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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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’.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
St. Pancras & Kings Cross
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
English spelling had obviously not been standardised in those days!
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
While back in UK recently I was struck by how calmly the English public are reacting to Scotland’s forthcoming referendum on independence, now only weeks away.
The UK is facing the biggest threat to its existence since Adolf Hitler and yet the British Government is just sitting back and letting events take their course. What would Winston Churchill have done in these circumstances one wonders? Arrested Alex Salmond and his SNP cronies and put them on trial for treason perhaps? If David Cameron’s cabinet even fleetingly considered this drastic option they would have wisely concluded that nothing is more likely to get the Scots’ backs up than a perceived attack by the English. So the Scots are getting their bothersome referendum without excessive interference from Whitehall.
Does it matter that much even if the result is a Yes vote for independence? After all Scotland is not going anywhere – it’ll still be there, stuck on the end of England. We’d be like a divorced couple sharing this semi-detached island. The Scots would be staring over the fence at England (and Wales) wondering jealously how they can afford all those shiny new cars on the drive while the English would envy the Scots for their spacious garden with the loch water-features.
If the Scots do vote for independence, expect a backlash from the English. Why would the English continue to drink ‘foreign’ Scotch whisky for example when there are perfectly good English whisky manufacturers. As for shortbread biscuits, England will opt for south-of-the-border alternatives or make do with digestives. Apart from whisky and biscuits, there are few other exports from Scotland that English consumers are interested in.
And with all the controversy about EU migrants taking jobs from locals, how will the English feel about Scots coming over and taking all those plum City of London jobs, once Scotland is a foreign country? It will all be very interesting to see what happens.
But the annoying thing about this referendum is that even if the result is a resounding ‘No’, the issue will not go away for ever and Salmond and Co. will likely push for repeat votes every so often until they get their way. It would probably be best for everybody if, after the referendum (assuming the outcome is ‘No’), Salmond were to be quietly picked up and exiled to New Caledonia in the Pacific. Perhaps he’ll have more luck in leading that nation to independence (from France).