It was on this day (26 May) in 1895 that playwright Oscar Wilde was taken off to Reading Gaol, having been convicted of sodomy. This was a sensational trial. Historians of sexuality would want to note that homosexuality had only recently been made illegal in the UK. Below are two accounts of the trial and its conclusion. The first is from the Lowell Daily Sun (MA) 25 May 1895. The second article is from the Evening Herald (Syracuse, NY) 24 May 1895.
And, since it is Wilde, we should have a quote. This one is from The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of his most famous works:
“It is a said thing to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer than Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place.”
Oscar Wilde Trial
Oscar Wilde was a playwright, novelist, poet and celebrity in late nineteenth century London. His flamboyant dress, cutting wit and eccentric lifestyle often put him at odds with the social norms of Victorian England. Wilde, a homosexual, was put on trial for gross indecency in 1895 after the details of his affair with a British aristocrat were made public. Homosexuality was a criminal offense at this time in England.
Oscar Wilde began publishing poems as a college student at Dublin’s Trinity University in the 1870s. He later moved from Ireland to England and studied at Oxford.
By the early 1890s he had become one of London’s most popular playwrights. His most acclaimed plays include Salome and The Importance of Being Earnest, though he is perhaps best known today for his 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Oscar Wilde was a proponent of the Aesthetic Movement in art and literature, which suggested these forms should focus on beauty rather than trying to convey a moral or political message. He bucked tight-laced Victorian fashion by wearing colorful velvets and silks and keeping his hair long.
Lord Alfred Douglas
Wilde kept his homosexuality a secret. He married and had two sons. But in 1891, Wilde began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, a young British poet and aristocrat 16 years his junior.
Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry, was outraged by the relationship and sought to expose Wilde. He left a calling card for Wilde with the porter at the private Albemarle Club in London. The card read: “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite [sic].”
This caused a public relations nightmare for Wilde. Homosexual acts were a criminal offense in England at the time and remained illegal there until the 1960s.
Friends who knew of Wilde’s sexual orientation urged him to flee to France until the storm subsided. (France had decriminalized homosexuality in 1791 during the French Revolution.)
Against their counsel, Wilde decided to sue the Marquess for defamation. He took the Marquess to court for criminal libel.
Libel Case Against the Marquess of Queensberry
Amid a frenzy of newspaper coverage, the libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry opened on April 3, 1895, at the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, commonly known as Old Bailey.
The trial went poorly for Oscar Wilde. His main problem was that Queensberry’s allegations about his homosexuality were true, and therefore couldn’t be judged defamatory.
During the trial, Queensberry’s defense accused Wilde of soliciting 12 other young men to commit sodomy. The defense also questioned Wilde about the premise of his controversial 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, suggesting that Wilde had used the novel’s homoerotic themes to seduce Lord Alfred. In the novel, an older artist is attracted to the beauty of a younger man whose portrait he paints.
After three days of court proceedings, Wilde’s lawyer withdrew the lawsuit. The authorities saw this as a sign of implied guilt and issued a warrant for Wilde’s arrest on indecency charges.
Britain’s Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 had criminalized all sex acts between men as “gross indecency.” (Sex acts between women were never made illegal in England.)
Oscar Wilde On Trial
Friends again urged Wilde to flee to France, but he decided to stay and stand trial. Oscar Wilde was tried for homosexuality on April 26, 1895.
He pleaded not guilty on 25 counts of gross indecency.
At a preliminary bail hearing, hotel chambermaids and a housekeeper had testified that they had seen young men in Wilde’s bed and found fecal stains on his sheets.
During the trial, Wilde was questioned extensively about “the love that dare not speak its name,” a phrase from Lord Alfred Douglas’ poem “Two Loves,” published in 1894, that many interpreted as a euphemism for homosexuality.
The trial ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict. Three weeks later, Wilde was retried. This time, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and received two years of hard labor, the maximum sentence allowed for the crime.
On May 25, 1895, Oscar Wilde was taken to prison. He spent the first several months at London’s Pentonville Prison, where he was put to work picking oakum. Oakum was a substance used to seal gaps in shipbuilding. Prisoners spent hours untwisting and teasing apart recycled ropes to obtain the fibers used in making oakum.
Wilde was later transferred to London’s Reading Gaol, where he remained until his release in 1897. Wilde’s health suffered in prison and continued to decline after his release.
He spent the last three years of his life living in exile in France, where he composed his last work The Ballad of Reading Gaol, about an execution that took place while he was imprisoned there.
Oscar Wilde died on November 30, 1900, at the age of 46. He was buried in Paris.
Battersea Fun Fair has been overlooked in the history of the Festival of Britain. But for many years, before Thorpe Park or Legoland, this was London’s amusement park and touched millions of lives over its 24 year existence. Here NICK LAISTER and TOBY PORTER look at the history and we publish some extracts from his new book on London’s first modern amusement park – which was closed down when five children were killed and 13 injured in the Big Dipper tragedy of 1972.
Battersea Fun Fair opened in May 1951 and outlasted most of the prestigious exhibits on London’s South Bank.
The fair could well be seen as Britain’s first theme park – pre-dating Disneyland by four years.
It was themed around an imaginary Olde England and a futuristic theme.
Battersea Park was chosen as the venue for the lighter, more frivolous side of the Festival of Britain. It was the brainchild of Festival mastermind Gerald Barry.
He felt the ideas being developed for the South Bank rather too clinical for his tastes, with Barry accusing architects and scientists of “running away with it”.
At the time, the proposed Pleasure Gardens section of Battersea Park was still in use as post-wartime allotments and a cricket pitch.
It was designed for just one year’s operation – but survived for more than two decades. According to Becky Conkin’s Architect’s Journal article Fun and Fantasy, Escape and Edification, the Pleasure Gardens offered visitors an “amusement park, a children’s zoo and pet corner, two theatres, one dedicated to music hall performances, the other to ballets, revues and marionettes, a fanciful tree-top walk, a Mississippi Showboat, and a huge tented performance pavilion”.
The Fun Fair occupied only nine acres out of the 37-acre gardens. It was smaller than most of the major seaside amusement parks like the 1924 Wembley Exhibition, Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, Margate’s Dreamland and Southend’s Kursaal.
But it was bigger than Great Yarmouth’s nine acres.
But Battersea was affectionately regarded as London’s seaside fun park. Its location in the capital could draw on a huge population and remains, even today, better remembered than most lost coastal parks.
Co-author Nick Laister, who has previously written about amusement history and was instrumental in rebuilding Margate’s historic Dreamland amusement park, said: “The story of Battersea Fun Fair has always fascinated me.
It is probably now sadly best remembered because of the Big Dipper tragedy in the early 1970s, but the park had a colourful history.
“I have been researching this book now for about 17 years, contacting people who visited the park or who worked there.
“These people have told me some incredible stories, and some even had photographs of the park, which are being published for the first time in this book. I am delighted that we are able to finally see it published.”
The rides removed at the end of the first year give a flavour of what the 1950s regarded as fun: Whittingham’s Ark, Hoadley’s Maxwell built Toboggan, Mont Blanc, Bubble Bounce, Boomerang, Loop–O–Plane, and the Sky Wheels.
But there were almost 2.5million admissions the following year.
The organisers constantly updated the mix of rides and always incorporated the latest attractions, making it a showcase for the whole country.
In the park’s initial years there was a very attractive ambiance created by the artistic and floral displays, but the approach changed.
New for 1954 were John Crowle’s Gallopers, Harry Gray’s Swirl & Chairs, J. Ling’s Moon Rocket and Botton’s Dive Bomber. Fresh Juvenile rides included a Double Decker and two Peter Pan attractions.
Head of the operation Leslie Joseph explained that the Gardens and Fun Fair were to be less arty and more gaudy.
He said: “This is what people expect and we intend to give them what they want. We aim to pack the rides and shows much closer together to create a more exciting atmosphere.”
In the centenary year of Battersea Park’s grand opening by Queen Victoria, 1958, Diana Dors opened the Fun Fair on Saturday, April 5, where she unveiled a special champagne fountain. New rides included the Globe Of Death and Harry Gray’s Flying Saucers Wheel.
In 1960, John Biddall’s Hurricane Jets was the year’s new attraction. It survived at Battersea until the park’s closure in 1974.
More than 10,000 bags of popcorn were sold during the Easter opening. During the week starting May 23, Sammy Davis Jnr was filmed in the park for his ABC TV spectacular.
Choreographer was Lionel Blair, for the hour-long musical with an ITV transmission on June 11, 1960.
Co-author Robert Preedy, who has written several books on the history of amusement parks, roller coasters and cinema, said: “I was on duty at BBC Radio London on the afternoon of the Big Dipper accident.
“I was part of the team that had to organise a reporter and a radio car to the site for live reports throughout the afternoon.
“This book entailed many hours of research at the British Library, combing the World’s Fair and national newspapers. There are many books about the Festival of Britain, but none on the Festival Gardens and Fun Fair.
Hopefully our book fills a gap.”
From screams of joy, to the screams of terror…
Battersea’s most famous ride was the Big Dipper, a notable presence on the park’s skyline that attracted long queues.
It was the London Eye of its day. The Duchess of Kent and her children took a ride in the three-car wooden rollercoaster in its opening year, while the Bolshoi Ballet climbed aboard in 1965.
But late in the afternoon of May 30, 1972, tragedy struck. Thirty one people had boarded a three-car wooden train.
As it reached the top of the first incline, some 15 metres above the park, it was prematurely detached from the drive chain.
Despite the best efforts of the brake man, the train slipped backwards under its own momentum on a 1 in 3 gradient. At the bottom, it hit a tight turn and derailed. The lower carriage was crumpled by those behind. Two teenage boys and an eight-year-old girl died at the scene, and two other children died later.
Carolyn Adamczyk, a passenger on the ride during the accident, said: “As soon as we started shooting backwards everything went into slow motion. I turned around and saw the brake man desperately trying to put the brake on but it wasn’t working. Most of the carriages didn’t go around the bend, one detached and went off the side through a wooden hoarding. People were groaning and hanging over the edge. It was awful.”
The disaster led to a review of fairground safety, and several charges of manslaughter. Prosecutors described the ride as a ‘death trap’, citing dozens of flaws and safety concerns. Despite the accusations, the park’s general manager and the ride’s engineer were both cleared of the charges in November 1973.
It wasn’t the first mishap on the ride. In May 1951, an empty car derailed, knocking over a parapet. Nobody was hurt on that occasion, although several passengers were marooned for 20 minutes.
A similar incident to the fatal crash seems to have occurred in 1968, when a woman broke her arm. In May 1970, £400,000 worth of damage was inflicted on the ride following a suspected arson attack. It was closed for two months.
A post-crash investigation revealed 51 faults on the ride.
Not one person or any party was held responsible nor found guilty of causing the accident – a shocking verdict after the loss of five young lives.
The Big Dipper was permanently closed and dismantled soon after the 1972 accident. It was replaced by a more modern steel roller coaster known as The Cyclone. But the iconic dipper’s retirement led to a swift decline.
Coupled with development wrangles, the fair’s fortunes dwindled until it finally closed in 1974. Temporary fair-grounds would occasionally set up in the park throughout the 1970s, but a permanent attraction like that established in 1951 would never again take root.
Battersea Fun Fair operated for the final time on Sunday, September 22. Many of the classic rides were advertised for quick sale as the site had to be cleared by early October.
The Hopetoun Blunder was a political event immediately prior to the Federation of the British colonies in Australia.
Federation was scheduled to occur on 1 January 1901, but since the general election for the first Parliament of Australia was not to be held until March of that year, it was not possible to follow the conventions of the Westminster system and appoint the leader of the majority in the House of Representatives as Prime Minister. Instead, an interim government would be appointed, holding office from 1 January until the result of the election was known.
The first Governor-General of Australia was John Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun. His initial task on arriving in Australia on 15 December 1900 was to appoint a Prime Minister to lead the interim government. It appears that Hopetoun had little knowledge of the Australian political scene and had no formal instructions from the Colonial Office. On 19 December, following the precedent of the Canadian Confederation, Hopetoun commissioned the premier of the most populous colony to form a government. That state was New South Wales, and its premier was Sir William Lyne.
This was an unfortunate choice as Lyne had become premier in September 1899 only after the government of the more popular and experienced George Reid had lost its majority in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Lyne supported federation only at the last minute after long being a strong opponent and, as a result, he was unpopular with other leading colonial, pro-federation politicians including Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin. The Bulletinsummed up many people’s view when it editorialised, “Among the men who can claim by merit or accident, to be front-rank politicians of Australia, Lyne stands out conspicuously as almost the dullest and most ordinary”.
Despite significant efforts, Lyne was unable to persuade other colonial politicians to join his government and was forced to return his commission to Hopetoun. Alfred Deakin, amongst others, then persuaded Hopetoun to appoint Edmund Barton as Prime Minister. Barton was successful in forming a government, which took office on 1 January 1901. He appointed Lyne as his Minister for Home Affairs in what many saw as a gesture of reconciliation.
Hopetoun’s error in calling on Lyne to form a government became known as the “Hopetoun Blunder”, and it marked the beginning of what many historians consider to be his unsuccessful term as Governor-General.
You might assume that hanging people in public had died out in England after the 18th century but in fact, these gruesome events continued right up until 1868. The authors Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray both witnessed some of the last hangings – which still drew crowds of tens of thousands. In fact, Dickens seems to have been a serial attender at executions while also condemning them. He was present, for example, when murderer Marie Manning gasped her last outside the Surrey County Gaol in 1849 and outside Newgate prison when Francis Courvoisier dangled from the rope.
I have a battered old guide to the city – London As It Is Today – published for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and it tells visitors all about the delights of London’s prisons and even how they could be visited. It even lists some of the most recent executions!
Newgate prison was a huge jail standing where the Old Bailey is today. 19th century public hangings there included:
John Bellingham – executed in June, 1812 for shooting dead the prime minister Spencer Perceval. This was the only assassination of a prime minister in British history
Henry Fauntleroy – a banker hanged for forgery in November, 1824
Joseph Hunton – a well-known Quaker executed for forgery in December, 1828
George Widgett – the last person to be hanged for sheep stealing in May, 1831
John Bishop and Thomas Williams – for the murder of an Italian boy in December, 1831
Francis Benjamin Courvoisier – who killed Lord William Russell, his master, July 1840
Daniel Good – for the murder of Jane Jones at Putney in May, 1842
William Henry Hocker – for the murder of James De La Rue at Hampstead in April, 1845
My 1851 guide remarks on the imposing aspect of Newgate prison with its solid masses of granite walls.
In the open space in front of this prison, executions (now happily of rare occurrence), usually take place, with all their terrors; how many a young heart has here had its pulsation stopped! how many who once were the pride of their parents, and the joy and hope of their circle of friends, have here had their careers of profligacy and crime cut short, and in the pride of their strength, been “lighted away the way to dusty death”
In the prison chapel, there were galleries for male and female prisoners and at the centre – a chair for the following day’s condemned “shedder of blood”. Before the 19th century, his or her coffin would be placed at their feet during their last service just to rub the point home. In a small ante-room near the entrance to the prison was a collection of casts of the heads of well known executed individuals. Duplicates could also be seen in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s.
Newgate prison dated back to the 12th century but the last building dated from 1770 to 1783 and was designed by George Dance, who was the son of the architect of the Mansion House in the City of London (still standing).
When it was decided to stop dragging condemned criminals from Newgate to Tyburn to be hanged (roughly where Marble Arch is today), they were simply led out to the front of Newgate and executed there – the first hanging being on the 7th November, 1783.
In another old guide to London in my possession, it states that on public execution days, local coffee shops and gin palaces would be bursting with people bargaining for seats to get the best view away from the crowds aside. You would hear the punters saying “excellent situation, comfortable room, splendid view”. The crush of people extended down Giltspur Street with criminals boasting loudly how their mates had been hanged, transported or imprisoned while they were still at large committing their foul deeds. City clerks often lingered too long and were late for work or even sacked.
When public hangings stopped in 1868 (Michael Barrett on the 26th May that year – an Irish Fenian), you would know that a life had been cut short within the prison walls by the flying of a black flag.
Should Victorian visitors wish to take a tour of the prison, they could apply to the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Home Office today), the Lord Mayor or the Sheriffs of London. Newgate Prison was finally torn down at the turn of the 20th century and the Central Criminal Court, or Old Bailey, was constructed between 1903 and 1906.
Who would join a club that celebrated the beheading of a 17th century king? Well, rich Londoners it seems…
On the 30th January, 1649, king Charles I stepped out of a first floor window of the Banqueting House in Whitehall (a building you can still see today though much restored) and on to a wooden scaffold. In front of a great crowd, the king’s head was chopped off. This was the culmination of the English Civil War – a bitter conflict between the forces of the king and those of parliament. The latter, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, won. The decision to kill Charles wasn’t taken lightly and followed a trial after which 59 Commissioners signed his death warrant.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, several of those Commissioners were hunted down and then hanged, drawn and quartered – a slow and dreadful way to die. Any talk of sympathy for the regicides was treason. So it’s rather surprising to find that reports began to emerge in the early eighteenth century of a gentlemen’s club that actually celebrated the beheading of Charles I.
They did this in a rather macabre way. At a tavern in Suffolk Street, a large dish of calves’ heads was served up each dressed in a different way to represent the late king and other royalists who’d died in a similar manner. When the cloth was whipped away to reveal the strange meal, the revellers sang an anniversary song. A calf’s skull filled with wine was then passed around and every man toasted the regicides and their good work.
In 1735, the gentlemen got a little carried away and chucked a bloodied calve’s head out of the tavern window. According to an account titled the Secret History of the Calves’ Head Club or the Republican unmasked, this act – on the anniversary of the king’s beheading, provoked a riot. At least that was the widely circulated version of events.
Lord Middlesex, who was one of the revellers, wrote an indignant letter to a friend of his, Mr Spence, who he referred to playfully as “Spanco”. According to his lordship, there was indeed a drunken party and the gentlemen even made a bonfire outside the tavern door for a bit of fun. But they suddenly realised that such an act on the 30th January would make it look as if they were celebrating the execution of Charles I, which they definitely weren’t, he wrote.
However, a mob of royalist Londoners was not so easily convinced and gathered round the tavern to rain rocks through the windows for an hour . To try and fend off the mob, the party shouted “The King, Queen and Royal Family!” Only the arrival of some soldiers saved the gathering from getting their heads bloodied. After that incident, we don’t hear about the Calves Head Club again.
From the web site of Pascal Bonenfant
THE CALVES’ HEAD CLUB
The Calves’ Head Club, in “ridicule of the memory of Charles I.,” has a strange history. It is first noticed in a tract reprinted in the Harleian Miscellany. It is entitled “The Secret History of the Calves’ Head Club; or the Republican unmasked. Wherein is fully shown the Religion of the Calves’ Head Heroes, in their Anniversary Thanksgiving Songs on the 30th of January, by them called Anthems, for the years 1693, 1694, 1695, 1696, 1697. Now published to demonstrate the restless implacable Spirit of a certain party still amongst us, who are never to be satisfied until the present Establishment in Church and State is subverted. The Second Edition. London, 1703.” The Author of this Secret History, supposed to be Ned Ward, attributed the origin of the Club to Milton, and some other friends of the Commonwealth, in opposition to Bishop Nixon, Dr. Sanderson, and others, who met privately every 30th of January, and compiled a private form of service for the day, not very different from that long used. “After the Restoration,” says the writer, “the eyes of the government being upon the whole party, they were obliged to meet with a great deal of precaution; but in the reign of King William they met almost in a public manner, apprehending no danger.” The writer further tells us, he was informed that it was kept in no fixed house, but that they moved as they thought convenient. The place where they met when his informant was with them was in a blind alley near Moorfields, where an axe hung up in the club-room, and was reverenced as a principal symbol in this diabolical sacrament. Their bill of fare was a large dish of calves’ heads, dressed several ways, by which they represented the king and his friends who had suffered in his cause; a large pike, with a small one in his mouth, as an emblem of tyranny; a large cod’s head, by which they intended to represent the person of the king singly; a boar’s head with an apple in its mouth, to represent the king by this as bestial, as by their other hieroglyphics they had done foolish and tyrannical. After the repast was over, one of their elders presented an Icon Basilike, which was with great solemnity burnt upon the table, whilst the other anthems were singing. After this, another produced Milton’s Defensio Populi Anglicani, upon which all laid their hands, and made a protestation in form of an oath for ever to stand by and maintain the same. The company only consisted of Independents and Anabaptists; and the famous Jeremy White, formerly chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, who no doubt came to sanctify with his pious exhortations the ribaldry of the day, said grace. After the table-cloth was removed, the anniversary anthem, as they impiously called it, was sung, and a calf’s skull filled with wine, or other liquor; and then a brimmer went about to the pious memory of those worthy patriots who had killed the tyrant and relieved their country from his arbitrary sway: and, lastly, a collection was made for the mercenary scribbler, to which every man contributed according to his zeal for the cause and ability of his purse.
The tract passed, with many augmentations as valueless as the original trash, through no less than nine editions, the last dated 1716. Indeed, it would appear to be a literary fraud, to keep alive the calumny. All the evidence produced concerning the meetings is from hearsay: the writer of the Secret History had never himself been present at the Club; and his friend from whom he professes to have received his information, though a Whig, had no personal knowledge of the Club. The slanderous rumour about Milton having to do with the institution of the Club may be passed over as unworthy of notice, this untrustworthy tract being the only authority for it. Lowndes says, “this miserable tract has been attributed to the author of Hudibras;” but it is altogether unworthy of him.
Observances, insulting to the memory of Charles I., were not altogether unknown. Hearne tells us that on the 30th of January, 1706-7, some young men in All Souls College, Oxford, dined together at twelve o’clock, and amused themselves with cutting off the heads of a number of woodcocks, “in contempt of the memory of the blessed martyr.” They tried to get calves’-heads, but the cook refused to dress them.
Some thirty years after, there occurred a scene which seemed to give colour to the truth of the Secret History. On January 30, 1735, “Some young noblemen and gentlemen met at a tavern in Suffolk-street, called themselves the Calves’ Head Club, dressed up a calf’s head in a napkin, and after some hurras threw it into a bonfire, and dipped napkins in their red wine and waved them out of the window. The mob had strong beer given them, and for a time hallooed as well as the best, but taking disgust at some healths proposed, grew so outrageous that they broke all the windows, and forced themselves into the house; but the guards being sent for, prevented further mischief. The Weekly Chronicle of February 1, 1735, states that the damage was estimated at ‘some hundred pounds,’ and that the guards were posted all night in the street, for the security of the neighbourhood.”
In L’Abbé Le Blanc’s Letters we find this account of the affair:—”Some young men of quality chose to abandon themselves to the debauchery of drinking healths on the 30th of January, a day appointed by the Church of England for a general fast, to expiate the murder of Charles I., whom they honour as a martyr. As soon as they were heated with wine, they began to sing. This gave great offence to the people, who stopped before the tavern, and gave them abusive language. One of these rash young men put his head out of the window and drank to the memory of the army which dethroned this King, and to the rebels which cut off his head upon a scaffold. The stones immediately flew from all parts, the furious populace broke the windows of the house, and would have set fire to it; and these silly young men had a great deal of difficulty to save themselves.”
Miss Banks tells us that “Lord Middlesex, Lord Boyne, and Mr. Seawallis Shirley, were certainly present; probably, Lord John Sackville, Mr. Ponsonby, afterwards Lord Besborough, was not there. Lord Boyne’s finger was broken by a stone which came in at the window. Lord Harcourt was supposed to be present.” Horace Walpole adds: “The mob destroyed part of the house; Sir William (called Hellfire) Stanhope was one of the members.”
This riotous occurrence was the occasion of some verses in The Grub-street Journal, from which the following lines may be quoted as throwing additional light on the scene:—
“Strange times! when noble peers, secure from riot,
Can’t keep Noll’s annual festival in quiet,
Through sashes broke, dirt, stones, and brands thrown at ’em,
Which, if not scand- was brand-alum magnatum.
Forced to run down to vaults for safer quarters,
And in coal-holes their ribbons hide and garters.
They thought their feast in dismal fray thus ending,
Themselves to shades of death and hell descending;
This might have been, had stout Clare Market mobsters,
With cleavers arm’d, outmarch’d St. James’s lobsters;
Numskulls they’d split, to furnish other revels,
And make a Calves’-head Feast for worms and devils.”
The manner in which Noll’s (Oliver Cromwell’s) “annual festival” is here alluded to, seems to show that the bonfire, with the calf’s-head and other accompaniments, had been exhibited in previous years. In confirmation of this fact, there exists a print entitled The True Effigies of the Members of the Calves’-Head Club, held on the 30th of January, 1734, in Suffolk Street, in the County of Middlesex; being the year before the riotous occurrence above related. This print shows a bonfire in the centre of the foreground, with the mob; in the background, a house with three windows, the central window exhibiting two men, one of whom is about to throw the calf’s-head into the bonfire below. The window on the right shows three persons drinking healths; that on the left, two other persons, one of whom wears a mask, and has an axe in his hand.
There are two other prints, one engraved by the father of Vandergucht, from a drawing by Hogarth.
After the tablecloth was removed (says the author), an anniversary anthem was sung, and a calf’s-skull filled with wine or other liquor, and out of which the company drank to the pious memory of those worthy patriots who had killed the tyrant; and lastly, a collection was made for the writer of the anthem, to which every man contributed according to his zeal or his means. The concluding lines of the anthem for the year 1697 are as follow:—
“Advance the emblem of the action,
Fill the calf’s skull full of wine;
Drinking ne’er was counted faction,
Men and gods adore the vine.
To the heroes gone before us,
Let’s renew the flowing bowl;
While the lustre of their glories
Shines like stars from pole to pole.”
The laureate of the Club and of this doggrel was Benjamin Bridgwater, who, alluding to the observance of the 30th of January by zealous Royalists, wrote:—
“They and we, this day observing,
Differ only in one thing;
They are canting, whining, starving;
We, rejoicing, drink, and sing.”
Among Swift’s poems will be remembered “Roland’s Invitation to Dismal to dine with the Calf’s-Head Club”:—
“While an alluding hymn some artist sings,
We toast ‘Confusion to the race of kings.'”Wilson, in his Life of De Foe, doubts the truthfulness of Ward’s narrative, but adds: “In the frighted mind of a high-flying churchman, which was continually haunted by such scenes, the caricature would easily pass for a likeness.” “It is probable,” adds the honest biographer of De Foe, “that the persons thus collected together to commemorate the triumph of their principles, although in a manner dictated by bad taste, and outrageous to humanity, would have confined themselves to the ordinary methods of eating and drinking, if it had not been for the ridiculous farce so generally acted by the Royalists upon the same day. The trash that issued from the pulpit in this reign, upon the 30th of January, was such as to excite the worst passions in the hearers. Nothing can exceed the grosness of language employed upon these occasions. Forgetful even of common decorum, the speakers ransacked the vocabulary of the vulgar for terms of vituperation, and hurled their anathemas with wrath and fury against the objects of their hatred. The terms rebel and fanatic were so often upon their lips, that they became the reproach of honest men, who preferred the scandal to the slavery they attempted to establish. Those who could profane the pulpit with so much rancour in the support of senseless theories, and deal it out to the people for religion, had little reason to complain of a few absurd men who mixed politics and calves’ heads at a tavern; and still less, to brand a whole religious community with their actions.”
The strange story was believed till our own time, when it was fully disproved by two letters written a few days after the riotous occurrence, by Mr. A. Smyth, to Mr. Spence, and printed in the Appendix to his Anecdotes, 2nd edit. 1858: in one it is stated, “The affair has been grossly misrepresented all over the town, and in most of the public papers: there was no calf’s-head exposed at the window, and afterwards thrown into the fire, no napkins dipt in claret to represent blood, nor nothing that could give any colour to any such reports. The meeting (at least with regard to our friends) was entirely accidental,” etc. The second letter alike contradicts the whole story; and both attribute much of the disturbance to the unpopularity of the Administration; their health being unluckily proposed, raised a few faint claps but a general hiss, and then the disturbance began. A letter from Lord Middlesex to Spence, gives a still fuller account of the affair. By the style of the letter one may judge what sort of heads the members had, and what was reckoned the polite way of speaking to a waiter in those days:—
“Whitehall, Feb. ye 9th, 1735.
“Dear Spanco,—I don’t in the least doubt but long before this time the noise of the riot on the 30th of January has reached you at Oxford; and though there has been as many lies and false reports raised upon the occasion in this good city as any reasonable man could expect, yet I fancy even those may be improved or increased before they come to you. Now, that you may be able to defend your friends (as I don’t in the least doubt you have an inclination to do), I’ll send you the matter of fact literally and truly as it happened, upon my honour. Eight of us happened to meet together the 30th of January, it might have been the 10th of June, or any other day in the year, but the mixture of the company has convinced most reasonable people by this time that it was not a designed or premeditated affair. We met, then, as I told you before, by chance upon this day, and after dinner, having drunk very plentifully, especially some of the company, some of us going to the window unluckily saw a little nasty fire made by some boys in the street, of straw I think it was, and immediately cried out, ‘D—n it, why should not we have a fire as well as anybody else?’ Up comes the drawer, ‘D—n you, you rascal, get us a bonfire.’ Upon which the imprudent puppy runs down, and without making any difficulty (which he might have done by a thousand excuses, and which if he had, in all probability, some of us would have come more to our senses), sends for the faggots, and in an instant behold a large fire blazing before the door. Upon which some of us, wiser, or rather soberer than the rest, bethinking themselves then, for the first time, what day it was, and fearing the consequences a bonfire on that day might have, proposed drinking loyal and popular healths to the mob (out of the window), which by this time was very great, in order to convince them we did not intend it as a ridicule upon that day. The healths that were drank out of the window were these, and these only: The King, Queen, and Royal Family, the Protestant Succession, Liberty and Property, the present Administration. Upon which the first stone was flung, and then began our siege: which, for the time it lasted, was at least as furious as that of Philipsbourg; it was more than an hour before we got any assistance; the more sober part of us, doing this, had a fine time of it, fighting to prevent fighting; in danger of being knocked on the head by the stones that came in at the windows; in danger of being run through by our mad friends, who, sword in hand, swore they would go out, though they first made their way through us. At length the justice, attended by a strong body of guards, came and dispersed the populace. The person who first stirred up the mob is known; he first gave them money, and then harangued them in a most violent manner; I don’t know if he did not fling the first stone himself. He is an Irishman and a priest, and belonging to Imberti, the Venetian Envoy. This is the whole story from which so many calves’ heads, bloody napkins, and the Lord knows what, has been made; it has been the talk of the town and the country, and small beer and bread and cheese to my friends the garretteers in Grub-street, for these few days past. I, as well as your friends, hope to see you soon in town. After so much prose, I can’t help ending with a few verses:—
“O had I lived in merry Charles’s days,
When dull the wise were called, and wit had praise;
When deepest politics could never pass
For aught, but surer tokens of an ass;
When not the frolicks of one drunken night
Could touch your honour, make your fame less bright;
Tho’ mob-form’d scandal rag’d, and Papal spight.”
To sum up, the whole affair was a hoax, kept alive by the pretended “Secret History.” An accidental riot, following a debauch on one 30th of January, has been distributed between two successive years, owing to a misapprehension of the mode of reckoning time prevalent in the early part of the last century; and there is no more reason for believing in the existence of a Calves’ Head Club in 1734-5 than there is for believing it exists in 1864.
John Timbs Club Life of London Vol. I London, 1866
The Nyingma school, also called Nyingmapa, is the oldest of the schools of Tibetan Buddhism. It was established in Tibet during the reign of the Emperor Trisong Detsen (742-797 CE), who brought the tantric masters Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava to Tibet to teach and to found the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
Buddhism had been introduced to Tibet in 641 CE, when the Chinese Princess Wen Cheng became the bride of the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. The princess brought with her a statue of the Buddha, the first in Tibet, which today is enshrined in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. But the people of Tibet resisted Buddhism and preferred their indigenous religion, Bon.
According to Tibetan Buddhist mythology, that changed when Padmasambhava called forth the indigenous gods of Tibet and converted them to Buddhism. The fearsome gods agreed to become dharmapalas, or dharma protectors. From then on, Buddhism has been the principal religion of the Tibetan people.
The construction of Samye Gompa, or Samye Monastery, probably was completed about 779 CE. Here Tibetan Nyingmapa was established, although Nyingmapa also traces its origins to earlier masters in India and in Uddiyana, now the Swat Valley of Pakistan.
Padmasambhava is said to have had twenty-five disciples, and from them a vast and complex system of transmission lineages developed.
Nyingmapa was the only school of Tibetan Buddhism that never aspired to political power in Tibet. Indeed, it was uniquely disorganized, with no head overseeing the school until modern times.
Over time, six “mother” monasteries were built in Tibet and dedicated to Nyingmapa practice. These were Kathok Monastery, Thupten Dorje Drak Monastery, Ugyen Mindrolling Monastery, Palyul Namgyal Jangchup Ling Monastery, Dzogchen Ugyen Samten Chooling Monastery, and Zhechen Tenyi Dhargye Ling Monastery. From these, many satellite monasteries were built in Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal.
Nyingmapa classifies all Buddhist teachings into nine yanas, or vehicles. Dzogchen, or “great perfection,” is the highest yana and the central teaching of the Nyingma school.
According to Dzogchen teaching, the essence of all beings is a pure awareness. This purity (ka dog) correlates to the Mahayana doctrine of sunyata. Ka dog combined with natural formation—lhun sgrub, which corresponds to dependent origination—brings about rigpa, awakened awareness. The path of Dzogchen cultivates rigpa through meditation so that rigpa flows through our actions in everyday life.
Dzogchen is an esoteric path, and authentic practice must be learned from a Dzogchen master. It is a Vajrayana tradition, meaning that it combines use of symbols, ritual, and tantric practices to enable the flow of rigpa.
Dzogchen is not exclusive to Nyingmapa. There is a living Bon tradition that incorporates Dzogchen and claims it as its own. Dzogchen is sometimes practiced by followers of other Tibetan schools. The Fifth Dalai Lama, of the Gelug school, is known to have been devoted to Dzogchen practice, for example.
Nyingma Scriptures: Sutra, Tantra, Terma
In addition to the sutras and other teachings common to all schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Nyingmapa follows a collection of tantras called the Nyingma Gyubum. In this usage, tantra refers to teachings and writings devoted to Vajrayana practice.
Nyingmapa also has a collection of revealed teachings called terma. Authorship of the terma is attributed to Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal. The terma were hidden as they were written because people were not yet ready to receive their teachings. They are discovered at the appropriate time by realized masters called tertons, or treasure revealers.
Many of the terma discovered so far have been collected in a multi-volume work called the Rinchen Terdzo. The most widely known terma is the Bardo Thodol, commonly called the “Tibetan Book of the Dead.”
Unique Lineage Traditions
One unique aspect of Nyingmapa is the “white sangha,” ordained masters and practitioners who are not celibate. Those who live a more traditionally monastic, and celibate, life are said to be in the “red sangha.”
One Nyingmapa tradition, the Mindrolling lineage, has supported a tradition of women masters, called the Jetsunma lineage. The Jetsunmas have been daughters of Mindrolling Trichens, or heads of the Mindrolling lineage, beginning with Jetsun Mingyur Paldrön (1699-1769). The current Jetsunma is Her Eminence Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche.
Nyingmapa in Exile
The Chinese invasion of Tibet and the 1959 uprising caused the heads of the major Nyingmapa lineages to leave Tibet. Monastic traditions re-established in India include Thekchok Namdrol Shedrub Dargye Ling, in Bylakuppe, Karnataka State; Ngedon Gatsal Ling, in Clementown, Dehradun; Palyul Chokhor Ling, E-Vam Gyurmed Ling, Nechung Drayang Ling, and Thubten E-vam Dorjey Drag in Himachal Pradesh.
Although the Nyingma school had never had a head, in exile a series of high lama have been appointed to the position for administration purposes. The most recent was Kyabjé Trulshik Rinpoche, who died in 2011.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The Nyingmapa School.” Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/nyingma-school-450169.
Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway is possibly the most romantic place in Scotland, if not in the UK. This small Scottish village has become synonymous with romance and runaway lovers.
In 1754 a new law, Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, was brought into force in England. This law required young people to be over 21 years of age if they wished to marry without their parents’ or guardian’s consent. The marriage was required to be a public ceremony in the couple’s parish, with an official of the Church presiding. The new law was rigorously enforced and carried a sentence of 14 years transportation for any clergyman found breaking it.
The Scots however did not change the law and continued with their centuries-old marriage customs. The law in Scotland allowed anyone over the age of 15 to enter into marriage provided they were not closely related to each other and were not in a relationship with anyone else.
This marriage contract could be made wherever the couple liked, in private or in public, in the presence of others or no-one at all.
The ‘irregular marriage’ ceremony would be short and simple, something like:
“Are you of marriageable age? Yes
Are you free to marry? Yes
You are now married.”
A marriage in the Scottish tradition could take place anywhere on Scottish soil. Being so close to the English border, Gretna was popular with English couples wanting to marry but when in the 1770s a toll road was built running through the village making it even more accessible from south of the border, it soon became renowned as the destination for eloping couples.
Forbidden romance and runaway marriages were popularised in the fiction of the time, for example in the novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.
English couples usually preferred to keep some English marriage traditions and so looked for someone in authority to oversee the ceremony. The most senior and respected craftsman or artisan in the countryside was the village blacksmith, and so the Blacksmith’s Forge at Gretna Green became a favourite place for weddings.
The tradition of the blacksmith sealing the marriage by striking his anvil led to the Gretna blacksmiths becoming known as ‘anvil priests’. Indeed the blacksmith and his anvil are now symbols of Gretna Green weddings. Gretna Green’s famous Blacksmiths Shop, the Old Smithy where lovers have come to marry since 1754, is still in the village and still a wedding venue.
There are now several other wedding venues in Gretna Green and marriage ceremonies are still performed over a blacksmith’s anvil. Gretna Green remains one of the most popular places for weddings and thousands of couples from all around the world flock to this Scottish village to be married each year.
People often think of the current Dalai Lama who travels the world as the highly visible spokesman for Buddhism as THE Dalai Lama, but in reality, he is the only most recent in a long line of leaders of the Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism. He is considered to be a tulku–a reincarnation of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. In Tibetan, Avalokitesvara is known as Chenrezig.
In 1578 the Mongol ruler Altan Khan gave the title Dalai Lama to Sonyam Gyatso, third in a line of reborn lamas of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism. The title means “ocean of wisdom” and was given posthumously to Sonyam Gyatso’s two predecessors.
In 1642, the 5th Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, became the spiritual and political leader of all of Tibet, an authority passed on to his successors. Since that time the succession of Dalai Lamas has been at the center of both Tibetan Buddhismand the history of the Tibetan people.
01: Gedun Drupa, the 1st Dalai Lama
Gendun Drupa was born to a nomadic family in 1391 and died in 1474. His original name was Pema Dorjee.
He took novice monk’s vows in 1405 at Narthang monastery and received full monk’s ordination in 1411. In 1416, he became a disciple of Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelugpa School, and eventually became Tsongkhapa’s principle disciple. Gendun Drupa is remembered as a great scholar who wrote a number of books and who founded a major monastic university, Tashi Lhunpo.
Gendun Drupa was not called “Dalai Lama” during his lifetime, because the title did not yet exist. He was identified as the first Dalai Lama several years after his death.
02: Gendun Gyatso, the 2nd Dalai Lama
Gendun Gyatso was born in 1475 and died in 1542. His father, a well-known tantric practitioner of the Nyingma school, named him Sangye Phel and gave the boy a Buddhist education.
When he was 11 years old, he was recognized as an incarnation of Gedun Drupa and enthroned at Tashi Lhunpo monastery. He received the name Gendun Gyatso at his monk’s ordination. Like Gedun Drupa, Gendun Gyatso would not receive the title Dalai Lama until after his death.
Gedun Gyatso served as abbot of Drepung and Sera monasteries. He is also remembered for reviving the great prayer festival, the Monlam Chenmo.
03: Sonam Gyatso, the 3rd Dalai Lama
Sonam Gyatso was born in 1543 to a wealthy family living near Lhasa. He died in 1588. His given name was Ranu Sicho. At the age of 3 he was recognized to be the reincarnation of Gendun Gyatso and was then taken to Drepung Monastery for training. He received novice ordination at the age of 7 and full ordination at 22.
Sonam Gyatso received the title Dalai Lama, meaning “ocean of wisdom,” from the Mongolian king Altan Khan. He was the first Dalai Lama to be called by that title in his lifetime.
Sonam Gyatso served as abbot of Drepung and Sera monsteries, and he founded Namgyal and Kumbum monasteries. He died while teaching in Mongolia.
04: Yonten Gyatso, the 4th Dalai Lama
Yonten Gyatso was born in 1589 in Mongolia. His father was a Mongol tribal chief and a grandson of Altan Khan. He died in 1617.
Although Yonten Gyatso was recognized to be the reborn Dalai Lama as a small child, his parents did not allow him to leave Mongolia until he was 12. He received his early Buddhist education from lamas visiting from Tibet.
Yonten Gyatso finally came to Tibet in 1601 and soon after took novice monk’s ordination. He received full ordination at the age of 26 and was abbot of Drepung and Sera monasteries. He died at Drepung monastery only a year later.
Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso was born in 1617 to a noble family. His given name was Künga Nyingpo. He died in 1682.
Military victories by the Mongol Prince Gushi Kahn gave control of Tibet to the Dalai Lama. When Lobsang Gyatso was enthroned in 1642, he became the spiritual and political leader of Tibet. He is remembered in Tibetan history as the Great Fifth.
The Great Fifth established Lhasa as the capital of Tibet and began construction of Potala Palace. He appointed a regent, or desi, to handle the administrative duties of governing. Before his death, he advised the Desi Sangya Gyatso to keep his death a secret, possibly to prevent a power struggle before a new Dalai Lama was prepared to assume authority.
Tsangyang Gyatso was born in 1683 and died in 1706. His given name was Sanje Tenzin.
In 1688, the boy was brought to Nankartse, near Lhasa, and educated by teachers appointed by the Desi Sangya Gyatso. His identity as the Dalai Lama was kept secret until 1697 when the death of the 5th Dalai Lama finally was announced and Tsangyang Gyatso was enthroned.
The 6th Dalai Lama is most remembered for renouncing monastic life and spending time in taverns and with women. He also composed songs and poems.
In 1701, a descendant of Gushi Khan named Lhasang Khan killed Sangya Gyatso. Then, in 1706 Lhasang Khan abducted Tsangyang Gyatso and declared that another lama was the real 6th Dalai Lama. Tsangyang Gyatso died in Lhasang Khan’s custody.
The lama who had replaced Tsangyang Gyatso as Sixth Dalai Lama was still enthroned in Lhasa, so Kelzang Gyatso’s identification as 7th Dalai Lama was kept secret for a time.
A tribe of Mongol warriors called the Dzungars invaded Lhasa in 1717. The Dzungars killed Lhasang Kahn and deposed the pretender 6th Dalai Lama. However, the Dzungars were lawless and destructive, and the Tibetans appealed to the Emperor Kangxi of China to help rid Tibet of the Dzungars. Chinese and Tibetan forces together expelled the Dzungars in 1720. Then they brought Kelzang Gyatso to Lhasa to be enthroned.
Kelzang Gyatso abolished the position of desi (regent) and replaced it with a council of ministers.
08: Jamphel Gyatso, the 8th Dalai Lama
Jamphel Gyatso was born in 1758, enthroned at Potala Palace in 1762 and died in 1804 at the age of 47.
During his reign, a war broke out between Tibet and the Gurkhas occupying Nepal. The war was joined by China, which blamed the war on a feud among lamas. China then attempted to change the process for choosing the rebirths of lamas by imposing the “golden urn” ceremony on Tibet. More than two centuries later, the current government of China has re-introduced the golden urn ceremony as a means of controlling the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism.
Jamphel Gyatso was the first Dalai Lama to be represented by a regent while he was a minor. He completed the building of Norbulingka Park and Summer Palace. By all accounts a quiet man devoted to meditation and study, as an adult he preferred to let others run the government of Tibet.
09: Lungtok Gyatso, the 9th Dalai Lama
Lungtok Gyatso was born in 1805 and died in 1815 before his tenth birthday from complications from a common cold. He was the only Dalai Lama to die in childhood and the first of four that would die before the age of 22. His reincarnated successor would not be recognized for eight years.
10: Tsultrim Gyatso, the 10th Dalai Lama
Tsultrim Gyatso was born in 1816 and died in 1837 at the age of 21. Though he sought to change the economic system of Tibet, he died before being able to enact any of his reforms.
11: Khendrup Gyatso, the 11th Dalai Lama
Khendrup Gyatso was born in 1838 and died in 1856 at the age of 18. Born in the same village as the 7th Dalai Lama, he was recognized as the reincarnation in 1840 and assumed full power over the government in 1855–only a year before his death.
12: Trinley Gyatso, the 12th Dalai Lama
Trinley Gyatso was born in 1857 and died in 1875. He assumed full authority over the Tibetan government at the age of 18 but died before his 20th birthday.
Thubten Gyatso was born in 1876 and died in 1933. He is remembered as the Great Thirteenth.
Thubten Gyatso assumed leadership in Tibet in 1895. At that time Czarist Russia and the British Empire had been sparring for decades over control of Asia. In the 1890s the two empires turned their attention eastward, to Tibet. A British force invaded in 1903, leaving after extracting a short-lived treaty from the Tibetans.
Tenzin Gyatso was born in 1935 and recognized as the Dalai Lama at the age of three.
China invaded Tibet in 1950 when Tenzin Gyatso was only 15. For nine years he attempted to negotiate with the Chinese to save the Tibetan people from the dictatorship of Mao Zedong. However, the Tibetan Uprising of 1959 forced the Dalai Lama into exile, and he has never been allowed to return to Tibet.
The 14th Dalai Lama established a Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India. In some ways, his exile has been to the world’s benefit, since he has spent his life bringing a message of peace and compassion to the world
The 14th Dalai Lama was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. In 2011 he absolved himself of political power, although he is still the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. Future generations are likely to regard him in the same light as the Great Fifth and the Great Thirteenth for his contributions to spreading the message of Tibetan Buddhism to the world, thereby saving the tradition.
O’Brien, Barbara. “The 14 Dalai Lamas from 1391 to Present.” Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, learnreligions.com/succession-of-dalai-lamas-450187.
How could somebody come to be executed not once – but twice? Such is the tale of one poor, unfortunate Londoner at a time of great cruelty and savagery.
Thomas Savage – appropriately named – was born in the parish of St Giles in the Fields and as a youth, became an apprentice to a certain Mr Collins, a vintner at the Ship Tavern at Ratcliff Cross. Three hundred years ago, when this story is set, Ratcliff was a hamlet by the river Thames with a strong ship building and provisioning tradition. It’s long been swallowed up by the borough of Tower Hamlets, located between Shadwell and LImehouse.
turned up at the brothel with wine and he and the prostitute Hannah got merrily drunk and enjoyed themselves. But being a lady of the night, Hannah wanted money for her services. So she goaded Thomas into robbing Mr Collins. But Savage explained that Collins’ maid was always in the house. To which Hannah responded:
Hang her, a jade! Knock her brains out and I’ll receive the money and go anywhere with you beyond sea, to avoid the stroke of justice.
So the weak-willed Thomas headed back to the Collins house and avoided his master by climbing over a back wall. He then ran into the other servants having dinner including the ever-present maid. Rather unwisely, she took Savage to task for spending too much time at the bawdy house. He didn’t like this telling off and it convinced him to bash her brains out as Hannah had advised.
So one day he took a hammer and began hitting out at objects round the house to provoke her to anger. This presumably would have made it easier for him to do the foul deed. Thomas needed to psyche himself up to commit his first murder. Initially, the maid seems to have tried to ignore this bizarre behaviour but eventually she asked him to stop. He then threw the hammer and scored a direct blow on her head. Falling to the ground she screamed in pain and her assailant hesitated to deal the fatal blow. He just couldn’t quite do it.
But as she moaned and groaned, he set about her with the hammer and snuffed the maid’s life out. Breaking open a cupboard, he found a bag with sixty pounds of Collins’ money – a princely sum then – and escaped. Meeting up with Hannah, his behaviour became increasingly erratic. She asked for all of it but he only gave her half a crown and then fled. In the hours that followed, he sat by the roadside crying out loud about what he had done. Eventually, gathering his wits about him, he went down to a guest house in Greenwich.
The mistress of this guest house was very suspicious to find a seventeen year old with a bag bulging with so much money. She asked him what he was doing. Thomas lied that he was on his way to Gravesend to meet his master, a wine cooper. This story seemed a bit fishy and Thomas, now in a total panic, said she could contact his master and in fact, he’d leave the money with her until she did.
So without any of his ill-gotten gains, Savage wandered off to Woolwich. Shortly after, word of his murder filtered down from Ratcliff to Greenwich – it took much longer for news to get around in the days before mass media. The mistress of the guest house sent a group of men to go after him and he was found in a Woolwich ale house, head on the table and a pot of beer by his side. The men challenged him:
Tom – did you not live at Ratcliff?
And did you not murder your fellow servant? And you took so much money from your master? You must go along with us!
Yes, with all my heart.
In custody, Savage confessed everything. On the day he went to court, his fellow prisoners got him a bit drunk and he shopped Hannah Blay to the authorities. She was then arrested too. Thomas was sentenced to death – the punishment to be carried out at Ratcliff Cross. This was quite a common thing to do – to kill the criminal at the place where they had committed their crime. Savage’s hanging was postponed on one occasion and news was given to him as he was dressed up for the occasion.
What – have I got on my dying clothes? Dying clothes did I say? They are my living clothes, the clothes out of which I shall go into eternal glory. They are the best clothes that ever I put on!
At Ratcliff Cross, there seems to have been some sympathy among the crowd for this pathetic figure. He said a little prayer and the cart pulled away to leave him struggling at the end of the rope. A friend beat Thomas around the chest to shorten his misery. Motionless and left dangling for a while, everybody assumed Savage was dead. His friends then took him to a nearby house and laid his body on a table. Then something incredible happened. Thomas started breathing!
His throat rattled. He heaved upwards. Then his eyes and mouth opened. His teeth are described as having been “set before” – I assume that means in his death struggle, they’d been pushed out – and he couldn’t speak. Now you might think he’d have been let off but not in seventeenth century England. As word got out that Savage was alive, an embarrassed sheriff turned up and took him back to the gibbet. Poor Savage was then hanged all over again until he was properly dead.
His forlorn friends then spirited his seventeen year old body away to Islington where he was buried on the 28th October, 1668.
Politicians and journalists are more unpopular today than ever. But in the past in London they stood a very real risk of being lynched.
One of the many politicians to be lynched was Walter Stapleton, Lord Treasurer of England, who came to a sticky end around 1326.
Victim of the London mob
Not only was he in charge of the country’s finances, Walter was a leading adviser to King Edward II and – typical of the Middle Ages – also the Bishop of Exeter. Men of the cloth often held top political positions. It wasn’t seen as unusual or ungodly. However, the conduct of King Edward II was seen as less than godly – with accusations of sodomy and vice swirling around him.
Edward’s own queen launched a rebellion to overthrow her husband the king in alliance with her lover. Londoners came out in the queen’s support. The king fled towards Wales while his Lord High Treasurer, the unfortunate Walter, tried to lock the gates of the city to stop Queen Isabella getting in.
Stapleton is one of many medieval lynched politicians
However, he’d misjudged the mood of London very badly.
The hapless politician galloped as fast as he could towards St Paul’s cathedral to plead for sanctuary but was intercepted by the mob. They pulled Walter from his horse, stripped his clothes (worth a pretty penny I’m sure) and dragged him naked to the stone cross that once stood in Cheapside.
There, they proclaimed him a traitor and cut off his head – putting it on a pole and processing around with it. The same fate befell his servants whose headless bodies were tossed on a heap of rubbish by the river.
Over fifty years later, a similar gory end came to Simon Sudbury, the Lord Chancellor of England. Like Walter, Simon held some ecclesiastical positions as well as being a politician. He was both Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury – so a top nob in medieval society. But the London mob soon cut him down to size – literally.
Poll tax leads to politicians being lynched
Regrettably, Sudbury supported the introduction of a poll tax. The peasants hated it. They marched on the capital and surrounded the Tower of London where Simon was holed up with the Lord Treasurer Sir Robert Hales.
Eventually, the two men were handed over to the mob and beheaded. Apparently, it took something like eight blows to take Simon’s head off. His skull can still be seen in the church of St Gregory in the town of Sudbury, Suffolk today.
Londoners have frequently rioted and attacked top politicians with no regard to their rank or position. During the 1780 anti-Catholic “Gordon Riots”, the house of Lord Mansfield was thoroughly plundered. In 1815, Lord Eldon – the Lord Chancellor – confronted a mob that was breaking the windows of his home with a shotgun in his hand!
Eldon was hated by the city populace as he’d managed to oppose just about every progressive measure you could imagine including the abolition of slavery and attempts to secure affordable bread for the poor (the Corn Laws).
But the pelting of Eldon’s house with stones wasn’t a one off incident. Lord Wellington – hero of Waterloo – was assailed in his carriage by Londoners – as was King George III and King George IV.
So if politicians think they’ve got it tough today – pick up a history book. They’re getting off lightly in our times – with just a few hostile tweets. In the past they were lynched – their lives cruelly cut short.
The Peasant’s Revolt: The Death Of Simon Of Sudbury
The death of the Black Prince in 1376 can be equated to an ocean landslide that eventually causes a devastating Tsunami on the other side of the world. I consider it the starting point of the Wars of the Roses, and also the catalyst for all that occurred after the arrival of Edward’s ten year old son on the English throne up to his usurpation in 1399. Putting the many effects of Edwards death aside, I would like to write of one man, Simon of Sudbury, who was caught up in all of this.
It was the events that occurred in six months of 1381 that lead to Sudbury’s violent death.
Sudbury, as his name suggests, was from the village of Sudbury in Suffolk, its not known when he left this small East Anglian village or if he ever revisited but he certainly had a great fondness for place. He founded St Leonard’s, a leper hospital in 1372 and the College of St Gregory two years later, in which his brother John said to have been warden.
In the late 1340’s Sudbury had studied in Paris, moved to Rome and then back again to England for a post in the court of Edward III. It was as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Westminster Abbey, that he crowned the little son of the Black Prince as Richard II King of England. Five years later it was Sudbury, in his new post as Chancellor of England, that the rioters used to vent their anger.
England had not recovered from the Black Death, workers were few, jobs were many, the treasury was empty and in an effort to counter this taxation was increased. This, of course, angered the the poor, for they had come to like their ‘freedom.’ In 1380, to rectify the situation, a poll tax to raise money to help England financial situation was introduced, those in authority thought it a grand idea the rest of the country did not, consequently, there was trouble. Between 13th and the 15th June over 100,000 peasants marched on the countries capital led by one Wat Tyler. No doubt, watching the proceedings from within the Tower of London, Sudbury may have seen the young king do his bit in appeasing the men, making promises (that he didn’t keep). Sudbury and Robert Hales, England’s Treasurer soon realised that their lives where in danger when they saw that the rioters had siezed an opportunity and entered through the gates of the Tower of London. Hiding in the White Tower, Sudbury was found praying. Both men were dragged out and both were decapitated. Sudbury must have suffered greatly, his ear was sliced and the bone in his neck had more than one cut leading us to believe that it must have taken more than two strokes to take off his head. Both Sudbury and Hales heads put on poles and carried about the city by the rioters. As mentioned earlier, the boy king never kept his promise to the peasants and eventually Wat Tyler’s head was exchanged for that of Sudbury’s.
His body was taken to Canterbury but his head elsewhere.
Sudbury’s mummified skull rest in a small cupboard in St Gregory’s Sudbury and here we can see poor Simon’s skull, with skin still attached.
In 2011, over six hundred years after his death, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee reconstructed Sudbury’s head using detail from skull. Adrienne said,
“I hope people in Sudbury like what we’ve done but he’s a strange looking fellow so it’ll be interesting to see their reactions.”
Sudbury’s mummified skull rest in a small cupboard in St Gregory’s Sudbury and here we can see poor Simon’s skull, with skin still attached.
In 2011, over six hundred years after his death, forensic artist Adrienne Barker from the University of Dundee reconstructed Sudbury’s head using detail from skull. Adrienne said,
“I hope people in Sudbury like what we’ve done but he’s a strange looking fellow so it’ll be interesting to see their reactions.”