Thursday, September 29, 2022

Lib Dems win Harborough District Council by-election

Good new from the count this evening. The Liberal Democrats have held their seat in Market Harborough's Logan ward in today's Harborough District Council by-election.

Congratulations to Geraldine Whitmore, the victorious Lib Dem candidate, on a great result.

The result:

Lib Dems         582 (45.7%)

Conservatives 382 (30.0%

Labour             250 (19.6%)

Independent      60 (4.7%)

This is a two-member ward in which the Lib Dems held both seats until one of their councillors had to move away from the area, causing the by-election. Last time the top Lib Dem candidate polled 35 per cent of the vote.

There was little sign of a Conservative campaign today.

The boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child

The row over cheating in chess grumbles on. There is now a sense that many of the top players share a feeling that Hans Niemann, the young American whom the world champion Magnus Carlsen implicitly accused, has improved too rapidly and plays strong but not obvious moves too quickly.

If you want an informed guide to the controversy, I recommend an edition of Perpetual Chess Podcast. One of the contributors, the Scottish grandmaster and philosopher Jonathan Rowson, quotes this German fable as a warning:

A man whose axe was missing suspected his neighbours son. The boy walked like a thief, looked like a thief and talked like a thief.

But the man found his axe while he was digging in the valley, and the next time he saw his neighbour's son, the boy walked, looked and spoke like any other child.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Market Harborough mystery: the infectious diseases hospital

Have a look at this map of the area around Market Harborough railway station. It's a detail from the six-inch Ordnance Survey series published between 1888 and 1913.

East of the station, on Rockingham Road, you see the legend Hospital, with Infectious Diseases below it in italics.

This appears to relate to a square building on the north bank of the Welland, which I calculate to stand where Weddel Swift's plant is on the Riverside Industrial Estate is today.

I have never seen any reference to the opening or operation of this hospital. But an advertisement in The Hospital from 1915 by Humphreys Ltd lists Market Harborough as one of the places they have supplied with one of their iron hospitals. See the blog Historic Hospitals for more details.

But did it ever open? According to the map there was no road or path to it.

Remembering Upper Kent Street, Leicester

Copyright © Dennis Calow

One of the striking things about the aerial photograph of Leicester Midland steam locomotive shed I posted a couple of days ago is the long terraced street that passed close by it.

Someone on Twitter (my mother used to work for him, as it happens) remembered visiting cousins in Upper Kent Street, as it was then called, and spending hours with them watching the coming and goings on the railway.

Today Upper Kent Street has been redeveloped and even renamed Maidstone Road. But it lives on in the University of Leicester's Vanished Leicester collection where you will find several images of it.

Follow that link to see them all: I have reproduced a couple here.

Copyright © Dennis Calow

The mystery of the King's Cross lighthouse

Jago Hazzard is our guide to this prominent but enigmatic structure.

You can support his videos via his Patreon page.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Steve Coogan, Richard III and conspiracy theories

The Lost King sounds as though it should be one of those gentle films in which people take of their clothes for a calendar photoshoot or sing sea shanties and Dame Judi Dench has to appear by law.

But it's been causing no end of a row today.

Members of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, who are unhappy with the way they are depicted in the film, were interviewed for an article in this morning's Daily Mail.

So there you will read:

One of the film's worst inaccuracies has undermined the reputation of the lead archaeologist on the dig, Dr Richard Buckley, 64.

The movie portrays him as being dismissive of Langley and of refusing to help her, only agreeing to become involved when his department is threatened with closure and he faces losing his job; he sees the project as a way of saving his own skin.

But this simply isn't true.

Buckley's job was never under threat and his department wasn't facing closure. He actually worked for a commercial arm of the university called University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), which undertook commercial digs all over the country. ULAS was thriving and did not rely on funding from the university.

Neither did Buckley dismiss Langley out of hand. All the academics involved in the project say he was enthusiastic from the start.

I have seen emails between Buckley and Langley from the days and weeks after their first contact and his are full of ideas, suggestions, co-operation and positivity. Buckley did express caution over the odds of success, but he signed up to the project nonetheless.

And by the time people had digested that, Steve Coogan, who co-wrote and appears in The Lost King, had gone on the Today programme to defend the film: 

"They've played this quite badly.

"Had they at the start been generous towards Philippa, and elevated her to the front and centre position, which is where she deserves to be, this film wouldn't have been necessary.

"But at every turn they marginalised her, edged her out, because she wasn't cut from the right cloth."

That's not how I remember the media coverage at the time, even if I've never been quite clear what Philippa Langley's role was. The dig, for instance, was largely paid for by Leicestershire Promotions and the university.

So I was a little concerned by an early promotional piece for the film where Zoe Williams told us that Langley

was in Leicester, trying to piece together from her research the whereabouts of a long-gone church, and she walked across the fabled car park.

Because the location of Greyfriars in Leicester has never been a mystery: part of it is still above ground. The archaeologists were keen to dig the site so its exact layout could be established, but David Baldwin, another hero of the finding of the king, had got it about right in 1986. That's why the dig took place in the correct area, though coming down on Richard's skeleton on the first morning was a bit of a bonus.

A story about a lone eccentric who proves the establishment wrong makes for an appealing film, but it has little to do with what went on in Leicester that autumn.

And, as the archaeologist Mike Pitts said on Twitter today:

Monday, September 26, 2022

Leicester Midland steam locomotive shed in 1948

The large round structure here is Leicester Midland steam locomotive shed, which was built in 1945 and serviced its last steam locomotive in 1966. After that a couple of steam locomotives were restored here - there was even talk of it housing a transport museum - before it was demolished in 1970. That's not a long life for such an impressive building,

This site is still railway land and today is home to the depot of UK Rail Leasing, which own a fleet of heritage diesels. This makes waiting for a train at Leicester station, which you can see towards the top of the photo, interesting for a railway enthusiast. You never know what will emerge from there.

The terraced streets around the loco shed have not fared so well. Most were cleared so the new St Peter's Estate could be built.

Labour will target NO Liberal Democrat seats as the next election

The Daily Mail has a story today...

OK, let's get this bit over with...

The Daily Mail has a story today under, at least on its website, the headline:
Labour will target just TWO Liberal Democrat seats to win the next election in anti-Tory manoeuvre
But when you read the story those two seats turn out to be Sheffield Hallam and somewhere unspecified in Scotland.

Sheffield Hallam, of course, is a Labour seat. And there is no Liberal Democrat seat in Scotland where Labour are within a mile of being anywhere near having a chance of running us close.

It may be that Labour is worried about the Lib Dems eyeing Edinburgh South, which used to be a target for us, but it's hard to think they have much to worry about there at the moment.

Anyway, it follow from this that the Mail should have headlined its story:
Labour will target NO Liberal Democrat seats to win the next election in anti-Tory manoeuvre

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Joy of Six 1077

"Nothing like this has happened before in Britain’s most multicultural city. In recent months, though, something has changed. Hindu nationalism has come to Britain." Peter Oborne and Imran Mulla set out to explain recent events in Leicester.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft says the United Kingdom has given a range of financial crimes a sheen of respectability: "The story of Britain’s transformation into an oligarch’s paradise has its origins in the country’s earlier decline. Once upon a time, English banking and broking prided itself on its integrity."

Jules Evans on the crackpot philosophy Putin has fallen for.

Musicians and crew could find themselves unemployed en masse because of Brexit, representatives from the New Musical Express warned a House of Lords hearing. Read the report by Andrew Trendell.

Boak & Bailey investigate the decline in quality of pub food: "We don’t think we’re seeing as many people eating in pubs that offer food. And the other week, we wandered into a pub that’s usually full with diners at lunchtime on the weekend and found it mostly empty."

Peter Ackroyd's biography of Charles Dickens appeared in 1990 and was reviewed by Bryan Appleyard: "He remarks at one point that Dickens is perfectly capable of being as self-consciously Dickensian, as artificially as his public self, as any of the pubs or people who have earned that epithet since. The myth is an essential element."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Leicestershire and Carlisle United’s Chris Balderdash

We end our week at Bonkers Hall with the doyen of East Midland peers giving his thoughts on the climate crisis. Never let it be said that he does not move with the times.

Incidentally, I have to thank the predictive text on my phone for turning the late Chris Balderstone into Chris Balderdash. It's still in a creative vein: the other day, while I was tweeting about the legendary Shropshire figure Wild Edric, it came up with Wild Edrich, the black sheep of the cricketing family.


Perhaps it is all the carbon dioxide in the air, but the seasons are all over the place. It used to be possible for a chap to make a good living playing country cricket in the summer and League football in the winter, but I don’t suppose anyone has tried that since Leicestershire and Carlisle United’s Chris Balderdash. 

Now winter draws on, as the First Lady Bonkers used to say, and I turn my thoughts to heating my stables. I assure readers that, unlike Mr Nadhim Zahawi, I shall not be stinging the taxpayer for the cost. 

One year, as I recall, word got around that the stables were nice and warm, with the result that two Well-Behaved Orphans spent several weeks living there in a pantomime horse costume. I couldn’t find it in my heart to be hard on them: by the time they were discovered they had won me a novice chase at Haydock Park.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Wizzard: Angel Fingers

To think there was a time when I was embarrassed that Wizzard had been my favourite band when I was 13.

Angel Fingers completed a run of three singles, after Ballpark Incident and See My Baby Jive, that most other bands could only dream of.

But then Roy Wood is a genius. Abba took See My Baby Jive when they wrote Waterloo.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

David Chadwick chosen as Lib Dem candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire

Nation Cymru reports:

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have selected their first General Election candidate in a bid to unseat the Conservatives in a key battleground seat.

David Chadwick has been selected by local party members as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire, the seat of Tory MP Fay Jones.

The seat has gone back and forth between the two parties in recent elections, with the Liberal Democrats coming out on top in a 2019 byelection before losing it again in the December General Election of that year.

The Liberal Democrats then failed to win the seat at last year’s Senedd elections. However, May’s local elections saw the Welsh Liberal Democrats becoming the largest group on Powys County Council, and in Brecon and Radnorshire they topped the polls with 15 councillors compared to the Conservatives who were left with just a single councillor.

David Chadwick fought North Dorset for the Lib Dems at the 2019 general election.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Nick Harvey and his invisible giant rabbit

Once more, his lordship demonstrates the close relations between Liberalism and the arts.


Conservatives believe culture is something they find in the refrigerator if their cleaning lady is off with her legs, but to Liberals the arts are what make life worth living. One thinks of Visconti’s masterly ‘Beith in Venice,’ of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Anyone Can Birtwhistle’ and of Nick Harvey and his invisible giant rabbit. 

Today the culture portfolio is in the safe hands of Jamie Stone, who has a particular interest in contemporary Chinese art. I recently accompanied him to an exhibition of the same, and he went “Ai Weiwei” all the way home.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

How post-war newspapers reported on children and bombsites

Embed from Getty Images

When I was writing my article on children and bombsites and post-war British films I thought that what I should do is look at contemporary newspaper reports to see if they reflected the themes I had picked up.

Today I found that Rose Staveley-Wadham has already done it for me on the British Newspaper Archive site, and those themes are certainly present in the reports she had picked out.

There are stories suggesting a positive site to bombsites, but they do not celebrate children's freedom there so much as their organisation by adults.

So you can read about a bombsite garden party for children in the East End in 1952 and of Princess Margaret visiting a garden laid out on a bombsite by the pupils of a girls' school the following year.

It also turned out that German bombing was a godsend to archaeology in that it led to discoveries including a Mithraic temple in the City of London and the first cathedral in Coventry (which you may remember from a Time Team visit).

The idea that is was mothers who led the campaign to have something done about the bombsites is supported:

In March 1950 ‘housewives’ from Croydon protested ‘at the state of the bombed site in the vicinity of their homes,’ on Wilford and Forster Roads, as reported the Croydon Times. The newspaper detailed how:

The women want the bomb site cleared and houses built on it. They claim that as it is at present, a veritable dumping ground of all kinds of rubbish, it is a germ trap, a rat breeding ground and a danger to the health of their children.

And the Croydon Times tells us what happened next:

At three o’clock on Wednesday a number of women gathered in the centre of Wilford-road, carrying in front of them posters with slogans such as ‘Remove the war scars’ – ‘Give us homes.’ … As the women paraded round the block, others still in their aprons, without hats or coats, came out from their homes to join them.

Standing on an old water tank, Ann Waddell issued her rallying cry:

When you see what Croydon is and what it boasts of, this ‘scrap heap’ is an absolute disgrace. We want it cleared and homes built on it. It is an ideal site for houses or flats. We don’t want children cutting themselves on tins or taking back to their homes germs which might well start an epidemic.

There were, as I suspected, children who died playing on bombsites:

On 2 October 1950 the Northampton Chronicle and Echo reported how three boys from Southwark ‘were playing on a bombed site when the wall of a half-demolished house fell on them.’

The scene was a desperate one. ‘Women and a priest prayed on the street’ as men dug through the rubble to find the three boys, one of whom, Johnny Davies, who was just twelve at the time, lost his life in the accident.

Meanwhile, in February 1958 the Daily News (London) reported on the death of eight-year-old Kenneth Edwards on a bomb site in Hackney. He had been returning home from school across a bomb site with his friend Michael Aarons, when ‘the ground gave way beneath them and they fell 10 feet into an old cellar.’ Michael found himself landing in a ‘disused bath,’ but Kenneth was covered by a ‘ton of rubble.’ Sadly, Kenneth did not survive.

In the same year the Daily Mirror reported on the case of Dorothy Aldrich from Paddington, who at six-years-old had been playing a game of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ on a bomb site. She had fallen ’20 feet through a glass skylight,’ resulting in her skull being fractured. Dorothy was ‘unconscious for eighty-five days.’

In my article I suggested that there might have been tensions between developers who took over the bombsites as the Fifties progressed and the children who were used to playing there. 

Again, it seems I was on to something as when Dorothy Aldrich and her parents sued the demolition contractors responsible for the site, there followed an extraordinary outburst from Mr Justice Cassels, as captured by the Daily Mirror:

"Menace" of the Bomb Site Kids

Many of the children living in the district south of Paddington Station, London, are a MENACE, Mr. Justice Cassels said in the High Court yesterday. 

He added: "They respect neither persons nor property. They are UNDISCIPLINED, DESTRUCTIVE and REGARDLESS OF AUTHORITY." 

They present a problem which is insoluble."

This is a reminder that the Fifties were not the cosy decade we tend to see them as. For one thing people were concerned about juvenile delinquency, or at least 81-year-old judges were.

Still, the Mayor of Paddington, Councillor A.N. Carruthers, spoke up for the borough's younger residents - " I do not think that Paddington children are worse than any other children" - and Dorothy won her case.

On a final point, I did consider mentioning where London's last remaining bombsite is or was, but was unable to find a clear answer. But Rose Staveley-Wadham has given me an answer much nearer her home.

In 1950 the Leicester Daily Mercury reported that a bombsite in the city was to become a municipal car park. And that car park, on Dover Street, is still there today.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Market Harborough's Arts Fresco to take place on 9 October

Good news today: Arts Fresco, Market Harborough's free street theatre festival, will take place on Sunday 9 October.

For photographic opportunities and sheer fun, this is my favourite local event and its great that it has been rearranged so quickly. 

It would have been a particular shame for the event not to have taken place this year, as 2022 marks its 20th anniversary

Arts Fresco was meant to take place earlier this month but had to be cancelled because of the period of mourning for the Queen. This was the right decision because few would have been in the mood for it that day.

So thank you to the organisers who have made this minor miracle happen.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: These "Rutland Water Truthers"

In January BBC News reported a story under the headline Ichthyosaur: Huge fossilised ‘sea dragon’ found in Rutland reservoir, which is more proof of the existence of a monster than they've ever found at Loch Ness.

He wasn't happy about that "reservoir" though.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard nothing from the ‘There’s No Monster Brigade’ since the skeleton of an ichthyosaur – otherwise known as a ‘sea dragon’! – was found on the shores of Rutland Water. 

What I do read are claims that this great lake is man-made and dates from no earlier than the 1970s. Can you believe it? These ‘Rutland Water Truthers’ must get together on their Facebooks and the TikTok to egg each other on. I trust the authorities are keeping a close eye on them.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Church bans Desmond Tutu's daughter from taking Shropshire funeral due to same-sex marriage

Yes, the Shropshire Star wins my Headline of the Day Award, but the judges felt it necessary to add a rider condemning the Church of England.

As the story below that headline explains:

The daughter of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been banned from officiating at a church funeral in Shropshire, because she is married to a woman.

Instead the family of Martin Kenyon will be holding the 'service' in the back garden of his country home in the south of the county.

The former army officer split his life between London and the county and his family had been hoping to hold his funeral in St Michael and All Angels at Lydbury North.

But his wish to see priest Mpho Tutu - daughter of his close friend Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his own god-daughter - conduct it in the church has been denied by the Church of England because she is in a same-sex marriage. ...

Mr Kenyon was friends with Desmond Tutu for 60 years after he looked after the South African archbishop when he arrived in London in the early 1960s to study.

Mpho Tutu told the Star of her reaction to the decision:

"I couldn't believe my ears. Our same-sex marriage is again a reason to hurt people for no reason.

"Martin’s daughters, grandchildren, friends, the Tutu family, and also my wife, Mpho, who are all mourning because of the death of their beloved Martin are being punished because she fell in love with me and dared to marry me

"I feel it is my time to speak up for my wife."

And the Star claims the Diocese of Hereford told it:

“We acknowledge this is a difficult situation. Advice was given in line with the House of Bishops current guidance osame-sexex marriage.”

Yes, I think it probably did.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Joy of Six 1076

Sarah O'Connor, in a Twitter thread, fact-checks five key assertions from Britannia Unchained (which was co-authored by our new PM and chancellor) and finds them all untrue.

Putin’s Western apologists don’t reflect the usual conflict between left and right, argues Quillette, but offer an example of the two poles making common cause against the centre.

Jeff Sparrow argues that the stronger resistance to fossil fuels grows, the more laws spring up to contain activists: "In Australia, where fossil fuel lobbyists exert tremendous influence over the major political parties, the trend has probably gone further than anywhere else."

"Lord Salisbury, the prime minister at the end of her reign, did everything he could to escape from 'the gruesomeness' of public ceremonies. The result was that the few ceremonial occasions under Victoria often involved embarrassment: marching columns that concertinaed, coffins carried the wrong way, words that were misread and ceremonies that were botched." Adrian Wooldridge examines how the British crown learnt to do pageantry in the 20th century.

"So profound was the PM's passion of the moving picture, her first words on being introduced to Lord Attenborough were 'Why didn't you come years ago?' 'Because I wasn't asked, darling,' Dickie replied." Richard Luck on Margaret Thatcher's ambitions to revive the British film industry.

Simon Matthews reviews a new biography of Aleister Crowley: "Along the way we meet W.B. Yeats, who scorned Crowley as a writer, Clifford Bax, Dennis Wheatley, Gerald Yorke (personal representative of the Dalai Lama), Tom Driberg, Anthony Powell, Arthur Calder-Marshall and Clifford Bax."

Lord Bonkers' Diary: “You're out of touch my Blaby, My poor old-fashioned Blaby"

This is why I enjoy working for Lord Bonkers: here is a hitherto unsuspected episode in the history of Leicestershire and the history of popular music laid bare.

And if you'd heard the stories the old boy tells me about Blaby in those days, you'd know that was the right expression.


When cultural historians turn to the British pop scene it is Merseybeat and my own Rutbeat that dominate their writings. There is, however, another movement that should be given its due: Blaby Beat. Yes, this unassuming Leicestershire town has left its mark on musical history. 

James Taylor, for instance, was so taken with the place that he moved there and became known as ‘Sweet Blaby James.’ He was following a trail blazed by Bobby Vee who, though he was unable to stay for long, urged his listeners ever after to ‘Take Good Care of My Blaby.’ 

Whether The Supremes ever visited Leicestershire I know not, but their song ‘Blaby Love’ was careful to namecheck what was rapidly become the hottest and the coolest town in the world. Nor were they alone. One thinks of The Beach Boys (‘Don’t Worry Blaby’), The Rubettes (‘Sugar Blaby Love’), Wizzard (‘See My Blaby Jive’), Vanilla Ice (‘Ice Ice Blaby’), Bread (‘Blaby I’m-a Want You’), George McRae (‘Rock Your Blaby’) and Britney Spears (‘Hit Me Blaby One More Time’).

For a while it was a boomtown. The Beatles’ ‘Blaby You’re a Rich Man’ was taken as a cynical comment on the phenomenon and one I had some sympathy with, having seen Melton Mowbray after the Pork Pie Bubble of the 1890s burst. 

Ultimately, however, the Conservative-run council in Blaby proved a poor fit with the counter-culture and rigorous enforcement of its by-laws saw the end of the town’s pop fame. Bob Dylan’s ‘It's All Over Now, Blaby Blue’ served as the requiem for an era, and my old friends the Rolling Stones sang: “You're out of touch my Blaby/My poor old-fashioned Blaby/I said Blaby, Blaby, Blaby, you're out of time.”

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Listen to the stories of Kenal Rise with John Rogers

Something a bit different from John Rogers. As he explains on YouTube

This is a video of my project for Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture in collaboration with the wonderful Kensal Rise Library which ran from January 2020 to January 2021. Kensal Rise Has A Story tells the story of the streets around Kensal Rise Library through the voices of local people and is part of the inaugural Brent Biennal

I explained the project in an interview with Art Review

It’s a geographic sound map or trail of Kensal Rise. The form the project takes has partly been informed by the COVID-19 restrictions. I had planned this beautiful archive inside the library and some of the sound works were going to be burnt onto vinyl which could be listened to within a listening booth. We’ve not got those, but its ok, those were outcomes, they weren’t really the work itself which is a portrait of the community in their own words. 

By ‘community’ I mean the community of the library. Where it becomes geographic is that the emphasis is on the subjective responses to the environment and the changes within that environment rather than looking for some objective, dry, historical overview of the area, or even contemporary commentary on the area.

The ethos of the Kensal Rise Library is at the heart of the project. About 60 percent of the contributors are connected to the library, as users or in some other way. You can’t listen to any of the clips without feeling the presence of the library.

The unusual pub name near the end - Paradise by way of Kensal Green - is a reference to a poem by G.K. Chesterton.

John has a Patreon account to support his videos and blogs at The Lost Byway.

Hemel Hempstead modernism in Market Harborough

I mentioned yesterday that as a little boy I lived in the new town of Hemel Hempstead. That has left me with an affection for the humane modernist style of architecture that predominated there.

There is at least one building in Market Harborough in that style. The wooden boards on the upper floor of this dry cleaners in the Coventry Road are typical of it.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: "Sir Percy Alleline is a fine upstanding fellow"

I was rather pleased with this entry, and then I realised what a narrow audience it would appeal to. It's people who loved John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or the television adaptation of it (but perhaps not the film) and who remember Ming Campbell's leadership of the Liberal Democrats and formed the same view of it I did.

As I explained recently, those letters from Paddy have their origin in The Goat Hotel, Llanfair Caereinion.


Yes, I miss Paddy Ashdown. I miss his correspondence – those envelopes marked ‘Top Secret: Burn Before Reading’ that arrived by every post – and I miss his company. Despite Ashdown’s best efforts, I never could quite get my head around ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.’ “What exactly was Toby Esterhase up to?” I would ask him, and “So did old Smiley do right by Ricki Tarr in the end?” 

Now Paddy is gone there is no one in the party to explain this to me. I tried asking Ming Campbell the other day, but he just told me Sir Percy Alleline was a fine upstanding fellow and that he wouldn’t listen to a word against him.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...

North Norfolk Lib Dems choose Steffan Aquarone as their PPC

Steffan Aquarone has been chosen to fight North Norfolk for the Liberal Democrats at the next general election.

This is the seat held for the party by Norman Lamb between 2001 and 2019.

The Eastern Daily Press reports that Steffan won 93 per cent of the votes of local Liberal Democrats in the selection process.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

In defence of Peter, Jane and Ladybird's history books

As a video recently posted here went a long way to demonstrate, Ladybird Books were about the most progressive post-war publishers of children's books.

Yet misapprehensions about their publications abound. The other day someone on Twitter was convinced that Peter and Jane exclaimed "I say!" to one another.

The illustrator of these books, Harry Wingfield, explained their social position to the Guardian in 2002 when he was 91:

Wingfield is dismissive of claims in another national newspaper that the model for the real-life Jane has been unearthed in Shrewsbury. There was no real-life Jane. Or Peter, for that matter. Their images were forged from any number of photographs of local children, some taken on the new council estates that were springing up in the late 50s and early 60s.

"They were the sons and daughters of respectable workers," he says, "and they were well dressed. You didn't want dustbin kids. But they weren't as middle-class as everyone made out."

My mother taught me to read from these books before I went to school. We were living in a new town, Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, at the time, and nothing about them felt alien to me.

Ladybird's Adventures from History series is also controversial. Otto English, with his repeated use of the term "Ladybird libertarians" seems to blame it for Brexit. But Ladybird's market was local authority primary schools, not the prep schools that the proponents of leaving the European Union attended.

And L du Garde Peach, the man who wrote the bulk of that series, was no Tory, if only because he fought Derby for the Liberal Party at the 1929 general election.

David Perkins writes of him in History Today:

There was more to Peach than a mere producer of patriotic homilies. As a radio dramatist, he did not shy away from controversial issues, including war, the arms race, and pacificism: Patriotism Ltd (1937) was subject to BBC internal censorship and pulled from the air, a decision that was reported around the world; Night Sky (1937) sought to bring home the realities of modern warfare. Peach also wrote a play about the First World War with no men in the cast: Home Fires (1930). 

He became known, too, for hard-hitting radio dramas: Bread (1932) was a family farming saga of poverty and emigration from the agricultural depression of the 1840s to the Great Depression. Three Soldiers (1933) highlighted the predicament of ex-soldiers from the Great War who had been thrown on the dole. 

Several of Peach’s radio plays touched on racial issues. His stance on the subject was more nuanced than that of many contemporaries and his attitudes ahead of his time. In Ingredient X (1929) he wrote about the corporate exploitation of Africa, spurring a journalist to complain that the play was ‘Bolshevist in tendency’. 

In John Hawkins – Slaver (1933) Peach adapted Hakluyt’s 16th-century account of the notable voyages and made a point of showing how Hawkins – like other Elizabethan explorers – made profits from slave trading to secure the monarch’s support. In The Cohort Marches: An Episode of the Roman Occupation (1937), Peach recast contemporary issues of colonialism in the context of Roman Britain. 

You can watch a lecture on L. du Garde Peach by Perkins in the video above.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Og

"Our dear Queen is safely interred with her ancestors," remarked Lord Bonkers this morning, "so I think we can tell the world about the Conservatives' beastliest fund-raising idea yet."

"You're sure this is true?" I asked. "I have agents everywhere," came the reply. 


Disgusting as the state of our waterways is, it could have been far worse. I have it on good authority that the Conservatives recently considered a fund-raising push under which their branches would have been able, for a fee, to have a leading light of the party take their daily rear in a local river. 

So it might have been Simon Hart in the River Dart, Theresa May in the Tay or Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Og. 

The whole idea, thank the Lord, has been suspended sine die - and I shall never again moan about being touched for a raffle prize. (I don’t mean touching me is the prize, though there was one occasion in Saffron Walden....)

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers Diary...