At Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers gave an eloquent summation of why a semen-stained dress and the manifold uses of a cigar had become of such absorbing interest: “HL Mencken said one time, ‘When you hear somebody say, “This is not about money” – it’s about money. And when you hear somebody say, “This is not about sex” – it’s about sex.’”
Many of those involved in Britain’s Profumo affair, which took place 50 years ago, also liked to pretend that it wasn’t really about sex. The allegation to which they repeatedly returned was that the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, 48 years old and married to former actress Valerie Hobson, and a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeni “Eugene” Ivanov, were sharing the favours of Christine Keeler, a young, beautiful woman who eked out a living by combining erotic dancing and modelling with occasional sex for money. Keeler, who was raised on London’s fringes in a converted railway carriage, met both men at the Cliveden estate of Lord Astor on which her friend, society osteopath Stephen Ward, lived in a cottage. Profumo had been impressed when he and Astor encountered a naked Keeler, trying to shield herself with a towel, at the estate’s swimming pool on a warm July evening in 1961.
That a Tory minister had been involved in some naughtiness was the subject of rumour for several months. While there had been sly hints concerning that minister’s identity in the press, Profumo’s threat of a libel suit managed to keep all but a low-circulation Westminster newsletter in line. But several players in the affair – Keeler, Ward and Mandy Rice-Davies, another “party girl” – were already hawking their stories around Fleet Street. The scandal fully broke on 5 June 1963 when Profumo admitted that he had lied about his relationship with Keeler in an earlier parliamentary statement. Profumo immediately resigned as a minister.
The effect on a conservative government already seen to be reaching its use-by date was dramatic, especially after a blistering attack in the Commons by new Labour leader Harold Wilson. A bewildered Harold Macmillan, the Tory prime minister, never quite seemed to recover from the sordidness of it all, and soon resigned citing ill health (although he would live another 23 years). In the meantime, Macmillan had appointed the eminent judge Lord Denning to investigate the affair’s security ramifications. Denning took his duties seriously, to the extent of arranging for a doctor to inspect a government minister’s penis to see whether it matched one shown being fellated in a photograph. Denning’s published findings, unusually for a government report, became a bestseller.
It was a grubby little book. Richard Davenport-Hines’s fine new account of the scandal, An English Affair (HarperCollins; $35), justly describes the report as “awash with the spite of a lascivious, conceited old man”. Whereas Denning found kindly things to say about Profumo’s loyalty and Astor’s philanthropy, the best he could manage for Keeler was to acknowledge her “undoubted physical attractions”.
Denning could not ignore the fact that Profumo had enjoyed an extramarital affair with a woman less than half his age and then lied about it to both parliament and his party colleagues. Nonetheless, the war minister was spared the lashing that Ward received. An admittedly unattractive figure, whose hobbies included “collecting” aristocrats, celebrities and young, pretty working-class women, Ward served as a convenient scapegoat in the affair. Denning called him “utterly immoral” and a communist sympathiser, and elsewhere accused him of “vicious sexual activities”. In her memoirs, Keeler went so far as to claim he was spying for the Soviets. In August 1963, Ward took his own life during a trial for pimping, a trumped-up charge made to stick through police blackmail of witnesses.
Davenport-Hines has produced a lively book, more than two thirds of which is devoted to establishing the affair’s historical background and main players. Davenport-Hines has no time for the humbug that the scandal was about national security. Rather he sees it as a manifestation of a crisis in a class-bound and hypocritical Britain. In this respect, Davenport-Hines follows other recent scholarship, such as Frank Mort’s Capital Affairs. Mort puts much greater stress on the affair as a product of a changing city, but he is as insistent as Davenport-Hines that the episode was not primarily about its Cold War connections: the scandal crystallised wider apprehensions in Britain about sex, morality, crime, race and gender.
Anxieties about postwar immigration were a critical ingredient. Keeler had relationships with two Caribbean immigrants, “Lucky” Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe, an aspect of the affair that many would later find particularly shocking. In 1963, we are just five years away from Enoch Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech, in which the Tory politician warned of the likely violent consequences for British society of mass non-white immigration. The presence in the story of the Caribbean men affected public judgements of Keeler, Ward and even Profumo, connecting Whitehall and Westminster with the unsavoury suburb of Notting Hill. By the early 1960s, this centre of West Indian settlement had acquired a reputation as a hub of violence, prostitution and drugs. The adventurous Keeler and Ward couldn’t resist its offerings of pot and sex. In October 1962, arguing over Keeler, Edgecombe slashed Gordon’s face with a knife in a nightclub. Later, Edgecombe fired shots at Keeler and her companion, Mandy Rice-Davies, after they refused to let him into Ward’s flat.
Keeler and Rice-Davies were not the liberated young women of second-wave feminism, yet nor were they mute and passive victims of the men who wanted to possess them. They sold access to their bodies and their stories because they understood their market value. They were true children of the consumer age. Had Keeler been born 35 years later, says Davenport-Hines, “she would have starred on Celebrity Big Brother and consulted her publicist every time her footballer boyfriend knocked her about”. But, equally, had this troubled working-class girl landed in the Swinging London of 1965 instead of the very different city of 1957, she might well have fallen into a lucrative career in the media or fashion, for she had the look that model Jean Shrimpton was already, by 1963, turning to fame and fortune.
Instead, it was her destiny to be recalled as the “tart” who helped bring down a government. There is a brief comment in Keeler’s recently updated autobiography Secrets and Lies that neatly illustrates how these women were carefully fashioning themselves for the age of celebrity. On trial for perjury, she recalled of herself and Rice-Davies: “We were having our hair done every day for the trial, trying to look our best, at Vidal Sassoon’s in Bond Street.”
This attention to image was not in vain, for the scandal produced one of the most famous photos of the century. The Lewis Morley picture of Keeler sitting naked behind the back of a chair whose lines are almost as sensual and alluring as her own hints at the sexual liberation to come, while leaving enough to the imagination to evoke the more straitlaced era being left behind.
Denning remarked that scandalous material about the famous had turned into “a marketable commodity”. That market was now global. The Australian newspapers of mid 1963 were full of the affair, while models complained about the name of their profession being attached to Keeler: “That tramp never has been and never could be a model,” trilled a former Miss Australia, Patricia Woodley. Pictures of Keeler and Rice-Davies covered the tabloids. The case was debated in serious magazines such as the Bulletin and Nation, and less earnestly among Australia’s schoolchildren, who in a witty playground rhyme calculated that a half a pound of Rice and a half a pound of Keeler added up to one pound of sexy sheila.
Davenport-Hines shows that the Profumo affair was fundamentally a media event. Some newspaper proprietors had scores to settle with the affair’s key players and many journalists were fed up with the government and the self-serving establishment it was seen to embody. Chequebook journalism, which was commonplace, fuelled the scandal, as the major protagonists sought to cash in on their stories. Journalists adopted tactics, such as burglary, that make the phone-hacking scandals of the recent past seem unexceptional.
The media used the Profumo affair as a means of attacking the whole upper class and its way of life. If journalists and newspaper owners were ruthless in their methods, collecting too many innocent victims along the way, there was at least something constructive about the outcome. Old forms of class-based deference were eroded. Women would in future would be able to exercise more independence with less risk. There would be greater sexual freedom. A country that just a few years before looked to have settled in to a decline towards comfortable mediocrity, could once again seem – if only for a few brief years – dynamic, creative and exciting.
The WWII hero saved millions of lives before being chemically castrated for being gay. He killed himself two years later.
“[Alan Turing] was and is a hero of all time…a man who is a gay icon, who didn’t deny his nature, his being, and for that he suffered. … This is a story that celebrates him, that celebrates outsiders; it celebrates anybody who’s ever felt different and ostracized and ever suffered prejudice.”
I usually find movie award shows to project primarily fluff and silliness, and they rarely stir deep emotions in me. But listening to Benedict Cumberbatch accept the award for Best Actor at the American Film Awards for his portrayal of Alan Turing in the film The Imitation Game two years ago brought me to tears.
This stemmed from a sense of deep pride and an endless abyss of sadness. Cumberbatch’s commitment and passion shined through on stage as he talked about transforming Turing’s story, his brilliance, and his humanity to the silver screen, helping to give Turing the long-overdue wide-scale recognition he rightly deserves.
Alan Mathison Turing was a pioneering computer scientist, and he served as a mid-20th century British mathematician, logician, and cryptanalyst who, working during World War II at England’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, succeeded with his team of scientists and linguists in cracking the “Enigma code” used by the Nazi command to conduct covert communication operations.
Because of Turing and his colleagues’ efforts, Cumberbatch said, there is now general agreement that they shortened the war by at least two years, saving an estimated 17 million lives. Prime Minister Winston Churchill singled out Turing as the person whose work contributed the most to defeating the Germans.
The Imitation Game also highlights the enormous obstacles placed in the way of women entering the sciences, especially mid-century. In this regard, Keira Knightley made an equally moving speech at the American Film Awards in accepting theBest Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of Joan Clarke, who worked with Turing in deciphering the code.
“Particularly now, when women are such a minority in all fields, her story and the fact that she really perseveres, and she had space and time and grace, is really inspiring,” she said.
Though initially considered a national hero in Britain, in 1952, government officials arrested and prosecuted Turing on the antiquated charge of “gross indecency” when he “admitted” to maintaining a same-sex relationship. Rather than serving time in prison, Turing chose to undergo estrogen injections then considered in men a form of “chemical castration” eliminating sex drive. Turing took his life two years later by swallowing cyanide just two weeks short of his 42nd birthday.
I find it deeply ironic that while Turing and his team helped defeat the Nazi war machine, a nation intolerant of any form of difference including same-sex relations (especially between men), the primary “allied” nations fighting Nazi Germany – United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union – all maintained laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Under King Henry VIII in 1533, England passed a “buggery” (or sodomy) law, doling out the penalty of death for “the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.” Under the rule of Elizabeth I in 1564, death for same-sex acts between men became a permanent part of English law until the 1880s. British courts at the time concluded that sex between two women was impossible and, therefore, exempted women from the statute. By 1885, English Criminal Law punished homosexuality with imprisonment up to two years. This remained in effect until homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967.
In addition, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criminalized homosexuality with eight years imprisonment or exile to Siberia. And in the United States, consensual same-sex relations were against the law at one time in all states, and remained illegal in some states as late as 2003, when the Supreme Court finally overturned such bans in its Lawrence v. Texas decision.
In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown officially apologized to Alan Turing on behalf of the people of his nation for “the appalling way he was treated.” Parliament finally brought up a bill of “pardon” in 2013, and on 24 December, 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous pardon.
Though the English government never actually forced a physical stigma onto Turing’s body, they branded the symbol of the outsider, the pervert, the enemy deeply into his soul. This branding seriously deprived the British nation and the larger world community of his continued genius, his generosity, and the many additional gifts he could have imparted.
I agree with Benedict Cumberbatch that Turing’s wide-scale recognition is long overdue.
Hell Division: Pentridge Prison’s section for the baddest and maddest
It is pretty trendy now – the development that was once Pentridge Prison.
You wonder if the customers at the coffee shop just outside the imposing bluestone walls know or care about the brutality that went on for decades in what was Victoria’s biggest jail.
Down the bottom end was H Division, reserved for the baddest, the maddest and sometimes the meekest (it was used for protection as well as punishment).
As part of the redevelopment of the prime real estate the old labour yards were recently demolished – pens open to the weather where inmates broke rocks until 1976.
The place was rebuilt so often it did not resemble the original design and the developers have promised to rebuild a section to the original 19th-century specs.
The days of breaking rocks are long gone and anyone who still advocates “old-style” brutal punishment for inmates has rocks in their head.
If animals at the Melbourne Zoo were kept in such conditions there would have been mass protests but few ever saw what went on down in Hell Division.
New inmates learnt the first lesson on the way in. It was known as the “Liquorice Mile”, where prison officers formed a guard of honour reception to beat prisoners (often naked) to the point of submission.
When Building Society bandit Greg “Doc” Smith arrived he was advised by standover man Mark “Chopper” Read to walk slowly and keep his head up to show hecould take the beating.
Strangely, both inmates became best-selling authors. Smith, also known as Gregory David Roberts, escaped and was recaptured 10 years later. His autobiographical novel Shantaram became a runaway success, much like “Doc” himself.
Another who used the suffering to create was Ray Mooney, now an acclaimed playwright.
But many who ended up there were beyond redemption or the barbaric conditions made them so. It was the chicken and egg argument – leaving most of them either stuffed or scrambled.
It was here in 1958 that police killer William O’Meally became the last man flogged with the cat-o’-nine-tails as a punishment.
Back in 1990 I went to H Division to interview long-term inmate “Chopper” Read after he complained about a critical profile I had written about him.
It was certainly nothing like the movies with a glass screen and a telephone link. We sat in a small room at the end of the division separated by a cheap table.
Read chatted and I took notes. The subsequent story amused many but not the Parole Board, which delayed his release for another six months.
A violent world
The first impression inside the bluestone and concrete complex was the sense of cold. When it rained in winter the damp would get into your bones and stay there for months.
It was bleak. A place of rape, drugs, despair and overwhelming hopelessness. To make it less grim they white washed the walls, built a swimming pool and introduced contact visits.
During one such visit an man jailed for armed robbery took the opportunity to punch his mother in the face, breaking her nose. So much for humanitarianism.
During the famed Overcoat Gang War inmates were bashed and stabbed with home-made shivs. A razor blade buried in a soap bar would slice open an inmate in the showers. Cells doors were left open to facilitate beatings of non-favoured inmates.
With no video the attacks followed a pattern. The offender would stab his victim and then cut his own hands to make it look as if he had been attacked – then plead self defence.
In most cases it worked.
One prison officer who worked there said, “It was very heavy but there were rules. They could fight among themselves but if they touched a prison officer they got hell for 48 hours.”
There are few left in the system who served time at H and they remain among the most notorious in Australia. One was an old murderer who came out of retirement to become a contract killer in the Melbourne underworld war. He was caught, proving that hitmen, boxers and country and western singers should never make comebacks.
There is Paul Steven Haigh, who had killed six people, including a nine-year-old boy, before he turned 22.
“It takes no hero to murder. The most puny man in the world can pull a trigger. The obstacle is a psychological one,” he told me inside Pentridge.
In 1991, he helped kill fellow prisoner Donald George Hatherley. Haigh assisted Hatherley to hang himself inside his cell by hanging on to his dangling legs.
But this was no mercy killing. Prison officers say he was miffed that, after Julian Knight killed seven people in Hoddle Street in 1987, he was no longer Victoria’s most prolific killer. And so he needed another victim to break even.
Pentridge staff say Haigh had a Grim Reaper costume delivered to the jail, which he intended to wear to his trial. He was told he could wear a bad brown suit like every other crook.
He is now serving six life sentences, plus 15 years for the Hatherley murder and a further 15 for armed robberies. So much for fancy dress.
Knight was another to spend time in H and was a polarising figure. Russell Street bomber Craig Minogue was a mate whereas other equally violent men hated his guts.
Minogue was a strong ally and a bad enemy. He disliked businessman-turned-killer Alex Tsakmakis and in 1988 caved his head in with a pillow case filled with weights, proving that not all exercise is good for you.
The former H officer said Tsakmakis and Peter David McEvoy, one of the men accused and acquitted of the 1988 killing of constables Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre in Walsh Street, were the worst. “They were both pure evil.”
In 1993 prison authorities discovered an escape plot involving up to 30 H Division inmates.
They found one prisoner’s diary that detailed a plan to free the 30 inmates from their cells and then attack Knight.
The four alleged ringleaders were the best escape artists in the system but the plan was foiled when the division was locked down after a prison officer was stabbed 17 times with a pair of tailor’s scissors.
The investigation found locks cut with a hacksaw blade and a fake prison officer’s uniform hidden in a cell.
It was the beginning of the end for H Division. The hard heads were slowly transferred to the new Barwon maximum-security jail and Pentridge was closed three years later.
One of the hard heads was Badness – Christopher Dean Binse. As one of Australia’s most prolific escape artists he was sent to H Division and still remains in maximum security.
Binse has spent most of his adult life in jail. He was declared a ward of the state at 13, transferred to Pentridge at 17 and moved to H Division at 18. He has tried to escape eight times and has succeeded in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Never one to believe that crooks should keep a low profile he took out a classified ad in the Herald Sun to declare “Badness is back”. He paid with stick-up money.
He bought a Queensland country property with the proceeds of bank jobs and called it “Badlands” and had personalised number plates – “Badness”.
His last arrest was after a 2012 East Keilor siege that ended after 44 hours when he was shot repeatedly by Special Operations Group police using a beanbag shot. He survived and was sentenced to another long prison stint.
Possibly the hardest of his generation was Gregory John “Bluey” Brazel now a convicted triple killer who in 1991 held a prison officer hostage during a siege by holding a knife to his throat for three hours.
Convicted 78 times he has proved to be as bad inside as outside of prison.
His jail record shows there is no chance of him changing. He has stabbed three prisoners, broken the noses of two prison officers, assaulted police, set fire to his cell, cut the tip off his left ear, threatened to kill staff, smashed a governor’s head through a plate-glass window and threatened witnesses using a jail telephone.
One prison officer said Brazel was beaten after he punched a prison officer. “He sooked all afternoon but didn’t complain. He was good as gold the next day.”
He also went on a protracted hunger strike that he cancelled only when it was discovered he was surviving on a stash of Mars Bars hidden in his cell.
But in prison there is the law of the jungle. The toughest get old and are replaced by the new bad boys.
Bluey Brazel was eventually severely beaten by Matthew “The General” Johnson, who went on to murder Carl Williams in Barwon Prison much the way Minogue killed Tsakmakis years earlier.
And so the cycle of death continues.
We have more than 6000 prisoners in the system. Nearly all will one day get out. Although it is human nature to want revenge we have to make sure jails don’t just nurture violence. Not for them but for us.
‘Nightmare like and unreal’: the letter from Pentridge
The following letter was smuggled out of Pentridge Prison in July 1972 by Barry York, when he was imprisoned in the ‘A’ Division.
A preamble – Barry York
The letter was written secretly in my cell in ‘A’ Division when I was a prisoner in Pentridge Gaol with two comrades, Brian Pola and Fergus Robinson. There was no shortage of time to write it, as we were in solitary confinement, in our separate cells, for sixteen hours each day.
In writing the letter, I was careful not to be detected by the screws. They would have been very angry about it. So, I hid it under my mattress, folding the letter narrowly so that I could hide it under the side of the mattress nearest to the wall. One day, the warders came in to do a cell inspection. They did the usual finger across the top of the door checking for dust, and then checked that the blankets were folded into perfect squares and then – to my horror – they decided to check under the mattress. They pushed it up from the bed frame but not far enough, so my letter was still hidden at the side of the bed nearest to the wall. I was very worried, I can tell you.
I forget how the letter was smuggled out – possibly by Ted Hill, chairman of the CPA(ML), on one of his visits as our ‘legal adviser’. I recall that Ted used to smuggle the newspaper Vanguard into the gaol by rolling it up and putting it under his trouser leg. He would then give it to me, during a ‘legal visit’, and I’d do the same and carry it in my sock and trouser leg to ‘A’ Division.
Vanguard, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), published the letter on 17 August 1972, after we were released (on 4 August). They knew not to publish it while we were still inside. Thank heavens.
We were gaoled for contempt of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1972.
We had been leaders of the militant student movement at La Trobe University and prohibited from entering the campus under an injunction taken out by the University authorities. We defied the injunction, seeing it as an encroachment on free speech and an attempt to quell campus militancy. For ‘stepping foot upon the premises known as La Trobe University’, we were gaoled without trial, without sentence (i.e., indefinitely), without rights of bail or appeal.
Fergus was captured first and did four months. Brian Pola next, did three months. I was caught last, and served six weeks. Rodney Taylor, the fourth named in the injunction, avoided capture. We were released when the University authorities surrendered to the mass campaign against the gaolings and approached the Supreme Court for the abandonment of the injunctions.
When I read my letter today – forty-five years on – I stand by its description of prison life. However, I would moderate some of my language. For instance, I wouldn’t refer to the gaol as a concentration camp; though technically it was similar. But, ‘concentration camp’ brings to mind the Nazi rule of terror in Germany in the 1930s and Pentridge was nothing like that. (Did I even have to say that?)
Also, the analysis that concluded that ‘all prisoners are political prisoners’ because they were victims of the class war was manifestly wrong. There was, and is, a big difference between people who are imprisoned for their political activities or beliefs and those who rob banks and steal cars. I’m not sure now why I would have gone along with that anarchist slogan. I identified as a communist, after all.
*In 1973, Fergus and Brian and I, and others, revived the Victorian Prisoners’ Action Committee (PAC). I became its spokesman for three or four years. The PAC fought for prison reform but tried to connect the issue to the bigger question of capitalism and its overthrow. We supported the rebellion that was taking place inside Pentridge and other gaols, led by inmates with whom we had become friendly, and perhaps influenced, on the inside. (We used to hide works by Marx, Lenin and Mao on the very top of the bookcase in the prison library, laying them flat and out of view of the prison officers. We were able to receive such books from the outside, after a La Trobe academic comrade assured the prison authorities they were ‘for educational purposes’! Sympathetic prisoners knew of this secret stash of subversive material that was allowed in only for the ‘La Trobe Three’).
In campaigning for prison reform, we were able to assist individuals on their release. This experience was double-edged, and some negative experiences led me to better understand that there is such a thing as personal responsibility and agency, not just victimhood. Even the most oppressed individuals can make choices for the better within the confines of socio-economic limitation. Too many didn’t. Bad culture perpetuates oppression.
*This year, I came across the letter as published in Vanguard while sorting and culling folders of old paperwork. It reminded me of how genuine we were in our commitment to revolutionary change back then, and how lucky I was to have been active in those years of global solidarity from 1967 to 1972. We really believed we were approaching a revolutionary situation. Perhaps the State had similar feelings, and that may explain why they came down so heavily on those who went beyond reformism and challenged the system itself.
Of course, the revolution didn’t materialise but the broader social movement, of which we were part, won changes that cannot be reversed.
And, perhaps best of all: we certainly gave some bad reactionaries a very hard time!
The letter from Pentridge, July 1972
As I write this letter from my cell in ‘A’ Division, two very significant occurrences are taking place.
Firstly a radio announcement from the Prison Committee’s prisoners’ representative has called for prisoners in remand to submit affidavits to Mr. Kelly, a solicitor on the Government Prison Inquiry, regarding a vicious attack by about 30 screws (N.B. prison slang for warders) on 4 Bendigo escapees and about 6 other prisoners. Pentridge is buzzing with the news. The escapees, according to eye witness reports, were beaten with 3 ft. long night sticks. Apparently, one had his head forced through a railing on a staircase. The scalp split wide open and he lost much blood.
Other prisoners in remand who objected to the screws’ violent attack were also bashed. One of the prisoners who received a bashing has identified [name removed] not only as one of those most active in the baton attack, but also as one who laid in the boot after some of the prisoners were beaten unconscious!! The escapees, still without medical aid, have been placed in Pentridge’s ‘maximum security’ division, ‘H’ Division.
‘H’ Division stands for ‘Hell’ Division. And this leads me to the second significant occurrence taking place as I write.
From his cell in ‘H’, Paul Hertzell [correct spelling is Hetzel] is screaming out the following statement:–
‘Hey all you toffs (N.B. prison slang for ‘good blokes’) out there! You’re doing a terrific job! We’ve got to get rid of this incompetent government!’, ‘Down with the imperial government!’, ‘This is Paul Hertzell in ‘H’. All ‘H’ prisoners are political prisoners – a result of the government’s incompetency!’, ‘Free all political prisoners!’, ‘Abolish ‘H’!’, ‘Hey you toffs out there! This is Paul Hertzell in ‘H’…’
I have an almost uncontrollable urge to climb up to my window and scream back my complete support, but unfortunately, I lack the courage of Paul Hertzell. Confronted in an isolated prison cell by overpowering violence, Hertzell’s protests prove conclusively what we already know to be true – namely, that where there is repression there is resistance.
SYMBOL OF IMPERIALISM
Pentridge was born out of the domination of Australia by British imperialism in the 19th Century. Today it serves as a monument to the fascist bestiality of the U.S., British and Japanese imperialists and the local quislings who dominate Australia economically, politically, and culturally. This statement may seem rhetorical and emotional but the situation in Pentridge, with its emphasis on psychological as well as physical punishment, is similar to a concentration camp. It is an institution of fascism in the sense that it is an institution based on overt reactionary violence. Its existence and present function and nature proves that the state is a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and, that under capitalism this means the oppression of the working class by the capitalist class.
Let me elaborate by relating my own personal experiences and some of the experiences of other prisoners, in the form of a brief description of the divisions which constitute Pentridge.
We are currently located in ‘A’ Division. Relatively speaking, ‘A’ is the ‘best’ Division in Pentridge. The prisoners throughout Pentridge have waged heroic struggles which have improved conditions in ‘A’ Division and led to a reduction in the use of violence against the prisoners by the screws. Applying the old colonial principle of ‘divide and rule’, one very small section of ‘A’ Division is reserved for the elite of prisoners; the ‘aristocracy of prisoners’ if you like. This section (consisting of about ten out of 160 cells) is used as a public relations centre. Any visiting magistrates of government inquiry teams are promptly directed to this section. The prisoners there are the ‘good boys’ who earn $2.50 a week in positions as head librarian and the like. The real ‘A’ Division is the ‘A’ in which the vast majority of prisoners exist. No T.V. sets, record players or heaters for these prisoners on $1.30 a week – just mental and psychological anguish, pre-planned long term physical destruction, and cruel, sadistic humiliation. This is the real ‘A’ Division, the ‘A’ Division in which the vast majority exist.
‘B’ Division lacks the relative freedom of life in ‘A’. Conditions are far worse and the intensity of manual labour and degradation by the authorities are far more extreme. ‘B’ is organised on the basis of strict regimented discipline. One prisoner who spent some years in ‘B’ has informed me that the discipline in ‘B’ reminded him of the discipline enforced upon him in ‘H’ Division. Unlike in ‘A’ where you are permitted to occasionally forget to address the screws as ‘sir’ in ‘B’ any such omission is sometimes met with physical assault, but more typically, verbal abuse. A report received from another prisoner who had just ‘graduated’ from ‘B’ to ‘A’ claims that ‘the tense atmosphere in ‘B’ can be sliced with a knife’. Again, I could not help but recall those words of Chairman Mao’s ‘Where there is repression there is resistance’.
‘C’ Division looks like a scene from a ghost town in one of those old cowboy movies. The cells are literally iron bolted stables. Even the government declared ‘C’ Division a ‘condemned’ division some years ago but still nothing has been done about it. ‘C’ is renowned throughout Pentridge for its rat problem. Huge gaps exist in the cell doors which allow the rats to enter each cell. Naturally, there is a much higher rate of disease in ‘C’ than in ‘A’. ‘C’ remains unsewered. Prisoners must contend with only a small night pan. One old prisoner who spent several years in ‘C’, explained to me that during summer he used to sleep on the floor of his cell with his face near the gap below the door because the general stench of ‘C’ and the specific smell of his cell used to become unbearable.
‘D’ Division or ‘Remand’ is second only to ‘H’ Division. I spent some time in remand. The cells in ‘D’ are basically toilets equipped with a bed. The entire cell smells of semi-sewered toilet. Even by the lowly standards of bourgeois morality the conditions are appalling. The ‘D’ prisoners spend all day long pacing up and down the remand yard. This yard consists of a small triangular concrete yard surrounded by three huge blue-stone walls which block out any sunlight. One shower, one open toilet, and one clothes hoist allegedly make the yard suitable for fifty men. One prisoner I met had spent 12 months in remand awaiting trial. In this sense, remand is a sort of ‘limbo’. It represents an in-between world between the courts and prison.
Any prisoner may see the prison doctor at ‘E’ Division and receive medical or dental attention. ‘E’ is basically a dormitory for sick prisoners. It is apparently based on very strict discipline and I have been told some prisoners are sent to ‘E’ as a form of punishment. There is only one doctor to cater for Pentridge’s 1,200 prisoners.
‘F’ is simply a dormitory for about 30 prisoners from the remand yard. The rest of the remand prisoners retire in ‘D’ Division cells which I have already described.
‘G’ is the Prison Psychiatric Centre. Not all prisoners who need psychiatric care get it though. In ‘A’ at the moment, for one example, is a prisoner who just sits in the sun trembling all day. He studies his hands as though inspecting each intricate part of the mechanics of a clock, for hours on end. He showers each day but can never remember where the shower room is located. He clearly requires urgent psychiatric attention.
Before describing the notorious ‘H’ Division, let me say something about ‘J’ Division. Presumably ‘J’ stands for ‘Junior’ as the prisoners here are aged between 18 and 21. Some of these lads are beaten and humiliated by the senior authorities and their lackeys, the screws. All sorts of sexually perverted acts are launched against some of these basically decent young Australians. Looking down into the ‘J’ Division Labour Yard and seeing these tired, ragged, illiterate, scruffy uniformed young prisoners, I could not help but recollect some of the apt descriptions of the Pentridges of yesteryear as reported by Charles Dickens in ‘Little Dorrit’.
‘THE SLOT’, ‘H’ DIVISION
The maximum security Division is ‘H’ Division or, to use the prison slang, the ‘Slot’. The ‘H’ stands for ‘Hell’. I have interviewed ex-’H’ prisoners who have informed me of the heinous sadistic crimes launched against them by the screws in ‘H’. I entered ‘H’ two days ago to collect some laundry. It would not be an exaggeration if I were to describe the effect ‘H’ had on me as ‘spine chilling’. The ‘Slot’ is a small building guarded at the front entrance by two huge brutal looking screws. The first thing I noticed on entering the front doors with my laundry trolley was a large mirror (used to observe anyone approaching) with a long horizontal crack in it. I later discovered that a prisoner had been thrown onto the mirror. The whole situation struck me as nightmare like and unreal. It was very macabre, like something out of Luna Park’s Chamber of Horrors, only extremely serious. The two screws reminded me of ‘heavies’ from a Boris Karloff movie. They abused me and attempted to humiliate me. Why? Simply because I dared enter the ‘Slot’ and leave with my trolley full of laundry. ‘H’ prisoners are put to work in the ‘Labour Yard’ where they spend hours each day breaking up rocks. They are marched around the yard with military discipline. Most of these men have been sent to ‘H’ for breaches of internal discipline. Many of those who have visited ‘H’ still have the signs to prove it: scars, broken noses, etc. Conditions are so bad that two ‘H’ prisoners have hung themselves during the past few years. Others cut their wrists or throat in order to be removed from ‘H’ and sent to hospital. One ‘H’ prisoner swallowed a 12 inch long metal towel rack. He was sent to hospital and the rack was removed by surgical operation. He was then returned to ‘H’ and promptly swallowed the metal towel rack once more.
‘H’ from what I can fathom, rightly deserves the title: ‘Hell’. You have probably heard about the infamous ‘Bash’, or at least seen the slogans painted on factory walls around North Melbourne, ‘Ban the Bash’. The ‘Bash’ has recently been abolished as a result of the prisoner’s rebellion and the government’s inquiry. I met one 26 year-old prisoner who had just been released from ‘H’ after 3 and a half years! Snowy white hair, badly injured eyes, and sickly yellow skin, this once dark haired, normal, healthy young Australian has been subjected to one of capitalism’s ‘rehabilitation’ programmes. He related to me his experiences in ‘H’ when the ‘Bash’ was a formal daily occurrence. The screws would order individual ‘H’ prisoners to jump into the air. When the prisoner landed after having jumped into the air, he would be told: ‘You were ordered to jump into the air, you were not told to land’ and promptly given a bashing. On other occasions prisoners in ‘H’ would be directed to march into cell walls and keep marching until badly bruised and bleeding. Others would be humiliated and forced to imitate animals.
All this in the name of ‘rehabilitation’!!
A few days ago a riot broke out in ‘H’. I saw the smoke, heard the screams, and saw the screws frantically running hither and thither. Again I recalled those wise and correct words, ‘Where there is repression there is resistance’.
THE PRISONERS AND THE SCREWS
Now I would like to give you my general impressions of my fellow prisoners and the screws.
My fellow prisoners are, generally speaking, courageous and kind-hearted men. Most have an instinctive hatred of the capitalist class. They are all political prisoners in the sense that their alleged crimes are socially induced. No murderer is born a murderer, no rapist born a rapist. The various types of social pressures exerted on decent working people by the corrupt and exploitative capitalist class force some people to resort to crime. But what do we mean by ‘crime’? Is the man who steals food (or money to buy food) for his family really a criminal? And what of the unemployed or unemployable, the so called ‘vagrant’? Ah, but, you will ask, what of the man who murdered and raped his sister? Surely, I reply, he needs help and pity, not sadist-based punishment. He should be, to coin the popular stereotyped expression, ‘rehabilitated’. But the notion of ‘rehabilitation’ is by no means a neutral concept. The fundamental question remains ‘rehabilitated’ to what sort of social system and to what sort of value system? The capitalist class can be so hypocritical! They maintain and profit from the social system based on exploitation in the form of private appropriation and the value system based on selfishness and yet they seek to ‘rehabilitate’ the convicted criminal to re-accept those very same social conditions and values which engender crime in the first place!!
This is the same capitalist class which gives out-and-out ‘Sanctity of Law’ to mass destruction of property and people in Indo-China and to the foreign plunder of Australia, yet send basically decent working people to the Pentridge concentration camp for alleged ‘crimes against private property’. Of course there are criminals and there are criminals. But getting to the root cause of the problem, the real criminals are the very same hypocrites who uphold the present penal system. I refer of course to the criminal capitalist class which, like a lowly parasitic thief, thrives off the labour of others.
Now let me comment on the screws, the prison police. Just as it is often claimed that there are ‘good’ as well as ‘bad’ police, so it is said there are the ‘good’ screws and the ‘bad’ screws. The role of the screws is really indefensible. They maintain ‘law-n-order’ within the concentration camp. Some do it with a smile, others don’t give a damn, others take great pride in their work. This latter type is the most prominent, active, and vocal within Pentridge. All the screws are armed with either batons, guns, or .303 rifles. The latter type of screw is sadistic and gains pleasure from humiliating the prisoners. They abuse and try to humiliate us. In ‘H’ Division for example, prisoners are forced to lie on their stomachs naked on their beds and hold the cheeks of their back-sides wide apart for the screws to examine. In ‘A’ Division, one cold frosty morning I was ordered by a clenched fisted screw to ‘Get you f…… hands out of your f…… pockets’. (They are very foul-mouthed creatures.) However, in trying so desperately to humiliate others, they really only humiliate themselves.
The screws and prison authorities fear the prisoners’ rebellion. Like all reactionaries they are superficially strong but essentially weak. Like the vast majority of prisoners I hate the screws and prison authorities with an intense class hatred.
The day is not far off when justice will be dealt to the screws, the prison authorities, and the entire ruling class!
Barry, Brian and Fergus outside Pentridge in 2012
Pentridge Prison’s history of horror
THE crumbling prison walls of Pentridge will soon take on a new role and it couldn’t be further from it’s bloody past.
CRIMINALS could probably hear the faint torturous screams of their inmates echoing through cold, crumbling prison walls as they were hung among the cells.
Pentridge Prison, which closed in 1997, housed some of Victoria’s most notorious criminals, including Melbourne underworld figure Carl Williams and members of the Kelly Gang.
But now the prison’s D Division, the execution wing and the place many sadistic criminals took their last breaths, will be turned into a new dining hotspot.
The dining precinct is part of developer, Future Estate’s $1 billion ‘Coburg Quarter’ project and some of the site’s key heritage features such as laundry machinery and solitary confinement cells will be restored and showcased as a feature within the venue.
The restaurant, bar, brewery and laneway precinct should be complete in October and will have an ambience that couldn’t be further from chained prisoners and bloody brutality.
Graeme Alford, a former Pentridge inmate, told the Herald Sun it wasn’t an area for the faint-hearted.
“The first couple of weeks I was in Pentridge were really unnerving,” he said.
“D Division wasn’t a great place because people were on remand, so they hadn’t been sentenced, and you had a lot of people who couldn’t handle it.”
“At night you would often hear guys yelling and screaming, maybe withdrawing from drugs or whatever,” the former embezzler and armed robber said.
When parts of Pentridge were turned into luxury apartments just over a decade ago, it was feared the history would be demolished along with some of the bluestone walls.
The D Division, in the heritage-listed jail, was a place where Ronald Ryan and Mark ‘Chopper’ Read served parts of their sentences.
Ryan was found guilty of murdering prison guard George Hodson and was the last person to be legally executed in Australia in 1967.
He became a notorious criminal after he planned a great escape from the prison when he discovered his wife was seeking a divorce.
In December 1965, Ryan and a fellow prisoner, Peter Walker, scaled a 5m wall with help from two wooden benches, a blanket and a hook.
They were then caught by prison warder Helmut Lange but the pair overpowered him, stuck a rifle into his back and demanded he open the prison gate.
While on the run the prisoners robbed a bank in Ormond.
They were recaptured 19 days after escaping, when police received a tip-off about their whereabouts.
In the hours before Ryan was executed, he scribed a noted on some toilet roll, one to authorities protesting his innocence and one to his daughter saying his conscience was clear.
Pentridge Prison walls also smothered Gregory John “Bluey” Brazel, described as one of the prison’s most vicious and manipulative inmates.
He is serving three life sentences for murdering prostitutes Sharon Taylor and Roslyn Hayward 26 years ago and gift store owner Mildred Hanmer in 1982.
He will be eligible for parole in just four years time.
The cruel crim also conned an old lady into depositing $30,000 into a TAB telephone betting account, stabbed three prisoners and assaulted police and prison officers.
Prisoners were kept in their cells 23 hours a day and the Herald Sun reported the shocking tales of former chaplain Peter Norden.
“One of the first experiences I had when I visited in 1976 was meeting a 17-year-old who had been raped the night before in one of the dormitories. Now that was a very significant experience, a shocking experience, for me,” he said.
“In many ways the chaplain was the only person in the place that could be trusted because the prisoners did not trust one another, they didn’t trust staff and they didn’t trust those employed by the prison service because everything would be used against them.”
Pentridge Prison is one of the most haunted in Australia, with the “ghost” of Chopper Read said to be lurking in the prison shadows.
During a 2014 ghost tour, a group of Pentridge Prison visitors claimed they heard the voice of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read tormenting them.
Read was depraved, beyond robbing drug dealers and tormenting underworld figures, he also convinced a fellow inmate to cut off both his ears to help Read escape the H Division, which protected high security prisoners and disciplined them.
It is also believed the brutal crim used bolt cutters and blowtorches to amputate the toes of his victims.
He died from liver cancer in a Melbourne hospital just three years ago.
Jeremy Kewley, who has led ghost tours throughout the prison, told the Today showthere was a loud bellow coming from Read’s cell in the D Division.
“We had a group of lawyers on the tour and suddenly from the dark end of the cell we heard an incredibly loud and aggressive voice yell ‘get out’,” Mr Kewley said.
“It echoed through the entire building and we just sort of froze, it was just such a shock to me.”
Some of the lawyers on the tour smirked and Mr Kewley had to assure them it had never happened before and they weren’t being conned.
They even called police and security to search the D Division, where 11 prisoners were hanged.
“It’s a sad and scary place,” he said.
Pentridge: Infamous prison’s ‘extreme’ transformation into luxury village
Its towering bluestone walls have housed some of Australia’s most notorious criminals, but now the infamous Pentridge Prison is shedding its image of convicts and cutthroats in favour of cafes and cinemas.
After being decommissioned in 1997, and trading hands between private developers for more than a decade, the sprawling grounds, guard towers and cell blocks of Pentridge Prison are now being turned into a luxury development.
The site will include apartments, boutique shops, cafes and a 15-screen cinema in what developers say will be a “well-designed urban village that invigorates an important historical asset.”
So is this a necessary modernisation, or papering over our history in search of a dollar?
‘Where the bad people go’
Author and photographer Rupert Mann has spent years documenting the site and interviewing former prisoners and staff who called the prison home.
Mann has compiled his findings in a new book, Pentridge: Voices From The Other Side, and said like many Australians, his fascination with the place began at an early age.
“I remember Pentridge when I was much younger, maybe six years old, going past the walls with my father and asking him ‘What’s that place?’,” he told News Breakfast.
“He told me, ‘That’s where the bad people go.’ I kind of had this fascination from then with Pentridge.”
The name alone is part of Australia’s folklore and the infamy is well deserved.
Between 1850 and 1997 it bore witness to scenes of great violence and depravity, including the last legal execution in Australia, held in 1967. And it housed the likes of Ned Kelly and Chopper Read.
As Mann notes in his book, there were 75 deaths at the prison between 1973 and 1997 — of which only 13 were by natural causes.
And when the Jesuit social services opened it up for public tours only a few months after the last prisoners departed, they had to invest $100,000 to bring it in line with basic health and safety standards.
Back in 1978 former governor Bob Gill made headlines when he remarked to a journalist that the facilities were so bad “if I put my dogs in conditions like this, I’m sure I’d be reported to the RSPCA.”
Mr Gill is one of 15 people to offer their account of Pentridge in Mann’s book, saying some “bloody crazy crap” went on there.
“Morale in that bloody place was at rock bottom. It had an effect on the staff, working in there,” he said.
Indigenous actor Jack Charles also offers his story, detailing how he spent time in and out of jail in his younger days, including arriving at Pentridge about the age of 18
“I saw really nasty things. Pentridge was a violent place,” he said.
“I remember thinking sometimes that the screws (guards) could come in to your cell at any time and kill you … It was a young man’s paranoia, I suppose.”
‘Don’t sweep history under the carpet’
Mann doesn’t romanticise the stories of Pentridge Prison, but he does seek to preserve them.
He worries the redevelopment will disconnect Australians from the past and the lessons it can teach us.
“By physically demolishing the more recent layers of the prison, a chasm is placed between us and the events that happened there,” Mann wrote.
He hopes his book can bridge that chasm.
The Shayher Group bought the land in 2013 and is in the process of developing it.
Public events are already held at the site — both cultural and historical — and this week a guest criminologist will give a talk on the way crime has changed over the years.
Mann said more than half of the former prison inmates and staff he approached didn’t feel comfortable talking or revisiting the site, and many had mixed feelings about the development.
History of Pentridge Prison
Pentridge was built in 1850 in Coburg in Melbourne’s north
H-Division was for high security, discipline and protection of prisoners
Jika Jika or K-Division housed the maximum-security-risk inmates
Ned Kelly, Julian Knight, Chopper Read and Squizzy Taylor all served time there
Ronald Ryan, the last man executed in Australia, was hanged at Pentridge
It closed in 1997
“Many people said raze the place, demolish it, make it into a park, and forget it,” he said.
“But many people do feel that the development is too extreme and too much has been lost at Pentridge and it really can’t tell its story any more, not in the way it could when I did the book.
“I think that’s why a lot of people, a lot of these guys got into the book because they could see that their personal history, their personal story that they lived was being swept under the carpet in order to make the place palatable and sellable.”
Blending the old with the new
“What we’ve realised over the years is that this site needs to be activated in terms of the public,” spokesman Anthony Goh said.
“We’re really trying to create an open space where you can come have lunch, dinner, breakfast as well.
“It’s a place where you come and meet people [and] go to the fancy Palace Cinemas.
“The majority is supporting us and unfortunately the majority, when they support something, don’t say that much.”
It’s estimated the redevelopment will cost about $1 billion and take up to 10 years to complete.
Heritage Victoria guidelines mean Shayher Group must preserve the exterior of certain buildings of significance, but the developers have plans to repurpose the insides.
This could mean turning cell blocks into an art gallery, or turning four small cells into one large hotel room.
“There’s a line of thought which says that in preserving heritage, ok preserve what is old, but then we need to offset it with the new,” Mr Goh said.
“We’re trying to get the message across that we’re not destroying heritage here. Everything has gone through Heritage Victoria.
“And secondly, there is some balance here in making the site economic in order for it to go forward by itself in the future.”
The 1911 factory blaze shocked the nation and spurred new regulations to protect factory workers.
Young women became trapped by tables, bulky equipment and doors that locked or opened the wrong way as flames enveloped the eighth, ninth and 10th floors of the Asch Building in New York City’s Greenwich Village on March 25, 1911. As people struggled to escape, several fell into the flames, their bodies piling by blocked exits. Others leapt—in twos and threes—out the burning building’s high windows.
The March 25, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was one of the deadliest workplace catastrophes in U.S. history, claiming the lives of 146 workers, most of them women immigrants in their teens and twenties. The fire was so horrific it shocked the conscience of New Yorkers and others across the nation and, ultimately, led to changes in safety regulations and more diligent efforts to enforce them.
Deplorable Working Conditions
The fire, says Paul F. Cole, director of the American Labor Studies Center, “awakened a nation to the dangerous and deplorable conditions that many workers faced on a daily basis.”
The disaster’s causes were complex. In the early 1890s, immigrants from Italy and eastern Europe came to the United States in search of a better life, but instead often found themselves in places such as the Triangle Waist Company, where they worked 12-and-a-half-hour days for $6 a week, according to an AFL-CIO history of the fire. They had to supply their own needles, thread, irons and sometimes, even their own sewing machines.
Working conditions were so bad that the women didn’t even have access to a bathroom in the building, and doors were locked so that they couldn’t go outside and slow down production. And though the place was filled with highly flammable materials, there was little attention paid to fire prevention.
Discontent over wages and working conditions at Triangle and the city’s other garment factories led tens of thousands of workers to strike in 1909, seeking concessions such as a 20 percent pay hike and a 52-hour week, as well as safer working conditions. Most of the factory owners quickly settled, but Triangle’s owners resisted the demands. When the strike ended in February 1910, workers went back to their jobs without a union agreement, according to the AFL-CIO history.
“Triangle was the most hostile of the owners to the union,” explains Richard Greenwald, historian and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University and author of a 2011 book, The Triangle Fire, Protocols Of Peace And Industrial Democracy In Progressive Era New York. “They moved production out of NYC in 1909 to avoid the strike, hired thugs to beat writers and most likely bribed the police to arrest strikers.”
Triangle Factory’s Fire Safety: Empty Water Buckets
On the afternoon of March 25, a Saturday, 500 people were working in Triangle’s factory, which occupied three floors in a building that had been built just 10 years before. Court testimony later placed the blame for the blaze on a fire that started in a fabric scrap bin on the eighth floor, which probably was ignited by a discarded cigarette, shortly before the factory’s 4 pm closing time.
Triangle had water buckets in place for extinguishing fires, a common practice in garment factories at the time. But as one worker, Mary Domsky-Abrams, later recalled in an early 1960s interview with author Leon Stein, the buckets were empty. “On that particular morning, the day of the tragedy, I remarked to my colleagues that the buckets were empty, and that if anything were to happen, they would be of no use,” she said.
Another worker, Cecilia Walker Friedman, who worked on the ninth floor, said that she was ready to leave work when she looked to the window and saw flames. Everyone around her started to scream and holler, but many were hindered in getting away. “The girls at the machines began to climb up on the machine tables, maybe because it was that they were frightened or maybe they thought they could run to the elevator doors on top of the machines,” Friedman said. “The aisles were narrow and blocked by the chairs and baskets. They began to fall in the fire.
Firefighters eventually found a six-foot-high pile of bodies jammed up against a door to the back stairway, according to the New York Tribune.
Friedman herself somehow made it to the elevator, only to watch as the elevator car went down the shaft, leaving the door open. Desperate, she wrapped a decorative muff around her hands, leaped into the shaft and grabbed the elevator cable, sliding all the way to the bottom. The impact broke her arm and finger, and she suffered a head injury and a burn that stretched the length of her body. But she survived.
Others weren’t so lucky. The fire escape bent under the weight of workers trying to flee. Some workers waited at the windows for help, only to watch in dismay as firefighters’ too-short ladders couldn’t reach them. Faced with being burned alive, some workers chose to leap—sometimes in twos and threes—to their deaths, according to a 2011 New York Times retrospective. The fire didn’t destroy the building itself, and by sunset, police and firemen were laying out bodies on the sidewalk.
New Yorkers Demand Reform
A week after the fire, New Yorkers packed an emergency meeting at the Metropolitan Opera House to call for action on fire safety. A few days later, an estimated 350,000 people joined in a massive funeral procession for the fire’s victims.
The factory’s owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, were put on trial for manslaughter, but were found not guilty in a trial that December, after the judge gave jury instructions that made it difficult to convict them. As journalist David Von Drehle, author of a book on the fire, notes in a 2018 essay, the pair had to be escorted out a side door of the courthouse to avoid an angry crowd. To settle lawsuits against them, they eventually paid $75 in compensation to each victim’s family—a fraction of the $400 per death that they were paid by their insurer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
While the factory had hazardous conditions inside, some of the blame also fell on New York City government, which hadn’t done much to ensure safe workplaces and wasn’t prepared for such a fire. “There was no clear city agency responsibility to insure the safety of workers and factories,” Greenwald says. “No one was responsible for building safety. There were no clear regulations for fire safety and no modern fire equipment.”
With public outrage growing, New York state legislators enacted a law creating the Factory Investigating Commission, a watchdog agency with sweeping powers to probe labor conditions throughout the state. Over the next two years, it would investigate thousands of workplaces—not just garment factories, but to meat-packing and chemical plants as well.
“The FIC was led by the Tammany Hall machine leaders, so the reforms that were suggested found their way into laws,” Greenwald says. “There were over 20 laws passed which changed fire safety, building safety, charged the state with worker safety.”
Reform Agenda Empowers FDR’s New Deal
Additionally, the fire helped unite organized labor and various reform-minded politicians, including progressive New York Governor Alfred E. Smith and Senator Robert F. Wagner, one of the legislative architects of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda. Frances Perkins, who served on a committee that helped to set up the FIC, would later become Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor. “In a clear way, one can argue that the fire led to the New Deal,” Greenwald says. “Perkins said so herself in her oral history.”
On a larger scale, the Triangle fire convinced the nation that the government had a responsibility to ensure workers had a safe place to do their jobs.
What is a Shirtwaist?
A button-down blouse, the functional shirtwaist was valued for its ready-to-wear, workplace appeal and its simple design, originally modeled on menswear shirts. It could be worn jacketless and fashionably tucked into the waistband of a skirt, and it was sold as both an individual piece and as an ensemble. By the early 20th century, designers added lace and frills to embellish the iconic blouse, which was already available in every color. Articles in Vogue magazine and advertisements showed various enhancements, including elaborate details and stitching to the collars, wrist cuffs, and bodies that elevated the simple blouse to haute mode. An article written for the Pittsburgh Press on September 16, 1906, stated, “A very fashionable woman with a half a hundred waists boasts that there are no two alike.”
At the turn of the 20th century, production of the shirtwaist was a competitive industry. Although sold across the country, the majority of shirtwaist blouses were created in Philadelphia and New York City. In Manhattan alone, there were over 450 textile factories, employing approximately 40,000 garment workers, many of them immigrants. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located in the top floors of the Asch building in Greenwich Village, was one of many shirtwaist factories operating in Manhattan at the time. This boom in industry helped solidify New York’s status as an industrial center and provided jobs to the thousands of immigrants that arrived daily at Ellis Island.
The shirtwaist, however, came to represent more than a momentary fashion trend; the blouse was a symbol of newfound female independence in a time of progressive ideas. With their own jobs and wages, women were no longer dependent on men and sought new privileges at home and at work. The figure of the working woman, wearing the shirtwaist blouse and freed from domestic duties, was an iconic image for the women’s rights movement.
Before the pink triangle became a worldwide symbol of gay power and pride, it was intended as a badge of shame. In Nazi Germany, a downward-pointing pink triangle was sewn onto the shirts of gay men in concentration camps—to identify and further dehumanize them. It wasn’t until the 1970s that activists would reclaim the symbol as one of liberation.
Homosexuality was technically made illegal in Germany in 1871, but it was rarely enforced until the Nazi Party took power in 1933. As part of their mission to racially and culturally “purify” Germany, the Nazis arrested thousands of LGBT individuals, mostly gay men, whom they viewed as degenerate.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates 100,000 gay men were arrested and between 5,000 and 15,000 were placed in concentration camps. Just as Jews were forced to identify themselves with yellow stars, gay men in concentration camps had to wear a large pink triangle. (Brown triangles were used for Romani people, red for political prisoners, green for criminals, blue for immigrants, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses and black for “asocial” people, including prostitutes and lesbians.)
At the camps, gay men were treated especially harshly, by guards and fellow prisoners alike. “There was no solidarity for the homosexual prisoners; they belonged to the lowest caste,” Pierre Seel, a gay Holocaust survivor, wrote in his memoir I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror.
An estimated 65 percent of gay men in concentration camps died between 1933 and 1945. Even after World War II, both East and West Germany upheld the country’s anti-gay law, and many gays remained incarcerated until the early 1970s. (The law was not officially repealed until 1994.)
The early 1970s was also when the gay rights movement began to emerge in Germany. In 1972, The Men with the Pink Triangle, the first autobiography of a gay concentration camp survivor, was published. The next year, post-war Germany’s first gay rights organization, Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (HAW), reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol of liberation.
“At its core, the pink triangle represented a piece of our German history that still needed to be dealt with,” Peter Hedenström, one of HAW’s founding members said in 2014.
Afterwards, it began cropping up in other LGBT circles around the world. In 1986, six New York City activists created a poster with the words SILENCE = DEATH and a bright pink upward-facing triangle, meant to call attention to the AIDs crisis that was decimating populations of gay men across the country. The poster was soon adopted by the organization ACT UP and became a lasting symbol of the AIDS advocacy movement.
The triangle continues to figure prominently in imaging for various LGBT organizations and events. Since the 1990s, signs bearing a pink triangle enclosed in a green circle have been used as a symbol identifying “safe spaces” for queer people. There are pink triangle memorials in San Francisco and Sydney, which honor LGBT victims of the Holocaust. In 2018, for Pride Month, Nike released a collection of shoes featuring pink triangles.
Although the pink triangle has been reclaimed as an empowering symbol, it is ultimately a reminder to never forget the past—and to recognize the persecution LGBT people still face around the world.
THE BLAZE IN SEPTEMBER 1666 RAGED FOR DAYS AND DESTROYED FOUR-FIFTHS OF THE CAPITAL, LEAVING BRITAIN’S TRADE, GOVERNMENT AND PROSPERITY IN RUINS
When, early on 2 September 1666, the famous diarist Samuel Pepys heard of a fire in the City of London that had already destroyed 300 houses, he hired a boat to view the scene from the Thames. To his horror he noted: “Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs … to another.”
The dramatic conflagration wasn’t the first – nor last – to strike the capital, but the Great Fire of London was one of the most devastating events in the city’s history. Raging from 1am on Sunday 2 September to dawn on Thursday 6 September, it resulted in four-fifths of the City being destroyed, including 13,200 houses and 87 churches. Miraculously, there were only six officially recorded deaths, but the very hub of Britain’s trade, government and prosperity stood in ruins.
Pudding Lane bakery
Seventeenth-century London was a turbulent place: the Great Plague had decimated a third of its population in 1665, while frictions between Protestants and Catholics, as well as England’s recent wars with France and the Netherlands, made its citizens nervous. In the event it was a spark in Thomas Farriner’s bakery in Pudding Lane that kindled the disaster. It’s thought his oven was not fully extinguished overnight and in the early hours wood beside it caught fire. While the baker and his family escaped, their unfortunate maid perished.
The fire could hardly have started in a more dangerous place, close to the river’s warehouses and shops packed with combustibles such as coal, timber, oil and alcohol. It had been a long, dry summer and, with a strong easterly wind fanning the flames, the City’s mainly timber-framed buildings were easily lit, their overhanging jetties and the crowded nature of the narrow streets inviting fire to spread. Yet the Lord Mayor Thomas Bludworth, called to the scene at 4am, dismissed the threat posed by the fire and returned to bed, saying: “A woman might piss it out.”
When Pepys conveyed the order to Bludworth in Cannon Street at noon, the Lord Mayor had changed his earlier tune. “To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman, ‘Lord, what can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses, but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it.’”
With no organised fire brigade in London in 1666, people were reliant on buckets and ladders, fire hooks to pull down buildings, and hand-pumped machines to squirt water. The fire rampaged down Fish Street Hill, onto London Bridge, along the Thames and north of Thames Street, destroying warehouses, St Magnus the Martyr Church and Fishmongers’ Hall, the first of dozens of livery company halls to be ruined. Terrified by such large-scale calamity, people began to fear a French or Dutch attack, and armed mobs hunted for foreign or Catholic arsonists. Militia were called in to control the crowds.
Over five days the conflagration spread across 436 acres, ripping through Lombard Street, Cornhill and the Royal Exchange, also Threadneedle Street, Baynard’s Castle, Cheapside, the Sessions House in the Old Bailey, Ludgate and Newgate Gaol (from which prisoners escaped), Temple and Fleet Street. When the fire reached within 300 yards of the Tower of London, all available resources rushed to the scene.
St Paul’s Cathedral, in wooden scaffolding awaiting restoration, was not so lucky; its roof collapsed and thousands of books stored in the crypt fuelled the inferno.
There are tales of heroism: a seaman and a soldier climbed onto the roof of Middle Temple Hall to beat out flames. And tragedy: an 80-year-old watchmaker refused to leave his home in Shoe Lane and it fell on him. But mainly people fled to the fields outside the City; the court packed its bags; even Pepys, hearing the fire was approaching Barking Church near his home, buried his wine and Parmesan cheese in the garden for safekeeping and temporarily absented himself.
During the fire, King Charles rode around the City distributing money to encourage fire-fighting efforts and he ordered supplies to be brought for the homeless thousands camped in the fields. His brother, James Duke of York, took command of operations from the second day and set up posts manned by civilians and soldiers to tackle the fires. From the third day, gunpowder was used to demolish houses more quickly than pulling them down and by that evening the wind had also dropped. The fire fighters gradually gained control.
Diarist John Evelyn records wandering through the eerie aftermath of the disaster, burning the soles of his shoes on smouldering ground and losing his way in the “dismal desert”. The next month an official day of fasting was held and £12,794 collected from across the country to provide aid to London’s newly destitute; many would move away.
Much post-fire architecture has since vanished, but gems can still be found like the home (now museum) of the dictionary-compiler Dr Johnson in Gough Square. Visit, too, the Monument (junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill) constructed by Wren and Robert Hooke. Completed in 1677, the column is 61 metres tall – the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire started – and 311 steps lead to a viewing platform offering superb vistas.
The most famous legacies of the rebuilding are Wren’s churches and his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral. Twenty-nine of the 51 churches he designed still stand, remarkable for their striking array of steeples and spires: from the baroque of St Vedast to the Gothic of
St Dunstan-in-the-East, the slender spire of St Martin-within-Ludgate and the ‘wedding cake’ tiers of St Bride.
The ‘tabula rasa’ left by the Great Fire of London may not have been filled by a model renaissance city as proposed by visionaries like Wren, but it inspired some genuine treasures and made the capital an altogether safer city for generations to come.
The Untold Story of the Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London started accidentally in a bakery, right? That wasn’t the view at the time – many believed it was a terrorist attack and violent reprisals against possible suspects soon followed.
The date 1666 is one burned on to the collective memory of a nation.
Everyone learns at school that the fire raging for four days in that hot, dry summer began in a bakery in Pudding Lane.
But a new Channel 4 documentary focuses on the lesser known story of the fire – it sparked a violent backlash against London’s immigrant population, prompted by the widely-held belief at the time that it was an act of arson committed by a foreign power.
In the days and weeks following the fire, ordinary Londoners – many of whom were displaced and homeless – gave evidence to a parliamentary inquiry swiftly launched to find out what happened.
GREAT FIRE IN NUMBERS…
Destroyed 373 acres of the City
13,200 houses, 84 churches and 44 company halls burned down
Raged from Sunday 2 Sept to Thursday 6 Sept
Fewer than 10 people thought to have died, although some perished in refugee camps
Rebuilding killed more than fire
All those witness statements can be found in the inquiry’s report, a 50-page document held in the capital’s Guildhall.
It suggests the city on the eve of the fire was one fraught with anxiety and paranoia, says Sue Horth, the documentary’s executive producer, and the finger of blame was pointed at two countries with which England was at war, Netherlands and France.
“We teach people about Pudding Lane and the hot summer but we don’t say that weeks before the Great Fire, the British Navy sailed into the city of West Terschelling in the Netherlands and set fire to it in an act of diplomatic piracy.
… AND IN QUOTES
‘Among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loth to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies, till they some of them burned their wings and fell down’
Samuel Pepys, 2 Sept 1666
‘God grant mine eyes may never behold the like, who now saw above 10,000 houses all in one flame; the noise and cracking and thunder of people, the fall of towers, houses, and churches, was like an hideous storm, and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at last one was not able to approach it’
John Evelyn, 2 Sept 1666
“London was expecting an act of reprisal against the city. It was expecting something bad to happen, not because it was superstitious or frightened, but because the government had done something bad. So when the fire happened, it was a natural and quite sensible suspicion for the people of London to have.”
As the fire raged, and rumours spread that the French had invaded, angry mobs hunted anyone who appeared to be foreign, says Ms Horth. A Swedish diplomat was lynched. A French woman trying to escape to a refugee camp in Spitalfields had her breast cut off because people thought the baby chicks she carried in her apron were fireballs.
“London was a city turned to constant night, with the ash cloud and smoke, and the sun couldn’t penetrate, so it was a frightening place to be. Thousands of buildings were razed. People either tried to escape or they fought the fire or they tried to find those responsible.”
This violence is the untold story of the fire, says Adrian Tinniswood, author of By Permission of Heaven: The True Story of the Great Fire of London.
Most people thought it was an attack by the Dutch, because of the recent atrocity by the Royal Navy under Admiral Robert Holmes.
“There was cheering in the streets of London when that happened, so when the fire started, people thought it was the Dutch getting their own back.
“In fact, the fire was caused by a gale blowing across London for four days. It hit London in the early hours of Sunday morning, just as [Thomas] Farriner’s bakery goes up in flames. The gale blew embers and bits of straw across the city and fires broke out all over the place, so people said: ‘This isn’t a fire spreading, it has to be arson’.”
On the fourth day, when the fire was finally quelled, King Charles II, the newly restored monarch after years of civil war, tried to calm matters by going to a new camp of 100,000 homeless, and declaring the fire was an act of God.
The king took a very enlightened view and always believed it was an accident, says Mr Tinniswood. His brother, James, Duke of York, went even further. He rode into the city with his bodyguards and rescued people from the mob, some of whom were in the very act of being hanged on street corners.
The hunt for a foreign scapegoat continued, until one volunteered for the role. At the end of September, the parliamentary committee was appointed to investigate the fire, and a French Protestant watchmaker, Robert Hubert, confessed to having deliberately started the fire at the bakery with 23 conspirators.
Although his confession seemed to change and flounder under scrutiny, he was tried and hanged. Afterwards, colleagues told the inquiry Hubert had been at sea with them at the time, and the inquiry concluded the fire had indeed been an accident. No-one knows why he confessed.
Until the 19th Century, the plaque at London’s Monument stated that followers of the Pope were to blame, says Ms Horth, and named Hubert as the fire-starter. It was only after Catholic emancipation in the 19th Century that the government decided the plaque was inflammatory and had those inscriptions removed.
“This story [about it being an accident] is not necessarily the most helpful for us all to believe,” Ms Horth says. “The truth is that we will never know how it began. We now believe it was an accident but 350 years ago certain people thought differently. There are many perspectives to events and it’s up to us to understand them all.”
It’s natural the version of events told to youngsters should airbrush the gruesome details, says Meriel Jeater, curator at the Museum of London.
“The traditional view taught in schools is that it all happened as a happily-ever-after sort of story. It was a terrible disaster, but not many people died, we rebuilt the city in brick so it was fireproof, and isn’t St Paul’s pretty?
“But the more you investigate, you realise it wasn’t all like that. The dark side was that the fire burst on to the surface religious tension and paranoia about national security.”
It’s a tale with echoes today, says Ms Jeater. “When I was curating the exhibition, it wasn’t long after the 7/7 bombings and when I was reading about the reactions against Catholics and the Dutch, it struck me that there were a lot of similarities with the backlash against Muslim people after the bombing. A lot of suspicion about people living in London.
“It’s different people and different events, but I think human nature is very similar.”
3 Myths About The Great Fire Of London You Probably Believe
The Great Fire of London is a very well-known disaster, and has been researched and written about extensively ever since 1666. However, there are still some enduring myths and misconceptions that the Museum of London’s Fire! Fire! exhibition (May 2016 – April 2017) aimed to tackle.
Myth #1: The Great Fire stopped the Great Plague
This is the myth that I hear people talking about most often. They may have read it in a children’s book or heard it at school. The idea is that there was a silver lining to the tragedy of the fire, as it ended the great plague that swept the city from 1665-66. This was the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague in London, and killed 100,000 Londoners- about 20% of the city’s population. The fire is supposed to have wiped out London’s rats and fleas that spread the plague and burned down the insanitary houses which were a breeding ground for the disease. If anyone asks you about this, you can tell them that it’s not true. Here’s why:
▪ The Great Fire only burnt about a quarter of the urban metropolis so it could not have purged the plague from the whole city.
▪ Though the outside walls of houses rebuilt after the fire had to be built from brick, there were no major improvements to hygiene and sanitation afterwards.
▪ Many of the areas that were worst affected by the plague, such as Whitechapel, Clerkenwell and Southwark, were not destroyed by the fire.
▪ The numbers of people dying from plague were already in decline from the winter of 1665 onwards.
▪ People continued to die from plague in London after the Great Fire was over.
This myth seems to have grown up because the two catastrophes were so close together and because the Great Plague of 1665-66 was the last major outbreak of the disease in this country. We are still not sure why the plague did not return to our shores after it faded out in the 1670s but it wasn’t due to London’s 1666 fire.
Myth #2: The Great Fire spread due to the thatched roofs of London’s houses
In fact, thatch had been banned within the City of London by building regulations dating back to 1189. These rules were reinforced after a terrible fire in 1212 when an estimated 3000 people died. Shortly after this fire, the City authorities ruled that all new houses had to be roofed with tiles, shingles or boards. Any existing roofs with thatch had to be plastered. The medieval regulations appear to have been successful in preventing large-scale fires. John Stow, in his 1598 Survey of London said ‘since which time [referring to introduction of the rules], thanks be given to God, there hath not happened the like often consuming fires in this city as afore.’
By 1666, the vast majority of houses in the City would have been tiled. Even if there were a small number of thatched buildings lurking in the densely-packed streets, they were not in significant numbers to be noted as a cause of the Great Fire by 17th-century authors. The London Gazette and Rege Sincera’s Observations both Historical and Moral upon the Burning of London both mention timber buildings as a problem but not thatch. Sincera wrote about ‘ the weakness of the buildings, which were almost all of wood, which by age was grown as dry as a chip’. The London Gazette’s reporting of the disaster says it began ‘in a quarter of Town so close built with wooden pitched houses’.
How many people died during the Great Fire?
We don’t know for sure. Amazingly, fewer than ten deaths were recorded. One of the people killed was 80-year-old watchmaker Paul Lowell. He refused to leave his house on Shoe Lane even though his son & friends begged him to go. His bones & keys were found in the ruins.
Myth #3: London was rebuilt in brick & stone thanks to the Great Fire
While it is true that the February 1667 Rebuilding Act stated that ‘all the outsides of all Buildings in and about the said Citty be henceforth made of Bricke or Stone’ there were many brick buildings in London beforehand. In fact, records show that there were even brick houses on Pudding Lane, that notorious street where the fire began, before 1666.
Royal proclamations dating back over 60 years demanded that new buildings be built from brick. In March 1605 James I said that no one was to build a new house in London unless it was made from brick or stone because he wanted to reserve the country’s timber for the navy’s ships. Uptake was slow, however, and later proclamations repeated this demand several times, such as in October 1607, when King James stated that new brick or stone buildings would ‘both adorne and beautifie his said City, and be lesse subject to danger of fire’.
As these rules only applied to new houses, and appear to have only been sporadically obeyed, the Great Fire became the opportunity to enforce, re-state and refine existing rules. The disaster affected such a large area that thousands of brick houses had to be built to replace those that had been destroyed. This has left us with a false impression that the fire introduced brick to London.
The Great Fire of London Was Blamed on Religious Terrorism
Why scores of Londoners thought the fire of 1666 was all part of a nefarious Catholic conspiracy
The rumors spread faster than the blaze that engulfed London over five days in September 1666: that the fire raging through the city’s dense heart was no accident – it was deliberate arson, an act of terror, the start of a battle. England was at war with both the Dutch and the French, after all. The fire was a “softening” of the city ahead of an invasion, or they were already here, whoever “they” were. Or maybe it was the Catholics, who’d long plotted the downfall of the Protestant nation.
Londoners responded in kind.
Before the flames were out, a Dutch baker was dragged from his bakery while an angry mob tore it apart. A Swedish diplomat was nearly hung, saved only by the Duke of York who happened to see him and demand he be let down. A blacksmith “felled” a Frenchman in the street with a vicious blow with an iron bar; a witness recalled seeing his “innocent blood flowing in a plentiful stream down his ankles”. A French woman’s breasts were cut off by Londoners who thought the chicks she carried in her apron were incendiaries. Another Frenchman was nearly dismembered by a mob that thought that he was carrying a chest of bombs; the bombs were tennis balls.
“The need to blame somebody was very, very strong,” attests Adrian Tinniswood, author of By Permission of Heaven: The Story of the Great Fire. The Londoners felt that “It can’t have been an accident, it can’t be God visiting this upon us, especially after the plague, this has to be an act of war.”
As far as we know, it wasn’t. The fire started in the early hours of the morning of September 2 on Pudding Lane in the bakery of Thomas Farriner. Pudding Lane was (and still is) located in the centre of the City of London, the medieval city of around one square mile ringed by ancient Roman walls and gates and rivers now covered and forgotten. Greater London built up around these walls in the years after the Romans left in the 4th century, sprawling out in all directions, but the City of London remained (and still remains) its own entity, with its own elected Mayor and home to around 80,000 people in 1666. That number would have been higher, but the Black Plague had killed roughly 15 percent of the entire city’s population the previous year.
Farriner was a maker of hard tack, the dry but durable biscuits that fed the King’s Navy; he’d closed for business on Saturday, September 1, at around 8 or 9 that night, extinguishing the fire in his oven. His daughter, Hanna, then 23, checked the kitchen at around midnight, making sure the oven was cold, then headed to bed. An hour later, the ground floor of the building was filled with smoke. The Farriners’ manservant, Teagh, raised the alarm, climbing to the upper floors where Thomas, Hanna, and their maid slept. Thomas, Hanna, and Teagh squeezed out of a window and scrambled along the gutter to a neighbor’s window. The maid, whose name remains unknown, did not and was the first to die in the fire.
At first, few were overly concerned about the fire. London was a cramped, overcrowded city lighted by candles and fireplaces. Buildings were largely made of wood; fires were common. The last major fire was in 1633, destroying 42 buildings at the northern end of London Bridge and 80 on Thames Street, but there were smaller fires all the time. The City of London’s Lord Mayor at the time, Sir Thomas Bloodworth, will ever be remembered as the man who declared that the 1666 fire was so small, “a woman might piss it out”. But Bloodworth, described by diarist Samuel Pepys as a “silly man”, wasn’t the only one to underestimate the fire: Pepys himself was woken at 3 that morning by his maid, but when he saw that the fire still seemed to be on the next street over, went back to sleep until 7. The London Gazette, the city’s twice-weekly newspaper, ran a small item about the fire in its Monday edition, among gossip about the Prince of Saxe’s unconsummated marriage to the Princess of Denmark and news of a storm in the English Channel.
A second report on the fire that week, however, was not forthcoming. Within hours of printing Monday’s paper, the Gazette’s press burned to the ground. By the time the newspaper had hit the streets, Londoners were very much aware that the fire that the Gazette reported “continues still with great violence” had yet to abate.
Several factors contributed to the fire’s slow but unstoppable spread: Many of the residents of Pudding Lane were asleep when the fire began and slow to react, not that they could have done much beyond throw buckets of whatever liquid – beer, milk, urine, water – was on hand. A hot summer had left London parched, its timber and plaster buildings like well-dried kindling. These buildings were so close together that people on opposite sides of the narrow, filthy streets could reach out their windows and shake hands. And because London was the manufacturing and trade engine of England, these buildings were also packed with flammable goods – rope, pitch, flour, brandy and wool.
But by Monday evening, Londoners began to suspect that this fire was no accident. The fire itself was behaving suspiciously; it would be subdued, only to break out somewhere else, as far as 200 yards away. This led people to believe that the fire was being intentionally set, although the real cause was an unusually strong wind that was picking up embers and depositing them all over the city.
“This wind blowing from the east was forcing the fire across the city much quicker than people were expecting,” explains Meriel Jeater, curator of the Museum of London’s “Fire! Fire! Exhibition,” commemorating the 350th anniversary of the fire. Sparks would fly up and set fire to whatever they landed on. “It seemed that suddenly, another building was on fire and it was, ‘Why did that happen?’ They didn’t necessarily think there was spark involved, or another natural cause… England was at war, so it was perhaps natural to assume that there might have been some element of foreign attack to it.”
Embers and wind didn’t feel like a satisfying or likely answer, so Londoners started to feel around for someone to blame. And they found them.
At the time, London was the third largest city in the Western world, behind Constantinople and Paris, and roughly 30 times larger than any other English town. And it was international, with trade links all over the world, including countries that it was at war with, Holland and France, and those it wasn’t entirely comfortable with, including Spain. London was also a refuge for foreign Protestants fleeing persecution in their majority Catholic homelands, including the Flemish and French Huguenots.
That people believed that the city was under attack, that the fire was the plot of either the Dutch or the French, was logical, not paranoia. The English had just burnt the Dutch port city of West-Terschelling to the ground just two weeks earlier. As soon as the fire broke out, Dutch and French immigrants were immediately under suspicion; as the fire burned, the English authorities stopped and interrogated foreigners at ports. More troubling, however, was that Londoners began to take vengeance into their own hands, says Tinniswood. “You’re not looking at a population that can distinguish between a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Spaniard, a Swede. If you’re not English, good enough.”
“The rumors reach a kind of crescendo on the Wednesday night when the fire is subsiding and then breaks out just around Fleet Street,” says Tinniswood. Homeless Londoners fleeing the fire were camped in the fields around the City. A rumor went up that the French were invading the city, then the cry: “Arms, arms, arms!”
“They’re traumatized, they’re bruised, and they all, hundreds and thousands of them, they take up sticks and come pouring into the city,” says Tinniswood. “It’s very real… A lot of what the authorities are doing is trying to damp down that sort of panic.”
But extinguishing the rumors proved almost as difficult as putting out the fire itself. Rumors traveled fast, for one thing: “The streets are full of people, moving their goods… They’re having to evacuate two, three, four times,” Tinniswood explains, and with each move, they’re out in the street, passing information. Compounding the problem was that there were few official ways able to contradict the rumors – not only had the newspaper’s printing press burned down, but so too did the post office. Charles II and his courtiers maintained that the fire was an accident, and though they were themselves involved in fighting the fire on the streets, there was only so much they could do to also stop the misinformation spreading. Says Tinniswood, “There’s no TV, no radio, no press, things are spread by word of mouth, and that means there must have been a thousand different rumors. But that’s the point of it: nobody knew.”
Several people judged to be foreigners were hurt during Wednesday’s riot; contemporaries were surprised that no one had been killed. The next day, Charles II issued an order, posted in places around the city not on fire, that people should “attend the business of quenching the fire” and nothing else, noting that there were enough soldiers to protect the city should the French actually attack, and explicitly stating that the fire was an act of God, not a “Papist plot”. Whether or not anyone believed him was another issue: Charles II had only been restored to his throne in 1660, 11 years after his father, Charles I, was beheaded by Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces. The City of London had sided with the Parliamentarians; six years later, Londoners still didn’t entirely trust their monarch.
The fire finally stopped on the morning of September 6. Official records put the number of deaths as fewer than 10, although Tinniswood and Jeater both believe that number was higher, probably more like 50. It’s still a surprisingly small number, given the huge amount of property damage: 80 percent of the city within the walls had burned, some 87 churches and 13,200 homes were destroyed, leaving 70,000 to 80,000 people homeless. The total financial loss was in the region of £9.9 million, at a time when the annual income of the city was put at only £12,000.
On September 25, 1666, the government set up a committee to investigate the fire, hearing testimony from dozens of people about what they saw and heard. Many were compelled to come forward with “suspicious” stories. The report was given to Parliament on January 22, 1667, but excerpts from the proceedings transcripts were leaked to the public, published in a pamphlet. By this time, just a few months after the fire, the narrative had changed. Demonstrably, the Dutch and the French hadn’t invaded, so blaming a foreign power was no longer plausible. But the people still wanted someone to blame, so they settled on the Catholics.
“After the fire, there seems be a lot of paranoia that is was a Catholic plot, that Catholics in London would conspire with Catholics abroad and force the Protestant population to convert to Catholicism,” Jeater explains. The struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism in England had been long and bloody, and neither side was above what amounted to terrorism: The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was, after all, an English Catholic plot to assassinate James I.
The official report issued to Parliament rejected much of the testimony as unbelievable – one committee member called the allegations “very frivolous”, and the conclusion declared there was no evidence “to prove it to be a general design of wicked agents, Papists or Frenchmen, to burn the city”. It didn’t matter: The leaked excerpts did much to solidify the story that the fire was the work of shadowy Catholic agents. For example:
William Tisdale informs, That he being about the beginning of July at the Greyhound in St. Martins, with one Fitz Harris an Irish Papist, heard him say, ‘There would be a sad Desolation in September, in November a worse, in December all would be united into one.’ Whereupon he asked him, ‘where this Desolation would be?’ He answered, ‘In London.’
Mr. Light of Ratcliff, having some discourse with Mr. Longhorn of the Middle-Temple, Barrister, [reputed a zealous Papist] about February 15 last, after some discourse in disputation about Religion, he took him by the hand, and said to him, ‘You expect great things in Sixty Six, and think that Rome will be destroyed, but what if it be London?’
“You’ve got hundreds of tales like that: With hindsight, people are saying that guy said something like, ‘London better look out’,” said Tinniswood. “It’s that kind of level, it’s that vague.”
What’s even more confusing is that by the time the testimonies were leaked, someone had already confessed to and been hung for the crime of starting the fire. Robert Hubert. a 26-year-old watchmaker’s son from Rouen, France, had been stopped at Romford, in Essex, trying to make it to the east coast ports. He was brought in for questioning and bizarrely, told authorities that he’d set the fire, that he was part of a gang, that it was all a French plot. He was indicted on felony charges, transported back to London under heavy guard and installed at the White Lion Gaol in Southwark, the City’s gaols having burned down.
In October 1666, he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey. There, Hubert’s story twisted and turned – the number of people in his gang went from 24 to just four; he’d said he’d started it in Westminster, then later, after spending some time in jail, said the bakery at Pudding Lane; other evidence suggested that he hadn’t even been in London when the fire started; Hubert claimed to be a Catholic, but everyone who knew him said he was a Protestant and a Hugeunot. The presiding Lord Chief Justice declared Hubert’s confession so “disjointed” he couldn’t possibly believe him guilty. And yet, Hubert insisted that he’d set the fire. On that evidence, the strength of his own conviction that he had done it, Hubert was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was hung at Tyburn on October 29, 1666.
Why Hubert said he did it remains unclear, although there is a significant body of literature on why people confess to things they couldn’t possibly have done. Officials were in the strange position of trying to prove he hadn’t done what he said he did, but Hubert was adamant – and everyone else simply thought he was, to put it in contemporary terms, mad. The Earl of Clarendon, in his memoirs, described Hubert as a “poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it this way” – in other words, suicide by confession.
Having someone to blame was certainly better than the alternative being preached from the city’s remaining pulpits: That the fire was God’s vengeance on a sinful city. They’d even named a particular sin – because the fire started at a bakery on Pudding Lane and ended at Pie Corner, opportunistic preachers took the line that Londoners were gluttonous reprobates who needed to repent now. Pie Corner is still marked with a statue of a plump golden boy, formerly known as the Fat Boy, which was intended as a reminder of London’s sinning ways.
The Catholic conspiracy story persisted for years: In 1681, the local ward erected a plaque on the site of the Pudding Lane bakery reading, “Here by the permission of Heaven, Hell broke loose upon this Protestant city from the malicious hearts of barbarous Papists, by the hand of their agent Hubert, who confessed…”. The plaque remained in place until the middle of the 18th century, when it was removed not because people had had a change of heart, but because visitors stopping to read the plaque were causing a traffic hazard. The plaque, which appears to have cracked in half, is on display at the Fire! Fire! exhibition. Also in 1681, a final line was added to the north-face inscription on the public monument to the fire: “But Popish frenzy, which wrought such horrors, is not yet quenched.” The words weren’t removed until 1830, with the Catholic Emancipation Act that lifted restrictions on practicing Catholics.
“Whenever there is a new bout of anti-Catholic sentiment, everybody harks back to the fire,” says Tinniswood. And 1681 was a big year for anti-Catholic rhetoric, prompted in part by the dragonnades in France that forced French Protestants to convert to Catholicism and, closer to home, by the so-called “Popish Plot,” a fictitious Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II entirely invented by a former Church of England curate whose false claims resulted in the executions of as many as 35 innocent people.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire of 1666, London was a smoking ruin, smoldering with suspicion and religious hatred and xenophobia. And yet within three years, the city had rebuilt. Bigotry and xenophobia subsided – immigrants remained and rebuilt, more immigrants joined them later.
But that need to blame, often the person last through the door or the person whose faith is different, never really goes away. “The outsider is to blame, they are to blame, they are attacking us, we’ve got to stop them – that kind of rhetoric is sadly is very obvious… and everywhere at the moment, and it’s the same thing, just as ill-founded,” Tinniswood said, continuing, “There is still a sense that we need to blame. We need to blame them, whoever they are.”
In the 1960s, it was almost unheard-of to find an out Queer person on television. Those that held a Queer identity were often forced into a ‘celluloid closet’ and made to keep their identities silent and hidden from public consumption. This was the case of Nancy Kulp, a closeted lesbian who is most remembered for her appearance as Miss Jane Hathaway in almost all of the 274 episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, a television series airing on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Kulp would eventually come out, using her own terms, in a 1989 interview.
Nancy Jane Kulp was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on August 28th, 1921 to Marjorie and Robert Kulp; the family would later move to Dade County, Florida. The only daughter of a lawyer and schoolteacher, Nancy was a bookish child from an early age and dreamed of becoming a journalist. Nancy would take the first step toward her goal when she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1943. During her years at FSU, Kulp worked as a feature writer for the Miami Beach Tropics, working on celebrity profiles.
Though she planned on continuing her education and obtaining her master’s degree, Nancy joined WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 to aid the US Navy during World War Two. While it was her patriotism and desire to work in an “all-female” atmosphere that led to her enlistment, Nancy determined that it was not her destiny to hold a career in the armed forces and left in 1945 after reaching the rank of junior-grade lieutenant. After leaving WAVES, Kulp took a position in Miami as a publicity director for a local radio station in 1946.
At the age of thirty, Nancy Kulp exchanged vows in an April Fool’s Day wedding celebration to Charles Dacus on April 1, 1951. While the marriage was short-lived, both parties parted on good terms and the relationship had a long-lasting impact on Nancy Kulp’s life. Nancy said that it was Charles Dacus who encouraged Kulp to leave her career as a publicist to achieve a career in acting (though she also later said that this inspiration came from director George Cukor). Following this encouragement, Nancy made her way to Hollywood where she took a position as a film publicist while she waited for her big break.
This break would come only three weeks later when she was discovered by A-list, gay, director George Cukor. Later that year, Nancy Kulp would make her big screen debut in Cukor’s 1951 film, The Model and the Marriage Broker. This role was larger than most others she would hold in movies though it was mostly silent and demeaning as she took on the role of a young woman desperately seeking matrimony from a marriage broker. This role was Kulp’s first foray into the sort of character she would often be type-cast to play- the spinster.
In 1954, Nancy would be cast in another Cukor film, the Judy Garland- led A Star is Born, though the scene in which she appeared would later be cut without the director’s knowledge or consent. Kulp would make several smaller appearances in many successful films such as Sabrina (the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), Strange Bedfellows (1965), and The Parent Trap (1961), where Kulp played the butch troop leader.
While Nancy appeared in movies, most of her acting work was done for the small screen. She made several appearances, largely comedic, on various television shows. Her first recurring television role was as a bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone on The Bob Cummings Show (1955-1959). The writer for The Bob Cummings Show, Paul Henning, would go on to write for The Beverly Hillbillies, and created a role specifically for Kulp. Nancy would become known across the country as Miss Jane Hathaway, a smart and confident secretary that worked for a bank. Miss Jane, as most of the characters called her, was also a character that played into Kulp’s type-casted role as a spinster. Kulp received an Emmy Award nomination in 1967 for her performance on the show.
After the final episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies, Kulp was given a regular role on the Brian Keith Show (1973-1974) and made appearances on Sanford and Son (1972-1977), The Love Boat (1977-1987), and Fantasy Island (1978-1984). Kulp also appeared on stage at summer stock and dinner theaters before eventually landing a role in Paul Osborn’s 1982 production of Mornings at Seven.
In 1984, the patriotic Nancy Kulp, who had long been interested in politics, decided to run for Congress in her district in central Pennsylvania, having settled in Port Royal. She ran as a Democrat against the Ninth District’s incumbent Republican representative, Bud Shuster. While she received an endorsement from friend and fellow showbiz personality Ed Asner, her Hillbillies costar Buddy Ebsen recorded a radio advertisement claiming that Kulp was “too liberal for Pennsylvania.” Kulp was enraged by Ebsen, a California resident, getting involved in her campaign, stating that she “was speechless at such a betrayal, and something so needless and cruel.”
Nancy Kulp would go on to be defeated by Shuster and would spend the next year at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, teaching film and drama. She would later return to California to serve on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and take an active role in non-profits including the Humane Society of the Desert, United Cerebral Palsy, and the Desert Theater League.
In a 1989 interview with author Boze Hadleigh for the book Hollywood Lesbians: From Garbo to Foster, Kulp responded to Hadleigh’s “Big Question” (the question of her sexuality which she renamed the “Fatal Question”) Nancy remarked in her own words:
“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she told Hadleigh. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort–I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.”
Never in the course of the interview did she refer to herself as a lesbian.
Nancy Kulp would die of cancer only two years later, on February 3, 1991, at her home in Palm desert, California. While she never actively owned a lesbian label, Nancy Kulp was hailed as being a lesbian ground-breaker in the field of acting for having portrayed her identity (though a secret) in her work.
Former “Beverly Hillbilly” Says She Didn’t Play The Political “Game″
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nancy Kulp of ″The Beverly Hillbillies″ fame doesn’t blame fellow Hillbilly Buddy Ebsen for her election defeat last fall – but says he should have stayed out of the congressional race.
Ebsen, who starred with Ms. Kulp on the long-running television program in the 1960s and early 1970s, recorded a radio commercial for her opponent, Republican Rep. Bud Shuster. In the spot, aired several weeks before the election, Ebsen said, ″Nancy, I love you dearly but you’re too liberal for me.″
Ms. Kulp still bristles when she thinks about the ad. ″How dare he 3/8 It wasn’t his business,″ she said.
But she said there were other reasons for her defeat, notably her lack of political savvy, a shortage of campaign dollars and the popularity of President Reagan in Shuster’s sprawling rural Pennsylvania district.
“I didn’t play the game, I guess,″ Ms. Kulp, 63, said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. She left her restored, three-story farmhouse in Port Royal, Pa., after the election and drove to California to visit friends.
While she raised $73,143 during 1984, Shuster, who was seeking his seventh House term, reported contributions of $269,597, according to campaign finance reports. Ms. Kulp reported gifts of $29,471 from political action committees, Shuster $138,817.
After years of involvement in local party politics and with the Screen Actors Guild, Ms. Kulp said seeking office was satisfying because ″you finally get to put your convictions on the line. It was one of the highlights of my life.″
But the experience left her with a helpless feeling that there was an image barrier between her and the voters that she could not surmount.
“You’re turned off by the distortions,″ she said. ″My feeling is a candidate is elected because they are perceived to be something. Ronald Reagan never talked issues; he waved the flag and the people loved it.
“I was perceived to be an ultra-liberal. If that is their perception – even if they like me – then I can’t win.″
The experience, she said, has left her ″ambivalent″ about the elective process and doubtful that she will seek public office again.
A central Pennsylvania native born in Harrisburg, Ms. Kulp began her acting career in 1952. She appeared in such films as ″Three Faces of Eve″ and ″The Parent Trap,″ and was featured on ″The Bob Cummings Show″ on television before the ″Beverly Hillbillies″ premiered in 1961.
On the ″Beverly Hillbillies,″ she played the secretary of a banker managing the account of a millionaire hillbilly, played by Ebsen. She and Ebsen used to talk politics on the set; they rarely agreed about issues, she said.
Ms. Kulp said she now is thinking about returning to the East Coast, possibly to teach. Juniata, a small liberal arts college 120 miles east of Pittsburgh, has expressed interest in her, perhaps for an ″artist-in-re sidence″ program, said college spokesman Robert Howden.
Who the F Is … Actress and Politician Nancy Kulp?
Who she was:A well-regarded character actress who eventually ran for public office and came out — rather obliquely.
What she accomplished:Nancy Kulp (1921-1991) endeared herself to baby boomers with her role on a silly but successful TV sitcom,The Beverly Hillbillies.From 1962 to 1971, she played the prim, efficient Miss Jane Hathaway, secretary to banker Milburn Drysdale. She and Drysdale were managing the millions of the Clampett family, a backwoods clan who had relocated from Tennessee to Beverly Hills after striking oil. The comedy arose from the contrast between the beyond-unsophisticated Clampetts — who made moonshine, kept “critters,” and called their swimming pool “the cement pond” — and the upscale Southern Californians who surrounded them. Hathaway, always called “Miss Jane” by the Clampetts and their kin, was unaccountably attracted to the dim-witted Jethro Bodine, nephew of patriarch Jed Clampett. Critics had no love for the show, but viewers found it hilarious, and it had an extended life in syndication.
Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Kulp studied journalism in college, then served in the WAVES during World War II. After the war she worked as a publicist for radio and TV stations in Florida, then came to Hollywood in the 1950s with an eye to continuing in publicity. Someone encouraged her to try acting — some accounts say it was her then-husband, Charles Dacus, whom she refused to discuss in later years; others say it was esteemed director George Cukor. At any rate, she quickly won a small role in a Cukor film,The Model and the Marriage Broker,starring Jeanne Crain, Scott Brady, and Thelma Ritter. It was one of the great filmmaker’s lesser efforts, but it launched her career. She played supporting parts, often uncredited, in some noteworthy movies —Shane, Sabrina,the Judy Garland version ofA Star Is Born,also directed by Cukor — and some now-forgotten ones. She also worked in TV anthology series and in guest-starring roles. BeforeHillbillies,she was a regular onThe Bob Cummings Show,playing a spinsterly bird-watcher named Pamela Livingstone. (Bird-watching was also one of Miss Jane’s hobbies.)
AfterThe Beverly Hillbilliesended, she continued to guest-star on various TV series; she had a recurring role onSanford and Sonfor a time, and like many aging actors she appeared onThe Love BoatandFantasy Island.She also performed on Broadway inMorning’s at Sevenin the early 1980s. But she had a passion for politics, dating back to Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign in 1952, and in 1984 she returned to central Pennsylvania to run for Congress. She was an underdog as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district represented by a popular incumbent. She got support from showbiz friend Ed Asner, but herHillbilliescostar Buddy Ebsen, who had played Jed, did a commercial in which he called her “too liberal” and endorsed her opponent. It caused a rift between them that lasted for years, although they reportedly eventually made up. She lost the election to the incumbent, Bud Shuster. Later, she taught acting at a Pennsylvania college and made some stage appearances, including one as the Nurse inRomeo and Julietat the 1987 Georgia Shakespeare Festival in Atlanta, then retired to the California desert, where she kept busy with volunteer work. Among other things, she served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild.
In 1989 she addressed her sexual orientation — to a degree — in an interview with Boze Hadleigh, published in his bookHollywood Lesbians.“As long as you reproduce my reply word for word, and the question, you may use it,” she said. “I’d appreciate it if you’d let me phrase the question. There is more than one way. Here’s how I would ask it: ‘Do you think that opposites attract?’ My own reply would be that I’m the other sort — I find that birds of a feather flock together. That answers your question.” Miss Jane would have appreciated the imagery. She also expressed admiration for gay congressman Barney Frank, and when Hadleigh asked if she would have come out in Congress, she said, “Not voluntarily. If I were outed, then I would not deny it.” Hadleigh waited to publish the book until 1994, when all his subjects were dead. Kulp died of cancer in 1991 at her home in Palm Desert, Calif.
Choice quotes:“If one is past 50 or 60, it’s almost like saying that most of your life you’ve been too embarrassed to admit it or to speak up.” — to Boze Hadleigh, on the possibility of coming out
“I think I’ve been successful in making the distinction between actress and politician. But there’s always someone who screams, ‘Where’s Jethro?’” — toPeoplemagazine, during her congressional campaign
10 times Miss Jane Hathaway let loose and ditched her pressed suit on The Beverly Hillbillies
Take a tour of Nancy Kulp’s silliest costumes.
At its heart, The Beverly Hillbillies was about breaking out of your comfort zone, and it wasn’t just the Clampetts experiencing the growing pains. Fans know that Miss Jane Hathaway, the snooty bank secretary who keeps an eye on the Clampetts, had as much to learn from the hillbillies about having fun as they did from her about fitting in with fine society.
We first meet Jane Hathaway in the bank, dilligently taking notes for Mr. Drysdale, her boss, the insanely wealthy bank manager. She’s wearing her signature pressed suit, a drab number we’d see her sport throughout most of the initial seasons. But it wouldn’t take the writers, costumers and hillbillies long to wrestle Miss Jane out of those stuffy suits and neckerchiefs just to stuff her into funnier outfits that drew extra laughs precisely because she’d been set up as such a straight character. It was one of many ways the show had fun with its audience.
Below, we’ve gone back through our favorite episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies to offer up this tour of Miss Jane Hathaway’s most dazzling and outrageous outfits over nine seasons. Played brilliantly by Nancy Kulp, Miss Jane remains one of the show’s most memorable characters, and here’s a parade of standout moments that show us how her wardrobe helped cement her legacy.
1.Miss Jane Hathaway the Artist
It only took seven episodes before we saw Nancy Kulp slip into something sillier, this artist look that we consider her character’s first masterpiece in transformation.
2.Is that Nancy Kulp or Groucho Marx?
In the later seasons, the volume got turned up on Nancy Kulp’s costumes, and this was perhaps the height of that hilarity.
3.A hillbilly before the first season ends.
By the end of the first season, we got our first look at Nancy Kulp in hillbilly garb, and even doing a dance with the whole Clampett family! Talk about letting loose! This primed us to expect the unexpected from the typically kempt Miss Jane.
4.Remember when Miss Jane posed as Uncle Sam?
The color episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies do not disappoint when it comes to costumes, especially this red-white-and-blue suit arguably louder than any other suit she donned the whole series.
5.Miss Jane, the pageant queen.
There were many plots that involved Elly and Jane in competition for a suitor’s attention, but this beauty contest in the third season was the first time they turned that trope into a swimsuit competition!
6.Don’t think Miss Jane’s beneath a denim suit!
Need proof that Miss Jane Hathaway is a trendsetter? Check out this denim suit she donned at the very start of the ’70s. It was her idea of beach attire, and the bucket hat just perfects the look, don’t you think?
There were plenty of times, as we’ll get into soon, when Nancy Kulp showed up looking stunning on The Beverly Hillbillies, but we get flashes of Carol Burnett and Friends when we saw this particular evening attire and wacky updo!
8.Miss Jane’s very first evening look.
Let’s take a moment to just genuinely appreciate how Nancy Kulp completely owned silk, pearls and simplistic elegance. Bask in the very first time we saw her in a seriously stunning evening look from the first season.
9.That’s not to say she didn’t also know how to overdo it…
Between the wig, costume jewelry and dangly everything, Miss Jane almost looks as out of sorts in this outfit as Elly May did in an evening gown!
10.Proper, even in pajamas.
Last look is all the proof you need that Miss Jane even prefers to sleep in a suit, donning these neat blue pajamas in contrast to Granny’s gowns, but that changes soon when the writers get her character stuck in a sleeping bag that Granny’s trying to free her from here. It’s just one more example of all the physical humor that came just from shaking up Jane Hathaway’s wardrobe!
Columbus Day has become an occasion not just to celebrate the first steps toward founding America, but a time to re-examine what we know about the famed explorer. The accomplishments of Christopher Columbus are myriad and well-known, but much of his life’s story, as well as his subsequent voyages to the Americas, is lost in mythos and misconception.
While he did in fact “sail the ocean blue” in 1492, the biography of Christopher Columbus is filled with obscure facts and historical oddities that never make it into any school nursery rhyme – or even into many textbooks. Many people still believe that Columbus set out from Spain to prove the Earth was round – but we know he didn’t. We also believe he made peaceful contact with the natives of what he thought was India – but he didn’t, and he actually believed he’d reached the mythical land of Japan.
Could he have even made it there? What about his other trips to the New World? Or his revisionist reputation for brutality and cruel treatment of the natives? Here are some facts about Columbus that, despite decades of re-examination, most people don’t know.
“Christopher Columbus” Wasn’t Actually His Name
The famed explorer was born Cristoforo Colombo – or Cristóbal Colón, if you speak Spanish. “Christopher Columbus” is the Anglicized version of his name, but he likely wouldn’t have answered to that. Among other unknowns about Colón/Columbus’s life is what he looked like – as no portrait of him was painted during his lifetime.
He Wasn’t Spanish – Though He Sailed for Spain
Columbus sailed under the Crown of Spain, but definitely wasn’t Spanish by birth. Little is known of his early life, but it’s generally agreed upon that he was born in Genoa, at the time an independent city-state and satellite of Spain. He would be considered Italian today.
Few People Still Believed the World Was Flat
Writers like Washington Irving have implanted in the popular consciousness that Columbus set out to prove Catholic teaching wrong about the Earth being flat. But it was already widely believed that the Earth was round. As early as the sixth century BCE, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras used mathematics to surmise the world was round, and later, Aristotle proved it with astronomical observations. By 1492 most educated people knew the planet was not a flat disc.
Columbus Was Not Searching for the New World
While Columbus found the unexplored land that came to be known as “the New World,” it wasn’t what he was looking for. He was seeking a quicker passage to Asia that wouldn’t involve crossing the Silk Road, which had been sealed off due to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Empire. The aims of his voyage were exploiting the gold and spices believed to be found in abundance in the Orient – and to grab some for himself.
He Never Would Have Reached Asia
Columbus estimated that the distance from the Canary Islands, where his voyage began, to Japan (known then as “Cipangu”), which he was attempting to reach, was about 3,700 kilometers. This was a vast underestimate, as the distance is actually about 12,000 kilometers. Columbus’s small fleet could never have carried enough provisions to last such a voyage, nor would these ships have survived the harsh conditions of the Pacific.
His Motives Were Not Altruistic
His first proposal to sail to the Orient, submitted to King John II of Portugal, involved him walking away with quite a bounty. He requested to be given the title “Great Admiral of the Ocean,” to be appointed governor of any and all lands he discovered, and be given one-tenth of all revenue from those lands – which would have involved a huge amount of gold. Portugal rejected this proposal, and several others, before Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella agreed to fund Columbus. But even they rejected him at first, thinking his plan unfeasible.
Columbus Almost Certainly Wasn’t the First European to Find the New World
Historians generally believe that the Norse Viking Leif Eriksson landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 CE, 500 years before Columbus set sail. It’s also been hypothesized, though not proven, that Celtic explorers crossed the Atlantic before Eriksson.
Nobody Knows Exactly Where Columbus Landed
Columbus was looking for Japan, but what he found was the modern day Bahamas. After leaving the Canary Islands on September 6, strong winds pushed his three-ship fleet westward until they sighted land on October 12. Columbus called this island “San Salvador” – and believed he’d found Asia. The exact location of where he first set foot is still unknown, though it’s been narrowed down to three possible islands.
As Soon as He Landed, He Began Doing Horrible Things
Columbus’ actions as a slave trader and by-the-sword evangelist are starting to become more and more widely known in popular culture. And these actions started almost immediately. The first natives he encountered on San Salvador were the Arawak people (also called the Taino), natives to the islands. Columbus found them to be peaceful and loving – and promptly took a group of them prisoner so he could interrogate them as to the location of the Orient’s gold. Subsequent Spanish colonization of the Bahamas was brutal to the Arawaks, and within half a century, they’d almost all be gone.
Not All Three Ships Survived the Voyage
Columbus and his crew, which had dwindled due to disease and mutiny, spent three months sailing up and down the Bahamas, from October 12 through January 15, 1493. But it’s not common knowledge that the Santa Maria didn’t survive the trip, having grounded on Christmas Day. Columbus ordered the ship evacuated and blown up with cannons – to impress the natives with Spanish firepower. Columbus then snapped up about two dozen natives to take back as slaves, left 39 men to establish a colony on what’s now Haiti, then headed back to Spain.
The Second Voyage of Columbus Was All About Conquest
Columbus’s first voyage to the Orient was a trip of exploration. But the second could never be mistaken for anything other than one of colonization and, if necessary, armed conflict. He left Spain on September 23, 1493, with a huge fleet consisting of 17 ships and 1,200 men. Among the passengers were farmers, priests meant to convert natives to Christianity, and armed soldiers to impose Columbus’s will.
Armed Conflict Broke Out on the Second Voyage
Columbus and his fleet made landfall in Dominica, now a small island nation in the Caribbean. He sailed up and down the Lesser Antilles, went back to check on the 39 men he’d left behind at the colony of La Navidad (which had been destroyed with 11 men murdered by the natives for raping local women), and, in an omen of things to come, had an armed skirmish with several tribesmen caught castrating two boys from a different tribe. He established several small colonies, took about 500 Caribbean people as slaves, and headed back to Spain again.
He Still Hoped to Find the Orient on the Third Voyage
Columbus’s third voyage to the New World was delayed almost two years thanks to machinations in the Spanish court. When he finally set sail from Spain in May 1498, he had just seven ships. Several headed for previously established colonies, while Columbus himself and the bulk of his fleet headed south, still hoping to find the mythical passage to the Orient. Instead, he found Trinidad, as well as Venezuela. But the worst was yet to come.
The Third Voyage Ended in Disgrace
Several months of exploring South America left Columbus in poor health and exhausted, so he returned to the colony of Hispaniola, where the Santa Maria had grounded on the first voyage. When he arrived, he was greeted by chaos.
The colonists were unhappy, starving, and threatening to mutiny. The natives were treated horribly, and often responded by murdering the colonists. Columbus and his brothers were cruel governors, and the Taino natives had engaged in armed revolt, which was crushed in 1497. Faced with a number of complaints about his governorship and cruelty, Ferdinand and Isabella ordered Columbus and his brothers arrested, and taken back to Spain in chains.
The Fourth Voyage Was a Disaster
After spending a few months in prison, Columbus went before Ferdinand and Isabella. They pardoned him and financed a fourth voyage, but stripped him of his governorship. Leaving Cadiz in May 1502 on four decrepit ships, Columbus set forth to find passage to the Indian Ocean.
Instead, he got lost, sailed through a hurricane that annihilated the first Spanish treasure fleet, had two ships sink, and finally had to beach the other two in Jamaica, where he spent a year stranded. While there, he persuaded the natives to supply his desperate men with food and water by predicting a lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504. A relief fleet finally arrived in June, and Columbus reached Spain empty handed in November.
Columbus Wanted What Was His
As befitting someone who wanted to explore new lands primarily to cash in, Columbus spent a lot of time and effort making sure he got what was coming to him. In 1502, shortly before the fourth voyage, Columbus wrote Book of Privileges, a long testimony of all of the titles, riches, positions of power, and rewards he was expecting the Spanish Crown to give him and his descendants as part of his ten percent cut of his exploration.
He Had Become an Apocalyptic Crank
Like many luminaries of his day, Columbus balanced a keen instinct for exploration with a fervent belief in Biblical prophecy nonsense. He complied a number of apocalyptic “revelations” in Book of Prophecies, which was published in 1501. Among his “revelations” were that Christianity must be spread throughout the world, the Garden of Eden is out there waiting to be found, and that Spain’s King Ferdinand would be the Last World Emperor.
After His Death, His Remains Traveled the World
Food poisoning on one of his voyages led Columbus to develop a case of reactive arthritis, thought at the time to be gout. Suffering from that, as well as various other ailments he contracted during the four voyages, Columbus died in 1506 in Valliadolid, Spain.
Columbus’s remains were first interred there, then in Seville by his son Diego, who had become governor of Hispaniola. In 1542 the remains were transferred to the present-day Dominican Republic. In 1795, when France took over Hispaniola, Columbus’s remains were again moved, this time to Havana, Cuba. After Cuba became independent following the Spanish–American War in 1898, the remains were moved back to Spain. But it’s likely that not all were moved, and Columbus might actually have resting places in both Cuba and Spain.
His Estate Was Tangled in Lawsuits for Centuries
After he died, the children of Columbus waged a lengthy legal battle with the Spanish crown, claiming that the monarchy had short-changed them on money, titles, and property they were due. Most of the Columbian lawsuits were settled by 1536, with the Colón family walking away with the perpetual title of “Admiral of the Indies,” claims on land in Jamaica, Hispaniola, and several other islands; and a large sum of money to be paid annually.
There were still numerous claims to untangle, and the legal proceedings, called the Pleitos colombinos, dragged on until well into the 18th century.
He Left Behind a Complex Legacy
For centuries, Columbus was venerated as the heroic discoverer of America and he’s still honored with a Federal holiday on October 12. But in recent decades, Columbus’s legacy of brutality toward natives, capturing and movement of slaves, and his pronounced ignorance on many aspects of ocean travel have become more and more well known.
It’s not in dispute that Columbus was a tyrannical governor of Hispaniola, creating a governing system where natives were mutilated for not making their gold-mining quotas, and slaves were regularly shipped back to Spain. But he was also a courageous explorer, making four Atlantic voyages through dangerous waters, rough weather, and totally unexplored territory.
Colonization of the New World also leaves a complex legacy. It wiped out native peoples from San Salvador all the way through the American west – but at the same time, set in motion the events that would lead to the United States and the modern world. Is Columbus a hero or a villain? A conquering monster or a courageous pioneer? In reality, probably all of them
Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery
We do not celebrate Columbus Day here in Australia, so I found this article intriguing, especially in the light of what we now know about Columbus and his governorships and brutality to natives,
Once again, it’s time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus’ reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.
Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?
If you’d like to know the true story about Christopher Columbus, please read on. But I warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart.
Here’s the basics. On the second Monday in October each year, we celebrate Columbus Day (this year, it’s on October 11th). We teach our school kids a cute little song that goes: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” It’s an American tradition, as American as pizza pie. Or is it? Surprisingly, the true story of Christopher Columbus has very little in common with the myth we all learned in school.
Columbus Day, as we know it in the United States, was invented by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. Back in the 1930s, they were looking for a Catholic hero as a role-model their kids could look up to. In 1934, as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor this courageous explorer. Or so we thought.
There are several problems with this. First of all, Columbus wasn’t the first European to discover America. As we all know, the Viking, Leif Ericson probably founded a Norse village on Newfoundland some 500 years earlier. So, hat’s off to Leif. But if you think about it, the whole concept of discovering America is, well, arrogant. After all, the Native Americans discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born! Surprisingly, DNA evidence now suggests that courageous Polynesian adventurers sailed dugout canoes across the Pacific and settled in South America long before the Vikings.
Second, Columbus wasn’t a hero. When he set foot on that sandy beach in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492, Columbus discovered that the islands were inhabited by friendly, peaceful people called the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks. Writing in his diary, Columbus said they were a handsome, smart and kind people. He noted that the gentle Arawaks were remarkable for their hospitality. “They offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no,” he said. The Arawaks had no weapons; their society had neither criminals, prisons nor prisoners. They were so kind-hearted that Columbus noted in his diary that on the day the Santa Maria was shipwrecked, the Arawaks labored for hours to save his crew and cargo. The native people were so honest that not one thing was missing.
Columbus was so impressed with the hard work of these gentle islanders, that he immediately seized their land for Spain and enslaved them to work in his brutal gold mines. Within only two years, 125,000 (half of the population) of the original natives on the island were dead.
If I were a Native American, I would mark October 12, 1492, as a black day on my calendar.
Shockingly, Columbus supervised the selling of native girls into sexual slavery. Young girls of the ages 9 to 10 were the most desired by his men. In 1500, Columbus casually wrote about it in his log. He said: “A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
He forced these peaceful natives work in his gold mines until they died of exhaustion. If an “Indian” worker did not deliver his full quota of gold dust by Columbus’ deadline, soldiers would cut off the man’s hands and tie them around his neck to send a message. Slavery was so intolerable for these sweet, gentle island people that at one point, 100 of them committed mass suicide. Catholic law forbade the enslavement of Christians, but Columbus solved this problem. He simply refused to baptize the native people of Hispaniola.
On his second trip to the New World, Columbus brought cannons and attack dogs. If a native resisted slavery, he would cut off a nose or an ear. If slaves tried to escape, Columbus had them burned alive. Other times, he sent attack dogs to hunt them down, and the dogs would tear off the arms and legs of the screaming natives while they were still alive. If the Spaniards ran short of meat to feed the dogs, Arawak babies were killed for dog food.
Columbus’ acts of cruelty were so unspeakable and so legendary – even in his own day – that Governor Francisco De Bobadilla arrested Columbus and his two brothers, slapped them into chains, and shipped them off to Spain to answer for their crimes against the Arawaks. But the King and Queen of Spain, their treasury filling up with gold, pardoned Columbus and let him go free.
One of Columbus’ men, Bartolome De Las Casas, was so mortified by Columbus’ brutal atrocities against the native peoples, that he quit working for Columbus and became a Catholic priest. He described how the Spaniards under Columbus’ command cut off the legs of children who ran from them, to test the sharpness of their blades. According to De Las Casas, the men made bets as to who, with one sweep of his sword, could cut a person in half. He says that Columbus’ men poured people full of boiling soap. In a single day, De Las Casas was an eye witness as the Spanish soldiers dismembered, beheaded, or raped 3000 native people. “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel,” De Las Casas wrote. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”
De Las Casas spent the rest of his life trying to protect the helpless native people. But after a while, there were no more natives to protect. Experts generally agree that before 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola probably numbered above 3 million. Within 20 years of Spanish arrival, it was reduced to only 60,000. Within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant could be found.
In 1516, Spanish historian Peter Martyr wrote: “… a ship without compass, chart, or guide, but only following the trail of dead Indians who had been thrown from the ships could find its way from the Bahamas to Hispaniola.”
Christopher Columbus derived most of his income from slavery, De Las Casas noted. In fact, Columbus was the first slave trader in the Americas. As the native slaves died off, they were replaced with black slaves. Columbus’ son became the first African slave trader in 1505.
Are you surprised you never learned about any of this in school? I am too. Why do we have this extraordinary gap in our American ethos? Columbus himself kept detailed diaries, as did some of his men including De Las Casas and Michele de Cuneo. (If you don’t believe me, just Google the words Columbus, sex slave, and gold mine.)
Columbus’ reign of terror is one of the darkest chapters in our history. The REAL question is: Why do we celebrate a holiday in honor of this man? (Take three deep breaths. If you’re like me, your stomach is heaving at this point. I’m sorry. Sometimes the truth hurts. That said, I’d like to turn in a more positive direction.)
Call me crazy, but I think holidays ought to honor people who are worthy of our admiration, true heroes who are positive role models for our children. If we’re looking for heroes we can truly admire, I’d like to offer a few candidates. Foremost among them are school kids.
Let me tell you about some school kids who are changing the world. I think they are worthy of a holiday. My friend Nan Peterson is the director of the Blake School, a K-12 school in Minnesota. She recently visited Kenya. Nan says there are 33 million people in Kenya… and 11 million of them are orphans! Can you imagine that? She went to Kibera, the slum outside Nairobi, and a boy walked up to her and handed her a baby. He said: My father died. My mother died… and I’m not feeling so good myself. Here, take my sister. If I die, they will throw her into the street to die.
There are so many orphans in Kenya, the baby girls are throwaways!
Nan visited an orphanage for girls. The girls were starving to death. They had one old cow that only gave one cup of milk a day. So each girl only got ONE TEASPOON of milk a day!
After this heartbreaking experience, Nan went home to her school in Minnesota and asked the kids… what can we do? The kids got the idea to make homemade paper and sell it to buy a cow. So they made a bunch of paper, and sold the paper, and when they were done they had enough money to buy… FOUR COWS! And enough food to feed all of the cows for ONE FULL YEAR! These are kids… from 6 years old to 18… saving the lives of kids halfway around the world. And I thought: If a 6-year-old could do that… what could I do?
At Casady School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, seemingly “average” school kids raised $20,000 to dig clean water wells for children in Ethiopia. These kids are heroes. Why don’t we celebrate “Kids Who Are Changing the Planet” Day?
Let me ask you a question: Would we celebrate Columbus Day if the story of Christopher Columbus were told from the point-of-view of his victims? No way!
The truth about Columbus is going to be a hard pill for some folks to swallow. Please, don’t think I’m picking on Catholics. All the Catholics I know are wonderful people. I don’t want to take away their holiday or their hero. But if we’re looking for a Catholic our kids can admire, the Catholic church has many, many amazing people we could name a holiday after. How about Mother Teresa day? Or St. Francis of Assisi day? Or Betty Williams day (another Catholic Nobel Peace Prize winner). These men and women are truly heroes of peace, not just for Catholics, but for all of us.
Let’s come clean. Let’s tell the truth about Christopher Columbus. Let’s boycott this outrageous holiday because it honors a mass murderer. If we skip the cute song about “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” I don’t think our first graders will miss it much, do you? True, Columbus’ brutal treatment of peaceful Native Americans was so horrific… maybe we should hide the truth about Columbus until our kids reach at least High School age. Let’s teach it to them about the same time we tell them about the Nazi death camps.
While we’re at it, let’s rewrite our history books. From now on, instead of glorifying the exploits of mass murderers like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte, let’s teach our kids about true heroes, men and women of courage and kindness who devoted their lives to the good of others. There’s a long list, starting with Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy.
These people were not adventurers who “discovered” an island in the Caribbean. They were noble souls who discovered what is best in the human spirit.
Why don’t we create a holiday to replace Columbus Day?
As we have already mentioned, the United Kingdom is one of the oldest countries in the world, and as such, has a long legal history. Therefore, it should not surprise us that it still features some century-old laws that no longer make sense but are still in power. Trying to stay on the good side of the law? So do we, that is why we have selected a number of weird British laws that all locals and tourists should be aware of.
#1. Do Not Handle Salmon… Suspiciously
We are warning you!Do not handle your salmon suspiciously, or you might get into trouble.Now, you do not need to panic. Technically speaking, you can still clutch your favourite fish in dark corners, although we would not recommend such behaviour. As odd as it sounds, this law could actually be found underSection 32 of the Salmon Act 1986. Although it actually refers to selling salmon gained through illicit means, it sounds crazy enough to become a part of our list of strange UK laws.
#2. Do Not Play Knock Knock Ginger
Do you think it is fun to ring on someone’s doorbell and then run away? Even though all kids think it is, and most of us have probably done it, we must warn you that according to the Metropolitan Police Act 1854, such behaviour is actually illegal. To be exact, you should never“wilfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant by pulling or ringing any doorbell or knocking at any door without lawful excuse”.If you cannot help but misbehave, you may face a fine of up to £500.Even though it makes our list of crazy UK laws, we advise you to follow the no knock-down ginger rule accordingly.
#3. Do Not Shake Your Rug Before 8 a.m
As outrageous as it sounds, you should never shake or in any way clean your rug before 8 a.m. According tosection 60, subsection 3 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1854,it is an offence to beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat before 8 in the morning. On the bright side, you can engage into all these actions at 8:01 a.m.! Though, you should also keep in mind that you should avoid throwing any dirt, litter or ashes, or any carrion, fish, offal, or rubbish into“any sewer, pipe, or drain, or into any well, stream, or watercourse, pond, or reservoir for water …”. The penalty? A fine of up to £500 should be enough motivation to keep your urge to clean under control.
#4. Do Not Get Drunk in a Pub
Shocking, yet apparently true one of the weird UK laws claims that you should not get drunk in a pub. In fact, according toSection 12 of the Licensing Act 1872,“every person found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises”could be penalised. In other words,if you drink 3 or 5 ciders outside your house, you could be facing a fine of up to £200. Our advice? A night out could be pricey enough, so keep a count on those drinks.
#5. Do Not Wear a Suit of Armour in Parliament
Talking about crazy UK laws, how about the one that states that you cannot enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armour. Were planning to dress up? Sorry to burst your bubble, but you cannot show off by wearing your suit of armour in Parliament. The law dates back from 1313 when times were different, and probably someone did try to get into Parliament wearing inappropriate clothing.Even though the law is not relevant nowadays, it is still applicable.Nevertheless, we cannot tell what would be the actual punishment for breaking it, though we assume that such actions would get a lot of media coverage.
#6. In Scotland Strangers Are Welcome to Use Your Toilet
Did you know that if a stranger knocks on your door and asks to use your toilet, you are legally obliged to let them? Neither did we, butaccording to an old Scottish law, hospitality must be shown to all guests even if they are uninvited. Surprisingly, even though the law has not been officially authorised by parliament, it is enforceable. Wondering where it comes from? One of the strange UK laws first came into power back in the days when travellers on foot would cross the land of hard-working clansmen. Even though it is not a common practice, nowadays, you can still expect strangers to knock on your door every once in a while. Still, as you will not be fined, it is completely up to you to decide whether to let them use your toilet or not.
#7. Do Not Walk Around Carrying Wood Planks in London
Do you live in London? If you are planning a home improvement project, remember that you cannot carry planks across the pavement. Wondering why?Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839says it all.It is an offence to carry planks across the pavement in London and offenders could be fined up to £500.While we cannot tell you if anyone has actually been charged for violating this particular law, we advise to stay out trouble and find another way to transport your wood planks home.
#8. Do Not Hang Out Your Washing
According to one of the weird British laws,residents of Beverley, East Yorkshire are not allowed to hang their washing outside. In fact, residents of a luxury complex in the city are asked to “to refrain from hanging washing in a manner that may detract from the visual enjoyment of the building or otherwise cause offence to fellow residents”. While we are not certain where you could actually be fined for breaking the law, we advise you to get a tumble drier or make sure you have sufficient space to dry your clothing inside your house and to do your best to avoid getting fined for… washing your clothes and hanging them to dry.
#9. Do Not Gamble in Libraries
Were you planning to play a friendly poker game at the local library? We are sorry to inform you that you will have to look for another place to play.An old British law states that it is illegal to gamble in a library.Wondering why? As we have already mentioned, the law is quite outdated, so we suppose that back in time, some people loved to assemble in libraries and cause disturbances to the otherwise peaceful environment. The law used to be a part of theLibrary Offences Act of 1998until it was eventually repealed in 2005. Nevertheless, we decided to include it on our list as it certainly deserves your attention.
#10. Flying a Kite May Not Be the Best Idea
Do not get us wrong – flying a kite is perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. You are free to engage in your favourite activity as much as you please. We must warn you, however, thatif your kite happens to annoy any inhabitants or passengers, you might be fined. Yes, you understood correctly. An odd British law claims that“who shall fly any kite or play at any game to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers, or who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in any street or other thoroughfare, to the common danger of the passengers”, could be asked to pay a fine of up to £500. While we are not certain whether this law is still applicable, we strongly advise you to be careful where and when you fly your kite.
#11. You Cannot Import Polish Potatoes to Britain
One of the weird British laws that we encountered claims thatno one can import Polish potatoes to Britain without first notifying the authorities. Wondering why the UK Government came up with such an odd law in the first place? In a nutshell, the authorities were concerned because back in 2004 there was a massive outbreak of a potato disease called ring rot. While it does not seem to be dangerous for human consumers, the condition seriously affects yield and the quality of the potato crops. Even though the threat is no longer relevant, the law remains valid.
#12. If You Catch a Sturgeon, You Should Offer It to the Reigning Monarch
Yes, that is right. One of our favourite strange UK laws claims that“All beached whales and sturgeons must be offered to the Reigning Monarch”. The Prerogativa Regis 1322 is clear enough and still valid nowadays. While we cannot tell you what are the exact reasons behind this rule,a theory claims that King Edward II probably wanted to control the levels of overly conspicuous consumption in the realm. Believe it or not, this law was actually tested in modern times.
Back in 2004, Mr Robert Davies caught a 9lb sturgeon off the coast of Wales and offered it to the Queen. He soon received a note from Her Majesty, informing him that she was happy for him to dispose of the fish as he saw fit. After that, though, Mr Davis became a subject of a short criminal investigation based on the fact that sturgeons are protected species, and catching or killing them is considered illegal. The particular sturgeon now resides at the Natural History Museum in London.
#13. You Should Not Sing Profane or Indecent Ballads
Listening to the newest hip hop tracks on your way to work? We know how catchy the new Kanye West or Jay-Z’s tunes could be, but we strongly recommend you to fight your urges to sing along. According to the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, no one should“sing any profane, indecent, or obscene song or ballad, or use any profane, indecent or obscene language to the annoyance of the inhabitants or passengers.”If you love singing in public, however, just make sure your favourite track does not include any offensive lyrics.Breaking one of the weirdest UK laws could lead to a possible fine, that could certainly affect your budget.
#14. It Is Legal to Shoot a Scotsman Under Certain Circumstances
Yes, as bizarre as it may sound,according to an outdated English law, it is perfectly legal to shoot a Scotsman under specific circumstances. Still, there are certain factors that must be present. To begin with, you must be located in York. One of the strange UK laws claims that only in York if they happen to cross paths with a Scotsman, people are allowed to shoot him with a crossbow. Please note, however, that shooting Scots on Sundays remains forbidden. Or at least with a bow and an arrow… The same law claims that any Scotsman caught drunk or armed on Sunday, can still be shot, just not with a crossbow.
Interestingly,a similar law claims that in Chester, it is also allowed to shoot a Welsh person with a bow and an arrow, as long as it happens within the city walls and after midnight. We remind you, however, that all mentioned regulations are outdated and no longer apply. Nevertheless, we found them weird enough to include in our list of crazy UK laws.
#15. Do Not Jump the Queue at a Subway in London
Have you ever felt tempted to jump the queue while waiting for a subway in London? If so, we sincerely hope that you have managed to wait your turn, otherwise you could have committed a crime. That is right.Jumping the queue at a subway is not only rude but also illegal.At least if you are in London. While we could not find proof that the law is still in power, we strongly recommend you to obey it. Though it is unlikely to get arrested for jumping the queue, such behaviour could lead to unpleasant confrontations with the rest of the people.
Gambling Is Not a Part of the Weird Laws in the UK
Did you enjoy our list of strange laws in the UK? If so, you may also enjoy our article aboutUK Gambling Law. Worried that you may not be able to try your luck on your favourite slot games? Fear not asall forms of gambling, including online and land-based are perfectly legal in the United Kingdom. In fact, you may pick the right operator for you from our list of thebest gambling sites. We remind you, however, to gamble responsibly and choose your preferred games carefully.
14 Weird British Laws That Everyone Thinks Are True
James Ross / Getty Image
1.It is illegal to carry a plank along a pavement.
True.This has been illegal since 1839. The Act also bans you from sliding on snow, playing “annoying games”, and flying kites in the street. No fun please, we’re British.
2.It is illegal to die in parliament.
False.There’s a longstanding myth that you’re not “allowed” to die in parliament, because the government would have to give you a state funeral. They wouldn’t. At least four people have died in parliament, including Guy Fawkes, who was executed on site.
3.It is illegal not to carry out at least two hours of longbow practice a week.
Not any more.Englishmen aged between 17 and 60 were required to own a longbow and practise using it regularly by a law enacted in 1541. This law was eventually repealed, but much later than you might think: It was on the statute books until 1960.
4.It is illegal to beat or shake any carpet or rug in any street.
True.This has been illegal since 1839, but you are allowed to beat a doormat, provided you do it before 8am. It’s also illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house, slaughter cattle in the street, sing rude songs in the street, or to ring your neighbour’s doorbell and run away. So don’t do that.
5.It is illegal to be drunk on licensed premises (i.e. in a pub).
True.This one is enforced under at least three separate laws. Under the 1872 Licensing Act, there’s a penalty for “every person found drunk” in a licensed premises, while 1839’s Policing Act forbids landlords from permitting drunkenness. The 2003 Licensing Act also makes it an offence to sell alcohol to a drunk person, or to buy a drunk person a drink.
Everyone who has been to the UK knows these laws are, of course, unfailingly obeyed.
6.It is illegal to be drunk in charge of a horse.
True.This dates back to 1872, and you’re also not allowed to be drunk in charge of a cow, or while you’re carrying a loaded firearm, which seems… pretty sensible, actually.
7.It is legal to shoot a Welshman with a longbow on Sunday in the Cathedral Close in Hereford; or inside the city walls of Chester after midnight; or a Scotsman within the city walls of York, other than on a Sunday.
All of these are FALSE.Please do not do any of these. The Law Commission couldn’t find any evidence any of these laws ever existed.
“It is illegal to shoot a Welsh or Scottish (or any other) person regardless of the day, location, or choice of weaponry,” they state.
PS Please do not shoot or otherwise kill any people. This is definitely illegal.
8.It is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day.
This happenedone time.Christmas Day in 1644 fell on a legally mandated fast day, so it would have been illegal to eat a mince pie, even though they weren’t specifically mentioned. The UK did, under Oliver Cromwell, ban Christmas itself for a while, but those laws were invalidated when the monarchy was restored.
9.It is illegal to jump the queue in the tube ticket hall.
True.So long as there’s a sign telling you to queue (or a member of staff), queue-jumping is illegal under TfL byelaws: You have to join from the back. This is possibly the most British law in existence.
10.It is illegal to destroy or deface money.
Mostly true.If you want to destroy a banknote for some reason, that’s actually legal. But under the Currency and Banknotes Act of 1928, it’s illegal to deface a banknote by drawing, stamping, or printing on it. It’s also illegal to destroy coins.
11.It is illegal to place a stamp of the Queen upside down on a letter.
False.It’s illegal to do anything with the intention of deposing the Queen (sorry, republicans), but this is fine. The Royal Mail will deliver the letter as normal.
12.It is illegal to stand within 100 yards of the reigning monarch without wearing socks.
False.Fear not, you can go sockless near royals. Queen Elizabeth I did make it illegal to be in her presence wearing shirts with “outrageous double ruffs”, or hose of “monstrous and outrageous greatness” — which seems fair enough — but these laws were repealed by James I.
13.It is illegal to handle salmon in suspicious circumstances.
True.This is illegal under the Salmon Act of 1986, apparently. Alas, the Law Commission did not elaborate on what counts as a suspicious way to handle salmon. You can check the original lawhere, but it won’t help all that much.
14.All swans are the property of the Queen, and killing one is an act of treason.
Not ALL swans.The Queen has first dibs on all “wild, unmarked mute swans in open water”, and has since the 12th century, but only actually claims ones on the Thames and some tributaries. It’s illegal to kill one of those, but it isn’t actually treason.
And the Queen has no claim on tame swans, or other types of swan. Who knew
Witty Prankster Tries to Break as Many Ancient British Laws as Possible While in the Presence of Police
PranksterOobah Butler(previously), who also works as a freelance writer forVicehilariously tried to break as many seemingly ridiculous, ancient British laws while in the presence of police, military and other forms of official security.
Britain is an old-fashioned, weird place, and its esoteric laws are among the most ridiculous things about the place. From it being illegal to handle a salmon suspiciously, to the threat of having your head chopped off for wearing a suit of armour in Parliament, VICE’s Oobah Butler sees if anyone takes any of these laws seriously by trying to break as many as he can—in front of policemen.
Vote up the most insane stories from ancient Roman times—those that put Washington, D.C. and Hollywood to shame.
If the Ancient Romans knew how to do one thing well, it was party. When they weren’t busy inventing the aqueduct, concrete, or the basis for the modern calendar, they were discovering new and exciting ways to have a good time with each other. Sure, every emperor, senator, and nobleman under the sun promoted family values… but when that sun set, ancient Rome got into the kind of action that would make the writers of Game of Thrones blush.
While the Romans probably weren’t the first in history to push the sexual envelope, they were among the first to keep detailed records. Regular talk of affairs, orgies, and contests spun around the rumor mill for centuries. Of course, the Romans weren’t above tabloid-level journalism. It’s no coincidence that the most extreme rumors were about the most hated emperors.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Since most of these Roman rumors involved the emperors, that meant most of them ended in either bloody coups or executions. It’s good to be the king, but only as long as people let you stay in power. So, as crazy as you think modern Washington controversies may seem, some of the ancient Rome sex stories on this list may make you appreciate just how far politicians have come over the last two thousand years.
Nero Castrated A Man And Then Married Him
For someone with the power and maniacal reputation of Emperor Nero, it was probably easy to get bored at having his every whim met. Perhaps that’s why Nero turned an innocent boy into a eunuch and then tied the knot. The boy, Sporus, was dressed as a woman in a veil for the official ceremony, and the pair even took a romantic honeymoon to Greece.
Caligula Went To A Wedding And Left With The Bride
Gaius Piso made the poor decision of inviting Emperor Caligula to his wedding. When Caligula showed up to the banquet, Gaius told the emperor not to touch his soon-to-be wife Livia Orestilla. So, naturally, Caligula stole her, married her, then banished her to an island where she was forbidden to sleep with anyone ever again. Moral of the story? Don’t tell Caligula he can’t do something.
Nero Got Nasty With His Mom
For Emperor Nero’s mother, Agrippina, merely being the mother of the emperor wasn’t enough. Early in his rule as a teenager, Agrippina had a heavy hand in his decision-making. Rumors spread that she reinforced her influence with her body. Stories spread about Nero’s relationship with a consort who suspiciously resembled his mother as well as a public appearance together where his robes were noticeably stained.
Tiberius Went Skinny Dipping with Young Boys
Pushing the depths of depravity, stories said Emperor Tiberius trained young boys to fulfill his physical needs. He liked to go swimming with them, then have them lick and nibble him “between his thighs.” He called them “tiddlers.”
Caligula Slept With Guests’ Wives And Then Bragged About How They’d Gotten Down
Dinner parties with Caligula were a nightmare for married couples. Caligula frequently invited married couples over for dinner, and if a certain wife struck his fancy, he’d take her back to his bed chambers and return later to tell their husbands everything that went down. If that wasn’t enough for him, he’d sometimes file a bill of divorce for couples just because he could.
Caligula Had A Favorite Sister
Although it’s been said he took all of his sisters to bed, Caligula’s favorite was allegedly Drusilla. Stories said their grandmother caught them in bed together when they were still minors. Later in life, he took Drusilla from her husband. When she died, Caligula declared an entire season of public mourning.
An Empress Had A Taboo Face-Off With A Famous Prostitute—And Won
According to Pliny the Elder, Valeria Messalina, the third wife of Emperor Claudius and mother of his son, was known for her appetite for pleasure. Just for fun, the empress bet the best Roman courtesan of her time that she could sleep with more men in one day than said lady of the night. Messalina came out on top by bedding 25 men.
Nero Dressed Up As Animals For His Sexcapades
Nero may have had a weird childhood, but not even the most uncommon upbringing could explain his most ferocious urges. Stories said he liked to play a game where he dressed in animal skins, was let loose from a cage, and went to town on defenseless men and women who were tied to stakes.
Cleopatra Had A Love Child With Caesar And Paraded It Around Rome
Julius Caesar not only started the reign of Roman emperors; he was one of their finest playboys. Despite his marriage to Calpurnia, he took many mistresses—among them, the famous Cleopatra. When Caesar invited her to Rome, Cleopatra brought their baby and showed him off to everyone… including Calpurnia.
So what was an epic playboy to do? He gave the kid his name and drafted up a law saying he could marry as many women as he wanted.
Caligula Used His Sisters To Discredit Political Rivals
When Caligula wasn’t actually taking his siblings to bed, he often prostituted them off to his friends. This came in handy if he ever wanted to put those same friends on trial. He kept records of all the adultery and made them public to create an instant uproar whenever he needed to ruin a friend-turned-rival’s reputation.
Augustus Exiled His Daughter For Ruining Family Values
Emperor Augustus found himself in a bind with his daughter, Julia. Augustus was a supporter of family values and set out to make adultery illegal. Julia complicated his political stance by frequently indulging in vices, including public instances of adultery. Augustus was so upset that he exiled her to an island with no men or wine. As for the men she slept with, they were either exiled themselves or forced to kill themselves.
Emperor Elagabalus Was All About Role-Playing
Elagabalus would search for the most well-endowed men in all of Rome and bring them back to his palace. There, he’d pose for them as the goddess of love, Venus. He’d pretend his partner was Paris from the Illiad and let the fantasy go from there.
Caligula Turned His Palace Into A Brothel
When the Roman treasury was running low on money and taxes just weren’t doing the trick, Caligula turned his palace into a brothel. He put everyone on a line of credit with astronomical interest rates. Once, he allegedly saw two “Roman knights” who owed him passing by, so he had them seized and confiscated all their property.
Elagabalus Was a Part Time Emperor, Part Time Seducer
While Caligula turned his palace into a brothel, Elagabalus got in on the action himself. He had a room in his palace brothel where he’d stand at the door and try to entice clients into joining him.
Mark Antony Totally Went After Best Friend Caesar’s Girl After He Was Out Of The Way
Not long after Caesar met his end on the Ides of March, his closest friend and ally, Mark Antony, hooked up with his mistress, Cleopatra. Antony was named an enemy of Rome, but was too busy with the Queen of Egypt to care. Eventually, Caesar’s successor, Octavian, faced them down and defeated their forces. In the end they both took their own lives.
Claudius Executed His Wife For Organizing A Coup With Her Lover
Other than challenging prostitutes to feats of bedroom mastery, Emperor Claudius’s wife Valeria Messalina was famous for marrying another man, Gaius Silius, behind Cladius’s back. Together, they conspired to overthrow Claudius and rule the Empire. That all fell apart when Claudius found out—and executed them both.