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14th June 1856. Physician Heal Thyself.

Today in 1856 the Rugeley, Staffordshire, doctor, William Palmer was hanged by George Smith before a crowd of 30,000 outside Stafford prison.

Palmer had a chequered history whilst training to be a doctor being accused of theft and whilst working at Stafford Hospital was accused of poisoning a friend with strychnine.

Indeed Palmer was only tried for the murder of this friend which constituted a first for murder by strychnine.  Palmer’s diary records the death: ’Cook died at 10 o’clock this morning’. It appears that he had accompanied Palmer to Shrewsbury Races after the doctor had mysteriously purchased strychnine.

However though a botched autopsy found no evidence of strychnine in Cook’s body,  Palmer did go on to poison his mother-in-law and various members of his family, even a house guest.

Article about Palmer in Illustrated London News 27th May 1856.

His wife died at 27 and he realised the money in insurance at the same time as he was having an affair with a maid by whom he had illegitimate child. It was assumed that his wife whom he had married at the ‘Horn-Dance’ at the nearby village of Abbots Bromley, had died in the third great cholera pandemic 1853-4 throughout the country.

One outcome of the trial of Palmer was that the Central Criminal Court Act 1856 popularly known as ‘Palmer’s Act’, removed trials to the Old Bailey, London from local courts when it is thought public outrage would affect the outcome.(1)

When doctors are allegedly charged with murder it gets large-scale publicity as was the case  with John Bodkin Adams in 1950s Eastbourne who was only charged with two murders, both of which failed, the later case on nolle prosequi (Not to pursue) which was inexplicable even to the trial judge (Devlin) who in his report criticised prosecuting counsel Manningham-Buller, later Lord Chancellor (1962-4). (2)

Questions were asked in Parliament, not surprising when it appears he could have been responsible for over a hundred deaths. However the problem is always elucidating how far the deaths were attributable to attempts to relieve pain by the over-use of morphine.

The fact that he was charged with various offences for forgery and other irregularities in his chaotic career, and had been rather cavalier with his patients valuables whilst forcing them to change their wills in his favour, make a serious case for suspicion not murder.

It was noted by a local that ‘Adams started his career on a bike and rose through the prestige grades of car until acquiring a chauffeur-driven Rolls. However ‘he was loved by his many rich clients as recounted by Jane Robins whose rich ancestor was a patient. (3)

Adams was ‘struck-off’ only to be reinstated in 1961 and died after a peaceful old age in his own bed with questions still raging about his guilt.









Which brings us to Dr Shipman credited with a tally of over 200 deaths of the elderly, which makes him the serial-killer par-excellence. He was convicted and sentenced, but never completed as he hanged himself in his cell.

It appears like Bodkin Adams he was a one doctor practice and indeed his wife used to accompany him on his rounds, no doubt with a hot flask of tea, and stayed in the car whilst he was up to his dastardly deeds. Here again he was not averse to relieving patients of their valuables and benefiting from changed wills in his favour.

The only people it appears who had any doubts about the good doctor were the undertakers who not surprisingly observed a larger than normal trade resulting from Shipman’s medical ministrations. But they kept quiet after all trade was good and there was no proof at the time of anything untoward.


(1) (19 & 20 Victoria c 16, originally the Trial of Offences Act 1856.

(2) Manningham Buller (KC) later Viscount Dilhorne served as Macmillan’s Attorney-General until taking the Woolsack as Lord Chancellor. One daughter became head of MI-5.

(3) Daily Mail 18.5.2013. Jane Robins. A Glutton for Murder: ‘The Curious Habits of Bodkin Adams like Agatha Christie Gone Mad.





13th June 1944. ‘V’ Weapons.

It was on Tuesday 13th June 1944 that two part-time members of the Observer Corps on top of a Martello Tower at Dymchurch on Romney Marsh, Kent, at eight minutes past four in the morning, saw a ‘strange, dark, black shape surrounded by a red glare hurtling in their direction’.

Landing in Bow in London’s East End, it proved to be the first V1, (Germany’s Vengeance Weapon 1). Killing six people, within days over 600 had killed 500 people.

V1 underground factories in Harz Mountains which relied on 1000s of slave labourers.

It was the first of 30,000 V-Weapons, ‘flying bombs’ using pulse-jet technology to fall on London in that second Battle of Britain.

Unleashed on the south of England from bases in the Pas de Calais, it was vaunted as Hitler’s ‘secret weapon’, capable of doing 400mph and carrying a ton of explosives. (1)

So on July 5th for the third time in five years a dismal stream of homeless mothers and children were evacuated from the areas around London which ‘the doodlebug’ had turned into ‘bomb alley’.

Flying at low altitudes and controlled by a gyroscope, the V1 was designed to stall when it had run out of fuel. ‘As long as you could hear the engines you were safe’; not until they stopped did they head earthwards, with devastating results.

Our only defence was the use of barrage balloons, and ‘Ack Ack’ batteries, many manned by women, and Home Guard units which were soon supplied with American close proximity fuses. Also effective was improved Radar and use of the new fast Tempest fighter, which when run out of ammunition, managed to flip many V1’s over and turn off course.

The last of the V1s landed in Romford on 14th January 1945, but an even more serious threat had arrived in the previous September with the first V2 rocket. 15 tons in weight and carrying 1000 lbs. of explosive the first launched from  of the Holland and Germany landed on Chiswick.

They gave no warning, except for a ‘tearing sound, like an express train’ as they landed vertically from heights of 50 miles, faster than the speed of sound. Frequent explosions were put down to ‘gas explosions’ so as to not cause alarm. It was admitted later that panic gripped Whitehall when it was realised there was no defence against the V2 and wondered whether breaking point of the population would now snap.

Last day of V2 attack on Vallance Road, London. 27th March 1945.

The V weapon programme affected home morale when people thought bombing was over. However General Eisenhower Chief of Allied Forces later said that the German resources as a result of the V1 and V2 were diverted from other areas.

Albert Speer the German armaments minister said the, ‘V weapon’ programme probably did more harm to the Germans by diverting resources away from developing fighters in the air war.

Concentration on attacking British ports might also have had the effect of cancelling the invasion of Europe on D-Day in June 1944.

(1) ‘those damn silly rockets’, as Air Marshal ‘Bomber’ Harris called them. Churchill in his anger even considered reprisal gas attacks, but was dissuaded by Eisenhower and Air Chief Tedder.

It was nicknamed the ’Doodlebug’ (to be found in Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer and named after an insect found in the Mississippi), or ‘buzz-bomb’.

References widely available in the public domain.

Imperial War Museum. Pics.

10th June 1827. Hazards of Delivering the Mail.

‘I safely drove from stage to stage…Till death came by in a hearse unseen…’ as inscribed on the tombstone of James Dean killed Today in Hungerford in 1827.

Headstone of James Dean.

In Hungerford which lay on the old coaching route between London and Bath, there is a memorial stone to James Dean, ‘to the ‘Late Bath coachman departed this life June 10th 1827 aged 36’. It is said that Dean driving his coach along Charnham Street collided with a hearse causing the coffin to kill him.

A local ‘Coach and Carriers Guide’ at the height of the coaching era recorded 200 coaches every week as plying the Bath Road. Most spectacular were the Royal Mail vehicles operated on this route by William Chaplin & Co., making the overnight journey from Hungerford to Bath in 11 ½ hours, compared with the Stage Coach of 18 hours.

However the coaching growth bubble collapsed after its hey-day in the 1830s to its sudden demise in the next decade the result of the early success of the steam train epitomised in the ‘Rocket’ in 1830 and the opening of Brunel’s Great Western via Swindon in 1841, and as early as 1842 Pigot’s Directory shows only two coaches serving the Bath Road.

Now the Directory advertises conveyances to the nearest Railway Station at Faringdon Road a few miles away and a fairly regular conveyance to Reading Station. But in 1847 even this wasn’t needed as a line from Newbury extended the ‘Berks and Hants’ to a nearby terminus.

Now the accent was on small carriages as seen by 1869 with a local Directory advertising ‘Flys’ from the Bear and the Three Swans to meet every train with no mention of any coach service.

The decline of coaching pushed previously busy and thriving places such as Hognaston, Derbyshire with its three Inns serving two routes back into a rural backwater where it has remained. The last London-based coach left for Norwich in April 1846.

However some places bucked the trend for The Directory of 1851 described Stone in Staffordshire, as a ‘very lively town and great thoroughfare with coaches, carriers, travellers and 38 stage-coaches daily’, but this was on the important London to Holyhead route (now A51), and not to last.

Moses Nobbs was the longest serving Mail Guard serving for 55 years 1836-1891 having made the transition from stage coach to the railway Travelling Post Office (TPO).

Watercolour by H E Brown.
c 1890 of Nobbs.

Mulready Envelope.






The new ‘Mulready’ postal-letter stationery (above) from London delivered to Walton Hall, Derbyshire in 1840 to Matthew Gisborne from London would have been sent using the Birmingham and Derby Junction Railway, to the local station, (opened in 1839), before being delivered by horse.

artwork Post Office Museum. Shows mail being eagerly collected.

It is a sober thought that about 130 years after the demise of the guarded mail-coach there was a raid on a TPO in broad daylight with not a mail guard in sight.

Ref: Post Office Museum.


9th June 1940. Camellia Sinensis.

Samuel Pepys recorded having his first cup of tea on 25th September 1660.

Tea was rationed today in 1940, a calamity as it had become the national beverage from the early 1900s.

Compared with the mid 19th century when it was a luxury beveridge, tea became more widely drunk after 1866 when duty was halved and helped by retailers such as David Lewis of Liverpool who bought directly from the shippers and so acquiring nationwide fame.(1)

Tea plants had been introduced from China into British India in the 1840s, the product being imported into Britain as a temperance drink alternative to the scourge of heavy beer consumption by the East India Company.

Commonly known as John Company its sales made up a fifth of our annual imports resulting by the start of the 18thc and over the next century in its ability to wield enormous power.

One of the instigators of the Indian tea trade was the botanist and collector Robert Fortune (1812-1880) best known for his smuggled introduction of tea plants into British India from China in 1848, mainly to Ceylon and Darjeeling and the foundation of the Assam tea, on behalf of the British East India Company.

After the Treaty of Nanjing access to China was improved in certain areas but Fortune strayed into forbidden territory disguised as a Chinese merchant. He was helped in his plant transportation by Dr Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward’s Case, the Wardian Case, which in 1834 ensured the safe transportation of specimens from Australia and China.

John Company didn’t just import leaves but it supplied caddies, tables in exotic woods and the silks and brocades to wear to smart people’s tea parties. British tea interests were protected by co-operation with local rulers and employees were encouraged to marry Indian women to foster good relations.

Lancashire family enjoying ration free tea. in 1952. Bert Hardy/Getty Images

Not until the 3rd October in 1952 did the Minister of Food, Major Gwyllym Lloyd George announce tea rationing was to end on the following Sunday after 12 years; sugar wasn’t de-rationed until 26th September the following year.

(1) Tea was locked away from the servants by the use of locked caddies.

References/Pics. 27.5.2011.



8th June 1607.The Power of Land.

Today in 1607 saw the so-called Newton Rebellion in Northants against the enclosure of common land which had been traditionally used by the peasantry for grazing cattle and raising crops.

It had been led by a ‘Captain Pouch’, one John Reynolds, who carried  a supposed magical pouch said to enclose his divine authority, when 1.000 rebelled against the Tresham Family, landowners at Newton.

Enclosure had been a feature of the countryside since the 1200s, increasing in the Tudor era as landowners were keen to maximise wealth from sheep and notable for inspiring Ket’s, Norfolk Rebellion in 1549. It was a movement to gather speed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Midland riots and causes would have been known to Shakespeare whose family had leased large areas of land around Stratford and susceptible to Enclosure and it has been mooted that the plot of Coriolanus written about this time and which centred on famine in ancient Rome, was seen as an exploitation by the rich to drive up the price of bread and other essentials.(1)

Memorial to Newton dead.

Newton Marks.



The troubles in the countryside would have caused much distress and unrest; the only response from James I (VI) was to order the rioters to disperse and a Royal Proclamation on June 28th stated an intention to look for reform.

On a more basic level 3/4 of those convicted were hanged in towns across the county with survivors being granted a Royal Pardon if they presented themselves before Michaelmas (29 September) to Sir Edward Montague at Boughton and signed or left their mark on a Submission Document. (2)

The Pouch of John Reynolds on his arrest was found to contain…mouldy cheese!

The Newton Rebellion or Midland Revolt of June 1607 was one of the last times that conflict in open rebellion arose between the English peasantry and gentry, in a conflict which saw 40 killed by forces raised by the local landowners.

(1) Coriolanus from Lives of Plutarch who was oblivious to the starvation around him.

Henry VI Part II refers to enclosures and vagabonds in Jack Cade’s Tale.

(2) c 110 left a mark and c 30 signed.

References/Pics. Rebellion v Enclosures. Ben Rudge.

4th June 1724. Picturesque.

Today the high priest of what we understand as the picturesque, William Gilpin, was born in 1724. Picturesque from the Italian ‘Pittoresco’ picture-like regarded as the universal mode of vision for the ‘educated classes’.

William Gilpin’s Observations: Chiefly Relative to Picturesque Beauty (1782-1809), was an aesthetic mode applicable to Landscape, referring to two aesthetic innovations: 1. Perceptual rules for looking at landscape; 2. Vocabulary to describe the experience. Before the concept of landscape was internalized, in effect it was ‘seen’, but not ‘visualized’ as work of romantic art.

Second of 4 Notebooks on the picturesque. Bodleian Oxford.

The whole concept grew with the taste for the Romantic style in the arts and the European Grand Tour along with the opportunity to see landscape against an antique background of buildings and clumped trees.

Gilpin lives on as a model by the satirist William Combes’, ‘Tour of Dr Syntax in search of the Picturesque of 1809. With illustration by Tomas Rowlandson, ‘the poor curate sets off on his straggly mare Grizzle in search of the picturesque…oblivious to the realities of the world round him’.

Not surprisingly the Picturesque is picked-up by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, and Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth Bennet refusing to join Mr Darcy and Bingley’s sisters in a stroll, says, ‘You are charmingly group’d and…The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth’.

However in Sense and Sensibilty, Edward Ferrars: ‘I have no knowledge in the picturesque…I shall call hills steep, which ought to be bold; surfaces strange and uncouth, which ought to be irregular and rugged…[but it met with his approval], ‘because it unites beauty with utility-and I dare say its is picturesque…I can easily believe it to be full of rocks and promonteries; grey moss and brush wood, but these are all lost on me’. Marianne concedes: ‘That admiration of landscape scenery is becoming mere jargon’.(1)

Gilpin anonymously published a dialogue upon the Gardens of Stowe in Bucks 1748, part guide book and part essay on aesthetics. This would have been at a time when ‘Emparkment’ and Enclosure of land was happening sponsored by the Temple Family in their encroachment on Commoners or those to a more superior claim to land.

Thus the era of the Picturesque witnessed much displacement of the peasantry, whilst only the likes of the idle clergy and nobility had time to admire the landscape.

One of the places Gilpin would have known is the now deserted Piercefield House, north of Chepstow, Monmouth, which captivated Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy along with Southey, and Coleridge who noted; ‘Oh, what a godly scene…the whole world seemed imagined in its vast circumference’.(2)

The attractions of Cornwall started with painters of the Picturesque Movement at the end of the 18th century with the artist, Thomas Rowlandson setting the fashion followed by Turner so by the end of the 19thc artists had settled in St. Ives along with Newlyn.

This town had been ‘discovered’ by Alexander Stanhope Forbes and with the aid of Harold and Laura Knight founded the Newlyn School.

The school was noted for skill in showing local atmosphere and colour as in Norman Garstin’s, ‘The Rain it Raineth every Day’ (1889), [above], showing a sparsely peopled and a storm-tossed promenade. His daughter Alethea was the youngest girl to exhibit at the Royal Academy.

(1) At the Dashwood’s cottage at Barton Ch 18. pp 121.3. Sense and Sensibilty.

Texts quoted: Walkin 1982. Philosophical Inquiry into the origins of our ideas of the sublime and the beautiful. 1757.

(2) The ruins of the 5-bay house by Soane-son of a Berks bricklayer- now lie within land owned by Chepstow Racecourse. It was commissioned by George Smith a Durham banker and was bought by the son of an Antiguan sugar planter Valentine Morris after Smith’s bankruptcy.

Ref: A shell..but what a shell art’. Daily Telegraph. Sat. Aug.10th. 2013. Jonathan Glancey Page,

Ref: Bodleian Library. Oxford.



2nd June 1857. Dorabella.

Alan Turing, Dillwyn Knox, Tommy Flowers, Richard Pendered, Newman, Harry Hinsley, Alec Dakin, John Herivel, Gordon Welchman, David Rees and Peter Calvocoressi, to name a few, were all involved with Bletchley code-cracking in World War II.

Since ancient times man has been intrigued by cryptic messages and an unlikely compiler was the English composer Sir Edward Elgar who was born Today in 1857.

Elgar was fascinated by cryptography as seen in his letters and scores dotted with codes and anagrams as exhibited in the 1890 musical work, Enigma Variations. 


One of the mysteries of his life was bound up with the cipher the so called ‘Dorabella Cipher’ of 1897 written to a young friend and daughter of a clergyman recently, in Melanesia, one Dora Penny. It appears they had mutual, seemingly unlikely interests, in Wolves F.C., cycling and kites.

An article in the New Scientist on 25th December 2004 (P. 56) says: ‘it is a single, double and triple E like characters each in 8 possible combinations having a potential of 24 letters. It seemed to be inspired by Arabic script, double arched and based on cursive E in his signature.’

Music and ciphers go back centuries and the Enigma encoding machine which was invented by a German used the Enigma name. The 19thc Morse Code was in fact used in Elgar’s Enigma Theme and the TV Inspector Morse music theme had the code inbuilt.