15th August 1785. Confessions of an Opium Eater.

Papaver somniferum (opium poppy), the source of the drug, has a long history, with John Jones in his 1700 ‘Mysteries of Opium Revealed’, crediting it, ‘not to dulling pain, but inducing serenity, promptitude, alacrity, euphory, contentation and equanimity’. (sic).

Today in 1785, the writer Thomas Penson de Quincey, best known for his essay ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater’, probably inaugurated the vogue for addiction literature.(1)

Opium in the late 18th and 19th centuries was the recreational drug for the well-heeled and before the 1868 Pharmacy Act anyone could trade in the drug, including healers, herbalists, barber-dentists, quacks and patent medical sellers: The Society for the Suppression of Opium was founded in the same year.

Opium was important in Britain’s brutal, exploitative role in imperial, eastern, commerce, but eventually regarded as a major health problem, but so was endemic cholera, malaria and dysentery.

Opium’s derivative, morphine was discovered in 1805, with laudanum widely used to quell fractious babies, and Morphine and Heroin (opiates) were widely seen as miracle cures when they were first distilled, with manufacturers proudly proclaiming their products as containing these narcotics.

de Quincey by John Watson Gordon.

A friend of Coleridge, de Quincey lived 10 years at Dove Cottage, once home to Wordsworth, and by 1818 was editor of The Westmorland Gazette, the Tory newspaper published in Kendal, so a reactionary, champion of aristocratic privilege ,and ‘Jacobin’ was his highest form of opprobrium, however he was a staunch slavery abolitionist.

Despite being the son of a Manchester manufacturer, debt was a constant problem through his adult life, but found Debtors’ Sanctuary at Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, but was allowed to emerge on Sundays.

Grave of de Quincey.

de Quincy suffered with astigmatism and the extremely painful Trigeminal Neuralgia, so who wouldn’t deny his efforts at alleviation.

It was whilst studying desultorily at Oxford that de Quincey, failing to take his oral exams, occasionally used opium, and it was remarked on the correlation of the amount of his usage and his productive writing.

de Quincy eventually exchanged London and the English Lakes for Edinburgh where he died on 8th December 1859 to be buried at St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. See left.

Today Codeine (a naturally occurring alkaloid of Opium) has been widely used to relieve pain and as a soporific and stimulant.

(1) the ‘de’ in the name was an affection of his mother. His essay on opium inspired Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, reflecting an internal struggle.



telegraph.co.uk. Book Review. Simon Heffer. 1.1.2010.

14th August 1941. The Tower.

Built by William the Conqueror, in the 11th century, the Tower of London would have been a wooden fortress to protect London.

In the middle of the 20th century Today in 1941 the last execution took place at the Tower, when a German spy Josef Jakobs was shot by firing squad under the 1940 Treachery Act.

Most executions in the early days, actually happened on nearby Tower Hill, with the last man beheaded being the Jacobite, octogenarian Lord Lovat in 1747, when a scaffold built for the spectators collapsed, killing twenty people. (1)

The Tower as a Norman stronghold, was not built a prison, but it was convenient to house state prisoners as being near the Westminster Courts.

It was also a resting place for royalty: 36 year old Katherine of France (Valois), late wife of Henry V, was to lie in state at St Katherine’s Chapel, and Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard lie within the Church of St Peter ad Vincula.

One of the early prisoners was Ranulph Flambard in August 1100, after the succession of Henry I, on a charge of embezzlement, and the first to escape in February 1101, to Normandy.

He was a former Constable of the Tower, later Bishop of Durham, and was possibly the scapegoat for the extortion of William II (Rufus), having been his financial administrator. (2)

By the 13thc the Tower had become the kingdom’s most important jail and in 1471 Henry VI was reputedly murdered there, whilst in 1483 the two sons of Edward IV were reputably said to have suffered the same fate, (known to history as the princes  in the tower).

The environs of the Tower was to see the execution of such notable prisoners as Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, and on 17th May 1536, five of her lovers for having ‘carnal love’.

Others included Queens Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey (‘The Nine-Day Queen’) and Archbishop Laud.

It was the last place of imprisonment for Walter Raleigh, and Guy Fawkes was tortured in the Council Chamber, but refused to betray the other plotters for five days.

After 1603 the Tower was no longer a royal residence, but continued as an armoury, treasury and as a prison for enemies of the crown, including Lord Stafford in 1680, the Catholic son of the Earl of Arundel, for being implicated in the Popish Plot, and the Duke of Monmouth who had attempted to wrest the throne from James II.

As late as World War I executions continued when a German spy was shot by firing squad. and in World War II, German prisoners were incarcerated, along with the notorious London gangland leaders the Kray Twins for desertion.

Henry Walpole, Jesuit Priest, manacled 14 times.1594. In Beauchamp Tower.

Rebus of Thomas Abel, Chaplain to Catherine of Aragon and by taking Queen’s side ended in Tower.








Many prisoners have carved their names into the stone-work, including one of the co-conspirators of the Gun-Powder Plot, Ambrose Rochewood on the wall of the Martin Tower.

Then Hew Draper a 16thc Bristol innkeeper imprisoned for sorcery, carved a large astrological sphere with Zodiacal signs and numbers: ‘Hew Draper of Brystow made this sphere the 30 day of anno 1561’. No other record exists for him.

The Tower was originally a Liberty coming under the control of the Monarch, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, regarding law, as it had its own General and Quarter Sessions, gaol and constables, but was subsumed under the County of London in 1889.

(1) On April 9th 1747.

(2) On four occasions the Constable has been the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with the power to collect tolls on ships coming into London, owned right to flotsam and jetsam on the Thames and had legal authority within the purlieus.




13th August 1912. The Vernons: A Family of its Time.

Today in 1912 saw the death of Octavia Hill, granddaughter of the social reformer Rowland Hill, and one of the founders of the National Trust, whose first purchase was Alfriston Clergy House, Sussex in 1896, for £10: in 1967 Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire was given in lieu of death duties.

Front of Sudbury Hall, near Burton on Trent and Derby.

The 17th and 18th centuries, so-called, Age of Elegance, saw many of the big houses rebuilt in the ‘new style’, much inspired by the classicism of the likes of Robert Adam. In the process they departed from the old indigenous brick-built Tudor manor tradition.(1)

At that time the owners were families who had done well from monarchical service and the dissolution of the monasteries, whilst not a few had ancestors who had arrived with the Conqueror from Normandy, as with the Vernons.

Haddon Hall.

William de Vernon was granted lands in the County Palatine of Chester under the patronage of Hugh Lupus 1st Earl of Chester and eventually acquired estates at Haddon and Tong where Sir Henry Vernon by the time of Henry VIII was a member of the King’s Council for Wales and High Sheriff.








William’s son Richard de Vernon, settled near Northwich, after fighting at Hastings, along with his brother Walter, and rewarded with lands in Cheshire where he was appointed one of the baronies.

In the reign of Henry III a Sir Richard de Vernon acquired Haddon and Tong  and Sir George Vernon was the last of Haddon Vernons  when Dorothy Vernon married Sir John Manners it passed to the Rutlands of Belvoir Castle.

Eleven generations of Vernons lived at Haslington and via marriage of relations the estates were merged with the  Sudbury estates.

Hilton Hall in Georgian style.

The Vernons eventually married Ellen the powerful Montgomery heiress and to acquire Sudbury Hall and another dynastic marriage of Margaret Swynnerton of Hilton Park Hall near Wolverhampton to Henry Vernon of Sudbury in 1547, saw the two estates incorporated on the death of Margaret.

Sudbury Hall which was designed for George Vernon who had inherited the estate in 1659, finally arrived when his grandson became Baron Vernon of Kinderton in 1762.

The Hall though built in red brick in the time of Charles II, (Caroline),though is Jacobean in concept, being E shaped, with two projecting wings and central porch at rear.

It was given to the National Trust in 1967, in lieu of death duties, with the 10th baron, who died in 2000, retaining the estate and village.

However he was not happy with what the National Trust had done to his erstwhile home saying it was too ready to destroy the character of its contents.

(1) Sudbury was leased to the widowed and pious Queen Adelaide for three years from 1840, where she wrote her funeral arrangements.

(2) Marston Montgomery is near Sudbury. The Montgomerys’ were originally Norman.


wikipedia.org/Pic of Hilton House.

telegraph.co.uk.news-obits. 24.8.2000.


12th August 1944. Pipeline Under the Channel.

Pluto was the god of the underworld in Roman mythology, was the son of Saturn and brother of Jupiter and Neptune.

By 1942 Pluto had become the acronym of a plan to sink a pipeline under the English Channel as planning was being undertaken for the invasion of Europe in 1944. And just as armies march on their stomachs, in the modern age they also march on oil.

To supply the vital oil and petrol, major difficulties had first to be solved as nothing similar had been attempted before, except the laying of telephone cables. The pipes needed to be pressure resistant and leak-free.

This was the idea picked-up by Arthur Hartley, Chief Engineer of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, which he based on adapting submarine telephone cables, without the core, and whose idea was accepted when The Minister for Petroleum, Geoffrey William Lloyd met Mountbatten t Chief of Combined Operations.

Pluto pipeline showing different layers.

However this cable known as HAIS, required a lot of lead so an alternative was designed by engineers of Burmah Oil and The Iraq Petroleum Company, known as HAMEL  after the names of their engineers, Hammick and Ellis, using the  less flexible mild steel.

PLUTO  formally started operating from Today in 1944, involving laying over 70 nautical miles (130 km) from Shanklin Chine, Isle of Wight to Cherbourg, using a flexible 3 inch pipe, with a lead core, developed by Siemens Brothers and The National Physics Laboratory.

An alternative pipeline was laid from Dungeness to Calais and like the eventual others, from a network of pipelines stretching to Manchester and Liverpool, supplying the Allied armies moving towards Paris and Belgium.

Conundrum, code-name of the drums around which the HAMEL cable would be wrapped, in preparation for towing behind a tug.

PLUTO wouldn’t have happened for the largely unknown makers of equipment such as Pit-Head Wheel makers, Thompson and Southwick who made the giant drums for the HAMEL pipes which as with the HAIS model, in all required 1000 miles of tubes supplied by Stewarts and Lloyds of Corby.

Other main contractors included BICC Cables of Erith, Glovers Cables of Manchester, Pirelli, Johnson & Phillips and Siemens.

Then there were the cable-ships and tugs, in all 34 vessels; 600 men and all the servicemen engaged on shore. By the end there were 11 HAIS and 6 HAMEL pipelines laid as the need came to shorten supply lines.

The American General, Eisenhower said, ‘that second only to the Mulberry Harbours, was Pluto.(1)

(1) The artificial concrete harbours towed to France.





11th August 2011. No Mean City.

Today a Thursday in 2011 Parliament was recalled from holiday to discuss the recent riots involving burning and looting in London and other major cities.

Gangs are nothing new in Britain and one of the most successful of Chief Constables in tackling the thugs inter-war, was Sir Percy Sillitoe.

It was after a career in Colonial Africa that he applied unsuccessfully to be chief at Hull and Nottingham, and it was along with a ‘half-hearted reading for the bar’ and depression, before he was successful at Chesterfield in 1923.

However it was after being appointed Chief Constable at Sheffield in May 1926 that he showed his mettle by revitalising a demoralised force, when he took on the gangs which had plagued and taken over the slum streets of the city for years, with his policy of ‘reasonable force’, a euphemism for ‘dishing out to the thugs in a language they understood’.

No Mean City, a story of Glasgow violence.

In 1931 he did the same for Glasgow where he broke the power of the ‘razor-gangs’ portrayed in the hard-hitting book ‘No Mean City’, a quotation from the Bible where Paul says, ‘He is a citizen of Tarsus, No Mean City’.

Glasgow gangs had names such as: Bowery Boys, Shamrock, Bingo Boys, Govan Boys, Baltic Fleet, Redskins, a litany which hid the most imaginable vicious thuggery ever seen in these islands.

At Glasgow Sillitoe introduced radios, civilians and retirement for police after 30 years.

Post-War Prime Minister, Clement Attlee appointed Sillitoe, brought out of retirement, to be Director-General of MI5 in 1946, though he was never a popular successor to Sir David Petrie, and never managed to secure the backing from colleagues whom he regarded as ’book-learned intellectuals’.

Gang violence saw its seeds in a 19th century, rapidly urbanised society; the term Juvenile Delinquent being widely reported in the growing newspapers of the time.

By 1890 gangs in the north of the city centre in Manchester, the likes of the Bengal Tigers of Ancoats and their rivals of Harperhey, were sentenced to penal servitude after a period when Magistrates considered lobbying to re-introduce flogging.

The Manchester Guardian at the time, commissioned a feature by youth worker Alexander Devine which revealed, ‘the gang member or Scuttler to be aged 14-18, carrying weapons from knives, sharpened bike-chains and heavy belt buckles, all in a 19thc Shock-City of pollution and filthy, teeming tenements’.(1)

Bengal Tigers for example had pointed clogs, bell-bottomed trousers, 14 inches at knee and 21 inches at the foot, flashy silk scarves and long fringes; ‘dressed up to mess-up’, as the later ‘Teds’ and ‘Mods and Rockers’, were keen to say.

In early 20th century Birmingham the ‘Peaky Blinders’ were adept at maiming their antagonists with razors cunningly secreted in their caps. There seems no end to the versatility of some human depravity, even though the ‘filthy, teeming tenements’, have gone.

(1) Scuttler was a term of the 1860.s marked by dress and an armoury of weapons.

Ref: 19thc Gangs. Mary Carp 1853.

Ref: No Mean City. Alexander McArthur and journalist, H Kingsley Long. Longman’s 1935.

10th August 1787. Cricket Lovely Cricket.

Cricket has been played since medieval times, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘cric’, a curved stave used as a shepherd’s crook, with Umpire being Norman-French for ‘odd man’ out or ‘non-pair’. He is now an official in a game first recorded in 1598 as ‘crickette’.

The game became important in 18th century, southern England, when it was played by all classes, with The Times in 1787 noting that horse-racing in France was losing its popularity compared with cricket, so the Duke of Dorset recommended taking a touring side across the Channel. 

Early cricket at Sevenoaks. Illustration from Hambledon Cricket Chronicle. Getty Images.

However when Today the side was due to cross from Dover, it was thwarted, as the French Revolution had broken out and, who knows, is probably the reason why the game never developed in France.

The period saw the settlement and revision of The Laws of Cricket at the Star and Garter, Pall Mall, London on 25th February 1774, chaired by Sir William Draper with a Committee comprising, John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, (one of the first members of the MCC), and the Earl of Tankerville, along with ‘other noblemen and gentlemen’ of Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London.

One of the ‘gentlemen’ drawing up the laws was Harry Peckham KC (1740-1787), when the Leg Before Wicket (LBW) Law was introduced. The famous diarist, Parson, James Woodforde, refers to Peckham playing cricket at Oxford University as early as 1760.

First photograph of a cricket match with Hunsdonbury Club and Royal Artillery. Roger Fenton. 25.7.1857, after his return from photographing the Crimean War.

The noblemen of the 18thc were mad on gambling, of all kinds, which included cricket, so it was to their interest to acquire and retain the best players, many of whom were the local lads. Blacksmiths with their strong arms, were obvious candidates.

The Earl of Tankerville for example, retained the service of Edward ‘Lumpy’ Stevens as a gardener on his Walton-on-Thames estate along with another player William Bedster as his butler. Stevens accuracy was so great it led to the inclusion of a middle-stump; before 1776 there were only two.

In the late 1780.s the Earl of Winchilsea transferred his backing from the legendary Hambledon Club to the new ground soon to be opened by Thomas Lord, originally in Dorset Square, London, in 1787.

Not until 1814 was the ground moved to St. John’s Wood, now the famous ‘Lords’, a Test Match ground, and since 1877 the home of Middlesex Cricket Club. It was also the HQ of the controlling council of cricket, The Marylebone Cricket Club, termed MCC when England played abroad. It is now prosaically called the Cricket Council.


alamy.com/Pics credits.



9th August 1850. Noxious Knotweed.

Japanese Knotweed is classed as controlled waste under the 1990 Environment Protection Act: the Environmental Agency has described the plant as, ‘indisputably the UK’s most aggressive, destructive and invasive’.

This dreaded Knotweed was first introduced to Britain in the 1840.s by a Dutch doctor and set to arrive Today in 1850, at Kew Gardens, the Horticultural Headquarters, as Plant No. 34, in a box of Chinese and Japanese plants.

Knotweed in Cornwall, showing how high it can reach.

With its hollow canes and heart-shaped leaves, on bowing stems, Fallopia japonica was soon being planted to complement the shrubberies and carpet bedding, beloved by wealthy Victorians. Farmers used it for cattle feed.

Pictures below show plants which could be mistaken for the Japanese Knotweed, mainly due to leaf shape, but as the Author knows, can be controlled in the garden.

Bindweed can be invasive and it is vital to get every bit of the root out.

Houttuynia, spreads by rhizomes, but hardly a thug.







The famous gardener William Robinson in 1898 commented that the Knotweed was, ‘springing up everywhere’, and as another horticultural guru Gertrude Jeckyll said: ‘we ought not to forget the quick growing ways of the great Japanese Knotweed which grows fast and tall’. She thought it was ideal ‘for flanking woodland walks’. So when it ran amok and demolished garden walls, doubts crept in. (1)

Leycestria Formosa or Pheasant Berry, seeds freely, but no problem.

The deadly Knotweed was particularly reported, according to Cardiff Museum, in the wild, at Maesteg in south Wales, being noted in the flora of 1886, as being especially abundant on cinder tips. Soon it was colonizing every corner of the Principality and still does.

This is not surprising as the plant originally came from volcanic fumeroles and ash from near Nagasaki, where it thrived amongst the poisonous gases, spreading by underground stem rhizomes surviving on the limited nutrients.

However in Japan there are 186 bugs to contain its growth, along with 40 fungi: here it is predator free, though efforts are being made to use biological control.

Russian Vine, rampant climber, but controllable.

Luckily the plants don’t seed, but still spread at a rate of 4 yards a week, reaching depths of 3 feet and will regrow if the tiniest piece is left. The plant is reckoned to cost the nation well over £200m a year in control, and depreciation of property value, as it is capable of breaking through any crack in asphalt and walls.

Successive Governments have admitted defeat on the problem of Japanese Knotweed as the cost of elimination would be prohibitive and any destructive action relies on local effort and control which needs to be done on an industrial scale by experts.

(1)  Homes and Gardens 1900.


Alamy.com.Pic of Cornwall.

Daily Telegraph Magazine. 17.9.2016. Sally Williams.

thetelegraph.co.uk. Eleanor Doughty 28.7.2015.Article.