Confessions of a gravestone ‘jumper’ (and the story of a Maidstone headstone)

Headstone for Nicholas Seaton image Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)Why is it that I always get caught out when I’m doing something slightly unusual?  Other people get away with doing all sorts of things but I don’t, I get caught. One very large primary school party has found me lying on the floor of a local church, my arms seemingly stretched towards heaven, as I tried to take a photograph of the ceiling and now I’ve been seen hopping around the graveyard of All Saints Church in Maidstone.

In my defence, my ungainly jumping routine is down to the fact that I don’t like to tread on the dead but even I have to admit it looks quite batty.  On this occasion though, my embarrassment was worth it as I came across this headstone for Nicholas Hall Seaton, a young man of 19, who died on 3rd December 1852.  Sadly, death at a young age during the 19th century was not uncommon but I get the feeling his circumstances may have been a little different due to his inscription:

Inscription for Nicholas Seaton Image Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Inscription for Nicholas Seaton Image Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

‘In perfect health he went from home, not thinking that his glass was run.

All flowers grow but fade away, more sudden death does life decay.’

Was it an accident or even something more sinister that caused his death that day? I’ll probably never know but I feel there’s a story there waiting to be told.

The added inscriptions for Fanny Seaton, William Misson and Jane Misson, aged 40, 25 and 2 ½ show that this poor family was no stranger to loss and I’m deeply touched by their tale. But, more than that, I have also been given a reminder that, for far too many, life is too short. So, even if I have to endure many more embarrassing moments, I’m not going to stop doing something I love.

How about you? Have you ever been caught doing something strange in the name of research?

Hagioscopes and Leper squints – How the church kept the sick out of sight

History is riddled with germs. The bubonic plague, cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid, influenza, leprosy, small pox, and goodness knows what else, have all ravaged our ancestors, filling the churchyards and scarring the living. Understandably, fear of contamination was widespread.

Wherever they went, the noticeably sick were shunned and even in church where the lesson to ‘love thy neighbour’ was preached, the ill were outcast. Realising the extent of the problem, and not wanting to lose any followers, church architects soon came up with a way for their more unwelcome worshipers to attend services but remain out of sight.

The Lepers Squint within St Mary of Charity Church, Faversham

The Lepers Squint within St Mary of Charity Church Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)


Hagioscopes, also known as leper windows or squints, are carefully angled holes-in-the-wall that were built to allow onlookers to watch a service from behind-the-scenes. Antony Millett, head of the Faversham Town Walks organisation, kindly showed me the squint within St Mary of Charity’s Church and explained that it had been so accurately placed that the priest conducting the Communion within the now lost chapel dedicated to St Thomas, could see the priest performing at the high alter and duplicate his actions to allow the segregated congregation to join in the service.

Fortunately, there are many examples of this bygone necessity still in existence and, according to a helpful list on Wikipedia, you can find some of them at the following locations. Perhaps there’s one close to you –

  • St James’ in Great Ormside, Cumbria
  • St Bees Priory, St Bees, Cumbria (now infilled)
  • St Mary’s Church, Easington, County Durham
  • St Nicholas’ Church, Berden
  • St Nicholas Church, Westgate Street Gloucester, Gloucestershire
  • St Martin’s Church in Wareham, Dorset
  • St Mary’s, Lytchett Matravers – A particularly large example of a hagioscope
  • St. Laurence and All Saints Church, Eastwood, Essex
  • St Andrew and St Bartholomew’s in Ashleworth, Gloucestershire
  • Church of the Holy Rood, Holybourne, Hampshire
  • Holy Trinity Church in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire
  • St. Cuthbert’s Church, Aldingham, Lancashire
  • St James’ The Less in Sulgrave, Northamptonshire
  • The Church of St. James, Shere
  • St Mary’s Church, Grendon, Northamptonshire
  • St Cuthbert’s Church, Beltingham, Northumberland
  • St Aidan Bamburgh Northumberland
  • St Oswald’s in Sowerby, North Yorkshire
  • St Peter’s in Upton, Nottinghamshire
  • St Nicholas’ in Old Marston, Oxfordshire
  • St Nicholas’ in Kenilworth, Warwickshire
  • St Mary and St Cuthbert in Chester-Le-Street
  • St Marys Bridge Chapel, Derby

You can’t do that in here! (Plus 7 Top Tips for using an archive)

Last week, while on the trail of a religious sect known as the Jezreelites for an article commission, I made a visit to the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone. It’s one of my favourite places to visit but I always find entering the research room a little intimidating. For some reason it reminds me of my first day at school when I didn’t know all the unspoken rules and, as I waited at the help desk for my locker key, I accidentally discovered a disturbing new ruling…

Image courtesy of Mister GC at

Image courtesy of Mister GC at

Archive assistant: Sorry Rachael, new policy, you can’t take that metal tipped pencil in there.

Me: Sorry?

Archive assistant: Someone (fill in your own word for an unsavoury character/despicable scumbag) has been using the tips like a blade to cut out pages.

Me: Really! That’s horrendous.

Archive Assistant: Yeah, you can’t use pencil sharpeners anymore either.

Me: No problem (scrabbling through my handbag to find another pencil)

Archive assistant: Here, want my pencil…

A few minutes later, while waiting for my manuscript to arrive, my mind went into overdrive about all the rules involved in keeping our historical documents safe and what that means for us archive users, especially if you haven’t used an archive facility before.

Hopefully you might find some of the following useful:

Image courtesy of digitalart at

Image courtesy of digitalart at

1. Don’t forget your ID

If you haven’t used a library research room or an archive before you’re going to need to take at least two forms of ID with you, even if you already have a library card. This will enable you to obtain clearance to use the archive and be issued either with an upgraded library card or an archive access pass.

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

Image courtesy of khunaspix at

2. Tame your sources

Elderly books and papers are fragile and tricky to handle. For one thing they don’t lie flat when you want them to and you end up hunched over, with your digits in knots, as you try to read them. All games of finger twister can be avoided, however, if you ask the archive assistant to give you a foam book stand or some weighted beads to keep the papers open. I’m afraid it doesn’t make it any easier to decipher some of that spider like script but lots of practice, a friendly assistant or a palaeography course (which KH&L Centre also run) can help with that.

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at

Image courtesy of fotographic1980 at

3. Stop the splodges

We all know that once pen has marked something it can’t be removed and the last thing you want to do is damage those precious papers. So remember to take a plain pencil with you (one without a metal banded rubber attached to the end) as pens are banned. Take a spare too because due to the rather dubious character mentioned above, sharpeners are no longer allowed in some research rooms either.

Image courtesy of m_bartosch at

Image courtesy of m_bartosch at

4. Say cheese and avoid hand cramp

If you don’t want to waste your precious research time handwriting endless verbatim notes consider investing in a day’s camera license to take photographs instead. It will give you extra time to copy down your essential quotes, facts and figures and provide you with a factual copy for your own* reference. This will also give you the option of enlarging some of that tricky handwritten text via your computer.

I have to say that the licenses aren’t cheap, its currently £10 per day at the KH&L , so you may find it more cost effective to have your items photocopied. You can usually copy up to 5% of a printed book but expect to pay in the range of 25p per A4 page.

Another alternative, especially for speedy typists, is to take along your laptop/iPad/favourite gadget and type up your notes as you go along.

*Please be aware that you CAN NOT publish any image –even if you have paid to take it, no matter how old the document is, without the written permission of the archive or collection holder involved.

Image courtesy of sattva at

Image courtesy of sattva at

5. Eek! Is that the time?

Research tables are usually booked in two hour slots but the time flies past when you discover something exciting, are waiting for further records to be retrieved from the vaults and are booking in and out. Always give yourself more time than you originally anticipate and pay for some additional parking beforehand (and not via an exorbitant parking ticket afterwards!)

In order to get the most out of your visit and save yourself some additional time you can also:

  1. Reserve your table in advance,
  2. Use online archive catalogues to make a note of the reference number for the records you would like to see. (If booking in advance you can also ask that these records be ready for you although you will only be able to view one at a time.)
  3. Arrive slightly early with your library/archive pass to hand as you don’t want to spend your research time waiting in the queue at the help desk. (And don’t forget to take your additional ID if it’s your first visit)
  4. Prepare in advance and have everything you will need in an easy-to-carry bundle. Bags are not allowed in research rooms so everything else will have to be put in a locker.
Image courtesy of Ambro at

Image courtesy of Ambro at

6. Don’t suffer in silence

If you don’t know how to find something, use a piece of equipment or have any sort of question – no matter how basic – just ask. Staff are generally very friendly, incredibly knowledgeable and are there to help you.

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at

Image courtesy of pandpstock001 at

7. And finally, don’t forget your tissues

Some incredible stories lurk within those seemingly innocent paperwork bundles and I’ve been caught without enough tissues on more than one occasion. So be warned, you may get away with whispering to your neighbour but wiping your nose on your sleeve is frowned upon.

Happy browsing and if you have any tips you would like to share, please do put them in the comment box below.


PS. If you would like to know what I discovered about those fascinating Jezreelites from Gillingham, grab yourself a copy of the March 2015 issue of ‘Kent Life’ magazine and check out my ‘History Scrapbook’ feature.

What makes Bygone Kent Magazine special? Its Publisher and Editor reveal all

January/February Issue of Bygone Kent

January/February 2015 Issue

One of my best birthday presents last year was a subscription to Bygone Kent magazine.  It’s the only magazine specialising in Kent’s history and it’s filled with a fantastic range of quirky snippets and well-written articles.

Stephen Rayner, an experienced journalist, national newspaper sub-editor and local history writer took over the role of publisher (jointly with his journalist wife Christine) last year, and has agreed – with Bygone Kent editor Andrew Rootes (also an experienced historian, author and long-standing journalist) to share some behind-the-scenes secrets with us here.

Hello Stephen and Andrew, many thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Bygone Kent has been published for over 30 years, what do you think make it so special?

Andrew Rootes Editor of Bygone Kent

Andrew: It is the only publication in Kent which can look at any aspect of the county’s rich history in an entertaining and informative way without becoming too esoteric. No aspect of the past is off limits if we think it will be of interest to our readers. In this way, we see ourselves as being complementary to the excellent work done over many years by Kent Archaeological Society and its learned volumes of Archaeologia Cantiana. We are all enthusiastic students of the past.

What are you enjoying most about your new role?

Steve: Learning more about Kent history! I was a strange child … I used to beg my parents to take me to the museum. I went to Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, Rochester, where I had an inspirational history master, KH Baker, who turned the English Civil War into an exciting revolutionary tale – Game of Thrones has nothing on Lofty Baker’s Cavaliers and Roundheads.

Andrew: Looking for material for the magazine provides the perfect excuse to dig into the archives. And reading up about any aspect of our history inevitably leads to even more background reading about the period. For anyone interested in the past, the county provides an endlessly fascinating wealth of material.

And what’s your biggest challenge?

Stephen_Rayner web

Stephen Rayner Publisher of Bygone Kent Magazine

Steve: There are many. 1) Presenting Kent’s history in a readable form without dumbing down. We are not an academic journal, so were try not to pepper features with footnotes and references; nor are we downmarket enough to peddle too much folklore (“And to this day her weeping ghost can be seen every Michaelmas eve…”). It’s also important to source and reproduce images that are relevant to the feature. Some writers must imagine that these appear magically and that we have access to the most advanced and expensive picture libraries. We don’t … but we are resourceful. 2) Selling it. Many people believe Bygone Kent ceased publication years ago, so we are having to publicise (Thanks, HistoryMagpie!) that we are emphatically thriving. We are trying to sell Bygone Kent by subscription wherever possible because wholesalers take 42.5% of the cover price, which leaves us very little to plough back into its production.

Andrew: Bygone Kent has been going for more than three decades, and over that time there have been many books and booklets about specific Kent places and subjects. The trick is to find stories for our readers not yet discovered, or widely known, as a result of this research. We think Bygone Kent does this well.

Nov/Dec 2014 Issue

Nov/Dec 2014 Issue

Recent features have revealed, among many other things, ‘A City too corrupt for parliament’, the man responsible for the First World War’s ‘white feather’ campaign and the rediscovery of images belonging to the pioneering female photographer, Catharine Weed Barnes Ward. Do you have a favourite historical place, character, event or tale?

Steve: Too many to mention! But Andrew’s tale of Canterbury political corruption was a favourite. I had no idea that elections were so openly corrupt as recently as 1880, when handfuls of sovereigns were being handed out to buy votes (See Bygone Kent, Vol 35, No 5). I’m also a sucker for anything to do with the Jezreelite cult in the Gillingham area in late Victorian times – an amazing story that just kept on giving.

Andrew: I was born and brought up in the Medway/Gravesend area, have lived in villages outside Ashford and Tonbridge, and have spent most of my adult life in Canterbury – so in that sense I feel my interest is countywide. I have made a particular study of Dickens’s life in my home village of Higham, so that’s always of interest. But Bygone Kent has carried so many good stories it’s like being asked to pick a favourite child! I like them all!

Reader’s memories, letters and questions are welcomed and some of your content is provided by freelance writers. You’re now open to article submissions – what sort of pitches would you like to receive and what guidelines should writers adhere to?

Sept/Oct 2014 Issue

Sept/Oct 2014 Issue

Steve: We’re always open to submissions. Try to make your pieces of general interest. For example, your family’s history might be fascinating to you but it won’t be to everybody’s taste. Check through our online index to make sure it hasn’t been done before. You can check our past issues in many Kent libraries or we have some back issues available for sale.

Attach three or four decent images (properly captioned) and make sure you’ve cleared copyright on them. And please – we don’t want footnotes. If you want to say where you got the information, include it in the text. And as for acknowledgments, thank your helpers personally: don’t put them in a boring list at the end that takes up valuable space.

Each issue also features local history book reviews – which ones are currently on your personal reading list and why?

Steve: We’ve had a lot of interesting stuff over the past year and it’s good to see the rise of privately published – often self-published – works. (And here we must declare an interest – my wife and I also edit books and design them for publication.) However, we’re sometimes alarmed in the poor quality of editing in other self-published works, where a great idea and original research can be ruined by execrable grammar, nonexistent proofreading and a patent lack of fact-checking. But on to excellent local history books … currently receiving my almost undivided attention in the library of Bygone Kent’s ultra-modern, high-tech, publishing suite are two favourites, neither of them new: Brian Joyce’s Chatham Scandal, the story of the Medway towns’ radical solution to the increasing vice trade in a lawless town and, ahem, Front Line County: Kent at War, 1939-45, the thrilling tale of what happened here in the Second World War by … some bloke called Rootes.

With the re-opening of Dreamland in Margate, the new Huguenot Museum appearing in Rochester and Faversham’s exciting plans for a roaming Magna Carta exhibition, 2015 is going to be a great year for Kent’s history. Are there any events, or projects, that you’re particularly looking forward to?

May June 2014 Issue

May June 2014 Issue

Andrew: Well, the Huguenot Museum should give us a springboard for stories about the Huguenots in Kent generally (did you know, for example, that a service is still held in French every Sunday in Canterbury Cathedral?). This year is also the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s visit to Kent, so I’m sure we’ll recognise that in some way. And the First World War will doubtless yield more material. The county is our oyster.

The magazine has recently become available in both print and pdf format – what are your plans, or aims, for 2015? 

Steve: We’re spending money on updating our website that has been a bit neglected since we took it over. With our colleague John Coulter I have just been updating and overhauling the Bygone Kent index, which is available online, and that will be included on the new website. The PDF version of Bygone Kent is particularly good value for subscribers who live overseas because of the H-U-G-E postal costs (please don’t get me started…)

And finally, how can people find out more about Bygone Kent?

Try in the first instance. Although it’s under reconstruction, the index is working fully, as is the sales section. And follow us on Twitter and Facebook…

Twitter – @BygoneKent

Facebook –,

Website –

The Chalk Cross at Lenham

Driving back from Ashford earlier this year I looked out for the chalk cross at Lenham. It’s a sight I have seen hundreds of times before but, this time, the sun was shining and the poppies were in flower, so I just had to take a photo.


The Chalk Memorial Cross at Lenham – Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Once home, I casually mentioned the scene to my mum and a few days later a copy of Kate Bergamar’s Discovering Hill Figures popped through my letterbox.

Draped across the hillside, the cross is 189 feet (57.6 metres) long and Kate’s book reveals that, at the end of the First World War, a collection was held in order to build a memorial for the forty-two men from the parish who had fallen during the conflict.

What to do with the funds, however, appears to have been hotly debated. In the end, a design for a simple chalk cross upon the Downs was proposed by Mr C.H. Groom, who in 1922 was the headmaster of the local village school, and this was accepted. A granite memorial stone, bearing the names of those it was dedicated to, was also to be erected and, overall, it was felt that the cross would provide a ‘highly visible landmark, not excessively expensive’ which ‘would provide a fitting focus for the annual Service of Remembrance’.

The Latin styled cross has certainly succeeded in its original aim and everyone who passes along the A20 is reminded of the men’s sacrifice. Its eye-catching design proved slightly problematic during WWII, however, and in order to remove the landmark from enemy sight, the cross was camouflaged with soil.

WWI Centenary Vigil at the Tonbridge Memorial Gardens

Tonbridge Memorial Gardens have recently received an incredible makeover. The undulating paving, sunken litter-filled pit and unsightly tree stumps have all gone and in their place now sits a peaceful haven with a very special atmosphere. It’s an area Tonbridge can truly be proud of and, at 7.30pm tonight, it will provide the perfect backdrop to a Centenary Vigil being hosted by the Royal British Legion.

Tonbridge Memorial Wall - Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)As well as commemorating the townsmen who fell during WW2, the memorial wall displays the names of the 346 local men who fell in WW1.  Over 3000 men left the town to fight and throughout the 30 minute vigil, poppy images will be projected onto the wall as a mark of respect. The events of WWI and the armistice will be at the heart of the service led by Rev. John Perkins, who is representing the chaplaincy of the RBL, and prayers for peace in areas still involved in conflict will be made.

New Centenary Statue which was designed by a local schoolgirl - Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

‘The Torch’ – commemorative  statue designed by local schoolchildren. Image Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Pam Mills, the towns Royal British Legion Youth Officer, has been working hard to bring the town’s war history to life for our local school children and its wonderful to learn that, following the recent competition to design the new commemorative statue, local children will once again be involved with the memorial garden.  The 17th Tonbridge Area Scout and Guide Band will provide buglars and accompanying music for the Hillview school singers. Some of these children are only a few years younger than those who went to war and the song they will be singing was written by 15 year old Elizabeth Mills.

Elizabeth wrote the song following a school trip to Tynecot cemetry and “We will remember them (peace now)” personally gives me the shivers.  If you can’t make it to the service tonight you can still hear it, and help the work of the Royal British Legion and the Tonbridge Memorial Garden, by buying a copy through this link. -

Thank you.

The  Centenary Vigil starts at 7.30pm on Tuesday 11 November 2015.

The Tonbridge Memorial Gardens can be found at River Walk – between the High St and the River Medway – Tonbridge KENT TN9 1ED

And you can learn all about it’s recent refurbishment, and those who made it happen, by visiting:


Personal dedications at Tonbridge Memorial Gardens – Image Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Quilts and their stories revealed in ‘Things we do in Bed’ Exhibition at Danson House, Bexleyheath

There are just a few days left to see ‘Things we do in Bed’ an exhibition of quilts at Danson House in Bexleyheath. It’s actually far more exciting than it sounds and don’t worry there are no human re-enactments to worry about. Curated by historical novelist Tracy Chevalier, these quilts, and their accompanying texts, reveal the hopes, dreams, thoughts and inner turmoil of the people who have made them, in both modern and bygone times, and it makes you think about textiles in a whole new way.

It’s an exhibition I’ve wanted to see for ages, so I was absolutely delighted to discover this coverage of it on the fantastic ‘Art-e-facts’ blog written by Katherine Alston. Katherine shares my love of object related stories and I’m extremely grateful to her for allowing me to share her visit to the exhibition with you…..

not my words but the title of a quilt exhibition in Danson House, Bexleyheath.
Wait! before you stop reading because needlework isn’t your thing…
…I give you stories of Birth, Sleep, Sex, Illness and Death
The quilts are made by many different people:
The anonymous to mark a birth, the carers of the dying, the sufferer of depression, the widow, the wife, the daughter, the grieving, artists, prisoners, men, women, makers from the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
Looking at this list, there are some pretty significant events in people’s lives that have been marked by the making of a quilt.
Quilts can provoke debate. Here Grayson Perry responds to the abortion debate, and perhaps the messiness of giving birth. Mind you this quilt is incredibly ordered, rhythmical and symetrical.
No mess, no disorder.
This quilt was made for a baby in the 18th century.
This photo only begins to show how incredibly fine and delicate the stitching is.
This quilt was made later in the 19th century, again for a cot.
Each piece of fabric probably has its own story to tell.
And you can find them by reading the rest of Katherine’s post here.

Shell Shocked Civilians -Fire over Folkestone and the bombing of Tontine Street

Suzie Grogan

Author Suzie Grogan

What does the term ‘shell shocked’ mean to you? And who do you think of when it’s mentioned? For many of us, our thoughts will immediately turn to the soldiers who have survived the traumas of the front line but by reading Suzie Grogan’s Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health, I recently discovered that during World War I there was a whole other sector of survivors who were also affected – the civilians on the home front. Living with the constant fear of death proved too much for many whilst for others, such as Mrs Bawbrick from Folkestone, the sights following bombardment triggered a life-time of mental torment.

It’s not an easy topic to read about but I’m extremely grateful to Suzie for dropping by to explain how something as simple as a trip to the shops changed the community of Folkestone forever…

The bombing of Tontine Street 1917

Gotha_RG_im_Flug (1)On the evening of 25 May 1917, German Gotha aircraft headed, apparently unchallenged, across the English Channel from Flanders. The port of Folkestone was key to the supply route for the British army in France, the port of departure for fresh troops to the front, and a welcome sight to those returning wounded. But it was also a holiday resort, and then filled with holidaymakers set for a fine Whitsun break. No one was particularly concerned at the sound of aircraft, assuming the sound was that of a British plane. Many residents of the town gazed into the sky as the aeroplanes approached, afterwards likening the sight to a swarm of insects with the evening sun glinting on their huge wings. But in one of the first daylight air raids and in ten short minutes the Gothas dropped some 50 bombs on the town. Thirty-eight detonated successfully and caused more damage and casualties than anything managed by the Zeppelin airships that had preceded them.

Killed in an air raid in Folkestone. Florrie Rumsey c1900 - 25th May 1917

17 year-old Florrie Rumsey was also killed in the air raid.

The crowded, poorer part of town took the full force of the raid. In Tontine Street, the scene became one of unmitigated horror as clouds of dust and smoke settled to reveal the dead and injured, many of whom had been queuing up outside the greengrocer’s for extra Bank Holiday provisions – a new load of potatoes had been recently delivered. The owner of a wine shop left shelter to find that his customer had been decapitated. A gas main was ruptured; the road was ankle deep in shards of glass and the street was filled with screams from the wounded humans and mutilated horses. Gertrude and Mabel Bawbrick, aged 12 and 9 were killed outright; their mother, who had been with them, survived, but she was terribly injured, physically and mentally, and never left hospital, dying there in 1925 after eight years of suffering.

In total, Folkestone and its surrounding area was hit by 163 bombs that day and 71 people had been killed: 16 men, 31 women and 25 children.

The population of the town was horrified that it was so vulnerable to attack. Why had there been no warning? Why were they left virtually undefended? In fact, at this stage in the war British planes were unable to respond to the Gothas in any meaningful sense, their sheer size, and the heights at which they could fly, were beyond the capability of the Royal Flying Corps aircraft. But it later transpired that it had been known there was a likely attack in progress as planes had been heard earlier, over Maidstone. The jury at the inquest asked for their poor opinion of the response to be noted. A warning should have been given, they thought, to enable people to protect themselves.

The Defence of the Realm Act, passed in 1914, did make the reporting of these tragic events difficult, and despite wild rumour, Folkestone was only confirmed as the site of the bombing raid on the 30th May. Then the local and national press did not spare readers any of the grim details:

‘Many harrowing details of the harrowing ways in which the dead were mangled were given, it being stated that one young woman was almost cut in two; and a young schoolgirl, aged 14, had one leg taken off and the other almost severed. The five year old son of a staff sergeant of a famous Scottish regiment was reported to have had his head smashed in. Another boy, aged 11, died in hospital of a terrible wound in the left breast which penetrated through to the chest bone. It was also stated that the head of a girl, about four years of age, with light, fair hair had been found and there was no trace of the body. The child had not been identified…The Coroner pointed out that there were two unidentified heads in the mortuary.’ (Western Daily Press, 30 May 1917).

The vulnerability of Kent to air raids and the suffering of local people was widely acknowledged, locally at least, as the cause of significant mental trauma. On 23 December 1917, a protest meeting was held in Sheerness ‘to protest against the inefficient and inadequate warnings and protection from attacks by hostile aircraft.’ One of three resolutions passed that night (alongside a demand for night warnings and bomb shelters and provision for the families of any breadwinner killed in the bombing raids) was:

‘In the event of any worker’s wife or family being ordered to leave the town by their medical attendants owing to nervous breakdown or shell-shock due to raids they shall receive separation allowance, the same as volunteer munition workers who have come to work in the area.’

Shell Shocked jacket high res jpeg - CopyThis is the first report I found, during all my research for Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s legacy for Britain’s mental health that acknowledged ‘shell shock’ was not exclusively confined to the military. What I found most surprising, however, was the lack of official acknowledgment of the tragedy. Where there is a lasting memorial to the many children killed in the raid on the Upper North Street School in Poplar, London less than one month after the tragedy of Tontine Street; in Folkestone there is little to recall and remember the horrors of that day.

Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health has just been published by Pen & Sword History.

See or follow @ShellShockedGB on twitter for more details.

Penshurst Place transforms into the Palace of Whitehall for ITV1’s new drama

The Great Fire image © ITV

The Great Fire Image © ITV

Have you seen the ITV1 adverts for The Great Fire? This new four-part historical drama starts tomorrow night and I’m incredibly excited as Penshurst Place, my local historical haunt, has been used for the scenes set at the Palace of Whitehall.

Built in 1341 Penshurst Place was already 300 years old at the time of the fire of London and Ben Thomas, General Manager of Penshurst Place, says ‘using later additions to the house and gardens as a historical backdrop for The Great Fire provided an authenticity to this wonderful drama that is hard to find.’ Filming took place between the 12th and 15th March and, although I didn’t know it, many highly recognisable actors such as Charles Dance, Andrew Buchan (think Broadchurch, Garrows Law, Nowhere Boy) Rose Leslie (Utopia, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey) and Perdita Weeks (The Invisible Woman, Flight of the Storks) were working just minutes away from me.

The Great Fire at Penshurst Gardens image © ITV

The Great Fire at Penshurst Gardens – image © ITV

Lucy McLeod at Penshurst kindly sent me a copy of the press release which says the drama ‘is set against the decadent backdrop of King Charles II’s court’ and ‘tells the story of the humble baker Thomas Farriner and his fabled involvement in the Great Fire’.  A quote from Douglas Rae, the executive producer, adds that ‘in 1666 London was the greatest city in the world with a population of 300,000. In just four days, The Great Fire destroyed nearly half the city and threatened the monarchy.’ Cue four, sixty minute episodes filled with sumptuous costumes, scandal, romance and drama and you have my idea of tv heaven.

For those of you who haven’t seen the trailer yet, you can find it at

Now I know I might be slightly biased but Penshurst Place is a stunning building surrounded by beautiful gardens and this isn’t the first time its been used as a film location. Scenes for Merlin, The Other Boleyn Girl and Anne of the Thousand Days have all been filmed here and, earlier this year, it also provided a setting for Wolf Hall which is due to be broadcast next year.

Fans of Harry Potter may also like to know that the Long Gallery provided some great floor creaks for the film’s sound recordists. Now that’s something I must remember to tell my boys.

The Great Fire starts at 9pm on Thursday 16th October on ITV1 and will be shown over four consecutive days.

Penshurst Place at night image © Penshurst Place and Gardens

Penshurst Place at night image ©Penshurst Place and Gardens





The Winged Devils of Faversham

Gargoyle carved by William Warren webAs I ambled along Preston Street in Faversham, feeling rather relieved the family trip to the dentist had been a relatively calm experience, I happened to look up and see these two gorgeous gargoyles. I’ve admired them many times but have never stopped to look at them properly. Of course, I didn’t have my work camera with me and the sun was shining in my eyes but hopefully I’ve blown the images up enough for you to see their detailing too.

Gargoyle carved byt William Warren 2

According to the Faversham town website, The Stationery Shoppe’s beautiful Tudor frontage is actually a replica installed in the 1920’s. The gargoyles, however, were carved by William Warren, a renowned wood-carver, who also undertook commissions at the Houses of Parliament.

Clutched tightly in the gargoyles claws are the coats of arms for  Faversham and Faversham Abbey.

The Stationery Shoppe Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie) 2014