and kisse you, saying; by God Captaine I loue thee, goe thy waies thou dost not thinke so often of me as I do of thee, I would (if it pleased GOD) I could not loue thee so well as I doo, and then he puts his finger in his eie, and cries.

The sixt is Martin drunke, when a man is drunke and drinkes himselfe sober ere he stirre.

The seauenth is Goate drunke, when in his drunkennes he hath no minde but on Lechery.

The eighth is Foxe drunke, when he is craftie drunke, as many of the Dutch men bee.

 

 

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The Assassination of Georgi Markov

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(Extracted from Mr Arbuthnot’s crime walk before the New Sheridan Christmas party, and subsequently published in Newsletter No. 16)

 

Georgi Markov was a successful literary figure in Bulgaria before he defected to the West in 1969. He even joined the Bulgarian Writer’s Union, officially approved by the government. He was also accepted by, and socialized with, Communist Party leaders, eventually learning the intimate details of their carefully hidden, private lives.

But he went too far with a novel called The Great Roof. This novel depicted an incident in Bulgarian history when, in May 1959, a roof under construction at a giant Communist Party steel mill showpiece collapsed, killing and injuring an unknown number of workers. The Communist Party failed to inspire or lead workers in the search for victims. Markov called the novel “an allegory and document of the moral degradation” of Bulgarian socialist society: “In the fall of the roof, I perceived a symbol of the inevitable collapse of the roof of lies, demagogy, fallacies and deceit which the regime had constructed over our country.” Markov later wrote a play entitled

The Assassins, a drama about a plot to kill the leader of a police state. That play was censured in a party newspaper article signed by Todor Zhivkov, then president of Bulgaria. Markov was warned by a friend that he was about to be arrested and fled to Italy. He eventually claimed political asylum in Britain.

Markov became a broadcast journalist for the BBC World Service and a writer for the CIA-funded Radio Free Europe. His weekly-broadcast programmes for RFE, largely consisting of his memoirs of life in Bulgaria, were called, “In Absentia, Reports About Bulgaria”. Not only did these memoirs describe the cultural life of Bulgaria, but they also exposed the otherwise-hidden life of Communist Party leaders, especially Zhivkov. Markov’s listening audience was estimated to be about 60 per cent of Bulgaria’s adult population, even though RFE’s Bulgarian-language broadcasts were heavily jammed.

Following his father’s death, and the Bulgarian’s government’s refusal to allow Markov to visit his dying father in 1977, the tone of Markov’s broadcasts changed. Called “Personal Meetings with Todor Zhivkov”, they were bitingly satirical and a personal attack on Zhivkov. Markov wrote, “I have stressed over and over again that the principal evil in the life and work of Bulgarian writers, painters, composers, actors was interference by the Party. And behind the Party’s interference stood its chief organizer and executive, Todor Zhivkov. As a result of Zhivkov’s general, arbitrary and often quite unwarranted interference, Bulgarian cultural life became permeated by an atmosphere of insecurity and chaos...”

In July 1977 Zhivkov signed a Politburo decree proclaiming, “All measures could be used to neutralize enemy émigrés.” Markov received various warnings and anonymous threats to stop broadcasting but ignored them. The Bulgarian secret police then made three attempts on Markov’s life. The first was in Munich in the spring, when Markov was visiting friends and colleagues at Radio Free Europe. An agent tried but failed to poison Markov’s drink at a dinner party honouring the writer. A second attempt occurred on the Italian island of Sardinia, where Markov was enjoying a summer vacation with his family.

The third attempt succeeded...

On 7th September 1978 (Zhivkov’s 67th birthday) Markov was waiting at a bus stop on Waterloo Bridge. As he neared the waiting queue, he experienced a sudden, stinging pain in the back of his right thigh. He turned and saw a man bending down to pick up an umbrella. The man apologised and then hailed a black cab and sped off. Later that evening, Markov developed a high fever and was taken to a hospital, where he was treated for an undetermined form of blood poisoning. He went into shock and, after three days of agony, died.

Markov had earlier told doctors he suspected he’d been poisoned. Scotland Yard ordered a thorough autopsy of Markov’s body. The forensic pathologists discovered a spherical metal pellet the size of a pin-head embedded in Markov’s calf.

The pellet measured 1.52 mm in diameter and was composed of 90 per cent platinum and 10 per cent iridium. It had two holes with diameters of 0.35 mm drilled through it, producing an X-shaped cavity. Further examination by experts from Porton Down showed that the pellet contained traces of toxic ricin, a poison to which there is no known antidote.

After the fall of Communism the case was re-opened by British and Bulgarian investigators. They decided the poison and the umbrella-gun had been provided by the KGB. The Bulgarian secret police had assassinated Markov as a birthday president for Zhikov.

 

 

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In Search of Sheri-Dan

 

By Nevison Casual

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No.16)

 

High in the mountains of Himalaya, above the triple-canopied forests that echo with plaintive birdcalls in the valleys below, on a barren plateau strewn with rocks and empty port bottles, there rises from the clouds a granite fortress. In the local language they call it Sheri-Dan, which translates as “The House of Flying Fag-Ends”. This, curious traveller, is the oldest Chappist Monastery in existence.

Until the mid twentieth century, Sheri-Dan was completely isolated from the outside world. Within its walls the monks distilled their beliefs and disciplines—and occasionally raw grain alcohol—and learned to perform amazing physical feats. Today, tales of the order are widely told, and it has even become fashionable for adventurous Europeans to spend time with the monks, hoping to find their Inner Chap, or at least return with some unusual cufflinks and a few anecdotes. So what is it like to scale the mountain path and soujourn with the order? To save readers the ordeal of leaving their armchairs, your correspondent journeyed to find out.

As one stands uncertainly before the monastery’s gates, all is quiet bar the moaning of the wind and the distant thwack of leather on willow. The walls are of ancient stone blocks covered in a mottled algae that, viewed from a certain angle, resolves itself into a pleasing houndstooth check. It’s no use procrastinating: one reaches for the sculpted iron door-knocker that curiously resembles an elegant brogue… Before one’s fingers touch the metal, the door creaks open and an immaculately attired butler beckons silently for one to enter. One’s education has begun.

Every visitor comes with preconceptions. Is it true the monks purify their bodies by drinking Stella Artois to induce projectile vomiting? Is it true some penitents force themselves to wear jeans with “anti-fit” as a reminder of their earthly worthlessness? Is it true one monk meditated on top of a pole for 23 years? (Actually the Pole was Wozciek his valet, a strong man who found that carrying his inebriated master around the place made seeing to the holy man’s needs a great deal easier.) So many questions. The reality of Chappist life is far more subtle.

Many Westerners mistakenly believe that Chappist monks take a vow of silence. In fact the vow they take is one of pertinence—idle nattering about trifles, such as politics, impending wars or the nature of being, are strictly forbidden and offenders are summarily locked in the stocks and pelted with stale scones. Quips, cheery salutations and the vivacious exchange of complex cocktails recipes, on the other hand, are actively encouraged. Many tourists visit Chappist temples simply to experience the transcendental ambience of spirited post-dinner banter, the clinking of glassware, perhaps the honking of a battered old piano, all wafting through the calming haze of pipe smoke.

This discipline of limiting talk to the utterest of essentials means that experienced monks have a finely honed ability to tell what someone else is thinking without recourse to words. Legend tells of a blind master of gin-jitsu, the Chappist art of making the perfect martini, who was much in demand as a cocktail waiter. He could divine customers’ orders simply from the way their clothing rustled as they approached the bar, and knew instinctively when drinkers’ glasses were empty by smelling their fear.

The heart of the Chappist monastery is the Dojo (or Anecdojo, to give it its full title), a large hall strewn with rugs, its walls adorned with traditional stuffed animal heads, dartboards, coat-hooks and the week’s tea-making roster. Here trainees learn to spar with one-liners, wisecracks and party pieces.

Observe how the cocksure novice begins with a flurry of irony and affable bravura. His opponent, the old tutor, at first glance shy and helpless, smiles and counters with a single, well-placed mot juste, reducing the audience of kneeling acolytes to gales of laughter. Wounded, the young attacker can manage nothing better in return than a low swipe at his opponent’s old age and decrepitude. The master’s rejoinder is whispered into the youth’s ear so sotto voce that no onlooker can catch it, but its effect is devastating. Ashen, the young man looks instinctively to his trouser fly—mortifyingly unbuttoned, a flash of shirt-tail clearly visible to all the world. (Was it so all along, or is this the work of the master’s drawing-room legerdemain?) The bout is over.

Such punishing instruction must be carefully dispensed. After this lesson the young monk will be carried to a comfortable wingback and a stiff cognac pressed into his sweating hand. With several hours of shoulder-clapping and good-natured joshing, his tutors must delicately rebuild his sense of panâche before his education can continue.

The Dojo is also where novices learn the healing discipline of “beditation”. Few Westerners realise how much their lives would be improved by as little as eight hours of beditation a day. Here at Sheri-Dan, it is a core part of training. At 4.30 each morning, the hoarse iron bell sounds across the courtyard, summoning the groggy novices to rise from their port glasses and make their way to the Dojo. Here they settle into Egyptian cotton sheets on feather mattresses, and slip into a deep sleep. Stern masters stalk the hall, flexing Malacca canes, ready to give a fierce thwack to any young monk who allows himself to wake up even for a moment.

 

The Tea Ceremony

 

The Chappist tea ceremony is similar to the better-known Japanese one, but far more elaborate. In fact making the tea is just a small part of it. Novice monks must learn how to toast crumpets using only the rays of the sun. True masters can do this even at night. Each brother must prepare his own Gentleman’s Relish by lying on a single anchovy until the pressure reduces it to a nourishing paste.

In the weeks leading up to the most holy festivals, one of the more promising aspirants may be sent out into the world to quest for the fabled Clotted Cream. Rumour has it that the monk who can return with some in time for Tea, then contrive to consume a prescribed quantity without dropping dead from a heart attack, is promptly invested as the new abbot.

 

Tie-Chi

 

Outsiders are often bemused by the sight of a group of Chappists moving very slowly for the first few hours of the morning. This is Tie-Chi, the Way of Taking Things Easy, and is how all adepts begin a day of study and prayer.  The monks believe it is important to focus on the perfection of true harmony with the universe as they perform pure, simple actions, such as lathering their faces with shaving soap or choosing just the right tie. Besides, their hands are often quite shaky first thing in the morning. A Chappist master can appear to do absolutely nothing until lunchtime, at which point the observer will realise he has somehow managed to slip into an elegant three-piece, execute an immaculate Plattsburg tie knot and is already perusing the wine list.

Chappists are also sometimes to be seen moving very slowly last thing at night, but this is usually down to absinthe-induced nerve damage.

 

Martial Arts

 

Inevitably outside attention tends to focus on the Chappists’ martial skills, which are undeniably impressive.

Initiates begin with simple cane-fighting. The Chappist order prefers the crook-handled cane or umbrella, which can be used not only for thrusting and bludgeoning movements but also for hooking an opponent’s feet from under him and for stealing someone else’s drink from a good three feet away.

Next the trainee moves on to the pipe. The Himalayan fighting briar is a justly feared weapon, and the monk must master all three types: the light, finely-balanced throwing pipe, the short, squat stabbing pipe, and the long, slender blow-pipe, with integrated rifling. From a position behind an aspidistra in the smoking room of one of London’s more famous clubs, a Chappist assassin is rumoured to have propelled a water-filled dart with such accuracy that it travelled up the stem of the Club President’s own briar as he flourished it mid-anecdote, and comprehensively extinguished the flame. Faced with such humiliation, the man had no choice but to retire to the library with the club revolver. Conjecture is still rampant as to which of his rivals hired the marksman.

Beyond this, the monk might specialise in one of the more esoteric fighting systems, the powers of which are almost without limit. The Spinning Cufflinks of Death, for example, are so devastating that no adept would ever be so reckless as to shoot his cuffs in public.

Physical mastery of the weapons, of course, is merely the precursor to a deeper, mystical learning. An elderly monk, cheerfully waving his pipestem by way of conversational elaboration, may in fact be describing in the air an ancient magic rune. All who see it are mesmerised by the master’s radiant élan, rooted to the spot, unable to tear their attention away from his amusing story until—at a time of his choosing—he enunciates the punchline. In ancient times Chappist raiding parties would use this trick to immobilise the guards of an enemy compound. While the master wove his bon mot, his minions would storm the fortress and ransack the drinks cabinet. For this reason, unlike many other orders, the Chappists never bothered developing their own beer or liqueur.

And so, as the doors of Sheri-Dan clang behind me and I begin the long trek home, do I feel any different? Readers, my life has changed forever. I know the recipe for a Corpse Reviver, can distinguish an Oxford shoe from a Derby at 200 paces in the dark, and know a very funny story about John Le Mesurier. And I retain just 10 per cent of my liver function. Truly, there is a God.

 

 

 

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Obituary Euphemisms

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No. 15, and possibly before that on the Sheridan Club web forum)

 

The following are euphemisms habitually used in English newspapers, in particular The Daily Telegraph. Which NSC Members do you think will have which euphemisms attached to their name after they shuffle off this mortal smoking jacket?

 

Convivial  Habitually drunk

 

Did not suffer fools gladly  Monstrously foul-tempered

 

Gave colourful accounts of his exploits  A liar

 

A man of simple tastes  A complete vulgarian

 

A powerful negotiator  A bully

 

Relished the cadences of the English language  A crashing bore

 

A lively conversationalist  A crashing bore

 

Relished physical contact  A sado-masochist

 

An uncompromisingly direct ladies’ man  A flasher

 

A confirmed bachelor  Homosexual

 

He never married  A misogynist

 

She left no close relatives  A lesbian

 

Lived life to the full  Drunk

 

Not always an easy man to live with  A wife-beater

 

A free-spirit  Couldn’t hold down a job to save himself

 

Always had a twinkle in his eye  A drooling pervert

 

Colourful  Criminal

 

Misunderstood  A git

 

A man of large appetites  Obese

 

An original thinker  Insane

 

Marched to the beat of a different drum  Heard voices

 

Lived a quiet life  Had no friends

 

Active in the community  A busy-body

 

Uncomplicated  Stupid as a bag of hammers

 

 

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The Adelphi Theatre Murder

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(Originally given as part of Torquil Arbuthnot’s “murder walk” prior to the “Murder, Mystery and Mince Pies at Sheridan Towers” New Sheridan Club Party, and subsequently appeared in NSC Newsletter No. 15)

 

William Terriss first made a name for himself as an actor in Sir Henry Irving’s company at the Lyceum Theatre. But he became the popular idol of his day when he started playing the romantic lead in somewhat overblown Victorian melodramas at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand. A fellow actor in the Adelphi’s company, only ever given small walk-on parts, was one Richard A. Prince. Mr Prince was described by contemporaries as, “a strange, twisted, tormented young man with a heavy waxed moustache, a squint, a strong Scots accent, and a decidedly inflated opinion of himself both as an actor and a dramatist”. The fact that he was staggeringly unsuccessful and incompetent both as an actor and a dramatist preyed on his mind and he became a victim of persecution mania. He was also an inveterate letter writer, both to theatrical managers (letters of abuse) and to royalty (letters of condolence or congratulation, usually in doggerel). His fellow-actors knew him as “Mad Archie”.

Terriss eventually dismissed him from the Adelphi company after putting up with his insults and general lunacy with admirable patience, and refused to see him any more. On 13th December 1897 Prince tried to get a complimentary ticket for the Vaudeville Theatre adjoining the Adelphi (and under the same management). He was refused and created a disturbance at the box office, before returning to his lodgings near Victoria railway station. There he brooded for a few days.

Terriss was at the time appearing in a fustian drama by William Gillette called Secret Service. As was his wont, he spent the early evening of 16th December before the performance playing poker in the Green Room Club, and then took a Hansom cab to the theatre, where he had a private entrance in Maiden Lane. In the dim gaslight he probably never noticed the dark figure lurking in the shadows opposite, near Rule’s restaurant. As Terriss unlocked the stage door, Prince ran up to him, drew a knife, and stabbed him several times. Terriss died almost immediately, while Prince made no attempt to escape but hung about until he was arrested. Prince was taken to Bow Street police station and charged with murder. When told to empty his pockets they were full of pawn tickets, and when asked if he had anything to say he requested something to eat. He made no defence, and was convicted of murder but found insane and committed to Broadmoor. Apparently he ran the Broadmoor amateur dramatic society for many years, conducting concerts and directing plays and, according to witnesses, “enjoying himself to the full”.

 

 

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A Letter From the Colonies

 

by Dr Leavingsoon

 

(Originally appeared in newsletter no.14)

 

Club Member and inveterate adventurer Dr Leavingsoon writes from far-flung New Zealand…

 

I had a horse once.

Yes, a genuine, too-old-to-make-glue, too-slow-to-ride, too-swaybacked-to-sit-on horse. Laden down with furs and the remnants of my grub and kit after a six month forced camp in the rain forest a fortnight’s march North of Karamea. (Readers will have to use Google Earth or an Atlas.)

Popped in to see some old friends—who politely gave me a bath before even talking to me and gave me an over-sized old pair of pants to replace the shorts that had turned into a short kilt from crotch rot—and next day I started on the journey South along the Karamea Westport road. On foot. My boots had holes in them and I had to keep replacing a cardboard cut-out sole where it had worn through to the road. Frankly, even though I had had a decent meal and been kindly given credit by the store to replenish my supplies (being a “once-local”), I was sick of walking. Rubbing down “Grey” one night by the side of the road I was so completely dishevelled by it all I vented my anger futilely and violently on the sandfly and mosquito populations that were lining up at my blood bank.

Eventually, four days later, I descended the 357-metre Karamea Bluff, passed Seddonville and, on the fifth day, trudged into Granity. Tied the hack to the front post, traded five pelts for a dozen ales with the publican and showed him how to make leather. A bloke had been watching me and decided to introduce himself. He was the local engineer for a coal mine near by and seemed a nice enough bloke. We yarned about traps and possums and the bush and dogs and horses—in fact when we got to horses he seemed rather keen on the idea. Well, I was going to give the old girl away when I got to Westport and I was sick of walking—could I cadge a lift in exchange? He’d go me one better was his response and we left for more beers to walk round to his house where he showed me a most interesting Land Rover collection.

“I’ll swap you this series 1 Land Rover for that horse, mate. It’s a bit tired and I’ve no need for it—already got another one. I’ve been meaning to use a hack for some time now...”

“Done!”

And so I clattered out of Granity with a dilapidated jalopy, utterly proud of my new ownership papers and knowing darkly that somehow I had been had!

Got stopped by the cops outside of Westport, with a full tank of gas, fresh supplies, shaven face, flash haircut, a few hundred dollars and a map of the South Island, on my way to Christchurch.

“No warrant of fitness or rego.”

“Just bought her—taking her to Southern 4WD in Christchurch for repairs.”

“Why can’t you do it here.” Ominously, there was no question mark after his query.

“Live in Christchurch. Picked it up.”

Things were looking pretty good for me just then. A bit unfortunate that one of the windscreen panes decided to pick that moment to fall out...

His look made me confess all; that I had swapped a horse for it, that there was nowhere in Westport that had the parts I needed, that the money in my wallet and the gear in the back was all I had in the world to show for six months of extreme hardship and that I wanted to get to Christchurch to start a career in music. A few confirming phone calls later back at the station he put down his expression and picked up a new one.

“Listen, I’m not going to book you this time. But you can’t take that truck to Christchurch.”

“But—”

“Hold on. Do you know Cobden at all?”

“Across the river from Grey-mouth?” I asked.

“That’s the place. When you get to the bridge carry straight on down to the beach. The road will dog-leg right and, when you see all the Land Rovers, pop in there and get the parts you need.”

I was struck dumb for a second. Then I started shaking hands enthusiastically.

“Thanks very much!”

“Either you’re the biggest liar I’ve ever met or you’ve been through a hell of a lot and deserve a chance to get back on your feet. But go straight there. We’ll be keeping an eye out for you.”

I heaped praise on them and drove my unregistered, unwarranted vehicle about 100 km down to Cobden along the main highway. The shocks were shot, the brakes weren’t crash hot and the steering operated like a drunk sow. It was a white-knuckled ride far below the speed limit but I arrived, shaken not stirred, at Cobden. It took the rest of my money and a crash course in mechanics to get the jalopy road worthy, warranted and registered, but a week later I was off to audition for third horn in the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

I was no more than five minutes out of Greymouth when I was stopped by the Police. They gave me a grin, a big thumbs up and waved me off.

I won the audition by the bye.

West Coast Police; no other breed quite like them.

 

 

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1907

 

by Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(Originally appeared in newsletter no.14)

 

As 2007 draws smoothly to a close I thought members might want to know what was happening one hundred years ago.

On 18th March 1907 Sweden’s first and only train robbery took place. Other momentous events in 1907 included the introduction of taxi-meters in London cabs, and Baden-Powell leading the first scout camp on Brownsea Island.

On 1st June Colin Blythe, playing for Kent, took 17 wickets for 48 runs against Northamptonshire at Northampton in one day. It is the best analysis ever recorded for a county cricket match (or for a single day’s bowling), and was not bettered in first-class cricket until 1956.

Edward VII was on the throne of Great Britain, while abroad Franz Joseph I held down Austria-Hungary, Leopold II ruled the Belgians, and Alfonso XIII kept an eye on the Spaniards. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Liberal party) was PM while across the pond Theodore Roosevelt (inventor of the teddy-bear) sat in the White House.

Notable 1907 births included actor and Olympic swimmer Buster Crabbe (famous for playing Flash Gordon); the poet W. H. Auden (famous for scuttling off to America at the start of World War II); Katharine Hepburn (famous for wearing trousers and talking as if she had lockjaw); Laurence Olivier (famous for playing demented Nazis in films); John Wayne (famous for his funny walk); Leslie Charteris (famous for writing The Saint series of books); and actress Fay Wray (famous for being King Kong’s girlfriend). People who popped their clogs in 1907 include Chappist writer Joris-Karl Huysmans (author of À Rebours [Against Nature] and Là-Bas [Down There]) and Klara Hitler (mother of the German corporal).

Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent was published in 1907, as were E. M. Forster’s The Longest Journey, John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Tom Kitten, and a very early P. G. Wodehouse novel, Not George Washington.

In 1907 the Nobel Prize for literature went to Rudyard Kipling, “in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.”

 

 

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The New Sheridan Guide to Hangovers

 

by Torquil Arbuthnot and Nathaniel Slipper

 

(Originally appeared in newsletter No. 13)

 

A gentleman in his time will receive, like visitors, many ailments. For example gout, ingrowing shoulder-blades, Green Monkey Fever, and the galloping lurgie. However, there will be one ailment that is more than a casual visitor, but rather takes a place in the body more akin to that of a lodger, and this is the dread hangover (or “hammering bastard behind the eyes” as it is known in medical parlance).

            Usually a fellow can be expected to perambulate languidly about the town, cane swinging metronomically from the vertical to the horizontal, tipping his hat to all manner of person and quipping heartily as he goes, regardless of health, weather, bank balance, mood or the going at Lingfield. It is only this disease, the hangover, that can knock a chap out of this ambience. Therefore we examine the hangover, and look at the most modern scientifical research into it, and also how a fellow might see his way to the other side, whilst maintaining his joie de vivre.

            Despite years of medical research by scientists and guinea pigs, it remains impossible for the cause of the hangover to be discovered. The Common Hangover Centre, which has existed out of the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place for over half a century now, has repeatedly experimented on volunteers, who will spend hours there by turns listening to ragtime pianola, taking part in quizzes and playing bar billiards. Yet still it is impossible to predict which of the subjects will wake in the morning with their heads under the pillows and groaning loudly whilst others are bouncing out of bed brimful of the joys of the day. The current popular theory is that it is caused by the movements of the moon in relation to the posture of a gentleman and the receipt of his wage-packet, and occurs approximately once every 31 days.

            One thing that can be certain of a hangover though (which leads one to suspect that it may indeed by a psychosomatic illness) is that it always occurs after happy times. A fellow can be quaffing away in his club, with dearly beloved chums, chortling, exchanging badinage with the barmaid, spinning out the first portion of anecdotes and missing the dartboard by some distance only to wake up the following morning struck down by The Beast.

            The physical symptoms of the hangover are well known to us all, the dry throat, the tsunamic raging inside the skull, the hollow emptiness of the wallet, and the utter weariness of body. This makes it impossible for a fellow to do any more than crawl to the nearest chaise-longue, pull a cushion over the face and weep silently. From this position he can then proceed to make noises of great pain. Throughout this is the urgent need to remain motionless, as the slightest tremor of the knee will bring agony soaring to new heights.

            But there is also the mental suffering brought on by this malaise. This takes the form of self-loathing, shame, paranoia (does the barmaid’s father own a working shotgun?), a desire to apologise to all and sundry and an almost concrete desire never to drink again (for drinking copiously is usually what is blamed despite the lack of scientifical evidence). This is emphasised by the subconscious, which will gradually introduce events from the night before to the memory, such as the moment on the way home where it seemed rather amusing to pull off a fellow gentleman’s chemise and then lie in the road using it as a pillow, or diverting the midnight train from Penzance to Budapest. Incidentally the weakening of this refusal to take alcohol again is the first sign that a gentleman is on the road to recovery.

            There are any number of cures to this dread illness: much like tips for the Grand National, a frisky queue of individuals will be prepared to give you their advice. One solution is to soldier through, remaining silent and still on the sofa, pale and shivering until, approximately a fortnight later, the pain is relieved and the state of the body returns to neutral.

            However, there are more positive methods to regain a state of normalcy. A hearty fried breakfast for example, and not just of fried eggs and bacon, but encompassing fried mushrooms, fried tomato, fried black puddin’, fried snuff, and fried bread. Ideally this should be accompanied by a glass of gold-topped milk, and some exciting tales of tittle-tattle from one of the red tops featuring the latest daguerreotypes of the Welsh chanteuse Miss Church.

            Another cure, and this is based on ancient lore (“Similia similibus curantur”), is to take the hair of the dog that bit, which in this case, appears to mean to imbibe more alcohol (even though there is no medical evidence whatsoever that it is the drinking that bit and caused this state of affairs). This takes fortitude and care. One must choose a drink that is gentle and kind upon both body and soul, and be prepared to accept that, at first, this will prove a challenge. Happily after a few of these dust-settlers, ruddiness will return to cheeks, a smile and a quip to the lips, and a familiar horror to friend’s faces. London buses will also appear less glaringly red.

            It is a well-known fact that when a gentleman is taken ill (if, for example he has fallen prey to the flux or been horse-whipped by some Baron in the town square and finds it prudent to lie frailly upon the chaise-longue) he will receive all manner of sympathetic visitors. His friends will shower him with kind gifts and anoint him with gentle words and wishes of recovery and good health to come. Sadly, the fellow struck low with the hangover will receive none of this, but will be firmly told to pull himself together and that he has brought it upon himself. Although how this is any more self-inflicted than, say, being thrown from a horse, falling from the trapeze, or being struck by the Clapham omnibus remains a mystery.

            Thus a gentleman must be prepared for the hangover as it is a fact of life, much like having to shave one’s chin in the morning or having to evade one’s creditors in the afternoon. Against his will perhaps, he must contain the suffering with courage, good heart and humour, battling through this miasma until he is free and feeling like his own self again. At which point, as a reward for recovery, he should adjourn to the bar and let the whole merry cycle recommence.

 

The Arbuthnot-Slipper Hangover Cure:

 

The Firecracker

Mix a Martini glass half full of tequila and half full of Tabasco. Clears the head like a blast from a shotgun.

 

Suggestions for Further Reading:

 

Sir Kingsley Amis On Drink Contains advice not only on how to deal with the physical hangover but also how to cope with the “Metaphysical Hangover”.

 

Keith Floyd Floyd on Hangovers Contains recipes for hairs of the dog, and for suitable food for the sufferer, written by a sterling gentleman and toper.

 

Sir Clement Freud Book of Hangovers Who better than the grandson of Sigmund Freud to give advice on the hangover?

 

Possibly the best description of a hangover in fiction occurs in Sir Kingsley Amis’ novel Lucky Jim where the eponymous hero wakes up one morning after a heavy night:

 

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

 

 

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A Journey to Vienna’s Coffee Houses

 

by Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(Originally appeared in newsletter no.13)

 

The Kaffeehäuser of Vienna have more in common with Parisian literary cafés or English pubs than they do with modern espresso bars that serve latté in paper cups. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig described the Viennese café as “an institution of a special kind...a sort of democratic club for discussion, writing, and playing cards.”

Another writer, Alfred Polgar, had this to say about Vienna’s legendary Café Central, a Baroque coffeehouse in the grand tradition whose patrons have included Goethe, Beethoven, Mahler, and Trotsky:

Its inhabitants are, for the most part, people who are misanthropes, and whose aversion to other people is as acute as their need for people: who want to be alone, but must have company to do so. The habitué of the Central is a person who derives no sense of belonging from his family, profession, or party; the Café Central comes to his rescue, inviting him to join and escape. Its customers know, love, and underestimate one another. Even those who profess not to know each other regard this non-relationship as a kind of relationship; mutual dislike serves as a unifying force at the Central, a sort of camaraderie. Everyone knows about everybody. The Café Central is a village in the centre of the metropolis, steaming with gossip, curiosity, and slander.

 

The Viennese coffee house tradition goes back to the year 1683 when the Turks besieged Vienna. Georg Franz Kolschitzky (born 1640 in Poland, died 1694 in Vienna) who was working as translator for the oriental trading company in Belgrade, and who spoke Turkish, went through the enemy lines to Poland’s King John Sobiesky who had sent an army to free Vienna. Kolschitzky made it back to the city with the news of imminent relief, as a result of which the city council decided not to surrender. The Turks were defeated and fled.

As rescuer of Vienna, Kolschitzky had first choice of the booty. He ignored the gold, weapons and other goodies: he was only interested in the sacks of brown beans nobody else wanted—Kolschitzky knew about coffee from his travels to Turkey.

Later he opened one of the first coffee houses in Vienna (1686) named “At the Blue Bottle” (‘Zur Blauen Flasche’), the basis of the old tradition. The first documented founding of a coffee house was in January 1685 when the Greek Johannes Theodat (Diodato) opened one in his house at Haarmarkt. He held a “Privileg” (what a licence was called this time) for the retailing of coffee. Until 1700 there were 4 more licences by Kaiser Leopold I. By 1804 there were already 89 coffeehouses and after the Vienna Congress (1814/15) there were 150. Around 1900 the number increased to about 600.

            The typical offer was coffee-specialities, cacao, tea, milk, chocolate, mineral water, lemonade, ice-cream, wine, spirits and liqueurs.

            In the beginning only men went to coffeehouses. Around 1870 it was fashionable to go to a coffee house with the family. Even lady’s parlours were opened. During 1938 there were 1283 coffeehouses; the number decreased to 584 in 1994.

            A key factor in the Viennese coffeehouse experience is the unique traditional furnishings and service. Regular local clients cherish the familiarity of the surroundings, with service by waiters who know their coffee preferences. A wide range of reading matter is available. A typical café subscribes to around twenty national and regional newspapers—in languages including Austrian, German, Italian, French, English—and a similar count of international magazines. Clients wander over to the newspaper racks and return to their tables with a selection for an hour or two of browsing.

            Nobody is hassled by any hint of “drink up and go”. By a long- standing tradition, the coffee is served in an elegant cup with matching saucer on a silver tray. Alongside is a serving of water, with a spoon balanced on the glass. If you want something to eat, from a light snack to an apple strudel to a complete meal, all things are possible.

            Most of Vienna’s traditional coffeehouses date from the latter half of the 19th century, when the decision was made to remove the broad medieval city walls. In their place, the Ring was laid out, a broad, tree-lined series of boulevards encircling the old city, with parks, squares and sedate public buildings every few hundred yards. Essential to that development was the construction of coffeehouses spaced around the Ring itself or within a few minutes’ walk.

            Within that broad band, several of the original coffeehouses still flourish: Prückel, facing the Museum of Applied Arts and the City Park; Schwarzenberg, the oldest of those on the Ring, opened in 1861; Rathaus, dating from 1843 and located outside the former city walls, just behind City Hall; and Landtmann, easily accessible from Parliament, City Hall and the National Theatre.

This was the period when the Austrian Empire achieved its greatest power. The construction fever was palatial in style, reflecting the confidence of the era. The coffeehouse salons were grandiose—20 feet from floor to ceiling, with classical columns, lavish chandeliers and red velvet upholstery around the booths.

The furnishings have likewise remained traditional. Essential elements are marble-topped tables and bentwood chairs with a wickerwork seat.

            The following is a selection of the various coffees available in Viennese coffee houses:

 

Schwarzer Strong black coffee. A kleiner Schwarzer is the equivalent of an espresso; a grosser Schwarzer is a double shot. Also called a Mokka.

 

Brauner Coffee with a dash of milk or cream.

 

Goldener Coffee with milk; similar to “regular coffee” in New York.

Mélange. Equal amounts of milk and coffee with froth.

 

Kaffee Crème Coffee with a miniature pitcher of milk on the side.

 

Kapuziner Cappucino. (Same name, different language.)

 

Kurz A single shot of espresso.

 

Mokka See “Schwarzer” above.

 

Verlängter Coffee with hot water added; a good choice for North American and English visitors who like their coffee weak. 

 

Einspänner Coffee in a glass with a hefty dollop of Schlagobers or Schlag (whipped cream).

 

Fiaker Espresso in a glass with sugar and Kirschwasser (a dry cherry brandy), topped with whipped cream and a cherry.

 

Pharisäer Espresso in a glass with sugar, whipped cream, cocoa, and a shot of rum.

 

 

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Some Interesting Discourses on Strong Drink

 

These were not presented to the Club. I just thought that every questing toper should read them.

 

On Gin

On Bitters

 

 

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Life Without Butter

 

by Padre Ian McDowell

 

(Originally appeared only in the Padre’s crazed imagination)

 

Once, when the countryside was a quiet and dignified place as opposed to a garage for agricultural machinery, there were, often, large breathing things in fields. Some were brown, some a sort of off-white, some mottled. They were called “cows”. Well that’s what we called them anyway as they were unable to indicate to us their preferred nomenclature. If you went to the countryside in those days you’d have a jolly good chance of seeing some. They lay, or stood, sometimes singly, and sometimes in small, pensive groups, chewing grass, or just gazing into the middle distance.

If you were taken with them enough to want to follow them late at night, you would see them enter a large building with no furniture. This was because it was very difficult and expensive to make furniture that suited them. This building was called a “barn”. If you remained there all night to see what would happen, you would be woken at a very early hour of the morning by a young girl carrying a wooden stool. This was not for the cows, but for her.

She would place the stool right next to one of the cows, and sit on it. Then she would reach below the cow and do something quite mysterious with its underparts. She would also have placed a wooden pail it. After few seconds, a noise of rushing liquid would fill the barn and a whitish substance would be seen filling the pail. This was known as “milk”. This milk was almost the same thing that you now find in corner shops in London, usually with lots of young people standing around it debating its origin.

Anyhow, the whitish substance, milk, was later observed being scraped to remove its thick top layer, known as “cream”, which was in turn put into a wooden barrel with a handle on the side, and turned until it coagulated. It was then taken out, salt was added, and it was shaped into bricks and sold. These bricks were called “butter”.

By the late 1970s people were increasingly putting this “butter” into their refrigerators, but when it came out of the refrigerator it was very hard to manipulate, and often damaged the things that it was supposed to be spread on. And so a company using a stork as its emblem, all of whose salespeople were cloned from a man called Bruce Forsythe, decided to produce something called “margarine”, which, even though it also lived in the refrigerator, was much more maleable. People stopped buying butter altogether, and soon the large breathing things in the fields were so bored at not having their underparts played with by young girls that they all fell over and died.

And so the milk that we buy when we queue for The Times remains a profoundly mysterious thing. Next time you’re in the country, look out for a Museum of Cows where these facts are substantiated. I kid you not.

 

 

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Satanism: Separating Fact from Myth

 

by Lord Rupert

 

(Originally delivered at the Club Night of Wednesday 6th June, 2007)

 

The term Satanism has been, in modern times, the subject of much undue confusion. Distinctions have been made between differing factions, ideologies, and traditions. One would think that Satanism involved the obvious; worship of the Devil. Apparently there are those who do not believe that this is the case. There are some that believe that Satanism is the worship of the Individual over, and separate from, any Divine source. These people, called Modern Satanists, are the products of the Satanic Bible purely. There is no other reason to believe that Man is God and that Satan is an abstract force meant to represent the Carnal nature of that God other than the rationalization (and I use that word loosely) presented by Dr Anton Szandor LaVey during the first part of said book.

This rationalization is, curiously enough, riddled with phrases and statements that would lead one to believe contrary to the atheistic view held by the current followers of the organization founded by LaVey to act as a vehicle to the lifestyle teachings he wished to impart. Why then would they be considered Satanists if they do not worship Satan? Only because of the extensive use of the term by their founder, really. These people have been titled Modernists to differentiate them from Satanists who believe in a Being of greater power and understanding.

The lifestyle expressed in the Satanic Bible is a truly inspired teaching and all human beings currently dwelling on this planet should, and would benefit from, taking the ideas expressed by Dr LaVey into consideration. Modernists are considered Satanists because, for the most part, they live their lives in a truly Satanic manner.

By virtue of the fact that they were founded by a man with a daunting, if not unsurpassed, understanding of Human nature and the nuance to call on the Devil for aid has allowed them to maintain a substantial level of influence on the non-Satanists’ opinion of Satanism. (More times than I would like to recount I have been dismissed as a self-absorbed ME worshipper because of this.) Modern Satanists are considered Satanists because they were founded by a Satanist and continue to use the term, even though it doesn’t technically apply to the religion they currently follow because of their curiously odd way of not actually worshipping any actual anthropomorphic deity.

They are not Satanists because they do not worship the Devil. Thus, they should rightly be considered a funny sort of Humanism that was founded by a Satanist who, for whatever personal reasons, recounted his pact with Satan and denied His existence.

Which raises an interesting point. Dr LaVey was working with various travelling troupes up and down the States which would explain his ability really to “sell” the whole concept, if you consider that, as a travelling salesman, he would encourage you to spend more of your money to get a better deal—in the Church, the more you spend the more chance you have to progress through the ranks, as it were.

There are also those who, while calling themselves Satanists, wish to distinguish themselves from those who call themselves Devil Worshipers. Why? They feel that, while they worship a Deity who is referred to as the Devil under every conceivable circumstance, they are different from Devil Worshipers in some very specific way. This mindset is mostly inspired by the need to feel more important or more justified than others, which, in itself, is a perfectly natural and correct way to feel.

Pride is not, however, the only factor to be considered. From what I understand, the rationalization provided is that they believe that a Devil Worshiper is one who devotes himself to the undertakings of absolute Evil and depravity, or that they submit themselves unquestioningly to the whim of Satan and repress their individual will to question things. This can lead, for example, Serial killers such as Charles Manson to use the brief flirtation they had with any form of Satanic worship to justify any desire they had, because “Satan made me!”

The only problem is that in one sense the concept could be viewed as being right on the proverbial money once one has considered where the definitions of Evil and depravity came from. Those of us who entertain ourselves with riotous bouts of orgiastic revelry, feasting, dancing, and reaching a pleasant state of intoxication would all be considered very Evil indeed. From the first time Elvis shook that famous pelvis of his he was immediately considered evil and Satanic in the extreme! Evil is a term that is used to represent the opposite of Good, which is a term used to represent those who follow the laws of Jehovah.

Again the concept that a Devil Worshiper submits completely to Satan’s will, above their own, is an interesting point to contemplate. What, exactly, is the will of Satan? It is the common belief of all Satanists that the point of Man on earth is to fulfill his Freewill, a gift given to us by Satan (as summed up splendidly by Aleister Crowley: “Do what thou shalt shall be the whole of the law.” So the will of Satan is that His followers live their lives according to their own will. Well, it would be difficult indeed to submit to Satan’s will AND disobey Him simultaneously, wouldn’t it?

Another point in which they feel they should distinguish themselves is on the matter of Jehovah. Some Satanists believe that, in the beginning, Jehovah created everything and Lucifer (The Bearer of Light) was cast from Heaven and now seeks to over throw Jehovah. Others believe that Satan is the real Ultimate Deity and that Jehovah is an upstart storm-god who has a penchant for trying to mislead the minds of Men.

The religion of Satanism is fundamentally different from Paganism because of its most recognizable feature—the rejection, hatred, and opposition of Jehovah and his idiotically self-destructive followers. Simply because you live by your True Will and dislike any other religious group’s followers does not make you a Satanist!

It is interesting to see that in the time since the Church of Satan was being formed it has become almost socially acceptable to be a member. Whilst this is fine, it can suffer from being watered down for the masses, as it were! Two fine examples would be the popstar Madonna and how, when she discovered the Jewish Kabbalah, it became really trendy to be seen with the red thread; or the film star John Travolta and the scientology movement of which he became a prominent member by spending a large amount of money on the cause!

 

Ego Sum Lex Mundi

 

 

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A Weekend Invitation

 

by Julian Allason

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No. 7)

 

Victor Hervey cut a figure sharp enough to warrant a place in the dramatis personae of Waugh’s satires. Aristocratic gunrunner, partygiver, gentleman burglar, convict and flogee, the sixth Marquess of Bristol was perhaps too colourful a figure to provide character inspiration to a serious novelist, although acquainted with several. His seat, Ickworth in Suffolk, was the venue for numerous country house parties even beyond its passage into the hands of the Treasury in lieu of death duties. His son, the seventh Marquess, known as John Jermyn, maintained the family tradition of wild partying. Having retained a lease on Ickworth’s residential east wing he terrorised National Trust visitors to the rest of the estate by racing vintage cars through it.

By the time of his death from drug addiction in 1997 aged 44 little of Jermyn’s £30 million inheritance survived. Sotheby’s were called in by the executors to auction off what remained. The director, a glamorous American blonde, was accommodated in one of the principal guestrooms, where she discovered in the bedside table several capsules of amyl nitrate—“poppers” supposed to confer aphrodisial powers—and a French maid’s outfit. Mentioning this to colleagues over dinner served by the Smith-like Bristol butler, she was subsequently amused to find the drawer empty when she retired.

A recent visit to Ickworth to inspect a curiously under-catalogued Titian and some Chinese porcelain set me to reflect upon country house parties. What then was the format for the country house weekend during the decades of the 1920s through to the present day?

Convention demanded arrival upon a Friday afternoon in time for tea, at which a gift would be presented to the hostess. Meanwhile suitcases would be carried up to bedrooms and unpacked by servants. At the statelier homes cars were driven round to the stable block, washed and, with luck, refuelled. Guests were then expected to disappear until seven or so when cocktails were served prior to dining. In the Midlands it was usual to sound the gong not for dinner—that would be announced by the butler—but twenty minutes earlier to winkle any latecomers out of the bathroom. (En-suite facilities were not widely adopted until the 1980s, and are still rare in Scottish country houses and castles.)

The “placement” at dinner was automatic, being protocol driven, unless one of the lady guests was possessed of exceptional beauty, wit, or embonpoint, in which case promotion to the host’s left (but rarely right) hand might be gazetted. After cheese the ladies would retire, leaving the men to port and cigars, and perhaps to “water the lawn”. It is still considered poor form to keep your host up late on a Friday evening, particularly in the winter when an early rise for shooting might be on the cards.

Whatever the season a hearty breakfast could be anticipated, to include such dishes as devilled kidneys, kippers and cold cuts. Shooting brakes and Landrovers stood by to take the “guns”, never more than eight in number, off to the first drive. Some of the ladies might follow to pick up downed birds, or join the “guns” for lunch.

Outside the shooting season Saturday afternoons were usually devoted to cultural affairs—or just affairs. Options could include a tour of the property, its pictures and dungeons, a game of bridge or expeditions to nearby churches or archaeological remains. Planchette and bezique seem to have been reserved to the unromantic upon rainy afternoons.

Until the Second World War white tie and tails were the norm for Saturday dinner. By the 1960s these had almost entirely given way to dinner jackets (tuxedos) worn with black bow tie, long dresses remaining usual for all but the youngest and prettiest women. If there was no ball to attend a neighbouring houseparty might join the dinner, swelling numbers to two dozen or more, and providing occasion to deploy the best porcelain and silver. Minor domestic staff would join butler and footmen to serve, and it was not unusual for servants from the visiting house to assist. Billiards, charades and party games might follow at the less stuffy houses. Photographic tableaux enjoyed a brief vogue in the 1920s.

Appearance at breakfast on Sunday morning was no more obligatory than attendance at Church from the Great War on. Luncheon was another matter; at it gossip from the night before would be exchanged and loose ends tied. Guests’ departure would take place no later than 3pm, after the servants had been tipped. Such was the model to which all but the most bohemian subscribed, a model scaleable downwards to more modest houses, but varying little even in ducal palaces.

 

 

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Nina Hamnett, the Queen of Bohemia

 

by James Mitchum

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No. 6)

 

Nina Hamnett, the “Queen of Bohemia”, and frequenter of the Wheatsheaf pub, was born on St Valentine’s Day in 1890 in Tenby in South Wales. By coincidence, another artist with whom she was to be acquainted, Augustus John, had been born in the same street in 1878. She was an army brat, spending her childhood in a succession of army camps throughout the UK.

From 1906 to 1907 she studied at the Pelham Art School and then at the London School of Art until 1910, where her tutors included George Lambert and William Nicholson. Her talent as an artist was soon spotted by the likes of John and Sickert, both of whom sketched and painted her several times.

In 1914 she went to Paris to study at Marie Vassilieff’s academy in Montparnasse. On her first night in Paris she went to the café La Rotonde where the man at the next table introduced herself as “Modigliani, painter and Jew”. They became close friends and Hamnett often modelled for him. In later years she would hoick up her blouse displaying her bust with the boast, “Modi always said I had the best tits”.

She also met and befriended the likes of Cocteau, Diaghelev, Picasso and Satie, and encountered the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. They became lovers and he made a sculpture of her dancing naked. Later Hamnett would introduce herself to people with the comment, “You know me, m’dear – I’m in the V&A with me left tit knocked off!” This was the Laughing Torso sculpture that provided her with the title of her autobiography in 1932.

In Montparnasse she met her husband, the Norwegian artist Roald Kristian, though theirs was a difficult marriage that ended in divorce. During her time in Paris she continued to paint, mainly portraits, and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. She also worked for Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops producing designs for avant-garde fabrics, clothes, murals, furniture and the like. She also became Fry’s mistress, Fry describing her as “the most fascinating, exciting, tantalising, elusive, beautiful, exasperating creature in the world”.

On her return to London in 1926 she soon became a regular fixture in Fitzrovia, the part of London so named after the Fitzroy Tavern on the corner of Charlotte and Windmill Streets in Soho. She brought with her, according to the music critic Cecil Gray, “a nostalgic breath of the old spirit of Montparnasse”. Her favourite pub was the Wheatsheaf, where she would sit in the far corner of the downstairs bar imploring people to “buy me a drink, dearie”.

She met the writer Anthony Powell in 1927 or 1928 when she was 37 or 38 and he 22 or 23. She and Osbert Sitwell were collaborating on a book (published by Duckworth’s) on London’s statues which she was illustrating. She met Powell when she delivered some drawings to Duckworth’s where he worked. Hamnett took an immediate liking to Powell and invited him to her studio to draw him.

For Powell, according to Hamnett’s biographer, “Nina held out the promise of adventure into an unknown Bohemian world” for someone eager to taste more of London life than the season of deb balls. According to Peter Quennell, “Nina was Anthony Powell’s first grown-up love affair. He was rather pleased with it at the time. She satisfactorily deprived him of his innocence, which is a thing people were anxious to get rid of in those days. He built her up as a romantic femme de trente ans, a Bohemian mistress.”

During their relationship Hamnett introduced Powell to a bizarre Firbankian world some of which he reproduces in his novel Agents and Patients (1936). Hamnett took Powell and the composer Constant Lambert to visit the impoverished, opium-smoking Count de Malleisque and his wife, who were staying at the Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street accompanied by their Pekinese and a pet monkey who was perpetually trying to defend itself from the unwelcome sexual attentions of the dog. Powell described the scene at the Cavendish in his memoirs: the Count “would play the guitar, or do newspaper puzzles (which were to win him some enormous prize), while the company drank Pernod, and a clergyman’s voice intoned church services on the radio”.

In his memoirs Powell writes of Hamnett’s heavy drinking and belligerent manner: “a condition not affecting her gift, but restricting continuous work to a few months at best; human relationships to equally fragmentary associations”. Hamnett would always refer to Powell as her “little Etonian”.

Hamnett had always been a heavy drinker but was now losing her ability to cope with the booze. At the same time she began to develop a taste for boxers and sailors and other “rough trade”. When asked why she favoured sailors, she replied, “Because they leave in the morning”.

In 1932 she published her autobiography, Laughing Torso, which was a best seller in the UK and USA, but became the subject of a libel case from mountaineer and occultist, Aleister Crowley. Crowley objected to a passage in the book that read: “Crowley had a temple in Cefalu in Sicily. He was supposed to practice Black Magic there, and one day a baby was said to have disappeared mysteriously. There was a goat also there. This all points to Black Magic, so people said, and the inhabitants of the village were frightened of him”.

Hamnett won the libel case but the situation appears to have profoundly affected her for the rest of her life. She was to spend a good part of the next few decades of her life inhabiting the bars of the Fitzroy Tavern and the Wheatsheaf, exchanging anecdotes for drinks. To enter a pub, wrote Constantine Fitzgibbon, “and not to buy Nina a drink was in those days and in that world a solecism that amounted to a social stigma”.

In December 1956 she threw herself off her balcony, or drunkenly slipped, and was impaled on the railings below, dying shortly afterwards.

Nowadays she is remembered too much as only a Fitzrovian legend rather than for the fine painter and designer she was.

 

 

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Suits You, Sir

 

by Julian Allason

 

(Originally appeared in Newsletter No. 2)

 

The rigidity achieved by Savile Row tailors of the 1950s, especially when using the tweed favoured by Evelyn Waugh, was said to be sufficient to enable a drunken subaltern to pass Colonel’s inspection. Naturally it would only have been worn west of Chiswick, south of Croydon or north of Hampstead. (Cavalrymen and members of the Household Brigade were not thought to go east). Some magnates had their suits worn in by their butlers.

The pecking order in Saville Row remains little changed today: Huntsman, Henry Poole, Anderson & Sheppard, then Kilgours, although Gieves are considered to have lowered standards in a bid to appeal to New Labour.  This is roughly reflected in their prices which start at around £2,500 for a two-piece bespoke suit, less at Gieves. Although softer fabrics, lighter in weight, are now preferred by clients the internal construction retains the shape characteristic of each house, and a degree of crease resistance foreign to off-the-peg suits. The jacket is still referred to as the coat.

To this day Scottish tailors display bolts of estate tweed worn only by employees of that estate. These are capable of warding off rain, snow, brambles and low-flying grouse. Even shotgun pellets are deflected according to one gamekeeper.

Tailors disapprove of dry cleaning, preferring occasional airing, preferably in the Highlands and, where necessary, attack with a brush. Jeeves employed a sponge to remove Bertie Wooster’s breakfast from his lapels, a technique superfluous on a Highland tweed.

A waistcoat would have been worn with a single breasted suit, the coat of the latter having two side vents, one vent being considered “common”. Absence of venting marked one out as of Italian or Balkan extraction, not necessarily attracting the social cachet now attached to Italian tailoring by the media (although not perhaps in St James’s).

The correct accessories were a silk handkerchief (not matching the tie) in the coat’s outer breast pocket and a watch chain worn across the waistcoat or, on a single breasted suit descending from lapel into breast pocket. The bottom button of the waistcoat was only buttoned by bounders and bank managers. Trouser turnups were the norm from about 1911 to 1965 and, in my childhood recollection, often yielded a three-penny bit. Zippers were considered “fast” until fairly recently.

For evening wear, white (bow) tie and tails were usual until the Second World War, with the dinner suit (tuxedo) or a velvet smoking jacket with braided trousers worn to dinner parties well into the 1980’s. The white or cream tuxedo began as tropical wear, occasionally appeared at county dances in June, but was otherwise the province of bandleaders.

 

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The Colony Room

A Farewell to Egon Ronay

A History of the Rolls-Royce Aero Engine

A History of Gentleman’s Clubs in London

Duelling For Dummies

Inspector Maigret: Smoke and Mirrors

Fitzrovia Pubs

Famous Typewriters

The T-Team

Breaking the Rules

The Military Life of the Duke of Wellington

The Faeries of Kensington

Woolworth’s: The Rise and Decline of a Five-and-Dime Dynasty

“We Didn’t Have a Uniform As Such…”: Fashion in the British Army During the Second World War

The French Invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797

The Drones Club

Voyaging Through the Strange Seas of Thought: Travel, Nostalgia and the Triumph of the Imagination

Important Penny-Farthing News

Over The Line (a short story)

Primordial Hat Lore Discovered

In the Land of the Long White Cloud, Part 1

You Mean They Can Make Wine in America?

The Sayings of Noël Coward

1908

Count Carl Gustaf von Rosen

Flight Lieutenant Gordon Brettel DFC

The Silver Bullet: A Monograph on the Martini

The Eight Kinds of Drunkennesse

The Assassination of Georgi Markov

In Search of Sheri-Dan

Obituary Euphemisms

The Adelphi Theatre Murder

A Letter From the Colonies

1907

The New Sheridan Guide to Hangovers

A Journey to Vienna’s Coffee Houses

Some Interesting Discourses on Strong Drink

Life Without Butter

Satanism: Separating Fact from Myth

A Weekend Invitation

Nina Hamnett, the Queen of Bohemia

Suits You, Sir

 

 

 

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The Colony Room

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 46)

 

In 1948 a Jewish lesbian called Muriel Belcher got permission to open a private club, with a drinks licence between 3 and 11 pm. In those dismal days (and indeed up to the late 1980s) pubs shut from 2.30 till 5 pm leaving thirsty people with nowhere to slake their thirst unless they belonged to a private watering-hole. Muriel Belcher came from a well-to-do Jewish family and had run a nightclub in Leicester Square, the Music Box, during the war. The Colony Room was so named after Muriel Belcher’s then girlfriend, a Jamaican called Carmel, and decorated, in a rather desultory fashion, in bamboo and leopardskin.

Francis Bacon happened upon the club on its first day of opening, and got on so well with Muriel Belcher that she offered to pay him £10 a week to bring in “interesting” people and wealthy patrons. The club soon became a haunt of louche Soho, with members such as Dylan Thomas, Lucien Freud, John Minton, the two Roberts, Colin MacInnes, Jeffrey Bernard, George Melly, Noel Coward, John Deakin and many others. For many celebs, such as Dennis Hopper, David Bowie and Tennessee Williams, the Colony Room was the place they wanted to drink in when in London. Even Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon used to pop in.

Muriel Belcher was not exactly welcoming and was known for her sharp tongue. All members, whatever their sex, were addressed as “Mary”. Those she disliked were “cunts” but those she particularly favoured were addressed as “Cunty”. (Indeed, the word “CUNTY” was etched on to the cash register when I used to frequent the club.) Apparently the novelist John Braine lurched in there in the 1960s, and Muriel Belcher took such a dislike to him that she kept calling him “Miss Hitler”. He never returned.

“Cunt” remained a common unit of conversational currency in the Colony Room. Recently I was chatting to a member about an acquaintance of his. “What’s he like?” I asked. Michael said sonorously, “He’s a cunt. He’d heard I’d described him as a cunt and came up to me in Frith Street the other day and said, oh so plaintively, ‘Why did you describe me as a cunt, Michael?’ I said, ‘Because you are a cunt.’ He went away…”

The MP and possible Communist spy Tom Driberg was a member. A “confirmed bachelor” of the Joe Orton cottaging type, Driberg used to turn up at the club with a different young man in tow every week. Breezily describing the youngster as “one of my constituents” he used to dismiss the youth with a handful of coins and an order to go and play on the fruit-machine.

The membership was always small, never rising above 200 or so, and the annual fees negligible (about £150 in 2008). It has been described as the most exclusive club in London. One couldn’t apply for membership: one had to be asked. The only criterion for membership was that one wasn’t “fucking boring”. There was also no attention given to whether one was famous or not. One Evening Standard journalist who used to meet Francis Bacon there said somewhat huffily: “It is hard to see now, as the West End hums with salubrious private members’ clubs, restaurants and bars, what attracted aristocrats, artists, actors and anarchists to the Colony. It certainly wasn’t to meet someone famous: on the occasions I drank there with Bacon, no one could have cared less who he was.” Well, yes, that was precisely the point. The membership was always eclectic: when I used to drink there one could be chatting to a famous actor one minute and a plasterer’s mate the next. There was no distinction made in the club.

Muriel Belcher ran the place until she died in 1979. She bequeathed the place to her barman, Ian Board (known as “Ida”), who was if anything even ruder than her, and who sported a magnificent purple nose courtesy of his fondness for brandy. When Ian Board pegged out in 1994 the club was taken over by his barman, Michael Wojas. Ian Board’s ashes were kept in a bust of the old josser himself, on top of the fridge behind the bar. Wojas was educated at Haberdasher’s Aske’s school and then read chemistry at Nottingham University. In 1981 he came down to London and took a job as barman in the Colony as a stop-gap measure. Initially Ian Board was so suspicious of Wojas that he used to hide the day’s takings in the club before he went home. As he was pissed at the end of the night he could never remember where he’d hidden the cash so Wojas and he would spend the first hour the next day searching for it, usually finding it stuffed in the piano or behind a mirror.

In the 1980s and 1990s the old membership started to die off. Fortunately there was no shortage of “interesting” drinkers in Soho and the club was soon home to the YBAs such as Damian Hirst, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin and others. Wojas also started music nights when the likes of Billy Bragg and Suggs would play, and also “celebrity barman” nights when Kate Moss and Sam Taylor-Wood took a turn behind the counter. Wojas was always to be found sitting on the barstool closest to the door where he could keep an eye on things in the mirrors behind the chimneypiece. He once said of his role in the club, “I am the proprietor, bar manager, lavatory attendant, psychiatric counsellor, odd job man and accountant.”

I first went to the Colony Room in, I think, 2004. I’d been drinking with Happy Gatwick (chairman of the old Sheridan Club) and Fran Colomb in Trisha’s, a drinking dive on Greek Street. We got chatting to a chanteuse called La Celine who dresses as a guardsman and sings music-hall songs she composes herself. She was having a birthday party in the Colony and invited us along, presumably because we were good little drinkers. Anyway, we rolled up at the club in Dean Street, pressed the doorbell, and climbed the grimy stairs to the first floor. The Colony Room was just one smallish room, painted a depressing shade of bottle-green, the walls covered in paintings, drawings, photographs and tat. The artwork, I noticed, included originals by Bacon, Freud, Michael Andrews, Hirst, Auerbach, Emin, Sebastian Horsley and various others. There was a drawing of Prince Charles having a wank. There was also a gold-plated Kalashnikov AK47 in a glass case. There was some grubby bankette seating to the side and a couple of barstools. The room was crammed with 40 or 50 people all smoking and drinking and chatting as if all three activities were about to be rationed. I went to the bar and ordered a bottle of champagne, divining correctly that a request for a bottle of beer or a glass of Diet Coke would be met with an amiable invitation to go fuck myself.

I proceeded to do what was expected of someone in the Colony Room, i.e. get very drunk and talk bollocks. I remember (vaguely) chatting to the bloke who played Spider in Coronation Street and having a chat about pistol shooting with someone else. A Glaswegian redhead called Karen (now a New Sheridan member) came over to me and asked if I wrote for The Chap, and we then talked of the Modern Times parties which she’d heard about. Not long afterwards two Colony Room stalwarts came up to me and said (and bear in mind this is the most exclusive club in London at that time) “You’re the sort of person we want in the Col. D’you want to join?” Obviously I’d never been so insulted in my life and told them to fuck off. I later found out this was the correct (instinctual) response. Had I shown eager interest the offer would’ve been forgotten. For various reasons I never ended up joining the club, and when I finally started reaching for my wallet and the membership fee the place had folded.

The Colony Room closed in 2008 but for three years Minna and I used to pop in there regularly as the guests of a couple of members. The company was always entertaining and always eclectic. As Sebastian Horsley said, “The Club reminded me of an alcoholic tardis. It was minute on the outside but huge on the inside and you went there for love, which they served by the glassful.” At one time or another I chatted to Stephen Fry’s boyfriend and his brother and his girlfriend; a French mirror designer who had the disconcerting habit of resting his head heavily on one’s shoulder while talking; various angry lesbians who thawed once one was rude back; legendary barman Dick Bradsell; two heavily-bearded gents in three-piece tweed suits and ZZ Top beards called “The Rubbishmen of Soho”; and numerous amiable drunks. The first time I met Michael Wojas, the owner, we were both so drunk we shook hands and managed inadvertently to headbutt each other. Wojas, towards the end of his life, was described as “looking like a blade of grass growing under a bucket”.

I was in there one evening with Minna and Karen and I got chatting to some dark-haired woman with a Lancashire accent. She commented on my skin problem and opined it was the result of eating too much cheese. Ever the gentleman, I told her that, come to that, she had huge nostrils. We then got on famously and she ended up sitting on my knee, to Minna’s obvious amusement. The Lancashire lass went off to powder her nose and Minna and Karen asked, giggling furiously, if I knew who I’d been talking to. “Nope,” I said. I was then told I’d been talking nonsense to Lisa Stansfield.

Another time Minna and I were in there and some has-been actor type started showing off, for some reason, about the writer Cyril Connolly (editor of Horizon during the war). As I’m interested in the 1930s and 1940s, and a connoisseur of Connolly’s writing, the has-been had met his match. As he name-dropped ever-more obscure Connolly articles, I could quote from them. He ended up flouncing off to the bar, a broken man. Earlier he’d been telling us he’d got his tan “summering in the Bahamas” with the Duke of Somewhere. As he left us Karen’s friend said in a loud voice, “Tan in the Bahamas, my arse. Touch of the tarbrush more like.”

The Colony Room closed in 2008 for mysterious reasons. The rent was only £12,500 a year but Michael Wojas claimed the club couldn’t afford it. He didn’t pay the rent and the landlord chucked the club out of the premises. Wojas then decided the artwork in the club was his and auctioned it. Some of it was sold before some sort of legal suspension was applied when the original artists (such as Horsley and Hirst) objected. Westminster Council then slapped a ban on the landlord turning the club into flats. The club split on two lines, some members taking a pro and some an anti Wojas line. Rumours abound to this day. All I can say is that £12,500 is a piffling sum and that I’ve seen £1,000 taken at the bar on a not-very-busy Friday night at the club.

Michael Wojas used to turf people out at 11 pm (we then used to crash various Soho private members’ clubs) with the words: “Rush-up, dash-up, spend-up and fuck off.” Like anyone who’s ever been there, I miss the place a good deal.

 

 

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A Farewell to Egon Ronay

 

By Ronald Porter

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 45)

 

Egon Ronay, author of the famous Egon Ronay Good Food Guides, died on Saturday 12th June at the incredible age of 94. As a food and wine writer, I met him on many occasions. I liked him. He was always charming and always had something interesting or witty to say.

He was born in Hungary on 24th July 1915. His family had their substantial estates confiscated by the Russians after the war, so Egon fled to England and started helping out at a restaurant in the West End. He later opened up his own restaurant near Harrods in 1949 to great success. Later, in 1957, he published his first Good Food Guide. They sold like hot cakes and, over the next few decades, he became a much admired and respected food critic. He sold the rights to his books to the AA in 1985 but later claimed them back and published his last guide, in conjunction with the RAC, in 2005. He died at his house in Berkshire with his wife and elder daughter by his bedside.

Over the years, I collected many copies of his guides. They were highly readable and appeared far more reliable, to me at any rate, than all the rival publications put together. In fact, in the early 1960s, when I started to get seriously interested in food and wine, at the tender age of about 12, there were only two publications apart from Ronay’s. One was a slightly stuffy book called The Ashley Courtney Guide. The other was the Which? Good Food Guide. It relied, too heavily for my liking, on reports from readers who tended, so I thought then, not to know a lot about food or anything else for that matter.

Egon’s Guides were very useful to a novice like me. I found his tips priceless. For example, he would always point out to readers that astronomically dear restaurants did, on certain days and at certain times, dirt-cheap, set- priced meals. That was a godsend to some one like me. I only had pocket money to spend plus, from time to time, hand outs from rich aunts and uncles. It was through Egon’s books that I got to know about the cheap, fixed-price menus at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. And thanks to Egon, I became a persistant attender of the Causerie at Claridge’s, where you could help yourself to masses of food, at a bargain basement price—and go up for more as often as you liked. As a teenager, I lunched and dined there as a king, and very often with real Kings, albeit most of them “ex”, deposed former heads of state!

That fabulous, regal existence came to an abrupt end in the mid-Sixties. The then Chief Executive of the Savoy Group, Ramón Pajeres, decided it would be more profitable to close the Causerie and re-open it as an expensive drinks bar, also selling rather pricey nursery food. When I reminded him of this dreadful deed a few years ago, he smiled and said, “Yes, it was crowded with your sort. But we could not afford to subsidise the hard-up genteel set any longer!’’

Another of Egon’s tips, to the down-trodden folk like me on to their last million, was Afternoon Tea at London’s smartest of smart hotels. He pointed out, quite correctly, that their afternoon teas were loss leaders. They were a way of enticing people in who would not normally afford go there and “encourage them to experience a great hotel”. To be honest, after reading his books, I did not need much more in the way of “encouraging”. In a very short time, I was on first name terms with the Irish Maitre D’ at the Ritz, the late Michael Toomey. Nothing could keep me away from the cream and jam scones, the ham sandwiches, the delicious cakes and creamy pastries, served with piping hot cups of tea from a silver pot. I frequently saw people like Hardy Amies at the next table. And at other tables there were cabinet ministers like Norman St John Stevas and Christopher Soames. As a hard-up undergraduate, I would often take tea at the Ritz and sit, in utter poverty, amidst the splendours of the Ritz Winter Garden, in the days when the fountain actually worked! Although I was hard-up, I refused to be poor. And how could you be poor, with umpteen waiters ready to serve you delicious food in the finest of fin-de-siècle surroundings?

Of course, there are criticisms that can be made of his guides. He would sometimes spend far too much time talking about the interior of the restaurant, how it was decorated, the flower arrangements, the state of the table cloths, the state of the furniture, the patterns in the carpets and the condition of the curtains. After dealing with all that, you would be lucky to get a sentence or two on whether the food was any good and if it was worth the money. But then he was aiming at an English audience. And the English are unduly influenced by such matters. So, I must admit, am I!

He claimed his inspectors were unobtrusive and “anonymous”. So if you saw a chap at a table in a restaurant with a pencil and a notebook, writing furiously every time he tasted the food, looked at the wine list or the menu, you were supposed not to draw the inescapable conclusion that he was a food and wine writer!

He was one of those foreigners who wanted us to believe the myth that before he arrived in England, our food was dreadful. Now, because of rationing and shortages during and after the war, our food was a bit boring for far longer than it should have been. But I do not agree it was universally awful. My mother’s house, in the Forties and Fifties, always had an excellent choice of food every day of the week. She had high standards right up until she died in 2002. So did a lot of other English housewives. And we had some excellent restaurants during and after the war, as we still do today. Had he never heard of Simpsons, the Goring Hotel and the restaurant at Selfridges, to name but a few in London? I admit that, on being asked by the then Transport Minister in the early 1970s, he did help to improve the cuisine in motorway service stations. But some of us, like me, still mourn the virtual disappearance of the old Wonderloaf bacon butty, oozing with melted margarine from the heat of the fried bacon!

Finally, he claimed to be totally independent and never to take money for product endorsements or be beholden to anyone. This is not the whole truth. His guides were full of adverts related, in some way, shape or form, to the world of food, wine and travel. In one guide I have just looked at, I have been told to drink Schweppes, to try Tio Pepe, to use gas from Mr Therm (did we have a choice in those days?), to cook with Sheffield Stainless Steel, to “keep going well, keep going Shell” and reminded that “Esso Blue means happy motoring”.

 

Ronald Porter was the food and wine critic for What’s On for 20 years, a job he now does for the London Press Club’s magazine. He is also a regular contributor to The Conservative History Journal and the magazine of The National Liberal Club. He also writes regular obituaries for The Independent, The Times and the The Daily Telegraph.

 

Ronald’s Tips for Pennywise Eating

 

Breakfast at Weatherspoons

Egon Ronay was an advisor/consultant to the pub chain Weatherspoons. They do a Big British Breakfast offer in most—not all—of their pubs. You get a huge plate of eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, beans, black pudding, mushrooms, etc, plus tea and toast for about £6. You must order it before 12 noon.

 

City Hall, Queen’s Walk,

London SE12AA

One of the best bargains currently available is the restaurant at the Greater London Authority’s City Hall, next to HMS Belfast and a five-minute walk along the river from London Bridge tube/rail station. It’s not open in the evenings but you can have a three-course lunch for about £7 including a soft drink and coffee, and you can buy wine there too. Closed at week ends and bank holidays. Mayor Boris Johnson frequently lunches there.

 

The Ritz Hotel, 150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR

The Ritz still does fixed-price set menus for luncheon and dinner. I think these are a better bargain than their teas which are now about £40 pounds a person and must be booked way in advance (not so for dinner or lunch). The Dining Room is splendid—probably the best in any hotel in London, or Europe for that matter.

 

 

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A History of the Rolls-Royce Aero Engine

 

By Robert Loveday

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 44)

 

To my mind, there is no sound more exciting and evocative than the sound of a Rolls-Royce piston aircraft engine, preferably a Merlin on the front of a Supermarine Spitfire. Not merely because of its gut-shaking power and heart-snapping roar (you can hear it on the video on page 9), but because there’s so much history stacked behind it—the brilliance of the engineers that built the engines, the exploits of the machines they powered and the tales of derring-do, pluck and bravery of the men that piloted them. And it tells a story that you could well argue has played a part in the history of this nation and indeed the wider world.

That story begins with Charles Rolls, who was born on 27th August 1877 in London, third son of the 1st Baron Llangattock. He was educated at Eton, where his love of things mechanical earned him the nickname “Dirty Rolls” (ahem) and later at Cambridge, where he studied mechanical engineering.

He was a “Toad of Toad Hall” character—the archetypal rich dilettante. A founder member of the Automobile Club of Great Britain, he bought his first car at 18. In 1904, he founded Rolls-Royce with Henry Royce (the plan being that Royce would build the cars, while the more flamboyant Rolls would sell them).

But by 1906, Rolls’ interest in the business was already beginning to wane in favour of aviation, and he tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce to design an aero engine. Rolls was a pioneer aviator and balloonist, making over 170 balloon ascents. He was also a founding member of the Royal Aero Club in 1903.

In 1909 he bought a plane and made more than 200 flights. Sadly, on 12th July 1910, aged 32, Rolls was killed in an air crash near Bournemouth when the tail of his aircraft broke off during a flying display. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident, and the eleventh internationally.

But during the global cataclysm that was the First World War, Rolls-Royce did start producing aero engines. Their first, in 1915, was the Rolls-Royce Eagle. (I should mention that all Rolls-Royce piston aircraft engines are named after birds of prey.)

This was a V12 liquid-cooled engine, delivering up to 350hp—and consuming 24 gallons of fuel an hour. The first aircraft it powered were the Handley Page “0” series of bombers—huge aircraft for their time (with a 100ft wingspan, comparable to a modern short-haul airliner), which were conceived as long-range bombers in 1915 after someone at the War Office asked for “a bloody paralyser of an aeroplane”. They didn’t have much of an effect on the course of the war, but were nonetheless impressive because of their size. It was also used on the De Havilland DH4 two-seat bomber—often cited as the best aircraft of its type in the First World War, as it was faster and flew higher than anything the Germans had.

However, the most notable aircraft it powered was the Vickers Vimy. Also designed as a bomber, it entered service too late to see action in the Great War, but gained considerable fame by making record long-distance flights—the greatest perhaps being the first non stop crossing of the Atlantic in June 1919 (just ten years after the first crossing of the English Channel, by Louis Bleriot).

The flight was undertaken by two plucky Brits—pilot Captain John Alcock (aged 27 at the time), and his navigator Lieutenant Arthur Whitten-Brown (33). Both were war veterans, but both had been shot down and taken prisoner. This meant they had fairly limited flying experience, especially with so large a plane (Brown had been an observer, and had taught himself aerial navigation while a prisoner. He had almost no experience as a navigator before the flight of the Vimy).

The aircraft was modified with extra tanks that carried 865 gallons of fuel. And as it was made of wood and canvas (as were all aircraft of its time) you can imagine how flammable it was. Its top speed was around 100mph, and its cramped open cockpit was equipped with only the most rudimentary instruments, with practically none for blind-flying.

At 1.45pm on 14th June 1919, on a makeshift airfield outside St John’s, Newfoundland, Brown opened the throttles. Barely clearing trees at the end of the field, they looked ahead at almost 2,000 miles of ocean.

It was a flight from hell. Shortly after takeoff their radio broke down. Then one of the exhaust pipes on the starboard engine melted—they could do nothing about it. The first few hours were uneventful—then at 5pm a fog bank appeared. They had to fly through it, and it was so thick they couldn’t see their wingtips. Then they flew into a huge weather front. Visibility was nil—disoriented, they went into a spiral dive from 4,000ft, pulling out just above the waves.

“The salty taste we noted later on our tongues was foam,” Alcock was later to report. “In any case the altimeter wasn’t working at that low height and I think that we were not more than 10 to 20 ft. above the water.” After their narrow escape, the pair grinned, ate sandwiches and drank a bottle of beer.

They flew on into the night—frozen. Brown had few opportunities to get a fix with his sextant, but got a star shot near midnight. At 3am it started to rain, which turned into snow, which filled the cockpit. Then ice started to form—a potentially deadly hazard. The only solution was for Brown to stand up in the cockpit, at 8,000ft, and chip the ice off vital instruments and controls. (Some accounts have him climbing out on to the wing, though this is slightly fanciful as Brown was partly lame, and it would have been difficult to clamber out on to the wing past the Vimy’s propellers. A member of Charles Kingsford-Smith’s crew did climb out on to the wing of a plane to fix an ailing engine during the first flight across the Pacific—but that’s another story…) ly after 7am the pair sighted land, and eased the aircraft down. They tried to land near Clifden, in Connemara, Ireland—in the middle of a bog—and they nosed over and crashed. They had flown 1,890 miles in around 16 hours.

Both received an immediate knighthood from George V. Sadly, Alcock died in an air crash just six months after the flight. But their aircraft has been repaired—and you can go and see it at the Science Museum, London.

The next notable engine that Rolls-Royce produced was the Kestrel, from 1927 onwards. This delivered around 550hp and incorporated a number of technological advances such as supercharging (compressing air inside the cylinders to develop more power at high altitude) and a pressurised cooling system.

It was used on a variety of different aircraft—chiefly the Hawker fighter and bomber biplanes of the 1930s, the mainstays of the RAF at the time. You can see a Hawker Hind and Hawker Demon flying at the Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, Bedfordshire.

Ironically, it was also used to power prototypes of the Messerschmitt BF 109—chief fighter aircraft of the Luftwaffe and nemesis of the Spitfire during the Second World War—and the infamous Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber, after Rolls-Royce loaned some engines to Nazi Germany in exchange for an aircraft to use as a test bed! Confirmation, if it were needed, of the perfidious nature of the Hun.

But by far the most impressive engine constructed during the Interbellum period was without doubt the Rolls-Royce “R” series—R standing for racing. Another liquid-cooled V12, this monster had a capacity of 37 litres, consumed 3.5 gallons of fuel a minute, and was eventually tuned to deliver a staggering 2,800hp.

Their chief use was in the technologically advanced Supermarine “S” series of racing seaplanes (designed by R. J. Mitchell, who later designed the Spitfire), which were used in the Schneider Trophy races of the 1920s and 1930s.

The Schneider Trophy was a prestigious international prize competition for seaplanes that first took place in 1913. At first held annually, it then went biannual. If a nation won three races in five years, they would retain the cup. Great Britain won the contest with the Supermarine S5 and S6 in 1927 and 1929, with the aircraft flown by the RAF High Speed flight. But due to the global economic depression, in 1931 the British government withdrew support.

However, a private donation of £100,000 from Lucy, Lady Houston allowed Supermarine to compete and win on 13th September at Cowes against only British opposition, with reportedly half a million spectators. The Italian, French, and German entrants failed to ready their aircraft in time for the competition. The aircraft, the Supermarine S6B, set a world airspeed record of 407.5 mph on 29th September 1931, the first aircraft to break the 400mph barrier. And once again, you can see it—and the Schneider Trophy itself—in the Science Museum, London.

(You can get a decent idea of the Schneider Trophy races and the genesis of the Spitfire by watching the 1942 movie The First Of The Few. There are a few inaccuracies—R. J. Mitchell died of cancer rather than by working himself to death—but it does feature a splendid turn by David Niven as a raffish pilot.)

Anyway, the massively powerful R engine wasn’t just used in aircraft—it was used by Sir Malcolm Campbell, and later his son Donald, from 1931 to 1951 in their record-breaking Blue Bird cars to set land speed records as well. Sir Malcolm managed 300 mph on 3rd September 1935 on the Bonneville salt flats in Utah and Captain George Eyston’s massive Thunderbolt car used two R engines to achieve 357mph.

They were also used to break water speed records—twin R engines were used by Henry Seagrave in the powerboat Miss England II to travel at 100mph in June 1930—though tragically the boat capsized and he was killed in the attempt. Miss England III reached 120mph in 1932 using the same engines.

But perhaps the most important aspect of the R engine was the experience it gave Rolls-Royce’s engineers, enabling them to build the company’s most famous engine—the Merlin.

First running in 1933, and initially known as the PV12 (denoting it was a private venture, i.e. without government funding), the Merlin was once more a liquid-cooled V12 of 27 litre capacity. It originally delivered 1,030hp in 1938, but was eventually boosted to deliver 2,060hp in 1945 thanks to improvements in supercharging and fuels. In all, around 150,000 Merlins of all marks were constructed.

It was used to power the legendary Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft, whose exploits in the Battle of Britain and beyond are legion, as well as the Avro Lancaster and De Havilland Mosquito bombers, and the North American Mustang long-range escort fighter.

But not everything powered by a Rolls-Royce engine was a success. For example, the Fairey Battle was a three-seater single-engine light bomber developed to replace the Hawker biplanes of the 1930s. Although, as an all-metal monoplane with retractable undercarriage, it looked modern enough, by the time it entered service it was obsolete—too lightly armed (with just one machine gun for defence) and 100mph slower than the Me 109.

When Hitler invaded France, Battles were called upon to perform unescorted low-level attacks against the advancing German army. This put them at risk of attack from fighters and within easy range of anti-aircraft guns, and their losses were horrendous. In the first of two sorties carried out by Battles, on 10 May 1940, three out of eight aircraft were lost; in the second raid, a further 10 out of 24 were shot down. Despite bombing from as low as 250 feet, their attacks had little impact on the advance.

On 11 May, only one Battle out of eight survived. The following day, five Battles attacked bridges to slow down the German advance; four of them were destroyed with the final aircraft crash-landing back at its base. Two Victoria Crosses were awarded—posthumously.

Two days later, in a desperate attempt to stop German forces crossing the Meuse river, an all-out attack was launched against the bridgehead at Sedan. The Battles were attacked by swarms of enemy fighters and were devastated. Out of a strike force of 63 planes, 35 were lost. In six weeks almost 200 Battles had gone down, with 99 lost in just six days. After the fall of France, the Battle was very quickly withdrawn from front-line service and relegated to training duties.

Even the Merlin itself had a few technical hitches. Its development caused regular problems until a Rolls-Royce engineer hit upon a brilliantly simple and brilliantly clever solution—they would take a random engine off the production line, run it until it broke down, and then whatever part had failed was immediately redesigned and improved.

A more immediate issue was the carburettor design. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, it became apparent that the Merlin-engined RAF fighters had a serious problem with their float-type carburettors while manoeuvring in combat. The negative G-force created by suddenly pushing the control stick forward and lowering the nose of the aircraft into a dive resulted in the engine being starved of fuel, causing it to cut out unless pilots rolled inverted before diving. The opposing Messerschmitts, with fuel-injected engines, didn’t suffer from this, and their pilots could escape by simply pushing the stick forward and diving away meaning the British pilots couldn’t follow.

Salvation came in the form of “Miss Shilling’s Orifice”. Beatrice “Tilly” Shilling, a young engineer working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, came up with a disarmingly simple solution. She introduced a simple flow restrictor: a small metal disc much like a plain metal washer. After it was fixed into the engine’s carburettor, it was able to reduce the fuel starvation of the engine, and once again the RAF was back in the game.

Some of the Merlin’s greatest successes were also engineering bodge-jobs. The Avro Lancaster was originally a two-engined design called the Manchester, and used two Rolls-Royce Vulture engines—these were one of the company’s real duds, with an unenviable reputation for bursting into flames. So Avro engineers hurriedly stretched the wings a bit, fitted four Merlins—and they had a winner on their hands. The Lancaster went on to be one of the RAF’s most capable aircraft, famously taking part in Operation Chastise—better known as the “Dambusters” raids—in 1943.

It was a similar story with the North American Mustang. This single-seat fighter from the USA was also a bit of a dud, performing miserably with its original Allison engine. When one was loaned to the RAF, Rolls-Royce engineers hit upon the idea of using a Merlin in it instead. The result was another world-beater—and the long-range escort fighter needed to escort the US daylight bomber formations into Germany, gaining air superiority from the Luftwaffe and paving the way for victory in Europe. To quote Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe, “When I saw the Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the war was lost.”

In the jet era, the company was just as successful. So successful in fact, that in the early Fifties engines such as the Nene (all Rolls-Royce jet engines are named after rivers) were licence-built by the USA—and even the Soviet Union, after several were donated to Russia by the UK as a “goodwill gesture”. In the same decade it produced the mighty Avon, which powered the English Electric Lightning, an interceptor with truly stellar performance—it could reach Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) and fly to the edge of space (and still does; go to Thunder City in South Africa and for a few thousand quid you can take a ride in one). Currently, Rolls-Royce engines have around 40% of the global market, powering the Airbus A380 (the world’s largest passenger aircraft), the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the RAF’s latest fighter aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon.

So over 100 years of aviation, Rolls-Royce aero engines have been at the forefront of progress and innovation—and look set to continue to do so. You can imagine that Charles Rolls would have been very proud indeed.

 

Engines in the Flesh

There are plenty of places to see these classic aircraft in action, as well as in static displays.

• The best perhaps for airshows is Duxford in Cambridgeshire. The museum features regular displays of classic aircraft throughout the summer, as well as a huge collection of static aircraft, including an American B52 bomber.

• On a much smaller scale is the Shuttleworth collection at Old Warden, Bedfordshire.

It has regular airshows plus a collection of truly vintage aircraft, including the oldest airworthy British-built aeroplane, from 1912.

• A comprehensive static display can be found at the RAF museums, at Hendon and Cosford, near Birmingham.

• And of course, you can go and see Alcock and Brown’s Vimy and the Supermarine S6 at the Science Museum, London.

 

 

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A History of Gentleman’s Clubs in London

 

By Seth Alexander Thevoz

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 43)

 

Orson Welles, in a 1960s documentary on “Swinging London”, curiously decided to talk about London clubs. He thought them the antithesis of “swinging”. He said, “The club is the sanctuary of the English gentleman; the place where he goes to get away from his wife. The fact is that there’s not one wife on the whole sceptred isle who can get a foot through those massive doors, much less an American. And what’s even worse, an actor.”

Yet Welles was not unusual in being wrong on several counts. Whilst many wives were indeed excluded from London clubs, it is not accurate to say that they were off-limits to women—for several mixed and women’s-only London clubs sprouted up in the late 19th century. Nor were many clubs off-limits to actors, with some, like the Garrick and the Beefsteak, being founded with actors in mind. And an American such as Welles would have been made very welcome indeed at the American Club on Piccadilly which existed for much of the 20th century.

The lack of available sources on London clubs—combined with much rumour, innuendo and speculation—has created an enormous amount of mystique about them. My own doctoral research, into their political impact in the mid-19th century, focuses on one aspect, but their ubiquitousness as a Victorian obsession was considerable.

Clubs and politics were closely intertwined because of the effect of the three Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 on the foundation of clubs. Each time a large group of people was enfranchised, the vote became a major status symbol—these people now considered themselves middle-class, and had “arrived”. Naturally, the first instinct of a middle-class arriviste was to join a club. Unfortunately, the existing political clubs—partly because of restrictions on membership numbers and long waiting lists—wouldn’t have them. Consequently, the post-1832 electors set about establishing more inclusive clubs such as the Carlton and the Reform. These were not inclusive enough to let the post-1867 electors join, so they set up their own clubs like the Junior Carlton, and the Devonshire. (The Junior Carlton co-founded by Disraeli notably preceded the Reform Act which he saw introduced the following year.) The process happened again in the 1880s with the Constitutional and National Liberal Clubs both preceding the Third Reform Act—and these were both monolithic ‘super-clubs’; the first of a new breed of palatial late Victorian establishments providing for over 5,000 members from across the country, as opposed to the smaller clubs, typically limited to 300–1,000 members, up until then.

There is a widespread belief that clubs were an exclusively aristocratic preserve. This is true of the original 18th century gambling clubs. But by the time they spread to their greatest extent in the late 19th century, most were very much a middle-class institution—and lower-middle-class at that. The notion that great statesman could be found sipping port in the corner is false. Instead, most members would typically be “on the make”. Indeed, the young Benjamin Disraeli was a fanatical clubman from the 1830s to the 1860s, but his use of clubs seems to have declined sharply once he reached the top of “the greasy pole” and became Prime Minister. This promise of contact with the great and the good against their weariness to be accosted in their club is well-illustrated by an incident at the Carlton in the 1980s, when Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington was asked why he spent all his time at White’s when he could be spending more time in the Carlton, where he was also a member. He responded, “I go to my club to avoid the kind of people one finds in the Carlton.”

The phenomenal growth of working men’s clubs around Britain in the late nineteenth century, particularly focused across London, should also be viewed in the context of the gentlemen’s clubs of London. The two should not be confused—they had entirely separate memberships, and indeed working men’s clubs had different aims and were at least initially the product of Christian self-improvement ideology, as expressed by the Rev. Henry Solly from the 1860s onwards. Nonetheless, they were aspirational, and attempted to repeat the basic club business model and to introduce it to new sections of society in order to give them responsibility. Also, like many gentlemen’s clubs, they soon departed considerably from their original founding ideals, and became primarily focused on their social agenda. Furthermore, while there was a wide divergence in the type of premises, with many poorer working men’s clubs having sparse and underfunded facilities, the larger ones enjoyed extravagant clubhouses which compared quite favourably with the smaller gentlemen’s clubs. Thus despite very separate spheres for the different memberships, working men’s clubs and gentlemen’s clubs shared the same basic assumptions about a controlled environment for members.

The most common club business model was pioneered by the Union Club in 1797, which was the first to be jointly owned by its own members. The previous business model, which became much rarer, was the proprietary model, in which the club was run for profit by a group or individual, much as a pub might be. Several proprietary clubs such as White’s and Boodle’s switched to becoming members-owned clubs in the nineteenth century to ensure their stability. Meanwhile, the proprietary model was taken to the limit by the United Club in Mayfair, which was actually an extension of the adjoining United Hotel, with the former owned by the latter. After being named in court proceedings, it discouraged other clubs from going down quite such a commercialised route.

The increasing number of gentlemen’s clubs presented numerous opportunities for husbands to either avoid going home for most of the evening, or at least provided them with alibis for enjoying less reputable nights on the town, naturally leading to some jealousy at home. Partially in response, the late nineteenth century saw experimentation with women’s clubs. The very first was the short-lived Ladies’ Institute on Grosvenor Square, which also served as the office of The English Woman’s Journal. Unfortunately, the journal racked up considerate debts and the club closed its doors in 1867, after only seven years—but the club served as an exemplar to others. The next few decades saw the arrival of such clubs as the Ladies’ Army and Navy Club for the wives and daughters of officers, and the Ladies’ Athenaeum for ladies with an interest in the arts. Yet, despite central premises, these clubs often suffered from precarious funding and their buildings were often less impressive than the purpose-built clubhouses for men, being more typically a converted townhouse. A typical case is that of the Ladies’ Athenaeum on Dover Street, which was wholly dependent upon the patronage of Lady Randolph Churchill. When she passed away, the club could not remain solvent for more than two years.

There were also some experiments at mixed men’s and women’s clubs such as the Empress Club and the Lyceum Club. Unfortunately, they were a casualty of the Oscar Wilde scandal. One of the most prominent of their number was the Albemarle Club on Albemarle Street, where the Marquess of Queensbury tried to visit Oscar Wilde and left his calling card addressed “to Oscar Wilde, posing as a somdomite [sic]”, which led to Wilde’s disastrous libel suit. The citing of the club in subsequent court proceedings—and staple mentions of both Wilde and his wife being members—had a dramatic and negative effect on the reputation of mixed clubs. Barring a few clubs founded around specific gender issues, such as the mixed-sex Suffrage Club of the 1910s, mixed clubs rapidly died out, and it was not until the 1970s (and in some cases the 2000s) that many gentlemen’s clubs began admitting women. Thus clubland was briefly a mixed-sex environment with women’s clubs and mixed clubs in the late nineteenth century, but these were often the first clubs to close in the early twentieth century, leaving it a largely masculine environment in the early and mid twentieth century.

Clubland was also overwhelmingly white. Formal racial barriers to club membership were rare—although the ultra-Protestant National Club made a point of excluding Jews and Catholics. Despite the scarcity of formal barriers, it was extremely rare for clubs to admit members from Britain’s ethnic minorities. There were some examples, such as the Jewish member Henri Louis Bisscoffsheim at the Carlton in the 1870s, and the Parsi Indian member Dadabhai Naoroji at the National Liberal in the 1890s, but these were exceptions rather than the rule. The system of “blackballing” nominations for new members made it unnecessary to cite the rationale behind rejecting nominees, and so it is difficult to quantify precisely how great a barrier racial prejudice was to club membership, even though something may be inferred from the Guards’ Club stipulation that they admit no Irish or Welsh Guards, until well into the mid-twentieth century.

London’s expatriate communities responded by setting up their own clubs—there were not only four Irish clubs, a Caledonian Club and a separate Scottish Club, as well as a Welsh Club, but also clubs such as the Scandinavian Club, and the Canning Club for Latin Americans. (George Canning’s tenure as Foreign Secretary saw a great rapprochement with South America.) Numerous other groups also had their own club, particularly the professions, such as the Coventry Club for diplomats and the Smithfield Club for cattle breeders, both of which were on or near Piccadilly. The legal profession, with the Inns of Court providing club-like facilities in central London, were conspicuous in their absence, barring the short-lived Law Club of the 1830s, which operated from the back of the Law Society on Chancery Lane.

St. James’s has traditionally been the heart of clubland. The main clubs of the 18th century were all built on or directly off St. James’s Street; but from the establishment of the Guards’ Club in 1815, Pall Mall increasingly became the focus of London clubs, until competition became fierce among clubs wishing to relocate to the street, with the Royal Automobile Club demolishing the War Office building to pave the way for their new clubhouse in the 1900s, and the Kennel Club operating from the somewhat incongruous address 29a Pall Mall.

Ultimately, London clubs dominated much of central London. An estimated 400 gentlemen’s clubs, with anything from 50,000–200,000 members, and 188 working men’s clubs with 72,524 known members, dominated a large slice of London life. They reached their peak in the 1880s and 1890s, before the ravages of the First World War and changing social habits. For many Victorian men—and some women—they were the social venue of choice, with members being able to control who they met. They allowed members on often fairly modest incomes to have access to extravagant rooms. In being founded around themes such as political parties, the military, or schools and universities, they became entrenched “respectable” Victorian institutions. They were a focal point for different trades and professions, with membership often conferring a sense of achievement. Furthermore, as Antonia Taddei has observed, clubs had extended so far by the late Victorian era that almost any middle-class man could find at least one club which would admit him sooner or later.

Further Reading

For amusing anecdotes, look no further than:

Anthony Lejeune, The Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, Malcolm Lewis, London, 1979. (Sumptuously illustrated but rare and generally selling for in excess of £100.)

John Timbs, Club Life of London, 2 vols, Richard Bentley, London, 1866. (Many, many subsequent reprints until 1908, most of them in 1 volume editions. Contains anecdotes of the clubs, coffee-houses and taverns of the metropolis during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries)

For a more serious, perceptive and scholarly look at clubs, I can strongly recommend the following essays, articles and papers:

W. Fraser Rae, ‘Political Clubs and Organisations’, Nineteenth Century, Vol. 3 (1878) pp.908–32

Jane Rendell, ‘The Clubs of St. James’s: places of public patriarchy—exclusivity, domesticity and secrecy’, Journal of Architecture (1999) pp.167–89

Amy Milne-Smith, ‘A Flight to Domesticity? Making a Home in the Gentlemen’s Clubs of London, 1880–1914’, Journal of British Studies, 45:4 (2006) pp.796–818

—, ‘Club Talk: Gossip, masculinity, and the importance of oral communities in late nineteenth-century London’, Gender and History, 21:1 (2009) pp.86-109

Antonia Taddei, ‘London Clubs in the Nineteenth Century’, University of Oxford Discussion Papers in Economic and Social History, No. 28 (1999)

And, of course, I can’t help but mention my own ongoing research into London clubs, for a Ph.D. thesis on ‘The political impact of London clubs, c.1832–1868’.

 

 

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Duelling For Dummies

 

By Anton Krause

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 41)

 

For the purposes of this article a duel can be defined as an engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons, over a matter of honour, conducted according to an agreed set of rules or conventions. Duelling was commonly practised in European society between the 11th and early 20th centuries.

The purpose of a duel was often not to kill the opponent (although that may be the outcome) but instead to gain satisfaction, that is to restore one’s honour by demonstrating a willingness to risk one’s life for it. Whilst the duel is often likened to, and may have evolved from, the previous trials by combat, duels differ in that they have no official sanction and their intention was not to determine guilt or innocence. In fact duels were illegal in most of Europe for much of the time that they were practised, although they were socially accepted; participants in a fair duel were rarely prosecuted and if they were were rarely convicted.

Duelling was an upper-class past-time. Only gentlemen were considered to possess honour and so only they could lose it, and duelling was reserved for social equals. If a gentleman’s honour were offended by a member of the lower classes he would not duel with him but more likely beat him with a riding crop or whip for his insolence or have his servants do it for him.

As duelling became more popular formalised sets of rules began to appear. Although they differed slightly from nation to nation they were very similar. The conventions set out below were common to many of these codes and not taken from any one single document:

1. After an offence, either real or imagined, the offended party would demand satisfaction of the offender, either verbally or with an insulting gesture. This could consist of throwing down the gauntlet. Contrary to popular conception the challenger would not issue the challenge by slapping the offender in the face with a glove but by throwing the glove on the floor at the offender’s feet. The offender would signal their intention to accept the challenge by picking up the glove and slapping the challenger.

2. All duels must take place during the forty-eight hours succeeding the offence, unless otherwise agreed, but at least twelve hours after the challenge, to provide a cooling-off period during which matters could be settled verbally.

3. Each party would appoint a second to represent them who would agree on a suitable field of honour where the encounter would take place. Advantageous criteria for a field of honour would include isolation, to avoid discovery and interruption, and jurisdictional ambiguity, to make it less likely that the victorious party would be prosecuted. Common land or islands in rivers dividing two jurisdictions would be ideal locations.

4. Duels typically took place at dawn when few passers-by would be stirring and poor light would mask the identities of the participants. Swordsmen duelling at dawn often carried lanterns and some fencing manuals incorporated them into their lessons, using them to blind opponents or parry blows.

5. The seconds would mark out the combat area (roughly 20 by 6 yards marked by dropped handkerchiefs) and the starting spot of each duellist (two feet between the tips of their extended weapons). To leave the field of play was considered an act of cowardice and would signify defeat without honour.

6. The seconds would also check that the weapons were of equal length and see that they were rinsed in antiseptic to avoid infection. This was not a hugely successful precaution, however, as the two most common causes of death from duelling were drowning in one’s own blood due to a punctured lung or dying days later from an infection in a minor wound.

7. The sword-bearing hand could be gloved or wrapped in a handkerchief but no end was allowed to hang down that might catch the opponent’s point.

8. Combatants were required to throw off their coats and unbutton their shirts to show that they wore no armour or protective clothing. This is considered to be the reason men’s shirts button the opposite way to

women’s as it makes it easier to unbutton with the left hand.

9. At the drop of a handkerchief or the cry “Allez” the fight would commence, with the seconds close at hand with sword or cane, point down, ready to stop the fight if the rules were transgressed. Doctors would also be in attendance.

10. Unless previously agreed combatants were not allowed to ward off opponents’ blows with their unarmed hand and if they transgressed the offending hand would be tied behind their backs. (This is from the 1836 Code and would not have applied during the rapier-and-dagger era).

11. Opponents were allowed to stoop, rise, vault to the right or left and turn around each other “as practiced in the fencing lessons and depicted in the various treatises on the art”.

12. When one man was wounded the fight was stopped by his second (by raising his cane or sword and crying “strike up the blades” and the wound inspected by a surgeon.

13. Fights could be fought

a. To first blood (rare, considered dishonourable and unmanly), in which case the duel would end here with honour satisfied.

b. Until one party was unable to continue, in which case the wound would be inspected and the combatant possibly sent back into the ring, or

c. Until death (also rare, although death often resulted from the second case).

14. If two serving officers were involved and one were to receive a disabling injury, had the duel been arranged with the permission of the injured party’s commanding officer it would have been considered a battle wound and entitle the bearer to a pension.

15. There were even special regulations for bishops, despite their being forbidden to fight by the church.

 

The formality of the duel favoured weapons that enforced physical distancing. Brawling was not considered gentlemanly. This first meant swords and then later pistols which did away with physical contact altogether. For many years both weapons were used and a choice could be offered by the challenger. Surprisingly, pistols were generally safer. As Lord Peter Wimsey put it, “A bullet, you see, may go anywhere, but steel’s bound to go somewhere.”

Over the centuries the European sword gradually got smaller and lighter, evolving from the two-handed broadsword of the era of chivalry, through the hand-and-a-half or “bastard” sword to the rapier. The rapier was the first true civilian sword, its name coming from the Spanish espada ropera, or “sword of the robe”, and it was designed to be worn with civilian clothing. Although light enough to be used in one hand it was still too heavy to be easily manoeuvred between attack and defence and was often paired with a companion weapon. This could be a parrying dagger or main gauche, a buckler (a small shield which straps to the fist) or even one’s cloak if attacked unawares (hence the term “cloak and dagger”).

Following the rapier came the French small-sword, a weapon that was very light and manoeuvrable and required no companion, leading to the side-on stance seen in modern fencing, with the unarmed hand out of the way. The small-sword, the predecessor of the modern épée, was a thrusting weapon only, with no cutting edge and no weight to facilitate effective cutting penetration. What it did have, however, was the deadly combination of a razor-sharp point and blinding speed. As the sword became lighter fencing masters and practitioners realised that the thrust was much more effective than the cut, being both faster and less telegraphed, and the fact that a punctured torso was likely to lead to the loss of a major organ. For these reasons the small-sword is considered by many to be the ultimate duelling blade.

To give an idea of the numbers involved here are some statistics from various European countries:

 

• A bill outlawing duelling (one of many) was passed in the House of Commons in 1844. In the debate one member reckoned that during the reign of King George III there had been 172 duels, 91 of which had led to fatalities.

• King Louis XIII of France outlawed duelling in 1626 and duels remained illegal in France ever after. At least one nobleman was beheaded for fighting a duel during Louis’ reign and his successor Louis XIV intensified efforts to wipe out the epidemic of duelling. To no avail. Between 1685 and 1716 French officers fought over 10,000 duels leading to over 400 deaths. Note that the number of duels is high but the percentage leading to death quite low and it was often said that duelling in France was treated as a fashion accessory. Mark Twain once quipped that, “The French duel is the most health-giving of recreations owing to the open-air exercise it affords.”

• In Italy from 1879 to 1889, 2,759 duels were reported, 93 per cent with swords; 3,901 wounds were inflicted, 1,066 serious, 50 fatal.

 

Duelling was never eradicated but gradually it became less fashionable as the new scientific age came in. Fencing became a sport and duelling with sharp blades was considered barbaric. Boxing also took some of its mantle as the Queensberry Rules encouraged gentlemen to settle their grievances in the ring with gloves rather than swords or pistols.

As Oscar Wilde said, “To abolish war, show it not as wicked but as vulgar.” It didn’t work for war but it did for duelling. In the end it disappeared when it came to be considered not gallant but vulgar.

 

 

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Smoke and Mirrors

 

By Sean Longden

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 38)

 

Though primarily now known in the UK courtesy of numerous TV adaptations—in which the Parisian detective became a sort of Sunday evening figure, like some Gallic Miss Marple—Inspector  (or to give him his correct title Superintendant) Jules Maigret is possibly 20th Century literature’s greatest crime fighter—or at least my favourite.

Like so much that we associate as quintessentially French (the great singer Jacques Brel or the ridiculous Johnny Hallyday, or wonderful food) Maigret was actually the creation of a Belgian. Liège-born Georges Simenon was one of the century’s most prolific authors—producing some 400 books including 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring his favourite detective. He was also a prolific lover, with more than 3,000 women reportedly passing through his bedroom—although many of the tally were reportedly prostitutes.

Written between 1931 and 1972—by which time the detective, if we are to go by the clues within the books, would have been somewhere between 65 and 88—the Maigret novels sold millions of copies worldwide. In 1931 Simenon produced an incredible 11 Maigret books, with six more the following year. Interestingly, earlier this year I visited Book Barn in Somerset. If anyone hasn’t visited it, it’s a haven for book lover. As its name suggests, it’s a barn full of millions of second-hand books. But despite Simenon having sold millions of copies of hundreds of books since the 1930s, I could not find a single copy in the entire barn. It was a bitter blow.

Over the years, Maigret became a timeless character, always seemingly on the verge of retirement. Hints within the books put his date of birth somewhere between the 1880s and 1907. According to one book, Maigret was born 1884 in Saint-Fiacre, France, although different birth dates can be concluded from different books—in one book his birthdate is 1907—making it unlikely he could have solved his first case in 1916, as is suggested in another novel. He is married to Louise, who is almost exclusively referred to as Madame Maigret in the books, and they had a daughter who died at birth. Such is the detail given of Maigret’s dometic life that in France it is even possible to purchase a cookery book based on Monsieur and Madame Maigret’s favourite dishes.

Five foot eleven tall, broad shouldered, with powerful hands, he is a physically imposing man and hardly the obvious image of a thoughtful detective. However, these books provided us with a character whose strengths were less an ability to search for minute clues—rather, he observed his suspects, focussing on flaws in their character and details of their behaviour to build his case, before allowing the criminal to reveal themselves.

Just as all literary crime-fighters have their foibles, Maigret has plenty of interesting habits. Yet he is less flawed than many of his ilk. Simenon knew how to build a subtle character without need to resort to the worn clichés of dark secrets and hidden vices. There is no place for mistresses in Maigret’s life—he is a devoted husband. But he does have very particular interests and it is these details of Maigret’s life that I shall focus on.

Firstly, I am not a great fan of the detective novel. I appreciate Simenon’s way of using Maigret—allowing him slowly to build up a picture of the crime and the criminals—never rushing in, never arresting people even when he is certain of their guilt. Instead, he prefers to create a subtle trap, allowing the suspect to be lulled into a false sense of security and slowly incriminate themselves.

Yet it was not the elements of the crime-solving process that attracted me to Maigret. Of course I was struck by Simenon’s ability to conjure up vivid images of Parisian life, having always been enamoured by the 1930s as the end of an era. I also adored the way a city’s weather is portrayed.

However, on my first encounter with Maigret, in the book A Bar By The Seine, I was taken by another element. Just a few pages in, Maigret takes a break from his investigations to answer a vital question—what hat should he purchase? Should it be the classic elegance of a brown high-crowned bowler or maybe something in grey? I was hooked.

Reading a selection of the books at the same time as I was re-reading the James Bond novels, I was struck by something that suited my own way of thinking. Bond is seen as the great style icon. However, one should always remember that somehow Bond, though devoted to the artistry of the Savile Row tailors, seems to have a peculiar love for short-sleeved polyester shirts. He even wears nylon underwear. I realise this put him at the cutting edge of 1950s modernism, but as a character Bond was at the start of an unsettling new world that led over the next thirty years to the shellsuit. It a new world of which I am not a great fan. Maigret marks the end of the old world of pure fabrics, heavy cloths and agonising decisions over whether to wear a raincoat or overcoat. A world that, I suppose, I yearn for.

It didn’t take long to realise that clothes, alcohol, smoking and a general disregard for the modern world were as important (at least to me as a reader) as the solving of crimes. As a lawyer notes in one of the novels, “Maigret is a detective of the old school.” He then notes that Maigret is out of date, a man who, by the 1950s, was out of step with the modern world. This is a detective who lives and works in central Paris. He is devoted to his wife and—harking back to a forgotten era—he is a man who often goes home for lunch. A favourite thing for me is the relationship between Maigret and his wife. Suitably, she is Alsatian—that is, from one of France’s less fashionable regions. From her background Maigret gets his love of sauerkraut and vins d’Alsace. To me, that makes her more interesting—and less obvious—than had she been from one of the more fashionable regions. For a modern reader it would be ridiculous were she to be from the fashionable Provence region—so half French/half German Alsace makes perfect sense and adds to the charm of the books.

In his office Maigret has fought back the tide of modernism by refusing to allow central heating to be installed. Instead, he insists that his stove remains in place, preferring the heat of a real coal fire, which helps him to concentrate and thus sets him up for solving crimes. In one unforgettable moment, at the end of his investigation, Maigret gives cocaine to an unfortunate female addict who was involved in his case. Always unconventional, at another point he allows a convicted killer to escape in order to track down the real perpetrator of the crimes. He is a deep, complicated, highly intelligent man. He makes notes in a small cheap notebook, that he seldom needs to consult. When a suspect receives a beating from Maigret or his men, it is not to force a confession but to allow him to observe the victim’s reactions. When he threatens to frame a suspect for living off immoral earnings, you know that this is no idle threat—he would do it without raising an eyebrow. As his British friend, Inspector Pyke, who travels to Paris to observe his methods noted, “Maigret has no method at all.”

            Just like his creator Georges Simenon, Inspector Maigret is a devoted pipe smoker. Every image of the detective seems to feature a pipe, which he fills from a worn leather tobacco pouch, and his office is usually full of swirling smoke. His colleagues even have to warn him to stop smoking when he enters a hospital—a far cry from today’s world of Health and Safety in which smoking is forbidden almost everywhere. Indeed at times, the trademark hat, raincoat and pipe combination is so familiar that-it risks the idle observer confusing him with the other French icon, Jacques Tati’s Monsieur Hulot.

Yet there the similarity ends. Maigret himself has no comic elements. He is dedicated to his work, allowing no interference with his methods. During one case he uses the excuse of leaving a pipe behind to go back and ask some follow-up questions, returning to his suspects hoping to catch them unprepared (not unlike the similarly heavily-coated Lt Columbo). At times, he uses his pipe to buy time—especially when talking with the twin evils of suspects and meddling superiors—using a few puffs to compose himself, preparing his next answer. As many of us know, the pipe has a luxurious calming quality, allowing the holder an air of detachment that no other smoking device allows. Even by arranging his pipes in front of himself on his desk, Maigret uses the time to compose himself and concentrate. We do not learn which tobacco he smokes but do learn that it is only a pipe he smokes—not cigars, not cigarettes.

The books are also full of drinking references. Maigret is never seen drunk. He enjoys drink, consumes it regularly and routinely but it never dominates his life—even though he is known to have a drink with breakfast. Just as in his investigations, he remains in charge whatever the appearance might be. He uses going out for a drink as an excuse for avoiding his bosses. He has a drink for every occasion: beer is his tipple of choice (after all, as he points out, he is not of the cocktail generation)—usually a small one with lunch or the regular tray of beer and sandwiches fetched from a nearby bar to keep his team going during late-night investigations. When they telephone the bar to ask for beer, the patron asks if they require sandwiches as a matter of course. The requests of Maigret and his team are familiar, meaning that the bar sends over a waiter to bring the beer and sandwiches on a tray.

Here’s a man who likes to go for a walk rather than take a cab back to his office—the walk both clears his head and gives him an excuse to stop for a beer to quench his thirst. Sometimes he returns to his desk at lunchtime to find that his devoted staff have got a glass of beer waiting for him. Like most of our continental neighbours he likes his beer cold, in a small glass and with a foaming head.

But there are moments when nothing but a glass of plum brandy will do—meaning he keeps a bottle both in his office and at home. His wife knows exactly the time to offer him that or to give him framboise with his coffee. Or a rum. And he likes a hot toddy for a cold damp day. Or a light white wine whenever he goes out with Madame Maigret.

He knows his drinks, worrying about how many stars appear on the label of the brandy he buys in a bar. When whiling away time in an unfamiliar café he studies the labels of aperitif bottles—the bottles familiar to him as those he remembers from the cafés of his childhood. Unlike most of us, who might order a coffee when we have drunk too much brandy, Maigret orders brandy to take away the cloying taste of too much coffee. He is a man who knows waiters and barmen throughout Paris—a 20-year relationship is nothing unusual. After all Maigret lived in a time when the barman and waiter were appreciated for their craft, not just some Polish girl looking for employment far from home. He can summon them at a glance and know that he’ll get the drink he wants.

In the novel The Yellow Dog, Maigret leaves Paris for a seaside town. There he is able to set himself up in a local bar. It is his natural environment. The biggest concern is that someone poisons a drink, making it unsafe to drink anything for a time. When asked about a particular location, he summons up his memories of the place. His first memory is the light white wine he had drunk with the meal. That is how he builds his memories.

Maigret was the product of a novelist with a deep interest in clothing. In Simenon’s novels the reader meets a character who use the swapping of bespoke suits for some cheaper ones as a way of casting off the life he is bored with. When he wants to return to this life it is his tailor he returns to.

One journalist noted Simenon’s interest in clothing: “Now in front of me I have Georges Simenon, très élégant, in a cashmere sweater, gray flannel trousers, ocher shoes made to the foot, which is to say, hand-made. But I didn’t come to see Simenon to speak of his shoemaker... although his shoe-racks and wardrobe are very impressive—something like sixty pairs of shoes, a hundred fifty outfits of all types, so many shirts and shoes that on the first floor of the house there’s a large room especially fitted out as at a tailor’s, with a dressing room and sets of mirrors that allow you to verify the drape of a jacket on your back.”

Looking at a biography of Simenon I noted a picture of his wife during the 1930s. She is wearing the perfect period sailor suit, complete with wide trousers. In a novel of the same period the outfit appears again on a woman at a summer’s Sunday afternoon riverside party. In the same book, Maigret gets his first break in the invest-igation when visiting a hat shop and agonising over what to chose. Later he visits a second- hand clothing shop, giving the attentive and specialised reader the opportunity to imagine the beauty of all those heavy woollen overcoats and thick formal jackets that would have lurked in the 1930s equivalent of a vintage clothing stop. For me, such places are a dream—places one seldom actually finds.

Georges Simenon’s own interest in clothing, and pursuit of good manners, can be seen from one anecdote regarding his response to one actor who played his character. Jean Richard had a long run playing the character on French television. However, Simenon is said to have disliked Richard’s Maigret because he did not take his hat off when he entered a room. Simenon had always used Maigret’s hat as a device—he always removes it when speaking to ladies, but leaves it on to register displeasure with a female.

Without a doubt the Inspector is a traditionalist. Almost without fail he wears an overcoat or raincoat—often agonising over which to wear for the weather. His overcoats have a velvet collar, which seems rather ostentatious for someone who is quite staid. Yet one must remember he is—as we would say—an Edwardian man. The velvet collar is of that period, quite traditional.

Unlike most cinematic and televisual depictions of Maigret, the novels show his preferred hat as the bowler—rather than the broad-brimmed trilby most commonly shown. In the novels, his felt hat was only worn after 1945, when fashions had changed. Whilst television interpretations set in the 1930s tend incorrectly to give him this hat.

We know he prefers his clothes to come from a tailor, favouring a Jewish man in the Rue de Turenne. He wears a three-piece suit—always wears his waistcoat—in grey or black. Like his overcoat, this is of a heavy wool. His trousers are held up by braces, but he takes a dislike to ones made from bright silk. Ever the traditionalist, he wears a shirt with detachable collars, in an era when such collars were beginning to disappear. Only occasionally in the post-war period did he occasionally wear integral collars, following the fashions of the period.

Even in the heat of the Riviera, Maigret needs to remain formal, wearing a coat to remind those around him that he is on duty and not on holiday. This is not a man for wearing shorts and flip-flops. Yet he has a softer side—despite the formality of his bearing, he yearns to take his jacket off and potter around in his shirtsleeves.

During one case Maigret gets his lead when he becomes concerned about a suspect’s clothing—in particular his brown suit. The man denies ownership of a blue suit yet owns a blue overcoat. Maigret is confused—why would the man own a blue overcoat if his only suit is brown? After all, it is a terrible clash.

Even Mrs Maigret assists her husband. In one case she provides the clues by her observations about the clothes and shoes worn by a female suspect, noting that a servant’s shoes did not match with the dress of a duchess.

In one book, Maigret And The Idle Burglar, Simenon uses my favourite descriptions of Maigret as a troubled and solitary man, wrapped in his own thoughts and refusing interruptions. When this happens, we are told he is in a “Brown Study”. It conjures up images of something I would like to turn from a state of mind into a reality—a tobacco-stained smoking room

complete with leather chair, bookcase and whisky glass. It’s a place where I would happily while away the hours, regardless of whether or not I had any crimes to solve.

 

 

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Fitzrovia Pubs

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 37)

 

In his 12-volume novel A Dance to the Music of Time Anthony Powell mentions several pubs in that area north of Oxford Street known as Fitzrovia (after the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street).

In A Buyer’s Market the antique dealer Mr Deacon’s shop is located nearby: “Charlotte Street, as it stretches north towards Fitzroy Square, retains a certain unprincipled integrity of character, though its tributaries reach out to the east, where, in Tottenham Court Road, structural anomalies pass all bounds of reason, and west, into a nondescript ocean of bricks and mortar from which hospitals, tenements and warehouses gloomily manifest themselves in shapeless bulk above mean shops.”

Three of the Fitzrovia pubs mentioned (in the novel Books Do Furnish a Room, as frequented by X. Trapnel, based on the writer Julian Maclaren-Ross) are The French Polishers’ Arms (probably based on the Bricklayers’ Arms), the Marquess of Sleaford (probably the Marquis of Granby), and the Hero of Acre (almost certainly the Wheatsheaf on Rathbone Place).

The Hero is described thus: “one of those old-fashioned pubs in grained pitchpine with engraved looking-glass (what Mr Deacon used to call a ‘gin palace’), was anatomised into half-a-dozen or more separate compartments, subtly differentiating, in the traditional British manner, social divisions of its clienele, according to temperament or means: saloon bar: public bar: private bar: ladies’ bar: wine bar: off-licence: possibly others too.”

In his various autobiographical writings, Julian Maclaren-Ross often wrote about Fitzrovia and its pubs. The Bricklayers’ Arms, he notes, was “better known as the Burglars Rest because a gang of burglars had once broken into it and afterwards slept the night on the premises, leaving behind them as evidence many empties… The Burglars was a quiet house, useful for a business talk or to take a young woman whom one did not know well.”

The Black Horse on Rathbone Place was apparently a sombre Victorian pub, as befitted the suggestion of plumed hearses implied by its name, with a narrow tiled passage leading to the various bars divided by partitions of scrolled and embossed glass, including a Ladies’ Bar (no gentlemen admitted) “where old dears in dusty black toasted departed husbands with port and lemon from black leather settles”. Maclaren-Ross says that the funereal atmosphere had so affected the late proprietor “that he had set out deliberately to commit suicide by drinking solidly for three days and nights behind closed doors, and when these were eventually battered down by police his dead body was found surrounded by empty bottles on the saloon bar floor”.

The Marquis of Granby had a reputation as the pub where the most fights broke out, “despite the efforts of the landlord, an ex-policeman, to keep order and put down disorderly conduct. Gigantic guardsmen went there in search of homosexuals to beat up and rob and, finding none, fought instead each other: one summer evening, in broad daylight, a man was savagely killed by several others in a brawl outside while a crowd gathered on the pavement to watch and was dispersed only by the arrival of a squad from Goodge Street Police Station nearby, by which time the killers had made their getaway in someone else’s car.”

Entering the Wheatsheaf shortly after this incident, Maclaren-Ross was surprised to find it empty except for a local tart who told him, “Oh, they’ve all gone to see the bloke being kicked to death outside the Marquis dear,” and added that the sound of the thumps was “somethink awful”.

In the 1940s the focus of bohemian life shifted from the Fitzroy Tavern to the Wheatsheaf. The pub was a Younger’s Scotch Ale house and the door to the saloon bar was down an alleyway dominated from above by a perspective of tall tenement buildings with steel outside staircases in the Tottenham Court Road beyond. Maclaren-Ross noted that the alleyway was “often blocked by motor milk-vans owned by two stout Italian brothers who ran a small creamery business round the corner of the alley. When the milk-vans were parked too high up and customers had difficulty in squeezing past to enter the bar, the Wheatsheaf landlord would fling wide the door, and slapping the sides of the vans, shout with flailing arms at the Italian brothers who grinning good humouredly would shift their vans further down. The name of the brothers was Forte.”

The saloon bar of the Wheatsheaf is described as “not large but cheerful, warm in winter, and always brightly lit, good blackout boards fitting tightly over the windows of armorial glass [still there today] and the floor spread with scarlet linoleum. It had mock-Tudor panelling and, inset round the walls, squares of tartan belonging to various Scottish clans.”

Apparently “curtain up” on an evening in the Wheatsheaf was “signalled by the arrival on the dot of six of Mrs Stewart, who lived on her old-age pension in one of the tenements at the foot of the alley... Mrs Stewart was a very small elderly lady dressed in black silk with yellow-white hair and she arrived always carrying two evening papers in which to do the crossword and an alarm-clock to time herself by.” Maclaren-Ross’ habitual corner was at the bar next to Mrs Stewart’s table and he says it became his duty to “to keep Mrs Stewart’s place, to pass over the Guinnesses in exchange for the exact money produced from her purse, and to see that well-intentioned idiots did not try to help her with the crosswords, a thing she hated above all.”

Other Wheatsheaf regulars included “the old Home Guard who though extremely old wore on his tunic medal ribbons of more campaigns than even he could possibly have served in”. Another was the orange-faced woman (so called because of the many layers of make-up which she wore which made it impossible to assess her age), “whose presence in the pub made it sound like a parrot house in the zoo and who was reputed to have green silk sheets on her bed (though no man was brave enough to investigate the rumour)”. There was also Sister Ann, “the tart who was more respectable than many other female customers”:

“Sister Ann was short and wholesome-looking and always wore russet-brown tweeds and a round russet-brown hat in shape like a schoolgirl’s. She used no make-up except for two round red spots on her round apple cheeks, for she was no common brass and her chosen clientele wanted nothing loud or flashy, consisting as it did of middle-aged or elderly businessmen from up North who liked the sort of girl that might have been a sister to them (she was shocked when I suggested this relationship was incestuous and said she was surprised to hear a man of my education using nasty dirty words like that to a woman, and she certainly never did anything of that sort, thank you dear).

“Ann’s beat was under the Guinness clock in Tottenham Court Road: ‘You catch them going into the tube or coming out for a day up in London dear, and maybe they’re lost and don’t know where to go or they don’t want to catch a train home just yet awhile, either way they’re glad to spend an hour or two with a girl they can talk to quiet like, poor blokes.’”

The Wheatsheaf is still the scene of bohemian London life. Groups such as the Sohemian Society meet there, and it hosts book launches and editorial meetings of The Chap magazine.

 

 

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Famous Typewriters

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 36)

 

Here’s a selection of writers and the typewriters they used:

 

Raymond Chandler: Underwood Noiseless.

 

Agatha Christie: Remington 5 (portable).

 

William Faulkner: Underwood Standard Portable, Royal KHM.

 

Ian Fleming: Royal portables (one was gold-plated).

 

Dashiell Hammett: Royal De Luxe.

 

Ernest Hemingway: Corona 3, Underwood Noiseless Portable, various Royal portables, Halda portable.

 

Jack Kerouac: Underwood portable (On the Road was typed on a continuous roll of paper).

 

Rudyard Kipling: Remington Noiseless (in late life).

 

George Orwell: Remington Home Portable (a name variant of the #3).

 

Anthony Powell: Olympia SM 9.

 

J.B. Priestley: Imperial Good Companion.

 

Georges Simenon: Royal 10.

 

John Steinbeck: Hermes Baby.

 

Mark Twain: Sholes & Glidden.

 

John Updike: Olivetti MP1 portable.

 

P.G. Wodehouse: Monarch; Royal (bought reluctantly when the Monarch died).

 

William S. Burroughs: Throughout the 1950s he owned various typewriters, since he was constantly pawning them. Many of his manuscripts were done on a Remington. The Naked Lunch was typed from handwritten notes by Jack Kerouac, presumably on Kerouac’s Underwood. In a 1965 Paris Review interview Burroughs says he uses a Facit Portable. By the 1970s he was using an Olympia SG1.

 

 

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The T-Team

 

Combining Ian Fleming, Nazi scientists, daring military advances, James Bond villains, safe breakers released from Wormwood Scrubs, archetypal British muddling through and a twelve-year old bottle of Scotch,T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945 could only be a book from the pen of a New Sheridan Club member. It might sound like a novel, but historian Sean Longden, who earlier this year entertained the club with a history of fashion in the British Army, has turned his attention to one of the last forgotten true stories of World War Two: T-Force.

 

By Sean Longden

 

(Newsletter No. 35)

 

Established in late 1944, “Target Force” was given the role of searching Germany for secret weapons, research facilities and the scientists responsible for Nazi projects such as nuclear and chemical weapons, jet engines, V2 missiles and high-speed submarines. During the advance into Germany, T-Force set off alone, often occupying towns and factories in advance of the main British forces.

Their tactics were simple: rush to the target, secure the perimeter, detain all the staff and then send in teams of scientific experts to assess what they found. The sight of these scientists, fresh from UK universities and research facilities, dressed in military uniform and surrounded by grubby British infantrymen, must have perplexed the civilian population.

They employed various methods to ensure the cooperation of German scientists. One obstructive and unrepentant Nazi was subdued by driving a tank up to his factory and pointing the gun through his office window. Expert “safe crackers”, who had been released on licence from prisons in the UK, were then set to work blowing off the doors to reveal secret documents. In one port, T-Force soldiers came under fire from sailors on the deck of a battleship. They returned fire, then boarded and took control of the vessel, laying claim to being the only British army unit to capture a German battleship.

What T-Force located was staggering. At one target they entered two miles of underground tunnels in which jet fighters were rolling off the production line. Most notably, T-Force located a nuclear research laboratory hidden beneath the straw-covered barn floor in which scientists were still hard at work. On a more gruesome note, T-Force secured the main German chemical weapons research facility and with it uncovered photographs showing how Nazi scientists had tested a new generation of gases—including Sarin and Tabun—on concentration camp inmates. They also searched for V2 rockets which were later used by the British in post-war missile tests.

What made the success of T-Force more remarkable was that this elite unit was not selected from the usual suspects—commandos, the SAS or paratroopers. Instead it was a melange of wounded soldiers recently released from hospitals, victims of “shell shock”, former artillerymen and sailors from landing-craft crews. There were both old hands and virgin soldiers among the ranks, not forgetting the aforementioned scientists and criminals. As for the officers, the commander of T-Force was given the job simply because, as the army’s head of chemical weapons, he had nothing else to do. His staff included renegades like Brian Urquhart, famously released from the Airborne Corps HQ following his opposition to Operation Market Garden, the attempt to hasten the end of the war by dropping 30,000 paratroopers behind enemy lines to capture eight key bridges.

And then there was Major Tony Hibbert, another maverick officer who had once parachuted in the full dress uniform of the Royal Horse Artillery, complete with riding breeches, riding boots and spurs. His reason was simple: he didn’t want to be late for dinner. However, by the time he had joined T-Force his sartorial standards had dropped somewhat: he was forced to wear trousers split from hip to ankle to accommodate his broken leg and plaster cast.

It was Hibbert who was responsible for T-Force’s crowning achievement, the capture of the German port of Kiel. In early May, 1945, he was ordered by the Allied headquarters to take a force of 500 men to secure the maritime research facilities in Kiel. The only problem was that the Germans had just signed a ceasefire, prohibiting any movement for the three days prior to VE Day. With the ceasefire in place he was refused permission to move, leaving him the dilemma of having to disobey one set of orders so as to be able to fulfil another. Unfazed by this dilemma, Hibbert took the matter into his own hands. Clutching a bottle of the finest 12-year-old single malt, he entered the office of the man who had refused to sign the order for T-Force to advance. The result: one very drunk officer whose hand was guided by Hibbert to sign the movement order. Hibbert himself had not been drinking, having sacrificed his precious whisky for the greater good.

Just hours later T-Force, with the broken-legged Hibbert in the leading jeep, had raced to Kiel, secured the necessary research facilities and taken the city’s surrender. It was the British Army’s last advance of the war in north-west Europe. The story did not end there: his prize for defying orders and taking Kiel was to be placed under arrest by a British general who had planned to make a ceremonial entry to the town but instead arrived on VE Day to see T-Force hanging their washing out. Fortunately, one of Hibbert’s friends handed him a bottle of champagne so he could celebrate VE Day whilst under arrest. The incident ensured that Major Hibbert claimed the dubious honour of being under arrest on both the first and last day of World War 2—on 3rd September 1939 he had been arrested for crashing his commanding officer’s car, in the process destroying the unit’s entire monthly supply of beer and spirits.

In the post-war years T-Force did not disappear but remained hard at work. At first they concentrated on clandestine operations to smuggle scientists out of the Soviet zone of Germany, to ensure they could not become communist tools in the emerging Cold War. They sent hundreds of important scientists back to the UK for interrogation or employment. They also worked to extract industrial secrets, bringing back billions of pounds worth of technological equipment to help rebuild Britain’s exhausted industries. During this period they worked hard to ensure nothing of importance fell into Soviet hands. One tactic was to disrupt the work of the Soviet reparation teams that travelled Germany in search of equipment. T-Force officers held parties where they got the Russians drunk, then switched inventories, meaning the Russians had no record of what they had laid claim to. Another tactic was to urinate in their petrol tanks, ensuring they were delayed from reaching their targets, allowing the T-Force teams to continue their work unimpeded.

Yes, I hear you ask, but where do Ian Fleming and his legendary creation James Bond fit into this story? It is well known that Fleming worked for Royal Navy intelligence during the war and that he created “30 Assault Unit” (30AU), a commando team responsible for searching for intelligence. What is less well known was that the success of 30AU inspired the High Command to create T-Force. Further to that, Fleming sat on the committee that selected the targets searched for by T-Force. Indeed, 30AU (including Patrick Dalzel-Job, the man often credited as the inspiration for James Bond himself) worked alongside T-Force in Germany.

Yet the connection does not end there. In 1945 one of the T-Force investigation teams at work in Kiel reported that the unit’s primary target—a brilliant scientist named Dr Walter—was an unrepentant Nazi who would one day re-emerge as “a villain on screen or in literature”. How right he was. Dr Helmuth Walter, Germany’s foremost designer of hydrogen-peroxide-powered rocket and jet engines, and twelve of his staff were soon taken to the UK to continue his work on high-speed submarines.

Then in 1955 Dr Walter made a shocking return in the pages of the third James Bond novel Moonraker. Without even disguising the scientist’s name, Fleming’s new novel gave the public Dr Walter, the assistant to Hugo Drax, a British multi-millionaire who is the financier for a top secret hydrogen-peroxide-powered missile project entitled “Moonraker”. The project itself, under the direct control of the fiendish Drax, is worked on by a team of fifty German scientists, all ex-Nazis, who have been taken from Germany to work on the missile—just like the real Dr Walter and his team.

The similarities do not end there. In Moonraker the British are concerned about Russian amphibious operations—fearing they might land commandos on the coast of Kent to hijack the project. In 1945 Major Hibbert had been warned that he needed to reach Kiel swiftly to secure Dr Walter, fearing that the Russians were likely to use amphibious commando operations to snatch the doctor. The connection between T-Force’s work and the inspiration for Moonraker can also be seen by the unit’s investigation of a German weapons research facility named Rheinmetal-Borsig. In Moonraker, the villain Drax is described as a former employee at the plant. Indeed, even the dash, élan and wilful disdain for the rules displayed by Major Hibbert showed Bond-like qualities.

Beyond the Bond connection, the success of T-Force and its implication for the security of the western world in the post-war period, means the officers and men of T-Force can truly be described as Britain’s first “Cold Warriors”.

 

“T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945” by Sean Longden is published by Constable on 10th September

 

 

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Breaking the Rules

 

By Artemis Scarheart

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 34)

 

Rules claims to be the oldest restaurant in London and—other than an obscure pie shop somewhere—probably is. Over the years I have had some truly excellent meat there, reared on their private game reserve somewhere in the t’North (it’s just past Watford, I think. Watford is in Scotland, isn’t it?). But for a few years there have been rumblings that it’s not quite as good as it used to be. And to be fair there is, or at least was, an element of truth to that.

It stopped being the kind of place you would see a Tory grandee having a quiet word with a Chief Constable and became a fixture on the tourist trail. To be blunt, it became better known and the internal snob never likes that—rather like the annoyance one feels when one’s favourite beat combo becomes a popular beat combo. At least I know that The Furbelows will never leave me (enough of that!—Ed). But when the craving for good meat and excellent surroundings kicks in and you can’t get a table at the Club, Rules it is.

That is how I found myself in there one recent Sunday, m’good lady and I having popped to the Knights Bar in Simpson’s beforehand for a sharpener and now relaxed, easy and ready for a slap-up feed…

“The lamb sir? Or perhaps the steak? We have several excellent cuts. I believe we may have some of the chicken left, I’ll check with the kitchen… Yes we do, some plump young birds left. Or perhaps sir would like the crab to start? The creamed potatoes are excellent tonight, madam. And perhaps you would like a cocktail after your meal? Why, in the Rules Cocktail Bar of course, sir.”

“Rules has a cocktail bar?” I demanded, my voice rising slightly.

“Why, yes, sir. A recent addition, just upstairs.”

“But this is surely a listed building, a temple to British gastronomy. Dickens ate here! You can’t start ripping out the private dining rooms to build a silly little bar where hoi polloi gather to drink over-priced, over-sugared, over-iced mohitos! The American Bar at the Savoy became a complete dump when they let standards drop and now you’re doing that here? Is nothing sacred?”

“I assure you sir that it has been done in the finest way possible. And if you will quietly sit down and enjoy a rib-eye steak, chef here will release your arms, the police won’t be called, your lady friend will stop weeping and you can see for yourself after you have dined.”

So it was, dear reader, that I tucked into a most excellent meal despite the gnawing fear about what monstrosity had been constructed upstairs. Rules has certainly turned itself around again—portion sizes are bigger, service is back on track, the stout in the pewter tankard was cold and the food is delicious. The tourist may buy a meal but the stalwart will live in a place like Rules and they have remembered this. There is not a bad table in the house and they have made excellent provision for single diners. Indeed it was very heartening to see the old buffer population had returned and was perched around the place like musty parrots in tweed.

After the last drop of gravy had been mopped up with the last shard of potato, we headed upstairs. Cocktail time. At Rules. The area it was located in used to be a private dining room. Not one of their biggest, but a nice first-floor room at the front of the building with seating for around a dozen and a small bar/serving area in the corner. What they have done is take off the door, opened out the opposite, previously closed, room and created a room which runs the length of the building. I must say I was pleasantly surprised—a good number of tables, all spread out with their own space, an unobtrusive bar at one end, light and airy. I had feared that they would try to be trendy but they have kept it muted and in line with the rest of the building. It had a feeling of space sadly lacking in modern cocktail bars that try to cram more and more tables in.

But what about the drinks? It is a very short menu as you can see, and also a very inventive one:

 

Rules 76

Brut Champagne, Ketel One Vodka finished with lemon juice, syrup and a splash of Apricot Brandy

 

Le Blonde

Brut Champagne, Absinthe, Mure, Peche finished with Wasabi Vodka

 

Smokey One

Plymouth Gin, a wash of Isle of Jura Malt infused with a flamed peel of orange

 

Dirty One

Ketel One Vodka, olive brine muddle with a dash of Noilly Vermouth and one very large olive

 

The Charles

Tanqueray Ten Gin, Maraschino & Absinthe finished with a dash of grapefruit bitters &

a touch of syrup

 

Chorus Girl No. 2

Ciroc Vodka, Merlet Fraise des Bois, berries and lime, charged with soda

 

The Critic

Beija Flor Reserva Cachaca, Amer Picon, Cointreau, Formula Antica

and Cinzano Orancio

 

The Edge

Southern Comfort, Honey Vodka, violet essence and Maraschino, finished with a dash of syrup and the heat of fresh horseradish

 

Bloody Mary

Ketel One Vodka and Brian Silva’s bespoke blend of spices & juice

 

Golden Negroni

Plymouth Gin, Campari Orancio and Poire William

 

I have to confess many of the ingredients were unknown to us, so we were unsure what to order. Eventually we made the plunge and ordered a Rules 76, The Edge, a Chorus Girl No. 2 and a Smokey One. (Have to get stuck in, otherwise what kind of rigorous scientific experiment would this be?) Trial and error was the order of the day and we each ordered one that we found undrinkable but the other did not, so all four were polished off. The flavours were very challenging and many of the potions didn’t look like they would work at all, but it was this very fact—the strangeness—that made the evening so interesting.

Usually I stick to old favourites and only try “house drinks” if they look particularly exciting or interesting. Too many bad experiences have left me out of pocket with only a small glass of what appears to be icy kerosene to drink. But the Rules bar positively encourages you to experiment and boldly plunge into the unknown, which is a refreshing feeling in such a solid and traditional place. Dozens of decades of heritage downstairs, bold new world upstairs—without the need to resort to neon, illuminated glasses or fancy tricks.

Even though we were stuffed, we pecked at the snacks that were available. Nuts, a usual cocktail bar mixture, but perfectly passable. The service was very informative and even went as far as to bring us the hand-painted bottles of exotic foreign ingredients we could not identify so we could smell and taste them separately. Apparently some of the ingredients are not made any more so every mouthful makes them rarer, rather like having white rhino burgers without the guilt.

I buttonholed the bar wallah and asked him why they were keeping this place something of a secret. It seems they want word to spread the old fashioned way, to people who would be likely to come to Rules anyway. An interesting tactic when you consider the cost of abolishing a private room and what loss of revenue that must bring, but they seemed cheerful and sure that this would work. Their attitude permeated the place and digestion was helped massively by not having to stumble into the street immediately after dinner, but instead being able to relax with a few drinks upstairs.

All in all the Cocktail Bar at Rules is well worth a visit. Centrally located, exotic menu (though they will mix up anything you want), good staff, nice room with light and air and uncrowded. I think it will always be a better place to go after dining rather than just for a drink, but stick it on your list and next time you fancy a steak and a cocktail combine the two in the same venue.

Radical I know, but this is apparently the twenty-first century so we should all do our bit to move forward into a bright new future.

 

Cocktails by Brian Silva supported by Michael Stevenson

 

35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB Restaurant Reservations: 0207 836 5314

Private Rooms Reservations: 0207 379 0258

Open every day: Monday–Saturday midday–11.30pm and Sundays midday to 10.30pm

 

 

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The Military Life of the Duke of Wellington

 

By Lord Finsbury Windermere Compton-Bassett

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 33)

 

Arthur Wellesley was born around 29th April,1769 in Dublin. (I say around, as some sources say 1st May, so there is a little uncertainty. Incidentally, Napoleon was born this same year.) Arthur was the fourth son—and third of five surviving—of the Earl of Mornington, at this time Professor of Music at Trinity College Dublin.

Wellesley was born The Honourable Arthur Wesley and remained a Wesley until at least his campaigns in India. It is unclear why he decided to change his surname but both sides of his family had been Wesleys and Wellesleys, and he was often known as either. Perhaps he felt Wellesley was a little more distinguished. He spent a great deal of his childhood in the family homes in Ireland and this is where he began his military appointments.

He was schooled at Eton from 1781 to 1784. However, 1781 was also the year his father died. A somewhat unsuccessful gambler, the Earl left many debts. In 1785 the family moved to Brussels, where Arthur enrolled at the French Academy of Equitation at Angers, spending a year there before moving back to Britain. At Angers he learnt French and became an excellent horseman—two skills that became very important in later life.

At this time he was not seen as outstanding at anything. Indeed, his mother remarked that “he is fit for powder and nothing else”. Upon his becoming a soldier she said, “Arthur has put on his red coat for the first time today. Anyone can see he has not the cut of a soldier.”

 

Military Life

On 7th March 1787 he was commissioned an Ensign in the 73rd Foot, a Highland Regiment. An Ensign is the equivalent of a Second Lieutenant in the infantry today and the main function of an Ensign was, as the rank suggests, carrying the regimental colours. Thanks to family connections Richard, one of his elder brothers, managed to get him a position as Aide-de-Camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland—a job that took him away from soldiering, doubled his pay and allowed him to attend as many balls, parties and soirées in Dublin as he could manage.

On Christmas Day 1787 he transferred to the 76th Foot (another Highland Regiment) and was promoted to Lieutenant. He continued his duties in Ireland for a few years, rising militarily by transferring to the 12th Light Dragoons in 1789, then in 1791 to the 18th Light Dragoons, this time with the promotion to Captain.

Around this time he fell in love with Kitty Packenham, daughter of the Earl of Longford, and in 1793 asked her brother—the recent new Earl of Longford—for permission to marry her. He was refused, on the grounds that he was too young, too much in debt, and did not have a promising career in front of him. Arthur was apparently heartbroken, and—a keen violin player—he burnt his violins in a fit of frustration, never playing again in his life.

He resolved to pursue his military career with vigour, and later in 1793 became a Major in the 33rd Foot—an English County regiment this time rather than a Scottish Highland one. A few months after this appointment, his brother lent him the money to purchase a Lieutenant-Colonelcy; at the age of 24 he became commanding officer of the King’s 33rd Regiment of Foot.

            (From the formation of the British Army until 1871, young men could simply purchase ranks from Ensign up to Lieutenant-Colonel. Prices varied considerably between regiments, but young men with enough cash could command a battalion on the field of battle without any military experience. Arthur may seem young at 24 to command a regiment, but Edward Paget, a cavalry general in the Peninsular War, was a Lieutenant-Colonel at 19, as were two others. Sir Henry Walton Ellis, CO of the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Waterloo, was bought an Ensign’s commission by his father when he was only three weeks old, and a Captaincy at 13.)

In 1793 Arthur got his first experience of battle. The Duke of York led an expedition to Flanders and the 33rd Foot was part of the army. The two-year campaign was, overall, a failure but, Arthur observed, “At least I learned what not to do, and that is always a valuable lesson.” Arthur also learned how to manage his battalion under fire and the merits of the “line versus column”—more of which later. (This campaign also brought us the nursery rhyme “The Grand Old Duke of York”, so that’s two good things to come out of it.)

 

India

Less than a year after returning, the 33rd was despatched to India in 1796. Arthur wrote: “I am nimmukwallah... that is, I have eaten of the King’s salt, and, therefore, I conceive it my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his Government may think proper to employ me.” His brother Richard, Lord Mornington, was now Governor-General of India—which led to  friction between Arthur and more senior officers, over whose heads he was often given important tasks.

Recently promoted to full Colonel, he now had the chance to command more than a single regiment. The shortage of senior officers in India meant everyone had to “step up” a rank and assume more responsibilities. Colonels often found themselves commanding Brigades three or four regiments strong—usually a role for a Major-General.

The army had been sent to subdue Tippoo Sultan, one of the most powerful native rulers in India. The British had defeated him some ten years before, but now he was encouraging the French to send a force to help him drive the British out of India. The British, under General Harris and Major-General David Baird, were marching on Tippoo’s fortress capital of Seringapatam; on the way, on 27th March 1799, the Battle of Malavelly took place, Arthur’s first action in India.

At Malavelly Arthur had command of 11 battalions—his own 33rd and ten native. His tactics are important to note: he was on the defensive with all his battalions formed up in line two ranks deep, one next to the other, on a low ridge. Tippoo’s army were lined up opposite. Suddenly a column of 2,000–3,000 infantry formed and began to advance towards Arthur’s command. Arthur waited until the enemy were only 60 yards away, then had his men fire a volley and advance. Under the combined impact of a volley at close range followed by a bayonet charge, the enemy ran. Disheartened even before a battle proper had begun, the rest of Tippoo’s army retreated. The 33rd lost just two men.

The storming of Seringapatam was to be altogether different. Around this time Arthur suffered his only ever defeat. It was more a skirmish than a battle, but he was in command and it annoyed him greatly. He was ordered to carry out a night attack to clear a wood of the enemy but his attack was defeated through confusion: the 33rd got lost in the dark and stumbled around getting shot at by people who knew the terrain. There was hand-to-hand combat too—an officer was killed by bayonet and it is likely Arthur used his sword on this occasion (one of the few times he did). Casualties were only 25 men but Arthur never again ordered a night attack unless it was impossible to do otherwise.

 

Seringapatam

After this setback the siege progressed well and on 4th May 1799, the assault took place. As sieges go, it was relatively easy—the British took the fortress with the loss of just 389 men, a tiny amount given they were assaulting a fortified position. Tippoo Sultan was killed and his forces lost 8,000 men. Arthur had command of a reserve Brigade during the assault and was not needed to take part in the actual fighting.

Arthur was made governor of Seringapatam, and thus of the State of Mysore—a very important and prestigious job for a new officer just out from home. This angered Baird in particular, who believed he deserved the honour, both as senior to Arthur and for leading the assault on the fortress. But Arthur was not just  brother of the Governor-General: he had great skill in administration and diplomacy, which Baird lacked. Arthur wrote years later: “Baird was a gallant, hard-headed, lionhearted officer, but he had no talent, no tact; he had strong prejudices against the natives; and he was peculiarly disqualified from his manners, habits, etc., and it was supposed his temper, for the management of them.”

Arthur spent the next couple of years mainly as an administrator, but occasionally leading military expeditions to defeat local warlords and rebels, which he did with every success. In September 1802 he learned he had been promoted to Major-General and it was soon after this that he commanded an army against the Maratha Confederacy of west central India, winning a battle that I believe, as he did, was the greatest achievement of his career—including Waterloo.

 

Assaye

Arthur’s army was 24,000 men strong but he decided to split his force into two, giving Colonel Stevenson of the East India Company one half, and commanding the other himself. The majority of Arthur’s force was of native soldiers—his only British troops were the Foot regiments of the 74th, 78th and 80th, and the cavalry of the 19th Light Dragoons. The 80th he gave to Stevenson and so began a two-pronged advance against the Marathas.

It was Arthur’s force that first came upon the enemy position, drawn up in line on the other side of the River Kaitna and completely blocking his advance. Stevenson was a day’s march away, but despite Arthur’s army being at half-strength, he felt there was no time to waste and decided to attack. But how to get across the river? Local guides informed him there was nowhere to cross, but Arthur personally carried out a reconnaissance, during which he found a ford between two halves of a village, at Waroor. He therefore ordered the army to cross: it marched along the front of the Maratha army, crossed the river, then formed up for battle on the other side. During this manoeuvre the Marathas changed position in order to face the new British threat, and it was also at this time, as Arthur was crossing the river with his staff at the head of the army that his Orderly, with his three spare horses and canteens of water, had his head taken off by a roundshot.

The Maratha army was almost 100,000 strong, with over 80 artillery pieces lined up against him. Arthur was outnumbered almost ten to one. But he realised that over 60 per cent of the enemy force was cavalry, so defeat the infantry and artillery and the day should be won. He placed great faith in his ferocious but disciplined Highland infantry and his one regiment of British cavalry had larger and more powerful horses than any Indian ones.

Arthur’s infantry advanced in line, with the cavalry and artillery in support. The 74th accidentally inclined right towards the heavily defended village of Assaye itself rather than going straight ahead, and ran into trouble because it became the sole target for a great proportion of the enemy line, and it was also out of range of support from the rest of the British army. It formed a square against a mass of enemy horsemen, but was being shot to pieces. However, things were going far better elsewhere. The British force advanced head-on against the enemy, into the smoke and cannon fire of the enemy gun line. At 60 yards the British line halted and gave a volley at the enemy—a second volley followed, and the enemy gun line disintegrated. Following up with the bayonet, the British took control of the gun line, reformed and repulsed an attack by enemy forces coming up in support—who were finally driven off the field in a cavalry charge by the 19th Light Dragoons. This charge also saved the 74th, who suffered horrendous casualties.

It was in this battle that Arthur had two horses killed from under him—one shot during the first advance, and the other speared in the neck during a melee at the gun line—when he again had to use his sword to defend himself. For all his mastery of strategy, Arthur was not afraid to get right in the middle of the fighting with his men. A Scots officer, Colin Campbell, later commented, “The General was in the thick of the action the whole time. I never saw a man so cool and collected as he was.”

But the battle was costly: Arthur had inflicted casualties of at least 6,000 on the enemy and completely broken them, but out of the 5,800 British troops actually engaged, 1,594  were killed or wounded.

After Assaye he took part in only one other major engagement, that of the siege of the fortress of Gawilghur. It was extremely heavily defended, particularly with artillery, but Arthur and Stevenson were combined and their successful assault lost only 126 British against over 4,000 Indians. This victory, together with the victory at Delhi of another British force, caused the Marathas to ask for peace and a treaty was signed the following year.

By now Arthur was growing tired of India, remarking, “I have served as long in India as any man ought who can serve anywhere else.” In 1805 he travelled home with his brother, whose tenure as Governor-General had ended.

It was also in 1805 that he met, for the only time, Admiral Nelson, by chance at the Colonial Office. Arthur later wrote: “He entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself and, really, in a style so vain and silly as to surprise and almost disgust me.” At this point Nelson apparently left the room for a moment, obviously to find out who Arthur was, after which, “All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished…I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more.” Within a few months Nelson was dead. The two men now lie close to each other in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Having amassed £42,000 from his Indian exploits, Arthur was now rich and relatively famous and in September 1804 he was made a Knight of the Bath. Now his second proposal to Kitty Packenham was accepted and they were married in April 1806.

 

The Peninsular War

In 1807 Napoleon, fresh from defeating the Austrians, Russians and Prussians in central Europe, turned his attentions to the Iberian Peninsula. Arthur, now a Lieutenant-General, was sent to Portugal where he defeated the French at the Battles of Rolica and Vimeiro in 1808. But he was then superseded in command  by Generals Dalrymple and Burrard—who had not actually taken part in the battles Arthur had just won. Not known for their competence, these generals soon signed the controversial Convention of Cintra, which stipulated that the Royal Navy would transport the French army out of Lisbon with all their spoils of war. When the British government found out, Dalrymple, Burrard and Arthur were recalled to Britain for a Court of Enquiry—which found that Arthur had signed the preliminary Armistice but not the Convention, so he was cleared of any wrongdoing (and in fairness he was only acting under orders of a superior officer at the time).

Meanwhile another British army, this time in Spain, had appeared at first successful before retreating back to the port of Corunna. Sir David Baird (of Seringapatam fame) lost his right arm and the army commander, Sir John Moore, was killed, though the British force was successfully evacuated.

Eager to be back in action, Arthur submitted a memorandum to Secretary of State for War Lord Castlereagh on the defence of Portugal, stressing its mountainous frontiers and advocating Lisbon as the main base because the Royal Navy could help defend it. Castlereagh and the cabinet approved the paper, and appointed him Commander-in-Chief of all British forces in Portugal, simultaneously raising the number of men available from 10,000 to 26,000.

Back on the Peninsula with reinforcements, Arthur took the offensive in April 1809. In the Second Battle of Oporto, he crossed the Douro river in a daylight coup de main and routed Marshal Soult’s French troops. He then marched through Portugal and joined with a Spanish army to defeat the French at the Battle of Talavera. For this Arthur was created “Viscount Wellington of Talavera”, but it was, to use one of Arthur’s later phrases, a close-run thing. A French night attack nearly succeeded, with a good proportion of the Spanish forces running away at the sound of their own gunfire. And with Soult’s regrouped army threatening to cut them off at the rear, the British were compelled to retreat.

In 1810, a newly enlarged French army under Marshal André Masséna invaded Portugal. Despite the great victory at Talavera, British opinion now was that Arthur was doing nothing and making no attempt to bring the French to battle. But first he slowed the French at the Battle of Buçaco (where again he used a ridge and the “line versus column” tactic), then blocked them from taking the Lisbon peninsula with a series of massive, interlinked earthworks known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. These lines were what Arthur had been planning during the lull after Talavera and he managed to keep them so secret that not even the majority of his army knew about the defences until they were ordered to garrison them. The French invasion of Portugal broke down and retreated after six months—without even trying an assault anywhere along the lines, deemed impregnable even by the enemy.

The next year saw see-saw campaigns in which the British nearly drove the French from Portugal but also suffered some horrendous casualties—at Albuera the 3rd Foot (Buffs) lost 85 per cent of their men. The French retained the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz, guarding the mountain passes into Portugal—it was to these crucial fortresses that Arthur now turned.

In 1812, Arthur, now a full General, finally captured Ciudad Rodrigo as the French went into winter quarters, storming it before they could react. He moved south quickly, besieged Badajoz for a month and captured it in one bloody night. After consolidating Portugal, he took his army into Spain again and won a decisive victory at Salamanca, liberating Madrid. As a reward he was created Earl and then Marquess of Wellington, and given command of all Allied armies in Spain, becoming Generalissimo of all Spanish forces.

After more see-sawing Arthur led a new offensive in late 1813 through the hills north of Burgos and switched his supply line from Portugal to Santander on Spain’s north coast. Continuing to outflank the French lines, he caught up with and defeated the army of Napoleon’s brother Joseph at the Battle of Vitoria, for which he was promoted to Field Marshal—a rank reserved only for Britain’s best and most successful Generals. There was now no higher military rank he could obtain. At Vitoria, however, the British troops broke ranks to loot the abandoned French wagons instead of pursuing the beaten foe, and this caused an enraged Arthur to write to Earl Bathurst the famous line, “We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers.”

After taking the fortresses of Pamplona and San Sebastián, and winning battles over Soult’s reorganised French army, Arthur invaded southern France, beating Soult yet again at Nive, Orthez and Toulouse. Immediately after Soult evacuated the latter city, news arrived of Napoleon’s defeat and abdication.

Hailed as conquering hero and now famous throughout Europe, Arthur was created Duke of Wellington. (Many of his titles and ranks were bestowed upon him while the war was still in progress—when he got home he was awarded all his patents of nobility in a unique ceremony lasting a full day.)

After the war, he was appointed ambassador to France and, on 2 January 1815, his Knighthood was converted to Knight Grand Cross—again the highest honour that could be bestowed upon him.

 

Waterloo

On 26 February 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba and returned to France, regaining control of the country by May. Arthur arrived in Belgium to take command of the Anglo-Allied army of British, Germans, Dutch and Belgians, stationed alongside the Prussian forces of General Blücher—a 72-year-old cavalryman, veteran of countless wars and a passionate hater of all things French. Napoleon defeated the Prussians at Ligny on 16th June, whilst his second-in-command Marshal Ney fought an indecisive battle with Arthur at Quatre Bras that same afternoon—Arthur apparently rode to the battle in full dress uniform, having been at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels when told of Napoleon’s invasion. His horsemanship came into play again:in a reconnaissance he was surprised and pursued by French cavalry, and rode straight at the 42nd Highlanders. Shouting at them to lie down, he leapt over their ranks.

These battles compelled the Anglo-Allied army to withdraw to a more defensible position—a ridge on the Brussels road, just south of the small town of Waterloo. Two days later, on 18th June, the Battle of Waterloo was fought.

This was the first time Arthur had encountered Napoleon, but he did not command the army he wished for, his army of the Peninsular days. “I have got an infamous army,” he stated, “very weak and ill-equipped, and an inexperienced Staff.” He commanded an army of only 25,000 men trained to British standards: the rest were poorly trained soldiers from Dutch and Nassau forces—some of whom had fought for Napoleon during the Peninsular War.

Napoleon wished to keep the British and Prussians apart as much as possible, and he sent 33,000 troops under Marshal Grouchy to intercept Blücher. Arthur’s comparable gamble was to leave 17,000 men around the town of Hal, north-west of the Mont Saint Jean, to protect against any attempt by Napoleon to drive him away from the sea and safety, but also to provide Arthur with a fresh reserve with which to fight the following day, should the action on 18th June prove inconclusive, as at Quatre Bras.

Napoleon’s tactics have been criticised as lacking in the brilliance he exhibited earlier in his career. His plan on the day was to pin Arthur’s right with overwhelming cannon fire and an attack on the fortified chateau of Hougoumont, to draw reinforcements away from Wellington’s centre-left position, then shatter this position with an all-out infantry assault in the column formation, the usual French tactic in battle.

Hougoumont held out, only modestly reinforced from time to time by Arthur, who realised exactly what Napoleon had planned. The subsequent infantry attack by the French was destroyed by Allied heavy cavalry, who in turn however suffered over 50 per cent casualties from French cavalry counterattacks. As the British were still holding on to the ridge, Napoleon’s only option left was an all-out assault on the Allied centre, leaving no effective force to hold off the Prussians. At this point Arthur chose to reorganise the defensive line, and the watching French took this as the prelude to retreat, resulting in waves of French cavalry attacking the completely unbroken Allies, to which there was only one solution—the forming of squares. At this point, a combined attack by French infantry and artillery, firing point-blank into the squares, would probably have caused devastation and a French victory. But co-ordination in the French army was haphazard. The squares held out, and the French cavalry assault, having to charge uphill through muddy terrain over sunken roads and ploughed farmland, petered out.

Now the Prussians arrived, driving in Napoleon’s forces on the east of the battlefield. Napoleon made a last attempt to destroy Arthur’s centre before his two enemies could link. At six in the evening, the fortified farmhouse of La Haye Sainte, lynch-pin of the Allied front just as Hougoumont was for the Allied right, was finally taken—but only after the defenders, elite light infantry from the King’s German Legion, ran out of ammunition.  Arthur redrew the remnants of his front and prepared for the final assault, at which point he is said to have prayed: “God, give me night or give me Blucher.” Though he might have seen thousands of men advancing on to the battlefield from the east, he did not know that the dark uniforms in the distance were the forces of Blücher rather than those of Grouchy.

At this point Napoleon sent forward the Imperial Guard: never defeated in battle, an elite of an elite and a regiment for veterans only, held in reserve to provide the decisive blow at moments like this, it branched out in a two-pronged attack to finish off what Napoleon believed to be an Allied army on the point of annihilation. But Arthur had prepared an ambush for the Guard: they ran into a surprise counter-attack from British infantry (by coincidence mainly the British equivalent of the Imperial Guard, the Foot Guards, whom Arthur personally ordered, shouting, “Up Guards, and at them!”) concealed still behind the all-important reverse slope. Suddenly faced with red-coated two-deep ranks firing the classic controlled battalion volleys, the Imperial Guard faltered, retreated—and triggered a mass panic. The entire French army disintegrated, leading Arthur to comment afterwards, “I have fought the French as often as anybody…and I never saw them behave ill except at the end of the battle of Waterloo. Whole battalions ran away and left their arms piled.”

Arthur ordered an advance of the Allied line as the Prussians overran the French positions to the east, and the French army was routed completely. Arthur and Blücher met at the inn of La Belle Alliance on the road bisecting the battlefield. It was agreed that the Prussians would pursue the French to France, the British following after a night of rest.

On 22 June Napoleon abdicated again and was transported to Saint Helena. Waterloo had marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars once and for all—and the end of Arthur’s military career.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, died peacefully at Walmer Castle in Deal on 14th September 1852, aged 83. On his arm was found a bracelet placed there by his wife when they were young.

Undoubtedly Arthur Wellesley was a great soldier. He could plan campaigns in a country as large as India while managing the rations of a single battalion, could survey a battlefield as army commander or take part in the hand-to-hand fighting. He had a dry sense of humour, commenting to a friend : “If writers would adhere to the golden Rule for an Historian, viz. to write nothing which they did not know to be true, the Duke apprehends that they would have but little to tell.” But I think one of his finest quotes ever has to be: “We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be, detested in France!”

 

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The Faeries of Kensington

 

By Eugenie Rhodes

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 32)

 

Kensington, the royal borough in London, home of Queen Victoria in her youth and later of Diana, Princess of Wales, has a strong link with faeries. The place was firmly marked on the faery map, so to speak, when J. M. Barrie, who himself seems to have had much of the Otherworld about him, chose it as the location where Peter Pan spent his infancy prior to boyhood in Neverland. “I ran away to Kensington Gardens and lived a long time among the fairies,” Peter tells Wendy.

It was in these gardens that Barrie met the Llewellyn Davies boys, George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nico, who, amalgamated into one, became the immortal boy who never grew up. Michael, brilliant, charming and captivating, and Barrie’s favourite, was the closest prototype of Peter Pan and it was he upon whom the statue in the gardens was based. The statue was unveiled on May Day 1912 and still stands surveying the Serpentine Lake which divides Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens. Walking parallel to the Flower Walk and up past the Round Pond, the palace and the Sunken Garden, the visitor approaches The Peter Pan Playground, outside of which is a tree copiously adorned with carvings of “The Good People”.

In medieval days the land belonged to the De Vere family. Robert De Vere was the best friend of King Richard II who, according to modern-day clairvoyant Edwin Courtenay, had links with faeryland. His emblem, the white hart (deer), is, Courtenay says, “a fairy beast” and Richard’s colours, white and red, are Celtic Otherworld colours.

About three hundred years ago the park had its apotheosis in a long poem entitled “Kensington Garden” which reads as a type of faery imitation of Virgil’s epic work The Aeniad. The author is the splendidly named Thomas Tickell, just the sort of man, you might say, to write about faeires. He tells us how the area was even more beautiful when it was a faery court:

 

Far sweeter was it when its peopled ground

With fairy domes and dazzling towers was crown’d

Where, in the midst, those verdant pillars spring

Rose the proud palace of the elfin king…

 

This was in the days of Albion (another name for England) who, writes Tickell, was the son of the sea god Neptune and a mortal woman.

Albion had a descendant, also called Albion, who was kidnapped by Milkah, a faery. (Faeries had a reputation for stealing human babies). Milkah loved him devotedly and brought him up as one of her own kind:

 

Each supple limb she swath’d, and tender bone,

And to the elfin standard kept him down…

Yet still, two inches taller that the rest,

His lofty port his human birth confessed,

A foot in height, how stately did he show!”

 

 (In Tickell’s poem faeries are understood to be tiny but this perception is by no means true of all traditions.) Albion was not only the tallest of the elves but also the handsomest and most graceful.

Kenna, the daughter of the faery king, King Oberon, fell in love with the appealing youth, now nineteen “as mortals measure time”, the poet carefully tells us (Faeryland operates by a different clock). Albion, in turn, passionately reciprocated her feelings. “Bless’d be the hour when first I was convey’d/An infant captive to this blissful shade,” Albion told her; to which Kenna replied, “No prince of fairyland/Shall e’er in wedlock plight his vows with mine.” However, hardly had she spoken when her scowling father appeared and declared war, banishing Albion and, with scant respect for the lovers’ pledges, giving her hand in marriage to her faery suitor Azuriel.

The wretched, lovelorn Albion wandered to the river Thames where he appealed to his divine forebear for intercession. Neptune championed Albion’s cause and a mighty battle ensued between Albion’s army and Azuriel’s. At first Albion had the upper hand and clasped Kenna in his arms, but his triumph was shortlived. King Oberon asserted himself with his vast faery army. The poet admonishes:

 

Forbear, rash youth, th’unequal war to try

Nor, sprung from mortals, with immortals vie.

 

He admonishes in vain—Albion is too much in love to be sensible. A javelin thrown by Azuriel pierces his breast. He dies murmuring his beloved’s name.

Neptune knocks down King Oberon but can only stun him: “…he lay/stunn’d and confounded a whole summer’s day/At length awaked (for what can long restrain unbodied spirits?)…” The poet knows that though the faeries can appear in human form their substance is astral, not corporeal.

Kenna, her heart broken, remained by the corpse of Albion. Then she picked a plant and, with the aid of its juice and an incantation, transformed him into a snowdrop, “a flower that first in this sweet garden smiled”.

Centuries later she returned to the site, long abandoned, to inspire the gardeners and builders who at the end of the seventeenth century were constructing a palace for the king and queen, William of Orange and Mary Stuart, and laying out the grounds.

The faeries, it is said, are back again. They are shy of being seen: “They to their cells at man’s approach repair” but when the gates are locked come out to play. Thomas Tickell tells us Kenna is “pleased in these shades to head her fairy train”. The faeries are alive and well in Kensington Gardens.

 

 

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Woolworth’s: The Rise and Decline of a

Five-and-Dime Dynasty

 

By The Earl of Essex

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 31)

 

Frank Winfield Woolworth was born in 1852 in a modest farmhouse in Rodman, upper New York state. He was the son of a potato farmer but aspired to be a merchant and he worked for six years in a dry goods store. The first three months were unpaid, the owner exclaiming, “Why should I pay you for teaching you the business?”

While there he noticed that leftover items were priced at five cents and left on a table for customers to pick up—at a time when it was normal for the customer to hand the sales clerk a list of the things they wanted, rather than selecting the merchandise themselves.

Woolworth liked the idea of the goods all being priced the same, so he borrowed $300 and opened a store, where all the goods were on display and priced at five cents, in Utica, New York, on 22 February 1875. It failed within weeks.

Undeterred, he realised there should be a choice of prices, so he opened a second store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in April 1875 with goods priced at five and ten cents. It was called The Five and Dime Store. This was successful and he and his brother Charles opened a large number of five and dime stores. Woolworth urged a lot of his family members and friends to become partners, including his old employer.

By now he had married Jennie Creighton in 1876 and had three daughters: Helena Maud Woolworth McCann, Edna Woolworth Hutton and Jessie May Woolworth Donahue.

The five and dime stores had separate names but in 1911 it was decided to bring them under the creator’s name. And so the

F. W. Woolworth company was incorporated with 586 stores. The business was now generating so much cash that Woolworth was able to build the company’s headquarters in New York for $13.5 million without recourse to borrowing. At the time it was the world’s tallest building at 792 feet.

Woolworth’s wealth also financed the building of Winfield Hall, in Glen Cove, Long Island, in 1916. The grounds required 70 full-time gardeners and the 56 rooms dozens of servants. The décor reflected his fascination with Egyptology, Napoleon and spiritualism. There was a huge pipe organ which, combined with a planetarium-style ceiling. created an eerie effect when he played it. The pink marble staircase which alone cost $2 million.

For all his wealth Woolworth suffered an untimely death aged 66 in 1919. He had a fear of dentists and succumbed to complications following a tooth infection. He was interred in the family mausoleum.

Woolworth had pioneered the then unique concept of buying goods from manufacturers and putting them on display so customers could see and handle them, with a fixed price, negating the need for haggling. He felt the idea would work in Britain too, saying,

“I believe that a good penny and sixpence store, run by a live Yankee, would be a sensation here.” In fact when the first shop opened in Liverpool in 1909 everything was priced at thruppence and sixpence. He was there at the opening and it was a huge success.

Stores were opened in Preston, Manchester, Leeds, Hull and London over the next three years. At one point a new outlet opened every 17 days. The UK company eventually became larger and more successful than its American parent. In the 1920s local councils were begging Woolworth’s to open in their towns.

The chain began selling records under its own name in 1923 and by the 1930s it was the No. 1 music retailer in the country with gramophones in stores so you could listen before you bought.

From the first store toffees, boiled sweets and chocolate were sold by weight but in 1958 the company pioneered the concept of “pick and mix”, with customers self-selecting confectionery. By the 1980s Woolworth’s was Europe’s largest confectioner.

The British company sold everything from stationery to garden furniture at reasonable prices and became affectionately known as “Woollies”. It came under separate British ownership in 1982 and was floated as a separate British company by its owners, Kingfisher, in 2001. However, it was downhill from here: falling sales led the company to sell its freehold stores to raise cash and after losses of £725 million in the first half of 2008 it fell into administration and eventual bankruptcy in January of this year. After failing to reach agreements with its bankers and landlords it now exists in name only, as an online shop.

In the States the company incorporated lunch counters as precursors to the modern shopping mall. The idea was widely copied and was a fixture in the down-towns of America in the first half of the 20th century.

In the 1960s the five and dime merged into the later discount store idea: Woolworth’s created Woolco in 1962, along with competitors K-Mart, Target and Wal-Mart. With this increased competition Woolworth’s lost its focus and its edge; the Woolco stores eventually closed in 1982, but continued in Canada until 1994, the remaining 144 shops being sold to Wal-Mart.

Woolworth’s also created a number of other retail chains with specialist sporting goods and footwear, including Footlocker.

In July 1997 Woolworth’s closed the remaining five and dime stores. The lower prices of the other big discount chains and the expansion of the grocery stores led to its demise. Woolworth’s changed its name to Venator and in October 2001 changed again to Footlocker Inc.

If F. W. Woolworth was a model of hard work, ingenuity and ambition, some of his descendents failed to live up to his example by a considerable measure—perhaps precisely because of the wealth into which they were born. Jimmy Donahue was the second son of Frank’s daughter Jessie. His father James had received a dowry of $5 million from Jessie and was a self-employed stockbroker with one major client—his wife. But he was an inveterate gambler and drunk who neglected his wayward son. He eventually committed suicide.

Jimmy was born in 1915. He had no employment to speak of and didn’t really need any, though he was a sometime actor and producer. He was a roving ambassador, visiting Woolworth stores. Barbara Hutton, his cousin, would finance these trips: “Would $5,000 be enough for the week?” Although often pictured in the company of women he was a notoriously louche homosexual at a time when it was illegal. Through his society connections he befriended the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and was said to have been her lover for four years.

Barbara was the only daughter of Edna Woolworth Hutton and Franklyn Laws Hutton. At birth she was dubbed the “Million Dollar Baby” but eventually, her troubled life made her better known as the “poor little rich girl”. Her father was the wealthy co-founder of New York stock broking firm E. F. Hutton. She was also a niece by marriage of the magnate Marjorie Merriweather Post of General Foods.

Her father, although financially astute, was a compulsive womaniser, which drove her mother Edna to suicide. Barbara was only six when she discovered the body.

On her 21st birthday she inherited $50 million from the Woolworth estate, the equivalent of $1 billion today. Her father had abandoned her and she lived with various relatives and her governess “Tikki”, who remained with her to the end. Her closest friend and confidante was Jimmy Donahue.

As one of the wealthiest women in the world she had no need of a career and sought fulfilment in companionship—she was to marry seven times. In 1933 she married Prince Alexis Mdivani, a soi-disant Georgian prince, whom she divorced in 1935. He was a prince without money or a country, a recurring theme in Barbara’s life. He belittled her, gambled and drank heavily and had many affairs. He netted several million in the divorce settlement but was to die soon after in a car crash.

In 1935 Barbara married the Danish Count Curt Heinrich Eberhard Erdmann Georg von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow. He was extremely abusive to Barbara both verbally and physically, leading to a savage beating that left her in hospital and him in jail. He forced her to change her nationality to Danish so that he would have greater access to her money.

With him she had her only child, Lance, and nearly died in the process, with the result that she could not have any more children. She drifted into drug abuse and anorexia, which was to haunt her for the rest of her life. They divorced in 1938. She gained custody of Lance but, like her father, left her child to be raised by a governess and private boarding schools.

In 1939 she moved to California as war threatened and there met and married Cary Grant. He was one of the biggest movie stars of the day. They were inevitably dubbed “Cash and Cary” by the press but Grant appears genuinely to have loved her and had no need of her money. However, he was unable to cope with her drug-induced mood swings and they divorced in 1945. He received no money in the settlement and they remained friends.

In 1947 she returned to Europe and bought a palace in Tangiers. In Paris she met Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, an expatriate Russian prince of very little means. She married him in Zurich in 1948. In the same year he was the driver of the first Ferrari ever to compete in a grand prix at Monaco and he later won the Targa Florio, the classic Sicilian road race. He ultimately filed for divorce after Barbara attempted a drug-induced suicide.

She next married the Dominican diplomat playboy Porfirio Rubirosa in 1953, but this marriage was to last only 53 days—throughout which he carried on his affair with Zsa Zsa Gabor. Rubirosa, or “Rubi” as he was known, was a notorious gigolo and, allegedly, a political assassin. He supplemented his income by servicing rich women. Harold Robbins based the lead character in his book The Adventurers on him.

Rubi was prodigiously well endowed and had to have his tailors, Dunhill in New York, make specially cut trousers for him. An actress described his weapon as “similar to a wooden pepper shaker, the kind you find in restaurants”. To this day French diners supposedly refer to such pepper mills as “Rubirosas”. As well as an adventurer and racing driver he was a tennis player and world-class polo player. He was romantically linked with Jane Mansfield, Ava Gardner, Eartha Kitt,  Eva Peron and Veronica Lake. In the divorce settlement he received five polo ponies, a private plane and the largest coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic. He was to die in his Ferrari in the early hours of the morning in the Bois de Boulogne in 1965.

In 1955 Barbara married an old friend, Baron Gottfried Alexander Maximilian Walter Kurt von Cramm, a tennis player. He was a double French Open champion and a national hero, but had refused to kowtow to the Nazi line. She had been instrumental in saving him from death after he’d been arrested on charges of homosexuality. However, after their marriage Barbara caught him in bed with another man and realised he would not be a comforting companion.

Her final husband would be the self-styled Prince Pierre Raymond Doan, who was more interested in her money and other men, with his brother writing her the love poems that she was known to favour. Shortly after this her son Lance was killed in a plane crash. He had recently met her after years away at boarding school and was extremely bitter at the way she had treated him.

Barbara spent her last years in a haze of alcohol and drugs, spending profusely until she was forced to sell her various assets including villas and tiaras at a fraction of their true worth. She was ultimately forced to send her servants to former friends for the return of gifts. Few complied.

Her last days were spent at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where she was a feature at the bar. She would be dressed in an evening gown, in all her jewels, with diamond bracelets and tiara, waiting for a gentlemen or lady to speak to her. They would often receive an expensive token of appreciation. In the end she was bedridden and when she died she had just $3,500 in her bank account.

Barbara had left her family home, Winfield House in Regents Park, London, as the official residence of the US ambassador. It is perhaps appropriate that the first black American President, Barack Obama, has stayed there very recently, as the civil rights movement was started in the 1960s after blacks were refused service at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.

So what of Woolworth’s today? In Britain there only remain empty stores as a reminder of a once household name, but the company still exists in the name of Footlocker. And Frank Woolworth’s original concept lives on in the discount stores that exist today, and which continue to thrive in another economic downturn.

 

 

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“We Didn’t Have a Uniform As Such…”

 

Fashion in the British Army During the Second World War

 

By Sean Longden

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 30)

 

Every year thousands of tourists descend on London to witness the pomp and pageantry of Britain’s heritage. At the very centre of this are the traditional military displays of the Changing Of The Guard and the Trooping Of The Colour. These soldiers of the Guards regiments and the Household Cavalry, with their spotless tunics, shining boots and faultlessly synchronised drill, are the very picture of British military tradition. These are the descendants of the men sent all over the globe to serve the Empire. It was a tradition where ability and efficiency were sometimes perceived as secondary to appearance. British military mythology is full of tales of men fighting last-gasp actions, constantly dogged by a Sergeant Major admonishing them for having a button missing. Tales abound of officers fighting colonial wars with their swelteringly hot woollen tunics buttoned to the neck—“Mad Dogs and Englishmen” indeed.

            Twentieth century peacetime soldiering had changed little, with a constant struggle to keep uniforms and barracks spotless. The razor sharp creases, gleaming brass, shining boots and faultless parade ground drill were the bedrock upon which discipline was based and gave men pride in their regiment.

            New recruits during World War Two were subjected to the same exacting standards. Assessing the shock to the “civilian” soldiers one military chaplain wrote: “He is no longer free to dress as he pleases or to go where he pleases. He can be ordered to do things against his will. His whole life is regulated without his wishes being consulted. His personality is merged in that of the group.” Little wonder most of the fighting men would use amendments to their uniform as a way to express their individuality as soon as the opportunity arose.

            Why is it that the American style of WW2 is still perceived as “cool”—how many people in so-called “cargo pants” realise they are wearing a copy of a WW2 American parachutist’s trouser?—yet the British Army style of the period just seems old fashioned? To understand this we must explore the nature of the British uniform. The basis of all British uniforms of the period was the Battledress, a two-piece outfit of blouson jacket and loose-fitting trousers made from rough khaki serge. The battledress remained an unpopular garment and most of its wearers thought they were the worst dressed army on the battlefields of Europe. They laughed that the jacket could make them look pregnant in front and hunchbacked in the rear. Tall thin men found their trousers needed to be pulled in at the waist, the crotch hanging down towards their knees, whilst stout men found the trousers too tight across the seat. One Private recalls: “Who invented the battledress? To begin with it looked slovenly. A soldier is supposed to look smart, but in battledress most of us looked like out-of-work dustcart attendants. When the Australian and American servicemen came to Britain they put our lads to shame. If a bloke got one that fitted perfect when he was standing up it was half way up his back when he bent to pick anything up, and when he straightened up it stayed there. When this happened with equipment on it was most uncomfortable and almost impossible to rectify unless the wearer undid the equipment belt first.”

            There were many other styles of headgear for use when the helmet was not needed. The ludicrous forage caps of the early war years had been replaced in all but a few regiments. The forage cap had served little purpose apart from annoying drill instructors when it fell from the heads of new recruits. In its place most regiments had adopted the General Service Cap, a floppy brown hat not disimilar in shape and design to the “Tam O’Shanters” that remained the basic headgear of many Scottish and Canadian Scottish regiments. This cap—itchy, misshapen and sloppy—was the perfect accompaniment to the battledress.

            The general rule was that berets, Tams and caps should always angle to the right. However there were exceptions. Irish regiments wore theirs to the left. Royal Armoured Corps men learned to wear their black beret to the rear of their heads whilst the Yeomanry they served alongside wore theirs to the side. And paratroops tended to wear their red berets square upon the top of the head. It was all a matter of tradition, designed to instill a sense of identity and cohesion.

            At the outbreak of war the British Army looked far different from the way it would look in 1945. Yet many of these changes would be the result not just of the experience of war but also of the soldiers’ desire to express themselves. Right from the start this was something the army struggled with: serving in France in 1940 General Montgomery had been appalled by his troops’ appearance. “I see men lounging about in the streets with their tunics open, hats on the back of their head…in all sorts of kit; in the same party some men wore helmets, some soft caps, some no headgear at all.” However Montgomery, the first British General to wear battledress rather than service dress, did qualify this by saying that “when battle is joined we can think again”.

            With the failure of the campaign in France and Belgium in 1940 the British public went in search of heroes. The first offering was “The Few”. The RAF pilots of the Battle of Britain were to capture the public imagination—they flew in their shirtsleeves and soft shoes, their necks wrapped in coloured scarves, their hair worn fashionably long. They appeared more like civilians, men who had strayed straight from a university bar or riverside picnic on to an airfield. Considering how young many of them were, this was not far from the truth.

            It was to be two more years before another group of men won the public’s heart—the Eighth Army with its long-awaited victory at El Alamein. Again these men’s appearance would have incurred the wrath of every Sergeant Major on the parade grounds back home. The conditions in the desert prevented the upkeep of old standards and gradually the look changed. Men wore whatever headgear was comfortable—tin helmets, solar topees, forage caps, bush hats, woollen cap comforters and even Arab headdress. The days could be blistering and the nights perishing. Pullovers, unacceptable back home, became de rigeur, their waistbands visible in the gap between battledress blouse and trousers. Clothes were worn to taste in the Eighth Army. Soldiers often sported a combination of tropical khaki drill and battledress, some men in long trousers, others in shorts. Some men wore leather boots, others suede. Many officers took to wearing civilian clothing—“mufti”, as they called it— purchased on visits to Cairo or Alexandria, that they found better suited to local conditions. One officer recalled that when captured by the Italians in 1941 he wore: “no badges of rank, but a golf jacket, a pink shirt into which was tucked a yellow silk scarf, a pair of green corduroy trousers and an expensive pair of suede boots”.

            This was the look made famous in Jon’s “Two Types” cartoon which featured two of this new breed, men who sported large moustaches and carried fly whisks. It was in the desert that Montgomery himself adopted the individual style that was soon to become his trademark. His black tank man’s beret with its two badges and his customary civilian trousers were to become instantly recognisable to troops and public alike.

            These were the men who won the battles that finally turned the tide of war. Not the spotless Guardsmen of postcards and advertisements, but the unkempt men of the less fashionable regiments. And these were the men who continued the campaign through Sicily and Italy where their style underwent more permutations. In the searing Sicilian sun some soldiers adopted the wide-brimmed straw hats favoured by the locals. The unconventional appearance of one Eighth Army soldier finally caused Montgomery to act: “I saw a lorry coming towards me with a soldier wearing a silk top hat. As the lorry passed me, the driver leant out from his cab and took off his hat to me with a sweeping and gallant gesture. I just roared with laughter. However, while I was not particular about dress so long as soldiers fought well and we won our battles, I at once decided there were limits. When I got back to my headquarters I issued the only order I ever issued about dress in the Eighth Army; it read: ‘Top hats will not be worn in the Eighth Army.’”

            The general public back home agreed with Monty that you had to have a victory before you could have the parade. By 1944 the soldiers in England preparing for the invasion of the Continent, learning from returning Eighth Army veterans, were aware that, once battle was joined, the barrack room standards would slip and comfort would become the overriding issue. From 1944 the hard fighting of the Normandy campaign did indeed bring changes. As Alexander Baron wrote to his family on the first anniversary of D-Day: “If you wanted to dress like a comic opera pirate you could.”

            In the heat of summer the soldiers had to change their clothing to make it more comfortable. The warm serge of the battledress was the first thing to go. It was too heavy and rubbed at their necks. At first they unbuttoned their blouses and rolled back the cuffs, then the soldiers removed them, strapped them into their webbing, and fought in their shirtsleeves. The ever-busy gunners of the artillery stood for hours under the scorching sun, reacting to fire orders, laying down barrages. For comfort they stripped off their jackets and shirts—in extreme cases working in bathing trunks—yet all the while with their heads protected by their helmets.

            The relaxation of the standards of discipline over uniforms allowed men to express themselves with small details. They picked up umbrellas from the ruins of villages and marched en masse sheltering under the canopies. Whole units picked roses—the traditional English symbol—from bushes lining the roads of France to decorate their hats. Why this desire to stand out? It is said that the troops were bound first to their own unit rather than to the army as a whole. It was also a way of saying that despite being soldiers they were still civilians at heart. By appearing casual men were attempting to feel casual, as one sergeant explained: “The psychological advantages of going into battle with your tunic collar turned up and one hand in your pocket, when possible, cannot be overemphasised.”

            These stylistic gestures were just the start of a movement. They were young men, with the same fashion interests as men of their age across the world. In the glare of Normandy sunglasses became popular and throughout the campaign scarves were widely worn by the soldiers. For some it was decoration and for others just comfort. Scarves prevented the heavy serge of the blouse from chafing the neck. They could act as facemasks against smoke or dust or could mop up sweat. For the most basic neckwear the soldiers tore strips from their camouflage face veils. Or they might pick up table-cloths from the wreckage of houses and cafés, tear coloured silk from parachutes abandoned after airborne operations or simply take women’s headscarves from local houses. Operation Varsity, the airborne drop to the east of the Rhine, left plenty of variously coloured parachutes littering the fields. In the days that followed there was a craze among soldiers for having the brightest silk scarf. In the final days of the war a German pilot reported how he parachuted into a field to be met by British infantrymen who ignored him and set about cutting up his parachute.

            Even when men retained regulation issue uniform it was not to say they all looked alike. There were still opportunities for personal expression without breaking the rules. Vehicle crews noted how one man might wear battledress, another a tank suit, a third a leather jerkin and so on.

            But while most riflemen could only make minor adjustments to their uniforms some of their infantry colleagues were dressing up to a degree few could have expected before they arrived on the continent. The top hat described by Montgomery was not unique. Out of the line many men took to wearing all manner of headgear—straw sunhats, fur hats, bowlers, trilbys—but it was the top hat that really caught the imagination of the soldiers, who were amused by the upper-class connotations. In the moments before the start of Operation Market Garden General Horrocks noticed a complete carrier crew, waiting for the advance to begin, all sporting tall black hats. During the battles around Oosterbeek, outside Arnhem, one NCO kept his men entertained by walking around in a stovepipe hat that he claimed made him impervious to shellfire.

            Somehow the “high ups” in the army misjudged the mood of the men. While the soldiers were fighting well—succeeding in their tasks and advancing slowly towards Germany—the Provost Corps were being told to check up on headgear. With hundreds of men wearing comical civilian hats the MPs were being instructed to make sure berets and caps were being correctly worn on top of heads, rather than hanging off the side or the back. Judging by film and photographs of the time, it was an order they would never be able to enforce. The MPs themselves were known regularly to ignore regulations by breaking their service caps to change the look.

            Hairstyles were also influenced by war. The extremes of the “short back and sides” so favoured by Sergeant Majors was slowly replaced by more relaxed styles. In preparation for their leading role in the D-Day landings some men adopted unusual hairstyles. Crew cuts became popular and some of the more adventurous, such as some paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Division, shaved the sides of their heads for the “Mohican” look. One East Yorkshire Regiment soldier was even seen to have his hair shaved just leaving the three dots and a dash to denote the “V for Victory” morse sign; others shaved their hair into diamonds or square patterns. Haircuts were used by some men as a distinctive mark of their “esprit de corps”. One tank commander noted how the crews of the recovery vehicles in his squadron all went without headwear to show off their shaven heads.

            With the escalation of the fighting in France in the months following D-Day there were to be few opportunities for the front line soldiers to get haircuts or wash their hair and the appearance of most soldiers deteriorated. It would only be once the fighting had died down and leave to the towns and cities of Belgium and France had been initiated that the soldiers could use their 48 hours of freedom to get a professional haircut. Once newly coiffured the soldiers would then go to photographic studios to have their portraits taken to be sent home to their families.

            The only problem was that continental hairdressers seemed to have a very different idea of how men’s hair should be treated than the barbers back at home. They left hair longer than regulation length and used oils and waxes to shape it in a way few soldiers had previously encountered. Men with their hair treated in this way initially found themselves the subject of ridicule. Their mates laughed, calling them “poofs” and comparing them to the pampered poodles carried by French women. But, despite the teasing, hairstyles began to change: the shaven sides and backs disappeared and the tops got longer and wavier. Soon off-duty soldiers were pushing their general service caps back as far as possible to show off ever-growing quiffs, a change that would be realised more fully in the post-war years.

            Another fad was for German belts. These were taken from corpses, picked up from abandoned positions or removed from prisoners. As one man later told me, he had turned over a dead German whose body was still warm, just to remove his belt. He later realised this was a bizarre action for a quiet, young bank clerk. Why was a leather belt with a German eagle and the words “Gott Mitt Uns” so important to him? The answer was fashion. Others decorated their belts with badges taken from the corpses of defeated enemies, like personal battle honours—each marking a unit he had defeated. Such displays were a way of binding units together, even if just one eight-man section. Though most soldiers took pleasure in dressing down whenever they could, when they came into contact with civilians they wanted to be as smart as possible. The soldiers going on leave were irritated that they had to go into Brussels dressed in baggy khaki serge uniforms. Even after pressing out the creases they realised battledress wouldn’t compete with the GIs’ uniforms—the Americans went on leave dressed in smart trousers, skirted jackets, shoes and a collared shirt with tie. The British felt they looked like binmen in comparison and feared the Yanks would “pull all the good looking birds”. Even the officers of 21st Army Group couldn’t compare to the average American riflemen.

            In an attempt to redress the balance the soldiers defied regulations and contrived to get ties to wear whilst on leave. Such was the disquiet among the troops that the rules were changed to correspond with the changes being unofficially made. From late 1944 other ranks were permitted to leave open the top button of their battledress blouse and to wear collars and ties when off duty. For men going on leave it made a welcome change to appear smart and, ideally, impress the local women. The only problem was that few had access to either collared shirts or ties. Once more the soldiers had to improvise and when MPs began to check they discovered men were wearing unauthorised patterns.

            Many had managed to acquire officers’ pattern shirts and ties. Others traded with their American allies, for whom ties were an integral part of the uniform. Some British units shared a collared shirt and tie, given to each man in turn as he went on leave. When it came time for John Mercer to visit Brussels he was fortunate: “One of my mates was a tailor’s cutter. He sat down on his haunches and altered my shirt, and several other shirts, making us collars and ties.”

            Some men took their trousers into local tailor’s workshops and had them altered to give a better fit around the waist and seat and for the legs to be less baggy—similar to the GI’s trousers. However, some senior officers were not keen. The Commanding Officer of the 1/5th Queens Regiment, part of the 7th Armoured Division, ordered checks to be carried out on his men. Between the 15th and 17th January 1945 full kit inspections were ordered with prizes of 48 hour leave passes and free NAAFI issue for the best turned-out men. Tailor’s tickets, indicating unofficial alterations, were just one criteria of the inspections. Officers were also instructed to check uniforms for the correct number of buttons on shirts, that socks were correctly darned, there were no oil stains on battledress, boots were laced properly and that trousers hung in the correct manner. The timing of these checks seems strange since on the 17th the battalion took 68 casualties—men who would not have been spared by having the correct number of shirt buttons.

            The tank and armoured yeomanry regiments had a lax attitude towards clothing. They were military revolutionaries, men who were looking forward to a new kind of war, not back at the battles of two hundred years before. This seemed to have been passed down to the men of the tank crews, many of whom displayed little more than a passing knowledge of the accepted dress codes. The officers of the Royal Tank Regiment considered themselves the elite of mobile armoured warfare, feeling they were more professional than the recently armoured Guards regiments or the dashing figures of the newly armoured cavalry regiments. The cavalrymen thought likewise. They were an elite; they may have traded their horses for tanks and armoured cars but many were still determined to show their fighting abilities with the reckless abandon that had characterised cavalry warfare through history.

            Hand in hand with this came a sartorial style that seemed a direct heir of the cavaliers of the English Civil War. Of all the men making stylistic amendments to their uniforms the tank officers were to display more abandon than most. Unlike infantry officers, who needed to blend in with the other ranks to avoid observation by the enemy, tank commanders were already conspicuous since they were usually visible to the enemy as they needed to sit on the rims of their turrets. There was no point in being disguised and so they dressed as they felt most comfortable. The loading of landing craft in preparation for D-Day was given an almost holiday atmosphere when one Guards officer supervised the loading of his tanks dressed in grey flannels and a white shirt. This was the spirit carried throughout the armoured units. In many regiments it became de rigueur to dress in the “Eighth Army Style” of scarves, cords and desert boots. Not all were actually veterans of the North African campaign but they liked to appear confident, experienced soldiers.

            One tank commander described his regiment: “The officers look as though they are dressed for a fancy dress ball. One has a leather jerkin. Another is wearing denim overalls. One has a cricket sweater on. Others are in full battledress. One or two are in shirtsleeves. Trousers range from sloppy corduroys to sloppy serge.” Other items of clothing seen in use in Normandy included a fur-lined leather jacket and even a Harlequins rugby shirt. Our tank commander recalled one of his officers being reprimanded for his appearance: “He was wearing German jackboots, riding breeches and a coloured scarf in a remote outpost in Holland when the Brigadier unexpectedly appeared. Brig. Scott, a strict disciplinarian but respected leader, ‘bawled him out’—shouting, ‘Get some bloody proper uniform on and try to look like an officer!’”

            While the situation was different in the infantry, many officers there still adopted deliberately relaxed images, as if a direct challenge to the perceived precise military bearing of the German officer class. The monocle-wearing Prussian officer with high-collared jacket, shaven head and duelling scars had long been a comic figure in British eyes, from the First World War to the stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s in characters played by George Sanders and Eric Von Stroheim.

            With service dress put aside for the duration of the war officers, like their men, wore battledress. They were allowed to wear either issue battledress or have an individual suit made by a tailor. If they chose to wear the issue battledress blouse they were allowed to have the collar altered so that the jacket lining was not visible. Instead it could be reshaped and lined with fabric to give the appearance of jacket lapels. Tailor-made garments often had a similar appearance but were obviously better fitting. Photographs of senior officers show a wide variety of styles, some wearing the most basic “Economy Issue” blouses, without alterations, some wearing tailored jackets with various collar and lapel sizes. Some favoured small neat lapels, others preferred wider, open collars. Men like Brigadier Roscoe Harvey favoured a modern image—he wore a battledress blouse with a zipped front giving it the appearance of a civilian blouson jacket. Others like Major General Thomas, commander of the 43rd Division, resembled a cross between a Great War general and the villain in a Victorian melodrama—he wore riding boots, breeches and a long leather coat.

            Not all the officers had the luxury of such alterations. Many did not have the financial backing of the traditional officer class and couldn’t afford the luxury of tailor-made uniforms. This new breed of officer, many from the working classes or the lower middle classes of 1930s suburbia, instead wore exactly the same outfit as the riflemen of their platoons. This in itself was an expression—a challenge to the old ways of the army. Ken Hardy, a young subaltern serving in the Hallams, was one of those infantry officers who enjoyed the anonymity of dressing to merge in with his platoon. He recalled: “I knew about dressing down before I went out to Normandy. I never carried a pistol, I never carried a map and I never carried binoculars. If I did they were underneath my jacket. But I carried a rifle from the word go. I mean, you want to live! We all realised you had to dress accordingly. The senior officers accepted this. They didn’t do likewise, but they realised us platoon commanders weren’t going to live very long if we didn’t dress like privates. It stood me in hellish good stead.” This was a revolt against the old, decorative ways of the gentlemen soldiers and was a reflection of what was to come in the post-war years—both in fashion and throughout society.

            Still, there were some infantry officers who dressed to stand out. Though few, they made an indelible impression in the minds of the men. Peter Young, commanding No 3 Commando, was seen wearing an Arab headdress during the fighting in Normandy. In the final anarchic weeks of the war the SAS were let off the leash in northern Germany to cause chaos and confusion behind the enemy lines. One officer led his jeep patrols wearing a top hat and corduroy trousers. Others took to wearing two revolvers on their belts, giving them the appearance of Western gunslingers. At his briefing for Operation Market Garden General Horrocks noted how few of his officers wore regular uniforms. Steel helmets were nowhere to be seen and berets of various hues were the order of the day. Royal Armoured Corps officers seemed all to be wearing corduroys or brightly coloured slacks. Many artillery officers were wearing riding breeches or jodhpurs. Ties seemed to have been abandoned in favour of polka dot scarves of various colours. Horrocks himself was dressed in a high-necked woolly jumper and airborne camouflaged smock.

            With the onset of winter the soldiers needed more protection than that offered by their battledress, leather jerkins and greatcoats. The problem for the infantrymen was that these brown doublebreasted coats were too cumbersome for use much of the time. They were ideal for wearing when sleeping curled up in the bottom of a slit trench or standing on guard duty, but unsuited to battle. Some soldiers found the solution was to cut off the bottom of the coat, just keeping it as long as the skirt of a jacket. This innovation kept the upper body warm whilst allowing the legs to move unimpeded. The only problem with this was the wearer would also have to endure the shortened coat at night, when it was not large enough to snuggle down in. Instead most infantrymen preferred the wool-lined leather jerkins. These kept the body warm without restricting the movement of the arms.

            Fortunately with the lines static for much of the winter the infantry were able to acquire all manner of clothing to ward off the cold. Necessity once more became the mother of invention as the British and Canadian soldiers utilised whatever they could beg, borrow or steal. Some cut the sleeves from greatcoats and sewed them on to leather jerkins to make warm jackets. In time some official supplies were made available. All manner of winter clothing was issued—duffle coats, Wellington boots, fur-lined RAF boots, sea boot socks and even rabbit fur waistcoats. The soldiers may no longer have all looked like soldiers but at least they were warm. It was the look of the British working man translated into a military setting. I call it the “farmhand with a flourish” look—Wellingtons, woollen jumpers, caps at all angles, gauntlets, scarves and jerkins.

            While many of the troops spent the winter wearing Wellingtons some found a convenient local alternative—in Holland and Belgium some off-duty soldiers took to wearing wooden-soled clogs. They claimed the felt lining made the clogs warmer and more comfortable than issue boots. One soldier was seen wearing the clogs of a Belgian miner, part wooden, part leather, topped with anklets made from the felt linings of mortar bomb cases.

            The British army began to lose its cohesive look. Veterans looked on in wonder at new arrivals in polished boots rather than Wellingtons. Officers couldn’t believe that map cases or holsters still existed. Soldiers joked that they could spot an inexperienced man by his greatcoat—which had obviously never been slept in. Once again, the fashions of the front line were really a badge of identity.

            This identity began to find expression in increasingly comic behaviour. A veteran infantryman of the 7th Armoured Division remembered the behaviour of his comrades: “If you were going down the road and there was a house that had been knocked about a bit, you’d go in and come out with a saucepan on your head. Or they’d pick up a woman’s handbag and wear knickers and a brassiere over their uniform. That was a lovely spell-breaker, especially if you’ve had a rough time. It keeps you sane. Remember we were just kids. We didn’t think as we did when we were in civvy street. We were children, with no minds. So anything like that was marvellous.”

            As the British and Canadian armies charged across northern Germany in the last days of the war little did they realise they were enjoying their last days of stylistic freedom. With the war nearing its end the senior officers began to look forward to the peace and plan for the role of their men in occupying the defeated Reich. Discipline would be the order of the day and they wanted their men to look like a conquering army, not a gang of tramps. In the first days of May 1945, as the 7th Armoured Division approached Hamburg, the men got the first taste of the new regime. Orders were given to them: “No item of unauthorised clothing will be worn and it is the duty of all offrs & NCOs to enforce this order rigidly.” The story was the same throughout 21st Army Group. The officers of the 9th RTR looked on aghast as their crews paraded in a curious mixture of uniforms, that had been altered to meet individual tastes, and looted civilian clothing. They were soon told to discard them. Harry Free of the 43rd Reconnaissance Regiment noticed the sudden change: “On active service I was something of a rebel—whilst on recce duties I never wore a hard hat, wore a black leather jacket, air gauntlets, gumboots, a yellow neckerchief and a beret. I was never challenged by senior officers, they seemed to be very lax… No-one had to tell us when the war ended—it was “on parade”, all brasses polished, marching here, there and everywhere—a very strict dress code enforced!”

            In the first weeks after the surrender of Germany the soldiers had to get used to all the old standards. The long-neglected tins of blanco, brasso and boot polish were dug out from the bottom of packs. Buttons and brasses shone again. Belts and webbing changed colour. Sergeant Majors could once again see their faces in toe caps. Hats returned to regulation angles. Collars were turned down, scarves packed away, hands kept out of pockets. Now they were ready for the victory parades.

            Of course, these new standards could not be kept up forever. In the months following the parades and victory celebrations a certain malaise crept into many of those charged with occupying Germany. Those men who had seen their only military role as being to defeat the Nazis were anxious to be demobbed. Those who had already got their demob date, and knew they had but days to go, let their standards slip. One man later wrote of his behaviour: “We slouched across our corner of a foreign field with hats on or off according to our fancy, collars undone, boots unpolished, hands in pockets, with many mouths drooping with our free allowance of fags. We could not have looked much like an all-conquering army.”

            Those who were not getting out so quickly also made modifications to their uniforms—to make them smarter. Tailors were engaged, paid in cigarettes, to make uniforms more flattering. Battledress blouses were brought in on the body  to hang better. Triangles of cloth inserted at the bottom of trouser legs to create a flare.

            The look of this army survived. After being forced to wear hats and have their hair cut for years, men returned to civvy street and abandoned headwear. The quiffs that emerged from beneath berets and caps in the last year of the war became the general look of the 1950s.

            The casual dress of the “Two Types” officers emerged into the post-war world, denting the control the suit had over the wardrobes of the British male. Sports jackets and flannels became the look of the demobbed officer. Old suit jackets that had outlived their matching trousers were resurrected to be worn with contrasting cloths. It was not just the class system that had been levelled: it seemed everybody had adapted the newly casual style upon demob.

            For years it seemed the “farmhand” look favoured in so many units never disappeared from society. In my childhood every dustman, market trader and coalman seemed to be wearing a leather jerkin, maybe an ancient battered beret and a pair of Wellingtons or hobnailed army boots.

            Army service had left its mark on every part of society. A couple of years ago I saw the last remnants of those days when I spotted a pensioner mowing his lawn in a battered leather jerkin and black beret—obviously his gardening clothes ever since demob. With him the fashions of the young men of WW2 will die. The individual flourishes of fashion—worn under the most trying of circumstances—by young men who wanted to express their status as civilians first rather than soldiers are forgotten by a society which instead remembers the fashions that came from across the Atlantic.

           

Sean Longden is the author of “Dunkirk:The Men They Left Behind” (Constable), “To the Victor the Spoils” (Arris), about the reality of the behaviour of British troops in Europe after D-Day, and “Hitler’s British Slaves” (Arris), about the treatment of Allied POWs in Germany.

 

 

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An Account of the French Invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797

 

As set down by Ensign Polyethyl’s Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Uncle

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 29)

 

Rev Arthur Hill Richardson,

St Gwyndaf’s Rectory,

Llanwnda,

Pembrokeshire

 

Written this day of our Lord 20th January 1841

 

My Dearest Descendents,

            I believe that the time may come (in about five generations) when an eyewitness account of the evils and foolishnesses of the French might be a fitting topic to educate the idle English drinkers in a Fitzrovian pub. I set down my account to ensure that all may have a proper understanding of what happened.

            I write this day that I, the perpetual curate of Manorowen, become the vicar of this little chapel, St Gwyndaf’s church, Llanwnda. This house of worship with such a history—where Giraldus Cambrensis once held the living to which I have now been appointed. My writings may never achieve his greatness, but if they can contribute something as a testament to the failure of the French Atheist ambitions then I will be a worthy successor.

            At the time of the invasion I was a youth. My parents were living as Organists in the Cathedral City of St Davids (and a remarkably small city it is, quite the smallest in Britain). Then as now the Pencaer Peninsula, and the nearby town of Fishguard, is very quiet; a rural corner of the furthest reaches of West Wales. There is nothing beyond the headland but the savagery of Ireland. The harbour of Fishguard is good, but very small. The area has no major towns, no industry; it is on no trade routes. The town relies on herring fishing and small-scale agriculture. In generations to come perhaps the pretty little cottages that edge the harbour might be available for holiday lets at very reasonable prices, but for now they are occupied by boat builders, farmers, fishermen and any suggestion that any of them is involved in smuggling is gross calumny. Similarly every ship that is wrecked on the sharp jagged rocks of our coastline is driven there purely by accident or storm. Other coasts might have their wreckers but my parishioners are law-abiding folk. A suggestion to the contrary will limit your abilities to buy any of the brandy with which the area is so well supplied.

            The town of Fishguard’s one proud boast was its guns. In September 1779 a French-American-Irish Pirate bombarded the town, intending to hold the fishing fleet to ransom. One local fisherman had a cannon mounted upon his vessel (purely to aid his Herring fishing, and in no way an indication of smuggling). A few rounds from the Welshman’s cannon were enough to persuade the Pirate to sail away in search of easier targets.

            The shock of the bombardment meant that letters were sent to the Privy Council asking for proper defences to be built. The town provided the land and built the gun emplacement and the Privy Council provided the eight 9-pounder guns and three Woolwich pensioners to man them. The fort was completed by 1785. However neither town nor Privy Council had supplied the necessary Powder. The town requested some from the Privy Council; the Council wrote back saying that the town should buy some. Letters were exchanged, but little was bought. As a result on the day of the events that follow Messrs Mitchell, Benson and Rhodes, our retired gunners, had only three rounds of ammunition and 16 cartridges with which to defend the town.

            So our thoughts now turn to the invaders—and why they should choose to land at Fishguard.

            The French, as we are all well aware, are a depraved lot. They started as Papists and then turned Atheist—so it was only proper that we had been at war with them since 1793. They had revolted, killed their King, and were so crazed by blood and terror that they believed all the world wanted to follow their example. They had involved themselves in America’s revolt, and their pernicious influence was trying to break into Ireland. They even believed that the simple farmers of Wales were longing to revolt against the natural order of society—their reasoning based simply on a few malcontents who were toying with nonconformist Methodism.

            So the French planned a three-pronged attack. One force was to sail to Ireland, another to Newcastle and a third to Bristol. The three attacks were to support each other and lead the local people into revolt.

            The Irish invasion force set sail in December 1796. Led by the Irish traitor Wolfe Tone, they made it as far as Bantry Bay. Unfortunately the only person with any brains behind the expedition, General Hoche, had not told anyone else the plans, so when his ship was swept out into the Atlantic by storms, the plans went with him. Those ships with Wolfe Tone that did reach Bantry Bay did not know what to do and were astonished to discover that there were no cheering armies of Irish supporters. Unable to cope with the adverse winds, the whole fleet decided to return to France without landing.

            Meanwhile the Newcastle invasion force was being boarded on to a fleet of flat-bottomed river barges, with the intention of sailing from France to Newcastle. There the 5,000 soldiers were to destroy local collieries and shipping. Even those of you not familiar with maritime matters may guess that a flat-bottomed river barge is not an appropriate vessel for the

            winter storms of the North Sea. The force sailed as far as the Low Countries before abandoning the project.

            What is curious is that the orders for the Bristol invasion fleet were not now rewritten.

            It was still despatched to support the Irish and Newcastle invasion fleets—which had already limped back to France. Why? I suppose General Hoche had lost interest in the scheme and so did nothing to make the fleet’s success any more likely.

            Even more curiously, the ships in the fleet were brand new, the latest, best—and therefore valuable—vessels, straight from the builders’ dock yards. After the failure of the Irish and Newcastle invasions I am baffled why a man as intelligent as General Hoche would risk ships as valuable as Le Vengeance and La Resistance, two of the largest French frigates, the latter on her maiden voyage. Even the corvette La Constance and the lugger Vautour were new. The ships were commanded by Commodore Castagnier, a man who followed his orders precisely—regardless of the changed circumstances.

            The French army that was to invade Bristol was led by another Irish-American, a septuagenarian called Colonel William Tate, from South Carolina. He had fought against Britain in the American War of Independence. However, after that war he became embroiled in French plans to capture New Orleans and fell foul of the American authorities. In 1795 he fled to Paris, whence he persuaded General Hoche to let him lead the invasion. Thus he gained command of the Légion Noir, named after the colour of their jackets.

            The Légion Noir consisted of 600 grenadier soldiers and 800 convicts. These 1,400 men were armed with only 100 rounds each for the entire invasion. These French troops were led by yet more Irish officers, including one Lieutenant Barry St Leger, who had already had a picturesque life. Born in Ireland, sent to America as a child, returning to Ireland as a teenager, only to be shipwrecked and lose all his goods, picked up by pirates, taken to France, jailed, recognised as a fellow Irish-American by Tate and included in his invasion.

            This motley collection sailed out of Brest on 16th February 1797, flying Russian colours in an attempted ruse de guerre. The convict soldiers were so little trusted by their officers that they were kept in the bowels of the ships still in their ankle chains. (When eventually these men ended up in Pembrokeshire jails their new jailers were astonished to find that they already had calluses and cuts from being kept in chains.)  If the soldiers subsequent claims can be believed then they were not told where they were headed.

            In fact the plan was to destroy Bristol—England’s second largest city, a world-class harbour filled with ships, opinionated sailors, men who know how to deal with irritating Frenchmen. After destroying this seat of naval power the 1,400 ill-armed and untrained men were to march to Chester and Liverpool, avoiding Cardiff, there to meet up with the (now non-existent) Newcastle invasion force.

            As they sailed they revealed themselves to be French, not Russian, by sinking some merchant ships off Ilfracombe, thus ensuring that the alarm was raised and messages sent to the Royal Navy.

            At this point they decided that the winds were bad for Bristol so they changed the plan and sailed for Cardigan Bay instead.

            On Wednesday, 22nd February 1797 they arrived off the coast of North Pembrokeshire. By now all ashore knew they were French. A retired sea captain had walked along the coast keeping watch on them. A customs ship had spotted the fleet and retreated into shallow waters to avoid them. A Pembrokeshire Merchant Ship had been seized and the crew taken prisoner.

            The first ship attempted to sail into Fishguard Harbour, giving our retired Woolwich gunners the opportunity to dine out on the story for the rest of their lives. They fired a single blank round at the ship—and it fled.

            So the French troops were forced to land at Carreg Wastad Point. If you visit the spot you will see that there is no beach, no gentle slope, no landing place. Just jagged cliffs plunging straight into the rock-strewn sea.

            During the landing one launch overturned, drowning eight men, and the artillery was lost. This left 1,400 men—with no horses, transport, artillery, spare ammunition or food—wandering a barren headland. Indeed the reader should remember that in this part of Wales the people do not even speak English, and the invaders had not thought to bring any Welsh translators.

            The French established themselves on a prominent rocky outcrop and started to wave their Revolutionary Flag, in the belief that the locals would flock to them. Why they thought that a Pembrokeshire farmer would know enough of French politics to recognise the meaning of the flag remains unanswered. Unsurprisingly the Welsh instead guided their flocks of sheep and poultry away from the hungry newcomers, preferring to head inland towards safety.

            Thus started the days of rape and pillage. Forage parties were sent to maraud. Every farm, hovel and barn was raided and two farmers were killed trying to protect their livestock. Even this sacred chapel was sacked. Farmer William’s wife was raped and shot and his sheep were eaten. The French seized Trehowel Farm from Farmer Mortimer, to be their headquarters. However, the discipline of their troops was undermined by the fact that, in preparation for a wedding, the farm was stocked to the beams with drink. In fact almost every farm had some alcohol as a Portuguese wine ship, on its way to Liverpool, had recently accidentally, legally and entirely without any local encouragement wrecked itself on our coast.

            Beer, wine, port and plentiful food hurriedly cooked had the usual impact on the bellies of convicts who had been starving in chains. The army fell ill.

            Meanwhile the fleet concluded that they had completed their task in successfully landing the army. So they sailed away, leaving the men on shore watching their only means of escape depart. While this may have been in the original orders—to allow the fleet to sail to support the Irish Invasion—no one had thought to warn the troops. Now enough of their morale and discipline vanished for mutinous men to start threatening their officers.

            Perhaps it was at this point that Commander Tate realised all was not going well—as the Welsh response was now beginning to gather strength. In the field now known as Parc Y French, five untrained farmers killed two French soldiers. Tate watched the scene from the rocks and knew that his invasion was going to be short-lived. Welshmen were now gathering from all across Pembrokeshire, armed with anything they could lay their hands on. A Customs ship at Milford Haven sent their press-gang men and their guns. The lead was stripped from the roof of St David’s Cathedral to be melted into shot.

            And then there was Jemima Fawr. Fishguard’s cobbler, she would then have been in her forties, and a person very capable of getting her way. Armed only with a pitchfork and her opinions, she single-handedly rounded up 12 French soldiers, imprisoning them in St Mary’s Church (where now she is buried).

            During all this commotion the brave lads of the militia and yeomanry were far from inactive. Their leader, Colonel Knox, was enjoying himself at a dinner dance when first news of the French ships arrived. He was not well loved by the local people. His father was a newcomer who had come with his money and had tried to throw his influence around, without succeeding in winning friends. The elder Knox had paid for the local militia force, Fishguard Fencibles, so his son was given the Colonelcy. Colonel Knox was 28 years old with no combat experience.

            His first thought was to gather his men at the Fort. Initial reports suggested there were 800 French, which meant his 150 Fencibles were utterly outnumbered. Any thoughts of an immediate attack were quashed.

            Meanwhile, across the county, militia forces were gathering. Lord Cawdor’s Castlemartin Troop of the Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry was fortunately already assembled for a funeral on the following day. They marched at once to the rescue. As soon as dark fell Lieutenant Colonel Colby of the Pembrokeshire Militia left his troops on the march and galloped through the night to Fishguard to get an accurate situation report. Finding Colonel Knox holed up in the fort and the French marauding through the farmlands he advised ringing the area with troops (at a safe distance) to give an appearance of strength, and to keep a watch on the French. Having given his military advice to the novice Knox, Colby once again galloped through the night, back to his advancing troop column.

            Col Knox and his Fishguard Fencibles were left in the fort as more reports arrived establishing accurate numbers of the enemy as 1,400. Totally outnumbered, he concluded that the only thing to do was retreat, to meet up with the advancing reinforcements. In a life-changing decision Col Knox marched his men away from Fishguard leaving the town entirely undefended. (His order to spike the fort’s guns was angrily rejected by the gunners.)

            The two forces met at Trefgarne Rocks, and promptly argued over who had command and took precedence. The novice Col Knox thought that just because the French had landed in his area that meant that he took command, despite the greater experience of Colonels Colby and Cawdor. Cawdor won the debate and restarted the march, but he did not forget Knox’s presumption.

            The British troops approached the area after nightfall. Col Colby led his Pembrokeshire Yeomanry with the intention of launching a night attack on the unsuspecting French. Unfortunately the French, led by the young Irishman St Leger, were very much expecting it. Perhaps you have not had the experience of trying to make hundreds of men walk silently through the night. I can assure you that their kit rattles, someone coughs, boots tramp, and all hope of secrecy and surprise evaporates. The French realised the British were coming and prepared their defensive line, and in the dark of the night the British could hear that the French were active and expecting them—so the night attack was called off. That was the only military manoeuvring of the invasion and yet, as a result, the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry will be granted the Battle Honour “Fishguard”; the only battle honour to be granted to a regiment on British soil.

            The next morning Tate wrote this letter:

 

To the Officer commanding His Britannic Majesty’s Troops. 5th. year of the Republic. The Circumstances under which the Body of the French Troops under my Command were landed at this Place renders it unnecessary to attempt any military operations, as they would tend only to Bloodshed and Pillage. We therefore desire to enter into a Negotiation upon Principles of Humanity for a surrender. If you are influenced by similar Considerations you may signify the same and, in the meantime, Hostilities shall cease. Health and Respect, Tate.

 

            In an act of phenomenal bluff, Cawdor replied:

 

Sir, The Superiority of the Force under my command, which is hourly increasing, must prevent my treating upon any Terms short of your surrendering your whole Force Prisoners of War. I enter fully into your Wish of preventing an unnecessary Effusion of Blood, which your speedy Surrender can alone prevent, and which will entitle you to that Consideration it is ever the Wish of British Troops to show an Enemy whose numbers are inferior.

 

            Cawdor had at best 660 Fencibles, Militia and Naval men, with no more on the way. Yet his claims of superiority of numbers might have been believable to the French due to the growing crowd of Welsh men and women who were gathering, armed with pitchforks, determined to see off the foreigners. When Tate’s force surrendered, on Goodwick Sands, to a local militia force on February 24th, 1797, the surrounding hills were packed with people. This gave rise to the legend that the scarlet cloaks of the Welsh women looked from a distance like British soldiers and thus fooled the French into believing they were outnumbered.

            The aftermath of the Invasion saw many unexpected consequences. Firstly the King sacked his French chef. Secondly, when news broke in London of a French invasion fleet the immediate result was a panic run on the bank. The withdrawals of gold coins stretched the Bank of England to its limit. As a consequence, just over a week later the Bank issued the very first promissory pound note as paper currency in the form that we know it today. The oldest surviving note held by the Bank is dated 6th March 1797.

            The Royal Navy sailed out to hunt for the invasion fleet, and found the four new French ships off the coast of Ireland, where they were still supporting the non-existent invasion. Once captured La Resistance was renamed HMS Fishguard.

            The French soldiers were reintroduced to their old friends, ankle chains, and thrown into every available prison in Pembrokeshire, before being packed off to Portsmouth’s prison hulks. A few managed to escape, in the process seducing two Pembrokeshire maidens and stealing Lord Cawdor’s yacht.

            Here in Pembrokeshire the most amusing result of the French fiasco was that it broke the reputation of the whelp Knox. Cawdor remembered the insult of Knox’s failure to acknowledge his superiority. And the gunners remembered their fury at being ordered to spike their beloved guns. As a result letters were sent. Cawdor induced his fellow officers to sign a letter threatening resignation if Knox was not sacked. Only Colby, the man who had galloped through the night to speak to Knox, stood by him.

            Knox repeatedly requested a court martial in order to present his case and try to clear his name, but the Duke of York preferred that the matter should be hushed up. Officially Knox and all the other officers had received the King’s thanks, so it was thought best not to look into the matter further. The only option left available to Knox was to challenge Cawdor to a duel. Although I know that they did meet, I am sorry to report that no one knows what happened at that duel. Did they talk? Did they fight? Your guess is as good as mine, but certainly neither was injured at the meeting. But Knox ended a broken man, an object of public ridicule, debt-ridden and living with a woman of easy virtue in London. Thus should end all men who retreat before the French.

            Here I end my tale, recounting events that happened many years ago, when I was a young man. Events that engulfed this remote area; saw this historic chapel desecrated; and which will still be remembered for years to come—at least every time you open your wallet to pay for a drink using paper money, not gold.

            I am and remain your humble Servant and fond Ancestor,

           

            Rev Richardson

 

 

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The Drones Club

 

By Torquil Arbuthnot

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 28)

 

The New Sheridan Club is delighted to announce that it has agreed reciprocal arrangements with the Drones Club.

            The postal address is Dover Street, Mayfair, W1. The windows of its smoking room overlook the street and command the portico and front steps of the Demosthenes Club opposite. Members are kindly requested not to fire brazil nuts from catapults at Demosthenes members sporting top hats.

            The Drones membership is unclear though may be judged with some accuracy at between 140 and 150. A member, a Mr Bertie Wooster, lets us into this secret when he comments on the universal popularity of the annual Darts Sweepstake. “They roll up in dense crowds to buy tickets at 10/-.” The winner “stands to scoop in £56/10/-”. This would indicate 113 entrants. Allowing for absentees the total roll may be estimated at around 145. Of these, fifty-three members have been identified. In informal nomenclature and shorn of titles, as befitting the general atmos, they are:

 

Alistair Bingham-Reeves

Biscuit Biskerton

Monty Bodkin

Jimmy Bowles

Tubby Bridgnorth

Freddie Bullivant

Monty Byng

Hugo Carmody

Freddie Chalk-Marshall

Stilton Cheesewright

Berry Conway

Looney Coote

Nelson Cork

Algie Crufts

Ronnie Devereux

Dudley Finch

Gussie Fink-Nottle

Ronnie Fish

Freddie Fitch-Fitch

Boko Fittleworth

Reggie Foljambe

Aubrey Fothergill

Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps

Tuppy Glossop

Percy Gorringe

Reggie Havershot

Bingo Little

Algie Martyn

Archie Mulliner

Mervyn Mulliner

Freddie Oaker

Horace Pendlebury-Davenport

Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright

Oofy Prosser

Rupert Psmith

Dogface Rainsby

Tuppy Rogers

Freddie Rooke

Bill Rowcester

Oofy Simpson

Stiffy Stiffham

Archie Studd

Reggie Tennyson

Freddie Threepwood

Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton

Hugo Walderwick

Capt. J. G. Walkinshaw

Freddie Widgeon

Ambrose Wiffin

Percy Wimbolt

Dick Wimple

Bertie Wooster

Algie Wymondham

 

Oofy Simpson for a brief while ranked as the Club’s richest property but (though Looney Coote and Bertie Wooster are “stagnant with the stuff”) Oofy Prosser is the undisputed Club millionaire.

            In the dining-room, bread rolls are the accepted point d’appui. The Drones is one of those clubs where they display the cold dishes on a central table, and Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright once hit the game pie six times with six consecutive bread rolls from a seat at the far window. In the smoking-room, lump sugar is the tactical missile.

            Members are also pretty keen on the joke goods element. The plate lifter has had a notable vogue. The dribble glass is a favourite ice-breaker. The surprise salt shaker has had several successes. They still speak, too, of Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright’s emotion when the bread roll he picked up squeaked loudly and a mouse ran out of it. Strong men had to rally round with brandy.

            The annual incursion of outsize uncles, visiting the metrop for the Eton and Harrow Match and descending on their nephews for luncheon at the Drones (where they make for the bar like bison for a water-hole) gave Freddie Widgeon the idea for the Fat Uncles Sweepstake.

            Among the Club’s staff are Bates (hall porter); McGarry (a barman) and Robinson (a cloakroom waiter).

 

 

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Voyaging Through the Strange Seas of Thought

 

Travel, Nostalgia and the Triumph of the Imagination

 

By Des Esseintes

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 28)

 

To explain the import of this somewhat theoretical essay to those more intrepid chaps and chappesses who were doubtless hoping for—nay, expecting—something altogether more dogged, buchaneering (sic) and, not to put too fine a point on it, English—I must perforce utter, however briefly, a few mundanities. I was first asked to help deliver a talk to the assembled eager Chappist throng as long ago as 2006, after I played the part of an enthusiastic Leda to the more experienced rowing deities of Senior Sub and Mr Fischer-Pryce (né Beckwith) during a re-enactment of Mr Jerome’s fictional memoir. I was unable to take part, much to my reluctance and the open joy of the huddled masses. When Mr Hartley asked me to give an illustrated exposition of my forthcoming trip to the Raj, therefore, I was especially eager not to let him down. January was agreed as a suitable time, and I planned a thrilling and almost entirely fictitious account involving daring escapes from corpulent fakirs, ravenous tigers and that voluptuous harbinger of Death, the votaress of Vishnu (formerly of 27 Manor Gardens, Chippenham).

            However, as Mr Wodehouse has put it so perfectly, “It’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.” Having accepted a j*b which in many ways was splendid (monthly salary equivalent to more than twice the annual Indian wage, no taxes of any kind, free travel, free food, a free fine two-bedroomed flat with marble floors in a beautiful park with a rather fine—and free—steam-room on the ground floor, all in return for a nugatory amount of pacing up and down in front of impressionable youngsters declaiming demonstrable falsehoods in the name of Academe), I was less than joyous when I was informed that the visa requirements had been changed, seven months after I signed my contract and a mere six weeks before I was due to travel. Naturally, I was not told of this in advance—only once I had waited for weeks until it was too late to change my flight. All sorts of dreadfully tiresome and dull situations then transpired which meant that the w*rk collapsed, leaving me having to find new employment and accommodation with no notice. After quite a few months of the sorts of social etiquette posers rarely covered in Noblesse Oblige or Debrett’s Modern Manners, I found myself settled again. Into this hard-won tranquillity I must confess that Mr Hartley’s nuanced reminder of my solemn oath made in years of plenty came as something of a depth charge.

            Nevertheless, a promise made is a promise kept—or ought to be, I felt—and so I summoned up my little all whilst putting in the hours at my new Mammon and conjured up something approximating to the following. I cannot say that every prospect will please, but it may at least lead my readers, in the words of my old tutor, to “disagree. Violently”—and that, surely, is something.

            To travel is to be disappointed; to arrive, doubly so. According to the much lamented Sir John Mandeville, author of the astonishingly fertile Travels of Sir John Mandeville: “In Ind and about Ind be more than 5,000 isles good and great that men dwell in, without those that be uninhabitable, and without other small isles. In every isle is great plenty of cities, and of towns, and of folk without number. For men of Ind have this condition of kind, that they never go out of their own country, and therefore is there great multitude of people.”

            Wise, sound chaps.

            Mandeville wrote his enormously underrated book in 1356, and it should be in every library in the land. The whole book is gemlike in its simplicity. It anticipates Huysmans and Wilde; it chides—but how gently and implicitly—the lauded Victorian Age of the Explorer.

            For “Sir John Mandeville”, author of the first and greatest travel guide of all time, never left France.

            The world of this mighty explorer is a fine one indeed for the chap whose explorations have disappointed him. For included in this “factual” account—he even claims that his book was personally edited and vetted by the Pope—are monsters, wonders and riches aplenty:

 

And beyond these isles there is another isle that is clept Pytan. The folk of that country ne till not, ne labour not the earth, for they eat no manner thing. And they be of good colour and of fair shape, after their greatness. But the small be as dwarfs, but not so little as be the Pigmies. These men live by the smell of wild apples. And when they go any far way, they bear the apples with them; for if they had lost the savour of the apples, they should die anon. They ne be not full reasonable, but they be simple and bestial.

            After that is another isle, where the folk be all skinned rough hair, as a rough beast, save only the face and the palm of the hand. These folk go as well under the water of the sea, as they do above the land all dry. And they eat both flesh and fish all raw. In this isle is a great river that is well a two mile and an half of breadth that is clept Beaumare.

            And from that river a fifteen journeys in length, going by the deserts of the tother side of the river—whoso might go it, for I was not there, but it was told us of them of the country, that within those deserts were the trees of the sun and of the moon, that spake to King Alexander, and warned him of his death. And men say that the folk that keep those trees, and eat of the fruit and of the balm that groweth there, live well four hundred year or five hundred year, by virtue of the fruit and of the balm. For men say that balm groweth there in great plenty and nowhere else, save only at Babylon, as I have told you before. We would have gone toward the trees full gladly if we had might. But I trow that 100,000 men of arms might not pass those deserts safely, for the great multitude of wild beasts and of great dragons and of great serpents that there be, that slay and devour all that come anent them. In that country be many white elephants without number, and of unicorns and of lions of many manners, and many of such beasts that I have told before, and of many other hideous beasts without number.

 

Mandeville, like Petronius Arbiter before him and Beau Brummel after him, takes great delight in the lavish (not to say lascivious) lifestyle of his hosts:

 

And the hall of the palace is full nobly arrayed, and full marvellously attired on all parts in all things that men apparel with any hall. And first, at the chief of the hall is the emperor’s throne, full high, where he sitteth at the meat. And that is of fine precious stones, bordered all about with pured gold and precious stones, and great pearls. And the grees that he goeth up to the table be of precious stones mingled with gold.

            And at the left side of the emperor’s siege is the siege of his first wife, one degree lower than the emperor; and it is of jasper, bordered with gold and precious stones. And the siege of his second wife is also another siege, more lower than his first wife; and it is also of jasper, bordered with gold, as that other is. And the siege of the third wife is also more low, by a degree, than the second wife. For he hath always three wives with him, where that ever he be.

            And after his wives, on the same side, sit the ladies of his lineage yet lower, after that they be of estate. And all those that be married have a counterfeit made like a man’s foot upon their heads, a cubit long, all wrought with great pearls, fine and orient, and above made with peacocks’ feathers and of other shining feathers; and that stands upon their heads like a crest, in token that they be under man’s foot and under subjection of man. And they that be unmarried have none such.

            And the emperor hath his table alone by himself, that is of gold and of precious stones, or of crystal bordered with gold, and full of precious stones or of amethysts, or of lignum aloes that cometh out of paradise, or of ivory bound or bordered with gold. And every one of his wives hath also her table by herself. And his eldest son and the other lords also, and the ladies, and all that sit with the emperor have tables alone by themselves, full rich. And there ne is no table but that it is worth an huge treasure of goods.

            Also above the emperor’s table and the other tables, and above a great part in the hall, is a vine made of fine gold. And it spreadeth all about the hall. And it hath many clusters of grapes, some white, some green, some yellow and some red and some black, all of precious stones. The white be of crystal and of beryl and of iris; the yellow be of topazes; the red be of rubies and of grenaz and of alabrandines; the green be of emeralds, of perydoz and of chrysolites; and the black be of onyx and garantez. And they be all so properly made that it seemeth a very vine bearing kindly grapes.

 

You will readily imagine that, thus primed, I was tremendously excited about entering

this fantastic (in every sense of the word) country. Yet this India, O my Best Beloved, no longer exists.

            Would it not be fair to say that the India of gun-toting “Mumbai” gangsters holding sway at the aerodrome, of presumptuous officials demanding buff-coloured documents no Englishman with a sense of dignity possesses—the one that, in its dull way, has the presumption to “exist” in the “real world”—is a pearl that has lost its lustre?

            And yet even the real India once had a rare beauty. But this beauty was never quite what the imagination would like it to be. By way of illustration, many readers will recall the glorious “shot”, as I believe cinematographers like to term it, in Mr David Lean’s A Passage to India, of the Gateway to India, with the sparkling ocean behind it and the fiercely disciplined fighting men of the British Army holding sway in front. The description of how this came together, however, given by Mr Lean’s biographer (Mr Kevin Brownlow), is disquieting:

            “The most intricate model was for the matte shot at the beginning where you get the Gateway of India. That was a triple matte shot. The sea had to be matted at the back, because that’s now a dry-dock area, then the Gateway itself and then the square in front of it where you see the British troops. That is not an open space, but a garden with a statue and parked cars. That part of the matte, with the troops, was shot in Delhi, the Viceroy coming through it in Bombay.”

            Astute readers, their eyes and wits undimmed by tears of gin, will have spotted that the glorious imagination of India is here doubly confounded. First, nostalgia remembers the glorious past when the sea did indeed

come right up to the Gateway itself. But second, and more worryingly, the square in front of the Gateway never was an open space. We are dealing with a place that has not so much lost its lustre as never quite possessed it in the first place.

            We may, in disappointment, veer to the opposite extremity and denounce the modern world as a place of ugliness and despair. It is true that over 60 per cent of the 21 million inhabitants of “Mumbai” live in slums, in often desperate poverty. But the “Untouchables” of the time of the Raj and the Mughal Emperors before it were at least as miserable and downtrodden as now. Travel was, in many ways, more elegant and pleasing to the discerning explorer in the past than now. There is no doubt that the nine day voyage via Imperial Airways, stopping for supplies and refreshments in Paris, Brinois, Athens, Alexandria and Baghdad (then still conjuring images of the Thousand and One Nights rather than suicide bombs and shattered Mesopotamian relics) before heading on to Delhi and Calcutta, would have been a more exciting voyage than that suffered now by the indignant chap, forced to remove his Oxfords by a gum-chewing factotum at the erstwhile village of Heath Row.

            Yet even in what we now like to think of as the great days of travel, when below the great Imperial Airways roaring above floated the elegant palaces of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, minor difficulties would always present themselves. A waiter might spill one’s Martini—a wave might distress one’s coiffure—a houri’s embrace might remind one irresistibly of the clumsier advances of the memsahib.

In short, there never has been a “golden age” of travel. There is no precious metal in travelling.

            I met, during my brief travels in the Raj, many fine specimens of man and womanhood. Yet they had lost something—and so have we. In our correct and noble urge to avoid the objectification of “The Other” as an exotic and thrilling experience and to attempt to understand our fellow creatures as our equals—a fine aim—we gloss over the glories of the differences which once made us delight to travel. This applies equally to travels in the past, of course: many a potentially interesting documentary on the Egyptians or the Hittites has been ruined by reconstructions in which every effort has been made to ascribe viewpoints, hairstyles and attitudes to dental hygiene unique to North West Europe and the USA post-1990 to the inhabitants of Third Dynasty Egypt. In our effort to remove the opera-glass of disdain we have substituted a well-meaning monocle which flattens all difference.

            The phrase “an uncertain world” is bandied around so frequently it has become a cliché. In fact, the world has never been more certain, in the worst sense of the word, than now. Unlike our ancestors we know that angels are not about to deliver us from the sins of the world—that the gods will not descend from Mount Olympus intent upon ravishing us—we know that all life holds in store for us is routine, monotonous and regular. Yet the only solutions to this “uncertainty” seem to be proffered by banks and life insurance companies, few of whose employees tend to be philosophical giants. There is, in fact, only one solution to the limited vagaries of our padded cell of a world.

            We must turn to the final member of our triumvirate—the Imagination. Using this faculty we can design and live in a world fitted to our desires as snugly as a well-cut merkin. We can live in the past, the future, a glorified (or even a more sordid version of the) present; we can wade through distinguished embolisms on a mountain of Jurassic tricycles or dance a solemn fandango with a lunatic King of the Perch-Folk. I wish to make it clear that this resort to Fancy is not my own invention—it has a noble history. Apart from the noble Sir John Mandeville, we have Xavier de Maistre’s delightful Voyage autour de ma chambre:

 

D’ailleurs de quelle ressource cette manière de voyager n’est-elle pas pour les malades? Ils n’auront point à craindre l’intempérie de l’air et des saisons. Pour les poltrons, ils seront à l’abri des voleurs; ils ne rencontreront ni précipices ni fondrières. Des milliers de personnes qui avant moi n’avaient point osé, d’autres qui n’avaient pu, d’autres enfin qui n’avaient pas songé à voyager, vont s’y résoudre à mon exemple. L’être le plus indolent hésiterait-il à se mettre en route avec moi pour se procurer un plaisir qui ne lui coûtera ni peine ni argent?

 

(At any rate, in what way is this method of travelling not suitable for the sick? They will have no reason to fear the intemperacy of the air and the different seasons. The cowardly will be sheltered from thieves—they will encounter neither precipice nor pot-hole. Thousands of people who before me did not dare, others who were not able to and others, finally, who had not thought about travelling, will resolve to follow my example. Would the most indolent being hesitate to place himself alongside me in order to procure a pleasure which will cost him neither pain nor fortune?)

 

The biographer of my namesake, M. Huysmans, writes uncharacteristically well of a particularly apposite episode:

 

In his sedentary life, only two countries had ever attracted him: Holland and England.

            He had satisfied the first of his desires. Unable to keep away, one fine day he had left Paris and visited the towns of the Low Lands, one by one.

            In short, nothing but cruel disillusions had resulted from this trip. He had fancied a Holland after the works of Teniers and Steen, of Rembrandt and Ostade, in his usual way imagining rich, unique and incomparable Ghettos, had thought of amazing kermesses, continual debauches in the country sides, intent for a view of that patriarchal simplicity, that jovial lusty spirit celebrated by the old masters.

            Certainly, Haarlem and Amsterdam had enraptured him. The unwashed people, seen in their country farms, really resembled those types painted by Van Ostade, with their uncouth children and their old fat women, embossed with huge breasts and enormous bellies. But of the unrestrained joys, the drunken family carousals, not a whit. He had to admit that the Dutch paintings at the Louvre had misled him. They had simply served as a springing board for his dreams. He had rushed forward on a false track and had wandered into capricious visions, unable to discover in the land itself, anything of that real and magical country which he had hoped to behold, seeing nothing at all, on the plots of ground strewn with barrels, of the dances of petticoated and stockinged peasants crying for very joy, stamping their feet out of sheer happiness and laughing loudly.

            Decidedly nothing of all this was visible. Holland was a country just like any other country, and what was more, a country in no wise primitive, not at all simple, for the Protestant religion with its formal hypocricies and solemn rigidness held sway here.

            The memory of that disen-chantment returned to him. Once more he glanced at his watch: ten minutes still separated him from the train’s departure. “It is about time to ask for the bill and leave,” he told himself.

            He felt an extreme heaviness in his stomach and through his body. ‘Come!’ he addressed himself, ‘let us drink and screw up our courage.’ He filled a glass of brandy, while asking for the reckoning. An individual in black suit and with a napkin under one arm, a sort of majordomo with a bald and sharp head, a greying beard without moustaches, came forward. A pencil rested behind his ear and he assumed an attitude like a singer, one foot in front of the other; he drew a note book from his pocket, and without glancing at his paper, his eyes fixed on the ceiling, near a chandelier, wrote while counting. “There you are!” he said, tearing the sheet from his note book and giving it to Des Esseintes who looked at him with curiosity, as though he were a rare animal. What a surprising John Bull, he thought, contemplating this phlegmatic person who had, because of his shaved mouth, the appearance of a wheelsman of an American ship.

            At this moment, the tavern door opened. Several persons entered bringing with them an odor of wet dog to which was blent the smell of coal wafted by the wind through the opened door. Des Esseintes was incapable of moving a limb. A soft warm languor prevented him from even stretching out his hand to light a cigar. He told himself: ‘Come now, let us get up, we must take ourselves off.’ Immediate objections thwarted his orders. What is the use of moving, when one can travel on a chair so magnificently? Was he not even now in London, whose aromas and atmosphere and inhabitants, whose food and utensils surrounded him? For what could he hope, if not new disillusion-ments, as had happened to him in Holland?

            He had but sufficient time to race to the station. An overwhelming aversion for the trip, an imperious need of remaining tranquil, seized him with a more and more obvious and stubborn strength. Pensively, he let the minutes pass, thus cutting off all retreat, and he said to himself, “Now it would be necessary to rush to the gate and crowd into the baggage room! What ennui! What a bore that would be!” Then he repeated to himself once more, “In fine, I have experienced and seen all I wished to experience and see. I have been filled with English life since my departure. I would be mad indeed to go and, by an awkward trip, lose those imperishable sensations. How stupid of me to have sought to disown my old ideas, to have doubted the efficacy of the docile phantasmagories of my brain, like a very fool to have thought of the necessity, of the curiosity, of the interest of an excursion!”

            “Well!” he exclaimed, consulting his watch, “it is now time to return home.”

 

Mr Wilde, Huysman’s sometimes over-enthusiastic disciple, puts the philosophical argument for the superiority of the Fantastic over the Actual very clearly in the following passage:

 

People tell us that Art makes us love Nature more than we loved her before; that

it reveals her secrets to us; and that after a careful study of Corot and Constable we see things in her that had escaped our observation. My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out. When I look at a landscape I cannot help seeing all its defects. It is fortunate for us, however, that Nature is so imperfect, as otherwise we should have no art at all. Art is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper place. As for the infinite variety of Nature, that is a pure myth. It is not to be found in Nature herself. It resides in the imagination, or fancy, or cultivated blindness of the man who looks at her.

 

And, lest my auditors, already weary of my intemperate volubility, feel that my examples are drawn solely from authors of a more ancient era, here is Mr Douglas Adams—noted Babbagophiliac: “The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.”

            So what are our conclusions? Although countless more illustrations of the central premise might have been adduced—the fact that we spend most of our time when we do travel reading books or watching films, the inexplicable desire of Englishmen who go abroad for a lengthy period to desire “traditional” meals in an unsuitable climate—the catechism is simple.

            1. The purpose of life is to find one’s place in the universe.

            2. That place is rarely Abroad, and still more rarely Outside, unless the one of 1 is singularly easily-pleased.

            3. Let us therefore remain at Home in Britain; Indoors, behind a nobly sported oak which resists the infamous siren calls of the foreign; and using as our simple yet universal passport a beaker full of the warm South, let us set sail on what Wordsworth called the strange seas of thought.

 

(Disclaimer: None of the above is true. No responsibility is assumed by the author for any outbreaks of especial indolence amongst readers. The true opinions of the author must remain his own.)

 

 

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Important Penny-Farthing News

 

By Clayton Hartley

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 26, December 2008)

 

A Greenwich man has just completed an epic and hugely worthwhile journey around the world on a penny-farthing. Joff Summerfield, 39, who used to run a market stall, took two and a half years to cross 23 countries.

            The last person to achieve this feat was American Thomas Stevens in 1886. It doesn’t look as if penny-farthing technology has come on much since then, but then Mr Summerfield, who is a former Formula One engineer, made his bicycle himself, repairing it as he went along.

            In fact, although he averaged one “decent fall” a fortnight, he only had one major prang, when he was hit by a lorry in New Zealand and fractured his wrist. He just strapped it up and carried on. Other setbacks included being robbed while camping in Prague and dealing with low oxygen levels at high altitude in Tibet.

            In fact Tibet, across the border of which he sneaked his bicycle under cover of darkness one night, was Mr Summerfield’s favourite country, despite encountering a landslide there, plus the absence of tarmac and the gruelling labour of the high passes—the penny-farthing has a hard saddle and no gears.

            I’d like to be able to say that Mr Summerfield conducted his feat in tweed plus-fours but he instead chose to sport modern synthetic clothing. It is heartening to report, however, that he does seem to have worn a pith helmet for the whole journey. Mr Summerfield necessarily travelled light, with just a change of clothes, a stove, a tent and a sleeping bag. He had just £5 a day spending money.

            He also took some 3,000 daguerreotypes, which you may inspect here. “The best man-made site was the Taj Mahal,” he reports, “and the best natural one was the Grand Canyon.” He also stopped off to take part in the World Penny-Farthing Championships in Tasmania.

            Mr Summerfield, who previously crossed America in a Morris Minor, plans to write a book about his adventures.

            If Mr Summerfield’s journey has inspired you, you may like to know that he builds penny-farthings commercially. “It’s the only thing I ride. I’ll be riding it again in a couple of days.”

 

Interesting penny-farthing fact

While holidaying in Copenhagen I discovered this nugget. While Denmark has plenty of history (mostly revolving around them, the Swedes and the Norwegians taking it in turn to take over each other’s countries) there is only one really important historical fact: among the many things built by King Christian IV (who bankrupted the country in the process) was a combined church, library and observatory for the university. The latter is at the top of a 114-foot tower. Instead of stairs, the tower has a spiral ramp inside, allegedly so that Christian could be driven to the top in his carriage rather than having to walk. (In fact Peter the Great once rode up on a horse, hotly pursued by the angry Tsarina in a coach and four. Quite what he was planning to do when he got to the top I don’t know.)

            Anyway, in 1888 this spiral ramp was finally put to good use: they had a penny-farthing race up it. The winner covered the 680-foot course in three minutes.

 

 

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Over The Line

 

a short story

 

By Bernard Shapiro

 

(First appeared in Newsletter No. 25)

 

Time up the Maungawha Valley dripped.


            Not that it wasn’t wet, which it was in a deluged sort of way, but it was the manner in which time settled on things and covered everything in a lather of moss or mould. Days felt longer, silences louder, storms slower to pass. Even the bush seemed older.


            Mr Longridge was 27 but looked forty. He’d been scrub cutting and odd-jobbing since his father had passed on the house, and it’d left its mark on him, inside and out.


He was lonely. 


            Maybe it was nigh to find a woman to share the chores and time with or better yet a mate to yarn to. He padded off the veranda of the cob hut and set to picking up dead fern fronds behind the stable, which he then heaped in a pile. His mate Mr Allen lived three miles up Calf Creek above the gorge, and by the time he saw the rising smoke and arrived the pork’d be hung, the wood stacked and the strong mead dragged from under the copper. He lit his signal fire and set about the chores while an overcast day ate the heavy grey plumes.


            Just on dark he was smoking his pipe on the front steps, watching it hose down and listening to the water tank overflowing when Allen led his horse out of the bush edge.


            “Mr Longridge!” Allen waved, smeared with mud.


            “You old codger! There’s clothes, fire and a meal inside. Come on—warm yourself up while I see to Betty!”


            On the chiselled rimu bench by stinking pig tallow candles and heady mead Mr Allen let fly with some news.


            “They’ve got wire going up in the next valley, I see.”


            “Fencing us are they?”


            “Telephones, Mr Longridge! Or I’m a blind Kaka.”


            “TELEPHONES! Well good lord! Here?!”


            “Well, no,” smiled Allen, “the Westmead is putting them in, but sure as hot tea they’re coming.”
Longridge threw a faggot of manuka into the clay fireplace and swung the billy off the hook. As he poured the tea, thoughts were racing.


“Y’know... Westmead Saddle isn’t much of a hurdle. I’m reckoning we could get a wire over there, if you’d be for it!”


            “It’s a big job though,” rounded Allen. “We’ll need the help of the rest of the valley—and that’ll take some doing! My brother’s in the Westmead as I speak, Mr Waynesbridge is a good day’s ride away and I’m struck if I know where that Maori family’s taken off to now!”


            “What we need is a good fire to bring ‘em in!” grinned Longridge.


            “What we need,” laughed Allen, “is a telephone!”


            In the morning the river was too high to get the horses across. The next it rained wildly from the South and on the third there wasn’t any water coming down the river at all! Neither of them were eager to brave the gorge until it flooded itself clear and Allen had ‘things to do’ so they agreed on the fire option to round up their neighbours.


            Using the horses as drays they teamed a rotten matai off its perch, down the scrubby slope and into the gorge with the intention that the dam-burst would sort things out in good time. The trunk was lit with great trepidation but they retired homewards with a pig, shot from the saddle.


            That night it blew Nor-East and shook the tin in its fury.


            “Mr Allen!” called Longridge from his bedroom over the racket.


            “Yeah?”