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20th May 1840. Monuments to Instability.

The number of calamities to church buildings over the centuries belies the solid and timeless sights we see today. By the 18th century many were in a state of decay requiring the so-called Victorian restorations which have since acquired a bad name for their insensitive disregard for their medieval past.

Aftermath of 1829 fire.

Wanted notice.










However not all the damage to cathedrals has been structural defects as an arsonist fired York Minster in 1829 and eleven years later Today in 1840 the Minster, at the time the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe, witnessed another conflagration starting at approximately 9 pm when a light was seen in the belfry. (1)

Three fire engines arrived on the scene, but an hour later the belfry in the southwest tower was a shell, and the famous ring of bells of 1765 fell, destroying all in its path. The fire was reported as the result of a candle left burning by workmen.

Cathedrals down the years, due to their antiquity have suffered damage, from fire, natural phenomena and faulty structure, from their inception.

Norwich destroyed by fire in 1171 was repaired by John of Oxford the 4th Bishop. Canterbury’s Choir was designed by William of Sens after the fire of 1174.

Lincoln, consecrated in 1092, suffered an earth tremor in 1185, causing the surveyor to condemn the fabric, ‘scissa est’ (it is broken). Twelve months later rebuilding began under the 12thc bishop St Hugh of Lincoln. Lightning was the cause of Lincoln in 1548, losing its central tower, which having a height of 525 ft., was the tallest structure after the pyramids.

Many of the medieval Minsters and Abbeys such as Malmesbury, Tewkesbury and Romsey in the south, Selby and Cartmel in the north, along with secular cathedrals, were originally sturdily stone-built Norman, but with timber roofs liable to fire damage, and with indifferent foundations, supporting large central towers were always to be at risk.

On February 13th in 1322 Ely Cathedral’s square Norman tower over the chancel crossing fell down, but luckily just after the monks had finished Matins at about 4.30 am.

Later octagonal tower at Ely.

The first thing Alan of Walsingham did as sacrist of the then monastery, responsible for the construction, was to find eight oak trees which were found growing in woods belonging to Chicksands Priory in Bedfordshire, which served as the frame of the new lantern tower. This was a feat of engineering when is considered that the hole of 70 feet span had to be filled with the lantern which was only 30 feet.

Bury St Edmunds was destroyed by fire in 1465 and Malmesbury’s West Tower fell c1550. Waltham Abbey’s tower fell in 1552. Old St. Paul’s, London suffered in the Great Fire of 1666. Lichfield and Peterborough suffered damage, among others, as a result of the iconoclasm of Cromwell’s Roundheads. Lichfield had to be largely rebuilt.(2)

On 5th November 1711 the south-west spire and roof of Southwell Minster was destroyed by lightning after storm, and on Easter Monday 1786 the catastrophic collapse of the west tower of Hereford Cathedral, took part of the nave with it (as pictured by Edward Abbot d 1790).

It needed the expertise of James Wyatt to rebuild the cathedral by giving lightweight plaster vaults to the nave.and installing a lower pitched timber and slate roof.

Abbot, Edward; Fall of the West Tower, Hereford Cathedral; Hereford Museum and Art Gallery;

At Chichester in 1862, whilst under repair, the 270 feet ‘beautiful spire of the Cathedral fell to the ground’, as the Telegraph said: Luckily the, ‘workmen were at dinner, and no one was injured’.

George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century, one of the foremost church architects, refashioned the west face of Salisbury destroying medieval carvings and replacing with pious Victorian copies. He was also responsible for stopping the nave of St. Alban’s Abbey from collapsing in the 1860.s which had incorporated Roman tiles from Verulamium.

William Walker.

Winchester Cathedral would have literally sunk without trace early in the 20th century, as being erected on a wooden raft and peat was prone to winter floods.

So William Walker a deep-sea diver spent years underpinning the structure with 25,000 bags of cement and 900,000 bricks for which effort he had a statue erected in the building.

(1) Someone recollecting in the 1980.s on the 1840 fire, and whose ancestor lived near the Minster, witnessed the blaze had said in her diary: ‘A memorable day in consequence of the fire at the west end of the cathedral-occasioned it is supposed by the carelessness of a workman who was employed to repair the clock…the burning particles flew over several streets and descended like flakes of snow. Surely the providence of God preserved us’.

(2) Many were used to stable horses.


On February 1st 1829 the Minster lit by gas was severely damaged by a fanatical Methodist Jonathan Martin feeling he had a duty to warn clergy of their sins, which included card playing and wine drinking.

Ref: Michael White’s, A Promise of a Beauty, Frame Charge Press 2013. Ref End Column: Daily Telegraph, Sat. Aug. 24th 2013. ‘Eight Oak Trees Suspended in Air’. Chris. Howse, Sacred Mysteries.



Ref: Bt,com/Pic.



19th May 1935. The Ottoman Threat and T.E. Lawrence.

The simplicity of Muslim monotheism has always attracted British intellectuals which included T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia as he was later known), owing to his Arab sympathies and for leading the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks in 1916.

Lawrence with the great and the good.

However after a glorious career in 1922 for whatever psychological reasons, Colonel Lawrence joined the RAF as the lowly Aircraftman T.E. Shaw until forced out a year later, when he joined the Royal Tank Corps, before being readmitted into the RAF in 1925.

The next year saw his famous Seven Pillars of Wisdom published, an account of his desert experiences.(1)

Two months after leaving the RAF in 1935 Lawrence died Today in an accident on his Brough motor-cycle at Clouds Hill, near Wareham, Dorset trying to avoid two cyclists, a sad end to a remarkable man.

Lawrence In the desert at Akbar.




In Elizabethan times the Turks of the Ottoman Empire were associated with barbarism of the Tartars, and the Corsair galleys and seizure of Englishmen, subsidised by the Sultan against Christians. (2)

Between the fall of Constantinople in 1453 when The Ottoman Empire over-ran the Eastern Byzantine Empire controlled by Greek rulers since its inception, to the Siege of Vienna on September 11th 1683, the Turks constituted a danger to the west.(3)

The move towards Greek independence from the Ottomans took a turn for the better on 20th October in 1827 in the last fleet battle wholly under sail at the Battle of Navarino.

There a combined Anglo-Franco-Russian fleet under Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Codrington, destroyed sixty Turkish ships inflicting many casualties.(4)

Three years before in 1824 the poet Lord Byron had gone to support the Greeks, but sadly died at Missolonghi from blood poisoning.

Vintage shot of George Brough with Lawrence of Arabia astride a Brough Superior SS100 motorbike – this was Lawrence’s seventh Brough which he called George VI.  Now in private ownership it will make an appearance at the National Civil War Centre on 24 June.

Eric Kenninton’s bust of Lawrence in St. Paul’s, London.

Lawrence is commemorated by his illustrious, romantic career and his writing. There is a plaque at the site of his fatal accident at Clouds Hill.

The cottage where he lived frugally whilst concentrating on his writing is nearby.   

(1)  He was interviewed by Flying Officer W.E. Johns, later to write the Biggles Stories, who turned him down suspecting a false name, but was told to admit him.

(2) These Corsair galleys were involved in raids on southern Ireland and Cornwall. Henry Smith 1628 left money to redeem captives from Turkish Tyranie (sic).. Howse. Daily Telegraph. 21.2.2015.

(3) Shakespeare made forty odd derogatory references to the infidel Turk in many of the plays.

To ‘Turn Turk’ (referred to in Othello) was synonymous with an evil change of fortunes.

(4) The conflict was sparked off by the Turks desire to force replacement of the Greeks of the Peloponnese with Egyptians, the situation was confused in that relations with the Sublime Porte at Constantinople were at a delicate stage.

Ref: Shakespeare and the Turk.

Ref: Newark Advertiser/Pic of motorbike.


Ref: Hillaire Belloc. The Great Heresies Ch. 4. The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed.


18th May 1812. Murder in the Lobby.

Today in 1812 John Bellingham was hanged at Newgate Prison, after a one day trial, for the assassination of the seventh son of the 2nd Earl of Egmont, Spencer Percival who was shot at close range in the Commons Lobby. He thus goes down in history as the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated.

His assailant was a timber contractor who had a grudge against the British Government for failing to give him adequate support when he was arrested for debt in St. Petersburg and so developed a festering hatred for the British Establishment. He pleaded not guilty and said that  he had nothing against Percival personally.(1)

Bellingham from The Newgate Calendar.

Fast forward to 2009 when we find Bellingham’s distant descendant Henry in the House of Commons as an MP for North West Norfolk looking uncomfortable as both Labour MP Frank Dobson and Tory Leader, David Cameron made light-hearted remarks about his infamous ancestor when delivering the Loyal Address in response to the Queen’s Speech.

Dobson said about Percival, ‘that he was the only man in history who has been assassinated on Lobby Terms’.

Cameron responded, ‘when it comes to assassination the sitting Prime Minister, he John Bellingham had much better aim than the current Foreign Secretary, David Milliband’.

A remark noting the antipathy between PM, Gordon Brown and Milliband.

Henry Bellingham MP when interviewed said, ‘history doesn’t relate whether this appalling behaviour was a horrendous stain on the family character or name, or how the family reacted’.

Another twist in the story was reported by the Independent newspaper in 1997 when it noted that a General Election candidate for the Referendum Party, Roger Percival claimed descent from the assassinated PM. 

(1) Born in 1769 at St. Neots.

References: 26.11.2009. Justin Parkinson.

17th May 1729. I Think Therefore I Am.

The polymath Samuel Clarke lived at a time when science and learning generally were tending to diverge into separate disciplines, and was said to be the greatest meta-physician in England between the death of John Locke and George Berkeley.

Samuel Clarke attributed to Charles Jervas.

A friend of Isaac Newton he translated his work on Opticks into Latin to be published in 1706. However the once feted mathematician, philosopher and Anglican clergyman who died Today in 1729, is only remembered by the cognoscenti.(1)

Clarke was of such standing in the learned world of the early 18th century that he was invited to give the Boyle Lectures in 1704 and 1705, arguing In the first for Natural Religion, and in 1705 dealt with Revealed Religion, (which bears the name of human inspiration).

He believed that one first had to demonstrate the logical validity of religious belief before building on top a Christian belief based on the life of Jesus. Not surprisingly he was at odds with the then orthodox Anglican hierarchy.

His lectures were published as, ‘Demonstration of The Being and The Attributes of God’ (1705/6), where Clarke argued that mathematical arguments were the supreme form of logical reasoning.

In ‘Verity & Certitude of Natural and Revealed Religion’ (1705), his arguments were based on Newton’s ‘Principia’ as the basis of attempting a proof that an intelligent designer was necessary both to create and maintain a universe.

He is best known for his ethical theory on moral and mathematical truths exploring right and wrong which he likened to the axioms of Mathematics. He argued against materialism and atheism and for free-will and immortality and spirituality of the soul.

Clarke adopted the new system of Newtonian physics which as set down in the Cartesian tradition confirmed his notion of the superiority of the Newtonian system.(2)

Descartes raised the question of how reliable knowledge may be obtained by philosophical enquiry, a form of rationalism where scientific knowledge can be derived from ‘innate ideas’ as opposed to the old Aristotelian ‘Empiricism’, of sensory experience.


Descartes famous for cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am.

(1) Clarke was born on 11.11.1675.

(2) Cartesian named after Rene Descartes.


16th May 1945. ‘Demob’.

Churchill had warned in March 1944: ‘this is not the time to talk of demobilisation. The hour of our greatest effort and action is approaching…the flashing eyes of all our soldiers, sailors, and airmen must be fixed upon the enemy on their front. The only homeward road for all of us lies through the arch of victory’.

Today in 1945 Ernest Bevin who had been responsible for the biggest mobilisation in history, both military and civilian, announced his plans for demobilisation.

Release was to begin on June 18th of the four million people in the forces and those working in war industries; one third had been demobbed by Christmas.

Bevin thought he had two years to make an orderly demobilisation, but in fact had three months with the collapse of Japan in August.

Kirkham, Lancs., one of the 380 ‘demob’ centres in Britain.

A committee had been set up in September 1942 to plan for demobilisation in a way which would avoid the injustices of World War I. The simple solution was a reversal of the 1918 diktat ‘last in first out’, but did not differentiate between those who had passed the war here rather on active service; those with particular skills say in building were fast tracked, but were still regarded as on active service.

Demobilisation then was to cause trouble when Lord Derby in 1917 decided that the most economically useful would be demobbed first and quite often these had been the last to join up.

After a minor mutiny at Calais in 1918 and a demonstration in London, Churchill, as War Secretary, was to adopt a more fair system based on age, service and the number of times a soldier had been wounded.

In 1945 the first to be returned home would be priority workers, such as those needed to rebuild Britain, the rest would be allocated according to calculation of age and length of service.(1)

Bill Krepper of Pioneer Corps leaving Olympia. Note the Military Police.

380 dispersal centres, including Olympia, ejected a flow of men carrying their ‘demob suits’ (dark blue or brown, both pin stripe), shirt, two collars, two pairs of socks, one pair of shoes (black or brown), a tie (brown or blue), a hat and a raincoat also a ‘resettlement’ booklet-all in a large flat box.

The hope was that the flow of men wouldn’t inundate the labour market as the government announced 750,000 would be demobilised in 1945, but said 1.1 million would still be in military service in 1947 from the wartime peak of 5.1 million.

However these figures ignore the vital contribution of women employed on war-work which by 1944 saw 500,000 in the forces as well as 200,000 in the Women’s Land Army and other organisations.

Resentment was to surface in many areas from the slow pace of demobilisation which saw 2,000 airmen ‘striking’ in India in January 1946 from their task of guarding Japanese POWs.

The government announced in its Defence Statement of February 1946 that 750,000 would be demobilised that year, but said 1.1 million would still be in military service in 1947 from the wartime peak of 5.1 million.

(1) The Author’s next-door neighbour spent years away repairing bomb damage.


Bert Hardy No 5 Army Film/Photo Unit.

Imperial War Museum.

Getty Images.

15th May 1660. Treasonable Acts.

For Petty Treason, the penalty was drawing and hanging without quartering for men; burning without drawing for women with property being escheated (forfeited) to the immediate lord of the manor; peers were beheaded.

The Treason Act of 1534 (replaced by that of 1547), was passed after The Act of Supremacy (1534) which made the King the, ‘Only Head of The Church in England on Earth’, and any disavowal resulted in a charge of treason and death as with Thomas More.

Today in 1660 the Cromwellian supporter, John Thurloe was arrested for High Treason but released in late June  on condition that he would assist the new government of Charles II.

Thurloe was later to become his spy chief and involved in bringing to book the perpetrators of the Rye-House Plot which conspired to capture the King.(1)

The charge of Treason has been the government ‘catch-all’ down the centuries, it was used by Henry IV against Sir Ralph de Lumley of Lumley Castle raised to the baronage in 1384 only to be executed 16 years later for Treason.

No-one was exempt from the charge of treason including senior churchmen as with Archbishop of York, Richard Scrope, who originally supported Henry IV’s claim to the throne against Richard II, being originally a member of his Council.

However he later allied with the Earl of Northumberland in rebellion in 1405, but met retribution  with the Earl of Westmorland’s loyalists at Shipton Moor.

The Archbishop was to find himself faced with the wrath of the King at Pontefract and on 4th June in the same year a commission was appointed to try Scrope for treason.

Gascoigne, the Chief Justice claimed that the Archbishop, as a churchman, couldn’t be legally tried in a secular court and when the king refused to listen resigned from the commission.

The outcome was that Scrope was sentenced under a new president and executed at Clementhorpe near York, Henry IV was excommunicated and Scrope became a martyr.

Medieval response to treason.

However the King allowed his burial in his own York Minster where his tomb became a centre for pilgrimage with the government being forced to barricade the tomb from the crowds. An attempt was made to canonise him in 1492 as a martyr against royal tyranny, but it never succeeded.

In an age when there was no love lost between members of the royals, Edward IV had his younger brother the Duke of Clarence arrested on a charge of ‘committing acts violating the laws of the realm and threatening the security of judges and jurors’. This was a reference to his servant who was accused of trying to kill the king by ‘magic arts’.

The King got Parliament to pass an Act of Attainder on February 7th 1478 against his brother, for, ‘no more unnatural and loathly treason than that had been found at any time during the reign’.

On the Yorkist triumph against the Lancastrians, and the establishment of Edward IV, one John Tiptoft, who came from a family which had given service to the Crown since the Conqueror,  returned to office.(2)

Edward’s early years, in his battles with Henry VI, were fraught with rebellions and as Constable of England, Tiptoft was responsible for trying all treason cases without a jury.

In 1470 Tiptoft ordered that twenty members of the disaffected Clarence faction be hanged all, ‘in the exigencies of dealing with treason’. Tiptoft sentences went far beyond the customary practice, even for those days, in both number and severity, earning him the name of ‘the butcher of England’.

Edward III’s Treason Act of 1351 was invoked by Henry VIII against the adulterous Ann Boleyn and her alleged lovers, likewise Katherine Howard. It was the Act by which his daughter had Mary Queen of Scots executed.(3)

Of recent times the concept of treason and its punishment has been much downgraded, though who is to say in times of peril as in the World Wars it wouldn’t be reinstated with its severe punishments.

(1) He was also involved in inviting William of Orange to take the Crown.

(2) His father had been Speaker of the Commons in 1406.

(3) The 1351 Act had distinguished between penalties: for High Treason against the sovereign (disloyalty), when property was escheated to the Crown; the sanction was Hanging Drawing and Quartering for a man, and drawing on a hurdle to the burning, for a woman.



14th May 1413. Not a Full English.

Any knowledge of medieval eating habits inevitably centres on the upper reaches of society with information culled from written accounts, so the peasantry and servants’ informal eating habits are largely inferred, but no doubt ate their simple meals when and how they could. 

However it appears that breakfast was for the privileged few and only then depending on circumstances. This was revealed Today in 1413 when Dame Alice de Bryene of Acton, Suffolk, provided breakfast for only six people in her household, but for dinner twenty-six were served, and supper twenty. Between them they consumed 66 white loaves and eight black.(1)

60 years later the household of Cicely, Duchess of York the privilege of attending breakfast was restricted to: the head officers when they were present, and to ladies and gentleman, to the Dean and chapel, almoner, gentleman ushers, cofferer, clerk of the kitchen and marshal.

In the Black Book of Edward IV careful attention was paid to the rank of those allowed breakfast and it appears that household servants were not included. (2)

The Old English the word for dinner was ‘disner’, in effect breakfast, as the first meal of the day until meaning shifted in the mid 13thc and not until the 15thc do we find ‘breakfast’ for the early morning meal.(3)

In the middle-ages breakfast was not considered necessary except for the weak and sick and the two formal meals were at mid-day and in evening.

Then the Catholic Church considered breakfast was to commit ‘praepropere’ the sin of eating too soon-sinful gluttony!

However travelling nobility, after rising early, could eat breakfast and in March 1255, 1512 gallons of wine were delivered to Henry III at the Abbey Church of St. Albans. Also if the king was on pilgrimage the ban was lifted. In 1305 Edward I (65) had a cook to provide breakfast: he was probably on his many travels!

On manorial estates at harvest time bread, cheese and ale were consumed early in the morning by the labourers to give then energy and at blood-letting times in 1402 it is recorded that  Westminster Abbey monks breakfasted.

By Tudor times records of eating expenses incurred by households were becoming customary at a time when habits were changing in line with economic forces as feudalism ceded to different patterns of working.

(1) Food and drink Oct. 1412-Sep 1413. Household Records.PRO. Dame Alice’s letters were written in Anglo-Norman and Household accounts in Latin.

(2) A 100 years later schoolboys were recorded by Claudius Hollybands in his French Schoolmaster of 1573 when he wrote, ‘Ho! Francis rise and get to school. You shall be beaten for its past 7…say your prayers then have breakfast’.

(3) In Old English the term was morgenmete, morning meal.


wikipedia org.

Records of Dame Alice de Bryene in PRO. April 2013. Dr Mortimer.