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.

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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. -https://elizabethmills.bandcamp.com/releases

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:  http://www.tonbridgememorialgardenstrust.net/

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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.
Birth
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 www.facebook.com/shellshockedbritain 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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acyERCXJF-o

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

A Love Token for Molly Stone at Maidstone Museum

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

‘Dear Molly Stone is all my own’.  The message is simple, the declaration clear and how cherished it must have been.

During the 17th and 18th centuries engraved coins were a popular love token.  This one is a favourite of Giles Guthrie, the Collections Manager at Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery, who explained that love tokens ‘are coins that have been engraved or altered and then given as a keepsake to a sweetheart. A popular decoration was a ship or soldier, often signifying a parting.  Some were beautifully crafted and some not so but all were made with the same intent and with the same message – love- that is why I like them.’

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

Love Token image ©Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Trust

 

Sadly we have no idea who R.Y was or if he was reunited with this sweetheart but the romantic in me would like to think so.

Maidstone Museum has a fantastic collection of coins and gambling tokens amongst its 660,000 object collection and you can find further visitor information here.

 

 

 

Angela Buckley visits Rochester to talk about ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous’ Criminals

Fancy hearing about some deadly plots and criminal crackpots? Then head over to the Dot Cafe, Rochester at 6.30pm on Monday 29 September to hear Angela Buckley talking about ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous’ criminals. I’ve already got my ticket, don’t forget to grab yours!

Originally posted on Victorian Supersleuth:

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I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the Rochester Literature Festival, especially as the theme of ‘Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know’ is perfect for sharing stories from Detective Caminada’s casebook. In his tireless fight against crime in the seedy underworld of 19th century Manchester, Jerome Caminada encountered many criminals, many of whom were seriously mad, bad and downright dangerous.

Rev SilvertonEarly in his career, Caminada tackled the insidious and cunningly deceptive quack doctors who preyed on innocent people’s fears for their health within the fragile environment of diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, and a staggeringly short life expectancy of just 18 years. The worst of these charlatans was the Rev Edward Silverton, an expert conman who duped countless victims into buying his miraculous ‘Food of Foods’ in a desperate effort to improve their chances of survival.

Other bad and highly dangerous adversaries of the determined detective included the notorious ‘scuttlers’ (street fighters), who were completely ruthless and defended their ‘territory’ with a fierce loyalty that often descended into madness, as they clashed in terrifying battles with rival gangs. Caminada also faced bands of anarchists, many of whom became embroiled in violent clashes as they resisted arrest, and certainly not least of all, the Fenians, who threatened national security and put the population at serious risk.

At the height of his career and in his signature case, the Manchester Cab Mystery, Detective Caminada brought Charlie Parton to justice. Aged just 18 years old, he drugged his victims in an attempt to rob them and when he poisoned businessman, John Fletcher, Caminada tracked him down using all the brilliant powers of deduction of Sherlock Holmes.

Image 7aHowever, in the 30 years of Jerome Caminada’s long career as a detective, one man stands out as the most dangerous of all: his lifelong rival and violent thief, Bob Horridge. He would stop at nothing to keep one step ahead of the police, which proved almost fatal, on many occasions, for Caminada and his colleagues. The arch enemies faced each other in a final confrontation, from which only one man could emerge alive.

 

I will be talking about the ‘mad, bad & dangerous’ criminals faced by Detective Caminada, at the Rochester Literature Festival at 6.30 pm on Monday 29 September 2014 at the Dot Café, Rochester. Please do come along!

 

History Snap: Carriages waiting for the ball?

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A queue of carriages waiting to deliver their bejewelled occupants to the ball or the inside of the Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum? Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie) 2014

Inside of the Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum in Maidstone, Kent.             Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie) 2014