The Last Sultan of Zanzibar

This relatively modest semi-detached house at 24 Victoria Grove, Southsea (Portsmouth) was, for over 50 years, the home in exile of Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah, the last Sultan of Zanzibar. This was not the life he would have expected. How did he end up here?

Sayyid Jamshid was born into privilege on 16 September 1929 in Zanzibar and would have spent his youth flitting between palatial residences like this country palace at Kibweni. He acceded to the throne in July 1963 following the death of his father Sultan Abdullah bin Khalifa Al-Said. He could not have imagined that his reign would only last seven months.

Zanzibar is an archipelago off the East African coast. The islands are famous for spices, particularly cloves. It was ruled by Oman from 1698 to 1858. A branch of the Omani Al-Busaid royal family ruled Zanzibar as Sultans as commemorated in this stamp marking their bicentennial in 1944. Zanzibar came under British protection from 1890 until December 1963 when it became an independent constitutional Sultanate. A month later the Sultan was deposed by a bloody revolt in which the majority black African population overthrew the minority Arab elite. Many Zanzibaris of Arab or mixed African/Arab descent relocated to Oman in 1964 fleeing riots that left thousands dead.

Sayyid Jamshid escaped to Oman, hoping to be granted permission to settle but when this was denied he flew to London with his entourage of 61 close family members and retainers. He spent some time in London hotels but was running short of money until he was granted a lump sum of £100,000 and a monthly allowance of £1500 by the British Government.

This money allowed him to settle in Southsea on the southern English coast. Why did he pick Southsea? Perhaps he liked the look of Portsmouth’s crest with its Islamic-style moon and crescent motif. Or maybe the seaside reminded him of his island paradise of Zanzibar. Or perhaps it was just better value for money compared to living in London.

It must have been a major culture shock for the former Sultan. He kept a low profile and his neighbours described him as a quiet and respectful man. Those who visited his home were often shown his complete collection of Zanzibari stamps from 1860s to 1960s bearing the portraits of himself and his 10 ancestor sultans.

The stamps told the history of his life, with the first set of his reign commemorating Independence (Uhuru) from Britain which took place just six months after he became Sultan. The following month he was deposed and his portrait was defaced with an overprint proclaiming a republic (Jamhuri). Later that year, Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika to form Tanzania.

He continued to lobby for permission to move to Oman, the country of his ancestry, but these requests were rejected by Oman on security grounds, perhaps feeling that having two Sultans in the country could be destabilising. Many of his family members however were allowed to relocate to Oman in the years that followed.

Sayyid Jamshid bin Abdullah, age 91, arrived in Oman in September 2020

In September 2020, after 56 years in exile, as a humanitarian gesture, he was finally given permission to return to Oman to spend his remaining years. He will have plenty of company. Tens of thousands of his former subjects and their descendants live in Oman after being granted citizenship in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here are some old photos of Stone Town, Zanzibar.

The main shopping street in 1936 decorated for the silver jubilee of the Sultan Sayyid Khalifa bin Haroub (the ninth Sultan of Zanzibar and grandfather of Jamshid bin Abdullah).

The same street from a different perspective. Perhaps taken during the 1960s judging by the car and the movie poster for Beau Geste.

An older view of the same street (now called Kenyatta Road) with Shangani Post Office on the right. A look on Google Maps Street View shows that the buildings are still all there, the only differences are that the Indian tailors have been replaced with tourist souvenir shops.

The yellow building on the right is now the Freddie Mercury Museum. Freddie Mercury (the Queen singer) was born in Stone Town Zanzibar with the name Farrokh Bulsara and came from a Parsi family. He and his parents, along with many other South Asian families, also fled Zanzibar in 1964.

Zanzibar looks an interesting place. I’ll have to visit one of these days.

Norham – The Most Dangerous Place in England?

I have written a new post about Norham, a small village in Northumberland with a turbulent history.

I have posted it on a new blog, which I have called Northumberland Traveller, where I have transferred all Thrifty Traveller’s existing articles about Northumberland.

You can read about Norham by following this link:

While you are there, please subscribe to Northumberland Traveller if you want to continue receiving notifications of new posts concerning Northeast England and the Scottish Borders by email. The subscription box is at the bottom of the Norham page. You can also follow on Facebook if you prefer.

Thrifty Traveller will still be used for posts about trips to other countries, once the world is safe to travel again.

Leake Street Arches – The Graffiti Tunnel in London

I was looking for somewhere different to visit during our recent trip to London and heard about Leake Street Arches which was conveniently located near our hotel.

I was slightly hesitant about entering a dimly-lit tunnel in South London frequented by spray-painting hooligans in hoodies but this is a well-established venue on the street art scene where graffiti is not only legal but encouraged, even to the extent of holding graffiti tutorials and classes.

This tunnel runs underneath the railway tracks at Waterloo Station and the landlord, London & Continental Railways, describes Leake Street Arches as ‘a celebration of urban art, dining and entertainment’. Some of the arches leading off the main tunnel have been converted into restaurants and music venues but only a couple of them seemed to be open, perhaps due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Draughts London, a board game café. Presumably you can play Monopoly here. Pity Waterloo is not one of the stations on the Monopoly board.

This is London’s largest legal graffiti wall but there are rules. One of them reads ‘You don’t have to be a gangster to paint so please don’t behave like one.’

I’m not a great fan of most graffiti. Those scruffy ‘tags’ with little or no artistic merit defacing private or public property are the bane of most cities but sometimes you come across a work of street art which shows real talent or humour or has a meaningful message.

It must be a bit annoying for the artist of this puffin mural to have it scribbled over by someone of lesser abilities.

I suppose an ever-changing graffiti wall symbolises the transient nature of life which sometimes changes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

How to Get to Leake Street Arches

Leake Street is just a short walk from more conventional tourist attractions like London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.

You can find a map and more details on the official website.

It’s open 24/7 and there is no entrance fee.

Robert Morrison – Born in Morpeth, Made in China

In a corner of the tranquil Protestant Cemetery in Macau lies the grave of Robert Morrison, recognised as the first Protestant missionary to China. He translated the Bible into Chinese and compiled and published an Chinese/English dictionary.

I visited the graveyard in 2015 and took this photo of his tombstone. The lighting was poor but you might just be able to make out that he was born in Morpeth in Northumberland on January 5th 1782.

Since I am familiar with Northumberland, Macau and Malacca (all places connected to Morrison) I thought I would see if I could find out more about this devout and steadfast man.

He is generally thought to have been born on a street called Bullers Green on the outskirts of Morpeth (though some say he was born in the tiny hamlet of Wingates, about 11 miles from Morpeth and moved to Bullers Green in infancy). The house at Bullers Green no longer stands but this is the location:

The inscription above the archway reads Victoria Jubilee Year. This house replaced the one in which Robert Morrison D.D. was born. (DD means doctor of divinity).

When he was three the family moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne where his father established himself as a last and boot maker in Groat Market which might have looked like this at the time. The street has far less character today.

Dr Morrison translating the Bible into Chinese from the painting by George Chinnery.

Robert, the youngest of eight children was a serious and hard working boy and had a strict religious upbringing by his Presbyterian parents. At age 14 he left school and trained as an apprentice in his father’s cobbler business. As a teenager he went slightly off the rails, falling into bad company and, like many a Newcastle lad, was prone to excessive drinking on occasion. However, after having the fear of eternal damnation drummed into him by his pastor he reformed his ways, and eventually passed his examinations as a clergyman and applied to the London Missionary Society to serve abroad. He learned some Chinese in London and was selected to start a mission to China. Although his wish was convert ‘poor perishing heathens’ the objectives set were more practical; to compile a Chinese dictionary and translate the New Testament into Chinese. Any conversions he achieved along the way would be a bonus.

Another version of the same painting. Which one was the truer likeness I wonder?

It was no easy task and he was not made welcome. For a start Christian missionaries were banned in China, on pain of death for the preacher and the converts. That is why he only converted ten Chinese over a period of 27 years. Secondly Chinese were forbidden to teach their language to foreigners and anyone who has tried studying Chinese knows that it is one of the hardest languages in the world to master. Thirdly, the Roman Catholic priests in Macau did not want Protestant clergymen in their territory and pressed the Portuguese authorities to expel him. The East India Company, which controlled most of the British trade in Macau and Canton, did not allow missionaries to travel on their ships so Morrison was forced to arrive on an American ship disguised as an American. And the British and other foreign traders did not welcome criticism from a Bible-bashing Brit since they were nearly all involved, directly or indirectly, in the opium trade. Morrison described many of his countrymen as riff-raff, unjust, covetous, avaricious, lying, drunken and debauched. They in return regarded him as irritating, narrow-minded, scornful and completely humourless.

The Casa Garden, the former Macau residence of the East India Company’s senior supercargo. The Protestant Cemetery is adjacent to the house.

Somewhat ostracised he was left in lonely isolation he was able to devote himself to his dictionary and, only when this had been published and he had become fluent in Chinese, did he become useful to the East India Company who employed him as a translator. He married Mary Morton in 1809, the daughter of an East India Company surgeon, and they kept each other company in their seclusion. They had two surviving children but she died of cholera in 1821 and, since Morrison would not have his wife buried in a Catholic cemetery, the Protestant cemetery was established in Macau. He later remarried and had a further five children.

Morrison Protestant Chapel in Camōes Square, Macau (next to the cemetery).

Morrison died in Canton on 1 August 1834 and his body was brought to Macau and buried next to his first wife and child. By the time of his death the entire foreign community in Canton and Macau had come to admire his character, even if they didn’t much like him. A fellow missionary, an American Sinologist called Samuel Wells Williams, summed Morrison up as ‘not by nature calculated to win and interest the skeptical or the fastidious, for he had no sprightliness or pleasantry, no versatility or wide acquaintance with letters, and was respected rather than loved by those who cared little for the things nearest his heart’.

The Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca

Morrison’s name is also associated with Malacca (in Malaysia). Another missionary, William Milne, was sent out to assist Morrison, arriving in Macau in 1813 but he was not permitted to stay. After some time in Canton, he moved on to Malacca where, under Morrison’s guidance, he established a school called the Anglo-Chinese College in 1818. After Hong Kong became a British territory the school relocated there in 1843 under the name Ying Wa College. It is still going today. Milne died in Malacca and he is commemorated in Christ Church, Malacca.

A Walk In London

Recently I had some time to spare in London before catching my train so I decided I would walk from my hotel in the Paddington area to Kings Cross, a distance of around 4 miles by my circuitous route. It was a dry, crisp January day so ideal for walking.

Wallace Collection

Wallace Collection
Wallace Collection under wraps

My first stop was the Wallace Collection, an impressive art museum found in Hertford House on Manchester Square which was the former London residence of the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace who accumulated the collection during the 18th and 19th centuries. Treasures on display here include paintings by Canaletto, Reynolds and Gainsborough together with French furniture, Sèvres porcelain, arms and armour and countless other priceless objects.

The museum is free, which is great, but like most top museums they display some of the best bits, in this case ‘Indian Painting for the East India Company’ in a separate temporary exhibition for which a charge applies. I made do with the free galleries.

Another plus was that no queuing was required to get in as this museum is probably less well known to the mass tourism market compared to say the British Museum or National Portrait Gallery.

Mrs Elizabeth Carnac by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Mrs Elizabeth Carnac by Sir Joshua Reynolds

On the negative side I felt the atmosphere was somewhat snobby (more due to the clientele rather than the staff to be fair) and as for the internal courtyard French brasserie I got the impression that most diners were there to be seen rather than to enjoy their ‘beetroot gravlax and thyme sabayon, root vegetable tartar and sea lettuce croquettes’.

Painting at The Wallace Collection
No vegetable tartar for me please.

Regent’s Park

Winter might not be the best time of year to see London’s parks but you can still find plenty of ducks, swans and geese to feed and enjoy a stroll through the Queen Mary’s Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden or the English Gardens.

Griffin Tazza, Regent's Park

This is the Griffin Tazza (Lion Vase), a large stone bowl supported by four winged stone lions which was installed in the park in 1863.

St Andrews Place NW1

Just off Regent’s Park is this fine street, St. Andrews Place. Most of the buildings hereabouts seem to be connected to the Royal College of Physicians. Even if you won the lottery you probably wouldn’t be able to live here.

Regent’s Place

There’s a lot of new development all over London these days. One block, called Regent’s Place, describes itself as one of London’s best places to work, eat and play.

Bug Hotel
‘Bug Hotel’ at Regent’s Place

Even insects are catered for, thanks to these ‘beautiful bug hotels which encourage ladybirds, butterflies, beetles and solitary bees to thrive’. Reminds of some of the budget hotels which I have stayed in in Malaysia which are home to bed bugs, cockroaches and spiders.

Wellcome Collection

Wellcome Collection

Next I passed the Wellcome Collection, a museum of medical history and oddities which was begun by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (1853-1936), pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector. Lack of time prevented me from going inside but I made a mental note to visit on a future trip to London.

Friends House

Friends House

Nearby is another grand building called Friends House which is the ‘head office’ of the Quakers. It appears that much of the space is also hired out for events.

Euston Arch Lodges

Euston Arch Lodge

In front of Euston Station are a pair of Victorian gatehouses which I must have seen dozens of times without paying them any attention. They originally served as parcel and information offices for the London and Birmingham Railway’s London terminus, Euston Station and they stood either side of Euston Arch which was demolished in the 1960s when Euston Station was redeveloped. They have since been converted into tiny pubs, The Euston Tap, a highly rated craft beer house, and The Cider Tap. The names of the stations served by the railway are carved on the exterior.

British Library

I would like to have spent more time here but I had a quick look around the Treasures of The British Library exhibition. Here is a small sample of what’s on display:

A traditional Japanese Buddhist map (1808)
A traditional Japanese Buddhist map (1808)
Southern European Navigational chart (1470)
Southern European Navigational chart (1470)
Javanese wuku calendar, a kind of horoscope, from Yogyakarta (1738)
Javanese wuku calendar, a kind of horoscope, from Yogyakarta (1738)
Turkish book (1582) describing the Ottoman contest of Georgia
Turkish book (1582) describing the Ottoman contest of Georgia
Lindisfarne Gospels (around 700)
Lindisfarne Gospels (around 700)
Sultan Baybar's Quran, Egypt 1305AD
Sultan Baybar’s Quran, Egypt 1305AD
Jagannath Puri Temple, Odisha, India (19th century)
Jagannath Puri Temple, Odisha, India (19th century)
The Gutenberg Bible, Mainz (1454)
The Gutenberg Bible, Mainz (1454)

Other items on display here include the Magna Carta, Jane Austen and Shakespeare documents and some of the Beatles’ handwritten lyrics.

The British Library Philatelic Exhibition has a permanent display of some of the world’s best stamps and there’s also a good collection of banknotes from around the world.

Nice serial number!

St. Pancras & Kings Cross

St Pancras
St Pancras

From here it was just a short walk past the beautifully refurbished St. Pancras to King’s Cross where the Harry Potter experience at Platform 9 3/4 was doing a roaring trade.

Sidney Street Siege

In the early hours of 3rd January 1911 police quietly took up positions outside a tenement flat at No. 100, Sidney Street in London’s Whitechapel District. They had received a tip-off that armed criminals were holed up there. These men were suspected to have taken part in a jewellery robbery in Houndsditch a fortnight earlier in which three policemen had been killed.

Once in position, the police, perhaps unwisely, threw stones at the first floor window to get the attention of the criminals. They were met with a hail of bullets, injuring a police inspector. Thus began a prolonged siege, which became known as the Siege of Sidney Street.


On hearing of the incident, the Home Secretary of the day, Winston Churchill, sensing a chance for self-promotion, rushed along to take personal command. Finding the police equipped only with out-of-date firearms he ordered a detachment of Scots Guards from the Tower of London to assist.


After several hours of unremitting gunfire, the house caught fire and eventually the shooting stopped as the flames took hold. Once the fire was out, police found two charred bodies in the debris.  These were later identified as Fritz Svaars and William Sokolow, petty criminals from Latvia.

Peter the Painter, as he appeared on his wanted poster in 1911

The alleged leader of the jewellery robbers, Peter the Painter, was nowhere to be found and was believed to have escaped. Peter the Painter’s real name was thought to be Peter Piaktow, a Polish decorator. Interesting that even 100 years ago, Londoners were dependent on Polish handymen to maintain their houses!

One of the police detectives at the scene later claimed to have seen Peter the Painter in Australia while others believe he may actually have been Jacob Peters who became Stalin’s deputy head of secret police before being executed.

The original Sidney Street siege location no longer stands  but just down the street are some similar looking blocks.

The most surprising part of this story for me was that the two deceased criminals were known to have at one time frequented the Jubilee Street Anarchist Club, just around the corner from Sidney Street. Bomb-lobbing anarchists, hell-bent on revolution, are not the sort of people you would expect to have a club. But on further checking, it seems the meaning and image of anarchists has changed over the years. At that time there were at least 3 anarchist clubs in London. The one at 165 Jubilee Street was opened under the guise of a Jewish Friendly Society and catered mainly for Jewish émigrés fleeing persecution from Tsarist Russia. It served more as a refuge and it was described as peaceful and friendly with a library and reading room, a kids’ Sunday school, lectures, dances, recitals and no alcohol. The police would often point homeless East European refugees in the direction of the Anarchist Club knowing they would get looked after. No doubt many of their members would have held leftist and communist views and there were probably a few hotheads among them – this was after all only a few years before the Russian Revolution – but nowadays these people would likely be labelled Corbyn supporters rather than anarchists.

Elegant terraced houses in Jubilee Street.

What would the members of Jubilee Street Anarchist Club have made of today’s Whitechapel? They might wish they had hung on to their old premises. Their club was demolished but this terraced house with the blue door diagonally opposite where the club stood is on the market today for a cool £1,500,000.

Despite the inflated property prices however, the area is still an area inhabited by immigrants with a lot of social housing. The Jewish population has largely moved on and today’s residents originate mainly from Bangladesh and other Muslim countries.


The anarchist club members would have been amazed that Tower Hamlets Borough Council, which has always been at the radical end of London politics, in 2006 named two of the their community housing tower blocks Peter House and Painter House, much to the annoyance of the Metropolitan Police who felt the buildings would be better named after the Houndsditch burglary victims rather than an accused cop-killer.


Another nearby block is called Siege House.

The Sidney Street Siege affair led to a clamour among British newspapers for more stringent regulations regarding the entry of foreigners into Britain. That sounds familiar!  

You can read more about London’s Anarchist Clubs here.

‘The Mouse That Roared’ Solution to Britain’s Brexit Dilemma

Britain has got itself into a hopeless muddle over Brexit. Two years of dithering and bickering have still not produced a viable exit proposal and the country remains as divided as ever. With the exit date fast approaching perhaps a radical new approach is needed.

Introducing …..

The Mouse That Roared Solution


Inspired by the 1959 comedy film The Mouse That Roared, the United Kingdom should apply to the United States to become part of the USA or, more precisely, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to become the US’s 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th States respectively.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea let’s consider the advantages:

  • The EU would not be able to bully the US on Britain’s exit terms.
  • No need to pay the £40 billion EU exit fee. Mr. Trump would never agree.
  • No need to renegotiate trade deals since USA already has global trade deals in place.
  • Scotland and Wales would finally be free of English domination and could call themselves autonomous States, albeit as part of USA.
  • London would not have to subsidise Scotland any more. That would be the job of the Federal Government.
  • Britons could once again be proud to have the world’s strongest armed forces.
  • UK’s enormous national debt would be merged with USA’s even larger national debt and seemingly disappear.
  • Britons would exchange their Pounds for Dollars and feel richer as a result.
  • Some Britons would benefit from America’s generally lower income tax rates.
  • Britons could sell their over-priced UK properties and move to the American ‘mainland’ where real estate is much cheaper.
  • Britons concerned about immigration should be happy as most immigrants would immediately move to California to become millionaires. Also President Trump would be in charge of UK’s borders.
  • Talented British politicians (can’t think of any off the top of my head) would be eligible to run for President. Tony Blair or David Miliband might fancy their chances since they are far more popular on that side of the Atlantic than at home.
  • Those Brits who dislike President Trump would have the opportunity to vote him out of office.
  • The Queen could remain Head of State for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the equivalent rank of State Governor. After she passes away her successors would have to stand for election as State Governor if they were interested. Prince Louis of Cambridge would be the last royal to inherit a title. Future royals, earls and other nobility would be just regular untitled American citizens, only richer.
  • The National Health Service would become a State Health Service and, deprived of Federal support, would rapidly become bankrupt. It would be replaced by a self-funded health insurance scheme which is what the current British Government would secretly like to achieve but is not brave enough to suggest.

The issue of the hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would remain. Maybe Eire would also like to join USA, as the 55th State, which would eliminate the problem. Since most Americans claim some Irish heritage they should feel very much at home.

England could be renamed Old England to avoid confusion with New England. Or better still, Ye Olde England, to maximise the tourism potential of the brand.

Those are some of the advantages of this proposal for Britain but what’s in it for America?

  • They gain 65 million new citizens who can’t speak a word of Spanish, thus swinging the language mix in America firmly back in favour of English.
  • They would be able to absorb Britain’s highly regarded armed forces into their own.
  • They get control of GCHQ and the other UK intelligence assets.
  • They get the City of London’s financial centre.
  • They will learn about cricket, football and rugby.
  • They acquire history, culture, royalty, entertainment, etc., etc.

Ok, Britain will lose its sovereignty but that’s an overrated commodity in today’s world. We would be able to celebrate America’s Independence Day instead.

The more I think about the Mouse That Roared solution, the better it sounds. What do you think?


St. Mary the Virgin, Great Brington

One of the best things about England is that you don’t have to go far to find places of historical interest. A good place to look is the local church. Take for example the parish church of St. Mary the Virgin, close to where my family has a home in the small Northamptonshire village of Great Brington.


This fine church has over 800 years of history with connections to two former monarchs and, if royal succession goes according to plan, one future king. An ancestor of George Washington is also buried here under a tombstone bearing a prototype of the Stars & Stripes, carved 160 years before the United States came into existence. For this reason, it is said that Great Brington is better known in America than in England.

Early History

There has been a church on this site for over 1,000 years, having been mentioned in the Domesday book. The early wooden Saxon church was probably burnt down in one of England’s endless factional wars but the church’s ancient baptismal font is thought to have survived from that early period. The stone tower was constructed around 1200 and the church has been expanded, remodelled and renovated countless times over the following centuries. Even as recently as 2015, the roof had to be replaced when thieves stole 12 tonnes of lead off the roof in the middle of the night. 

In an amazing piece of record keeping, the church displays a full list of its priests from 1086 up until the present day, albeit with a few gaps. The last name on the list, from 2010 onwards, is the church’s first female vicar. That took long enough!

The Spencers & The Royal Connections

In the early 1500s, John Spencer, a nobleman from Warwickshire purchased the estate at Althorp, together with several hundred acres of the surrounding area, including the village and church of Great Brington. Since then, nineteen generations of the Spencer family have been buried here, either in the Spencer Chapel inside the church or in a special section of the graveyard outside. Under the patronage of this wealthy family, the church has always been well looked after.


Probably the most famous Spencer, to the modern generation at least, was Lady Diana Spencer, ex-wife of Prince Charles and mother of Princes William and Harry. After her untimely death, she was laid to rest in the grounds of Althorp House, just 1.5km from the village, although there was a conspiracy theory that she was secretly reburied in the church when they found the ground water conditions of her lakeside burial site at Althorp to be unsuitable. Like most conspiracy theories, this is probably untrue.

Other royal rumours concern Mary, Queen of Scots who was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587 on the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. It was said that her severed head was on its way to Elizabeth to prove that the deed had been done when it was intercepted at Brington by a messenger from the Queen, who had no desire to see it, so they decided to bury it under the altar of the church. A heraldic shield bearing the lion rampant of Scotland marks the spot. However others refute this legend and say that this is the grave of Anne Seagrave whose family crest included a similar lion.

Another royal connection concerns Charles I who is thought to have been allowed to attend services at the church while he was being held prisoner at nearby Holdenby House prior to his execution in 1649.

The American Connection

Lawrence Washington, great-great-great-grandfather of George Washington, First President of the United States of America was buried in the church in December 1616. His tombstone, now almost indecipherable, reads:

Here lieth the bodi of Laurence Washington – sonne & heire of Robert Washington of Soulgrave in the countie of Northampton Esquier – who married Margaret the eldest daughter of William Butler of Tees in the countie of Sussexe esquier – who had issu by her – 8 sonns & 9 daughters – which Laurence decessed the 13 of December – A:DNI: 1616.

English spelling had obviously not been standardised in those days!

(I wrote about Sulgrave Manor, Lawrence Washington’s home, in a previous blog post.)

The tombstone bears the Washington coat of arms, from which the US flag was derived, together with the arms of the Butlers, his wife’s family. A nearby wooden bench-end is also decorated with the Washington family emblem.


There is a portrait of George Washington on the wall of the nave with the inscription:

This portrait of George Washington replaces the original presented by the U.S. Senate to St. Mary’s Church, Great Brington July 1914 – Stolen July 1988.

Thieving is clearly a problem at this church!

Other Interesting Items

The impressive stained glass East window was designed by William Morris and dedicated in 1912 by the 6th Earl Spencer to various members of his family. It represents the adoration of the lamb (whatever that means). The fenced off area to the left of this photo is part of the Spencer Chapel.

There are a couple of tombstones embedded in the church floor which appear to commemorate family servants, such as this one of Mrs Hannah Cane who died in 1732 and was seemingly the nanny for Lady Morpeth.

There is a huge and ancient-looking chest, contents unknown, capable of holding every church collection for the past 800 years.

There is a fine foliate head carving, or Green Man, whose original purpose or meaning is lost in the mists of time, possibly even pre-dating the arrival of Christianity in Britain.

This copy of an ancient seating plan, informs who sat where. It tells us for example that the first two pews on the North side were for John Middleton, his wife and children (Middleton? – Another royal connection?)

Note the elaborately carved bench-ends, also known as poppy heads, in the bottom left of this photo, one of which dates from 1606.

The graveyard outside is still in use. In English churches, our ancestors are all around us.

There is a tomb under a gable on the external wall of the church with a weathered effigy of an unknown former cleric dressed in priestly vestments and holding a communion chalice.

The base of a large cross stands in front of the church, thought to have been erected around 1300 as a common memorial to all those buried in the churchyard.

St. Mary the Virgin is a nice place to visit if you are in the area. But please don’t steal any souvenirs. The chest is empty by the way!




Baghdad, England

I was in England last month visiting family. While I was there, I learned that there is a town in the green and leafy English county of Hertfordshire which was named after Baghdad.

Old Baghdad

It was founded by the Knights Templar in the 12th century on the site of earlier Roman and Iron Age settlements. Seemingly, while on the Crusades, the Knights Templar had visited, or heard about, the famed city of Baghdad with its bustling souks. On their return to England they wanted to emulate this city’s success by establishing a market town which they named Baudac or Baldac, being the Norman French form for Baghdad. The name has since been Anglicised and the town is now known as Baldock.

Baldock Town Hall & Museum

An alternative theory is that the Knights named the town after Baalbek, the ancient Phoenician / Roman city in modern day Lebanon, an area which the Crusaders were far more likely to have visited.

Baalbek on a 1967 Lebanese Postage Stamp

Whatever the true origin of the name, modern-day Baldock bears little resemblance to either Baghdad or Baalbek. The Charter Fair started by the Templars in 1199 is still held annually though these days it is more of a fun fair than a bustling Middle eastern souq. The town’s heritage is remembered through the Templars Hotel & Restaurant, the Knights Templar School and the Knights Templar Sports Centre.

The town is twinned with Eisenberg in Germany and Sanvignes in France. There are no plans to twin Baldock with the Iraqi capital!

North Cornwall – Castles & Coves

Last summer we had a family holiday in England and spent some days exploring the beautiful coast of North Cornwall. Here were some of the highlights.

Port Isaac

The beach at the quaint fishing village of Port Isaac. This scene may look familiar to fans of the TV series Doc Martin which was filmed here. Doc's house is the second from the right.
The beach at the quaint fishing village of Port Isaac. This scene may look familiar to fans of the TV series Doc Martin which was filmed here. Doc’s house is the second from the right.

White and grey is the colour code for house in this village.
White and grey is the colour code for houses in this village. They might not appreciate it if you painted your house exterior pink or blue.

Baby seagulls are cute but the grown ones were keen to get some of my delicious crab sandwich, purchased at the harbour front.
This baby seagull was cute but the grown ones were keen to steal some of my delicious crab sandwich, purchased at the harbour front.

A prop from the Doc Martin TV series advertising Large's Restaurant in Port Wenn.
A prop perhaps from the Doc Martin TV series advertising Large’s Restaurant in Port Wenn.


The harbour village of Boscastle is one of the most unspoilt in Cornwall.
The harbour village of Boscastle is one of the most unspoilt in Cornwall.

This ancient building had a narrow escape when Boscastle was struck by a devastating flood in 2004.
This ancient crooked cafe had a narrow escape when Boscastle was struck by a devastating flood in 2004.

This old lady working at the Witchcraft Museum looked friendly but she wouldn't answer our questions.
This old lady working at the Witchcraft Museum looked friendly enough but she didn’t talk much.

Typical Cornwall scene in Boscastle
Typical Cornish scene in Boscastle


Launceston is known as the Gateway to Cornwall and its Norman castle, dating from around 1070, was built to dominate the approach to the town.
Launceston is known as the Gateway to Cornwall and its Norman castle, dating from around 1070, was built to dominate the approach to the town.

View from the top of Launceston Castle.

One of the residents at the Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre, near Launceston.


The beach at Bude.
The beach at Bude.

A row of hideous beach huts at Bude. For some reason which escapes me, the British are very fond of their beach huts and are willing to pay quite a lot of money for them. The huts seem to be exempt from Britain’s normally strict planning laws, perhaps because they are deemed as temporary structures even though these ones have obviously been around for a long, long time.

Considering that our visit was during summer and the weather was good, the beaches were very empty.

The North Cornish coastline is wild and rugged in places and many secluded coves and beaches are not easily accessible without a boat.

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle was built on a rocky outcrop joined to the mainland by a narrow neck making it easily defendable.
Tintagel Castle was built on a craggy promontory joined to the mainland by a narrow neck making it easily defendable. 

The site has been occupied since Roman times or earlier but is best known for its association with the legendary King Arthur.
The site has been occupied since Roman times or earlier but is best known for its association with the legendary King Arthur.

Centuries of erosion have taken their toll on the castle walls and buildings but there is still a lot to see.
Centuries of erosion have taken their toll on the castle walls and buildings but there is still a lot to see.

The ruins were interesting but the spectacular setting with sheer cliffs, great views and a bracing cool breeze were what we enjoyed the most.
The ruins were interesting but the spectacular setting with sheer cliffs, great views and a bracing cool breeze were what we enjoyed the most.

Crackington Haven

Crackington Haven has a relatively sheltered shingle and sand beach and is popular with surfers.
Crackington Haven has a relatively sheltered shingle and sand beach and is popular with surfers.

The village of Crackington Haven is tiny but has a pub, a tea room and a shop.
The village of Crackington Haven is tiny but has a pub, a tea room and a shop.

One of the best things about Cornwall and Devon is the South West Coast Path (630 miles long) which hugs the coastline at Crackington Haven and provides great views over the bay.

Creativity at Crackington Haven
My daughter practicing her photography and flower arranging skills.


Padstow is a picturesque fishing port turned tourist destination. Despite having over 1500 years of history it is best known as the base for Rick Stein's seafood cooking TV series.
Padstow is a picturesque fishing port turned tourist destination. Despite having over 1500 years of history it is nowadays best known as the base for Rick Stein’s seafood cooking TV series.

As a sign of Padstow’s gentrification, harbour tour operators offer rides in upmarket Riva-like speed boats.

Facing Padstow, on the opposite bank of the River Camel, is a lovely sandy beach at Daymer Bay. The gorgeous scenery of this area, together with the ‘Rick Stein effect’, has pushed up property prices in Padstow so much that only rich out-of-towners can afford to buy (second) homes here.

Cozy Padstow pub.

 Goodbye Cornwall – See You Next Time

Contemplating at Widemouth Bay.
Contemplating at Widemouth Bay.

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