Monday, March 18, 2019

Pagan London 7: The Temple of Diana

Is there a Temple of Diana buried under St Paul's Cathedral?

William Stukeley thought so and Christopher Wren looked for it.

Six of the Best 857

Richard Kemp says the Liberal Democrat conference was right to reject the more fanciful elements on Vince Cable's supporters scheme - in fact they should never have been put forward.

"If you are upwardly mobile from a poor background, you have to learn how to fit in. If you are posh, you don’t. You glide from school to Oxbridge to the city or bar all the time surrounded by like-minded people so you know the rules. The upshot is that in the unusual contingency of ever being outside of that environment – as Cox was in Brussels – you put your foot in it." Chris Dillow explains why class matters.

Douglas Murray makes a strong case for prosecuting Bloody Sunday's ‘Soldier F’.

"The lingering belief that it can have it all is precisely what’s so repellent about modern Australia. Because it has come at a terrible cost." Matthew Engel is falling out of love with the country.

"Twenty years on from The Beatles - with synth-pop, dance music and hip-hop still largely niche affairs - the big hitters of the sixties and seventies hit their forties, and because mainstream rock radio was essentially conservative, they kept getting play and selling albums." Dave Holmes introduces us to DivorceCore music.

David Behrens on the rediscovery of the Sheaf - the river buried under Sheffield city centre.

Young climate protesters met Harborough District Council leaders

I heard some pleasing news today. It seems the school students who protested in town on Friday over the lack of action against climate change were invited into the council offices.

There they met the leader of the council and the leader of the opposition to discuss their concerns. Classily done.

The leader of the opposition, of course, is my old friend Phil Knowles, a Liberal Democrat.

Before the meeting he addressed the protesters. I am told that because he has the same bug as me, he hardly had a voice. So he borrowed a megaphone from the protesters.

In fact I have photographic proof.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Great Malarkey: Gimme Sugar

Rhythm Passport says:
The Great Malarkey are eight musicians from around the globe – England, Canada, Portugal and Latvia – and they want you to join them on the multicultural train of fast beats and trembling slams of punk-folk spirit.
Gimme Sugar is a track from their 2017 album Doghouse.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The University of Leicester before it was a university

There is much of interest in this 1926 aerial photograph of Leicester.

The two vanished chapels - one Nonconformist, one Church of England - are still standing in Welford Road Cemetery.

Across the road are the buildings of what had been the Leicestershire and Rutland lunatic asylum and was then in the process of turning itself into the campus of the University of Leicester.

The main range remains today as the Fielding Johnson Building, but this photo shows that the asylum buildings were once much more extensive.

Is Jo Swinson the Steel and Layla Moran the Pardoe?

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A few years ago I floated a theory about Liberal Party and Liberal Democrat leadership elections: the are all reruns of the 1976 contest between David Steel and John Pardoe:
One candidate (Steel) was orthodox, sensible and just a little dull. The other (Pardoe) was more charismatic, more open to new ideas and just a little unreliable in his judgement. 
So in later contests Paddy Ashdown was a Pardoe and Alan Beith was a Steel. And Chris Huhne was a Pardoe and Ming Campbell and then Nick Clegg were Steels.
I even tried to apply this rule to Liberal history, with Asquith being the Steel and Lloyd George the Pardoe.

Andrew Hickey, in a tweet today, kindly suggested this distinction was a more enlightening way of analysing Lib Dem internal debates than the concepts of left and right.

He also said he wouldn't compare anyone to Steel at the moment, for obvious reasons, but I am not so discerning.

So what of the forthcoming Lib Dem leadership contest?

My feeling, looking at the expected front runners  is that Jo Swinson is the Steel and Layla Moran the Pardoe.

For what it is worth, I always vote for the Pardoe and the Steel usually wins.

England win silver in world team chess championship

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Very good, if unexpected, news from Leonard Barden in the Guardian:
England’s silver medals on Thursday at the World Team Championship in Astana, Kazakhstan, were the team’s first of any colour in major competition since 1997. European gold in that year seemed the last hurrah of a generation which had proved itself No 2 to the former Soviet Union. 
Before that England won bronze at the 1989 world teams and the 1990 Olympiad but then the Berlin Wall came down and new strong chess nations appeared from Eastern Europe and Asia. 
England proved themselves more consistent than their major rivals, China, India and the US, in Kazakhstan, although the margins were narrow. They were mentally tough, too, often fighting back strongly from dubious mid-session positions.
But as Barden goes on to point out, there is not a pack of hungry young players out there trying to force their way into the team. So this may be a last hurrah rather than a new dawn,

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Vince Cable to stand down as Lib Dem leader

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Vince writes on the Liberal Democrats website this evening
I indicated last year that once the Brexit story had moved on, and we had fought this year’s crucial local elections in 9,000 seats across England, it would be time for me to make way for a new generation. I set considerable store by having an orderly, business-like, succession unlike the power struggles in the other parties. 
So I wanted you, our members, to know that, assuming Parliament does not collapse into an early General Election, I will ask the party to begin a leadership contest in May.
The votes on the constitutional amendments at Lib Dem spring conference in York will decide who can vote in that contest.

Rediscovering the Hatfield to St Albans line

Most of the trackbed has been used for a cycle route, so there is not much dereliction to enjoy.

But you have to admit Salvation Army Halt was a great name for a station.

Six of the Best 856

David Boyle on the latest Brexit manoeuvres: "It is a bit like voting against global warming, or turkeys voting against Christmas. To really avoid it, you have to act."

"Most noticeable ... was the amount of the discussion, in a body responsible for a service to consumers – patients – about how to give the consumers what they do not want. The whole thrust of large parts of the meeting was on how to steer patients away from doctors, away from accident and emergency, away from outpatients." Peter West attends a meeting of his local clinical commissioning group’s governing body.

David Kynaston reviews a biography of Eric Hobsbawm.

"Blue Velvet can also be observed as a meta-commentary on film viewers themselves; as Lynch puts it, 'we are all voyeurs'." Cinephilia & Beyond views David Lynch's 1986 masterpiece.

Explore the Welland just below Market Harborough with Patterdale Paddler.

"In 1947 Crown won Hastings Reserves tournament, scored a bronze medal in the British Championship, played for British national team in three matches (vs Netherlands, USSR and Australia) and defeated one of the top grandmasters of the time in one of them. He was one of the most promising chess talents in Great Britain and appeared to be destined to achieve great heights." Andrey Terekhov on another lost British chess talent.

Liberal Democrats launch investigation into David Steel

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From BBC News:
The Liberal Democrats are investigating former leader David Steel over remarks he made to a child abuse inquiry about the late MP Cyril Smith. 
Lord Steel said he asked Smith in 1979 about claims he abused boys at a Rochdale hostel in the 1960s. 
He said he came away from the conversation "assuming" that Smith had committed the offences. 
But he claimed it was "nothing to do with me" as it had happened before Smith joined the party.
I blogged about David Steel's appearance before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse yesterday.

But it seems that Lord Steel made the same admission five years ago.

Here is a Daily Telegraph report from April 2014:
Cyril Smith confessed 30 years ago to spanking boys and conducting intimate “medical examinations” on them but was allowed to remain as a Liberal MP. 
Lord Steel, the former Liberal leader who has defended the party’s refusal to hold an inquiry into sex abuse allegations, said on Tuesday that he had confronted Smith about his “unusual” behaviour with teenage boys at a hostel in Rochdale. 
An article in Private Eye in 1979 alleged that Smith, who was secretary of the Cambridge House boys hostel, put teenagers across his knee, pulled down their trousers and spanked them as a “punishment” in the 1960s. 
Lord Steel said: “I asked Cyril Smith about it. I was half expecting him to say it was all wrong, and I would have been urging him to sue to save his reputation. To my surprise he said the report was correct.
I suppose you have to ask why there wasn't similar outrage then.

David Steel tells inquiry that Cyril Smith admitted the abuse allegations against him were true

It was an extraordinary day at the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse.

As the Guardian tells it:
Lord Steel, the Liberal Democrat peer, has admitted believing in 1979 that child abuse allegations against Sir Cyril Smith were true, but did nothing to assess whether he was a continuing risk to children. 
The former Liberal party leader said the late MP for Rochdale confirmed in a conversation that reports of child sexual abuse in the media were accurate. 
But rather than suspend and investigate the MP, Steel allowed him to continue in office. Smith stepped down as an MP in 1992 and died in 2010.
You can download a pdf of the day's evidence from the inquiry website, and I would recommend anyone interested in the last years of the Liberal Party to do so.

The three people giving evidence were Sal Brinton, Des Wilson and David Steel.

Much of Sal's evidence involves her being questioned about a written submission to the inquiry by Michael Steed, which details the organisation and culture of the party in the 1960s.

Des Wilson came and went from the party during the 1970s and 1980s, but he was the darling of the activists when he was around.

His evidence lays bare the divide between party's the MPs and activists in that era. The activists were more often in the right, but it is MPs' memoirs that are consulted by the historians.

Perhaps I should start reprinting extracts from Liberator from the past 40 years to show what really went on?

Wilson is also very convincing when he talks about Smith's bullying character.

Finally, there is David Steel and his startling admission.

I blogged about the allegations against Cyril Smith in 2012:
I first heard of the allegations against Cyril Smith when I read them in Private Eye in 1979. The Eye had picked them up from the Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP - those were the days when any self-respecting town had an 'alternative' newspaper). Northern Voices reprinted the original RAP story in 2010. 
My instinct has always been to assume that they were true, if only because I could not see why anyone would trouble to invent anything so tawdry - he "'told me to take my trousers down and hit me four or five times on my bare buttocks" - about someone who was then only a local politician.
My memory of 1979 is that the story about Smith was widely known in the party, which has always made me a little sceptical of Liberals of the era who claim not to have heard it.

You can read more about my reasons for this view in a 2015 post on this blog.

Anyway, you can read the Private Eye story from that year above and download a pdf of the full RAP story on which it was based.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Pagan London 6: Springhead

Part 6 of this series takes us down the Thames to Springhead, the Roman town of Vagniacae, near Gravesend.

The Royal Lochnagar distillery

I took this photograph on one of my visits to Royal Deeside, where my ancestors are remembered.

The pyramid you can see among the trees on the hill behind bears the inscription:
To the beloved memory of Albert the great and good Prince Consort. Erected by his broken hearted widow Victoria R. 21st August 1862.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Redcar British Steel: Britain's least used station

Watch this video and you will see why, despite having two trains in each direction daily, Redcar British Steel sees so few passengers.

Are there bodies of climbing boys in the chimneys of Westminster?

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There was an extraordinary exchange on Westminster Hour when Meg Hillier was interviewed about the plans for a major renovation of the Palace of Westminster. (The item starts at the 50-minute mark.)

Hillier reminded us that the old pile was built in the days when chimneys were swept by sending small boys up them.

She then reported that she had heard rumours that the bodies of climbing boys may be found in the building when the work takes place.

I am not so sure.

Climbing boys certainly did die in their work - roasted alive or, more commonly, suffocated by soot. But I doubt that their bodies were left in the chimneys.

It would be impossible to use the fireplace below and then there is a more unpleasant reason...

Sweepy Stories tells us what happened in such circumstances:
Efforts were made through the years to put an end to the cruel practice of using child chimney sweeps, but they failed until 1875. The death of 12-year-old chimney sweep George Brewster became the catalyst which finally pushed through legislation that outlawed the cruel practice. 
George Brewster became stuck in one of the chimneys in Fulbourn Hospital. His master, William Wyer, had sent George into that situation. A wall had to be torn down to free George from his narrow prison.  He died a short time later. 
Wyer was charged and found guilty of manslaughter.  George Brewster was the last child chimney sweep in England to die in a chimney.
They will find all sorts of things when work begins at Westminster, but the bodies of climbing boys are unlikely be among them.

England's last bell foundry: John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough

Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which had been operating on the same site since 1739, closed in 2017. Campaigners are now fighting to prevent the buildings being turned into a hotel.

But there is a bell foundry still open in England, and it's in Leicestershire.

Last time I blogged about John Taylor & Co. of Loughborough there was bad news. In May of last year I reported that they failed to secure a £8m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Visit the company's site today and you find better news:
The Loughborough Bellfoundry Trust is pleased to confirm that a major grant has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the restoration and development of the Foundry. Full details were published in the Ringing World on 12th October 2018.
Judging by that website - and by the papers being read by the person next to me on the train to work this morning - the project is moving ahead.

Tories promise Leicester a rocket to the Moon

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The Conservatives have come up with a headline policy for May's Leicester City Council elections.

They have promised voters a rocket to take them to the moon. The multi-storey car park in Lee Circle will be converted into a space port and daily flights...

Sorry, I have misread this Leicester Mercury report.

In fact, the Tories have promised to build a £500m tram system in Leicester. There is no funding in place, but they assure us it is "doable".

Leicester is close to a one-party state (the Tories and the Lib Dems have one councillor each), so opposition parties need striking ideas to make an impact on the campaign, and I like trams.

But at a time when the county Tories are planning large cuts to bus services, this promotion of a tram system without any money behind it looks like cynicism. But if people give the idea publicity by giving it publicity, it is probably doing its job.

I fear a generation of young politicians has seen the success of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson and decided that a regard for truth is just so much inconvenient baggage of a journey to the top.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Richard O'Sullivan: This is Your Life

Richard O'Sullivan is in poor health these days and living in retirement at Brinsworth House, but he had quite a career.

He was never out of the studio as a child star in the 1950s and was the situation comedy heartthrob of the 1970s.

Highlights of his This is Your Life include appearances by Melvyn Hayes, the claimant to the throne of Yugoslavia and a barking-mad Trevor Howard.

Plan to turn Richard Cobden's house into "a beacon for Liberalism"

Dunford House, which stands near Midhurst in West Sussex, was the birthplace and home of the Liberal statesman Richard Cobden.

In 1952 the Cobden family gifted the estate to the YMCA to use as a means to further its educational purposes. The YMCA has sold much of the estate over the years - buildings, land and artefacts.

It is now looking to sell the house, probably for conversion into flats, to fund its educational activities elsewhere.

Today I heard from Richard Cobden’s great great great grandson Nick Cobden Wright. He told me that the newly established Cobden Foundation has alternative plans for the house which would see it serve as a conference centre, tea shop and museum..

The idea, Nick said, is for Dunford House to become a beacon for Liberalism and help a number of less fortunate groups: the elderly, young people and those on low incomes.

The Trust is now raising the money to purchase the house from the YMCA.

You can read more about the plan, and some recent press coverage, on the Cobden Foundation website.

If you want to pledge a donation, then contact Nick via the website.

The Capitols: Cool Jerk

The Capitols were a Detroit band and the backing on this 1966 single was secretly recorded by the Motown house band The Funk Brothers.

The song was originally called Pimp Jerk, but it was feared that title would prevent it being played on the radio.

Cool Jerk was covered by, among others, the British bands The Creation and The Tremeloes.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

A Rutland ghost sign

Photographed in Exton a couple of years ago.

Read about the building.

Later. I am told this sign is a relic of the 1980 television film of Little Lord Fauntleroy, which was partly shot in the village.

Chuka Umunna reminds us that Centrism is not Liberalism

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Chuka Umunna wish to bring in compulsory national service for 16-year-olds is a reminder that proclaiming you are in the centre does not make you a Liberal.

This combination of muscular Christianity and middle-class impatience with the lower orders was typical of Labour under Blair.

It was also found among the people who joined the SDP, though less so among the politicians who formed it.

I am all in favour of giving young people volunteering opportunities. Come to that, I am in favour of giving older people such opportunities too.

But I am not attracted by the idea of compulsion. Not only does it offend my Liberal sensibilities: I suspect it would make the service hugely unpopular with young people, defeating the hopes Umunna has for it.

Besides, the whole thing is a cop out.

Umunna wants compulsory national service because, as quoted by Metro:
Under his proposal for a ‘citizens’ service’, Mr Umunna acknowledged that ‘it might seem strong medicine’ but was necessary to tackle ‘social apartheid’ in modern Britain. 
He said national service, which ended in the early 1960s, ‘brought people from an array of different backgrounds and different parts of the country together in a way like no other.’
We have social apartheid in Britain because of the class system and the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

The idea that having young people work side by side for a couple of years will overturn all that is hopelessly wet.

Umunna, judging by the Metro report, would dismiss my views as "cynicism", which is precisely what Tony Blair would have called it 25 years ago.

I have seen this style of politics before, and it's not Liberalism.

Jane Dodds to fight Brecon and Radnorshire for the Lib Dems

From the Welsh Liberal Democrats site:
Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds has been selected to be the Party's Westminster candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. 
Jane has been Welsh Liberal Democrat leader since 2017 and was selected to be the candidate by local party members in an all-member ballot. 
The party made gains locally in recent local elections and hold the Brecon and Radnorshire seat in the Senedd.
This constituency was held by the Lib Dems between 1985 and 1992 and between 1997 and 2015.

Under its old name of Brecon and Radnor, it was in 1985 the scene of one of my favourite by-elections as Richard Livsey gained the seat from the Conservatives.

Jane Dodds' selection carries added interest as the sitting Tory MP, Christopher Davies, had been charged with two counts of making a false instrument and one count of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Bevis's Council Oak at Coate Water

Phil, Tom, Ted, Jim, Frank, Walter, Bill, 'Charl', Val, Bob, Cecil, Sam, Fred, George, Harry, Michael, Jack, Andrew, Luke and half a dozen more were talking all together, shouting across each other, occasionally fighting, wrestling, and rolling over on the sward under an oak. There were two up in the tree, bellowing their views from above, and little Charlie ('Charl') was astride of a bough which he had got hold of, swinging up and down, and yelling like the rest. Some stood by the edge of the water, for the oak was within a few yards of the New Sea, and alternatively made ducks and drakes, and turned to contradict their friends.
The Swindon Advertiser names its top 10 free outings in Wiltshire. It includes Coate Water and mentions the trees around it, but not the Council Oak from Richard Jefferies' Bevis. You can see it in my photograph above.

"Ducks and drakes" here, it seems, means skimming stones.

Six of the Best 855

Seth Thevoz reviews a new publication from the Social Liberal Forum: Am I a Liberal?

"A former British ambassador to an EU country, and ardent Remainer, cites a piece featuring a testing interview with a Remainer about the security risks that could follow from no longer accepting ECJ jurisdiction. A Conservative spokesman was quoted in a subsequent news report saying that was twaddle - but there was no scrutiny about why it would be twaddle." Mark Damazer on the BBC's travails over Brexit.

The tragedy of the commons? It's nonsense, says Cory Doctorow: "But this isn't what actually happened to the Commons: they were stable and well-managed until other factors (e.g. rich people trying to acquire even more land) destabilized them."

Michael Newton looks at the flowering of folk horror in Brexit Britain.

"Why isn’t Frank Zappa better-known, and better-liked, than he is? Why don’t more people 'get' him?" asks Mike Scott.

English cricket must not abandon its fans in pursuit of a new audience, argues Sam Morshead with The Hundred in mind.

My Liberator review of A Very English Scandal in full

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"I will post the whole thing here one day," I blogged last summer as I linked to my Liberator review of A Very English Scandal.

You remember: it was the BBC drama about the life and crimes of Jeremy Thorpe.

Well, you lucky people, that day has come.

Stranger than fiction

My blog Liberal England (“An eclectic mix of musical choices, random news items from Shropshire (where he doesn’t live), and political news and views” - New Statesman) has been going since 2004. By far the most popular post I have written in all that time is one from May of this year entitled “What became of Jeremy Thorpe's son?

The interest in it continues: as I write this in mid-July, it has had more readers this week than any other post. The answer to the question it poses, incidentally, is that Rupert Thorpe is now a leading paparazzo in the United States. He was one of the photographers involved in the famous court case over Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones’s wedding snaps.

I take this exceptional and lasting interest as confirmation of the extraordinary popularity achieved by this summer’s dramatisation of the Jeremy Thorpe affair, A Very English Scandal, which was based on John Pearson’s book of the same name, made by Blueprint Pictures and screened by BBC One.

It told the story of Thorpe’s sexual relations with a young man called Norman Scott and his apparent attempt to have him murdered when Scott’s refusal to stop talking about it threatened Thorpe’s political career after he became leader of the Liberal Party. Scott escaped with his life: his Great Dane, Rinka, was not so fortunate.

The popularity of the series was so great that it returned Thorpe to the front pages when the newspapers discovered that Norman Scott’s alleged would-be assassin Andrew Newton was still alive.

My blog may have played a part here. Planning to write something disobliging about Newton, I decided to check if he really was dead, as I thought I had read somewhere. I soon found that, under the name Hann Redwin, he had been very much alive as recently as 2015 – he was sailing boats, building aircraft and flying them from Redhill Aerodrome in Surrey – and published a post to that effect. Two days later he was being doorstepped by Fleet Street’s finest.

The press were excited because there was talk in 2016 of reopening the Thorpe case because of a claim that Newton had first tried to persuade another man to murder Scott before taking on the job himself. The police in South Wales had not taken things further because they too believed that Newton was dead and had apparently not checked this belief with Google as I did..

What was puzzling about their interest in this story of a second assassin was that it was first told in the Spectator by Auberon Waugh as long ago as 1981. Put up to it by his Private Eye colleague Richard Ingrams, Waugh stood against Thorpe in North Devon for the Dog Lovers’ Party at the 1979 general election, which took place while the latter was awaiting trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to murder.

Only one of Thorpe’s co-accused there is alive today, George Deakin, and he will have to spend the rest of his life with the infamy of being the uncle of the guitarist in Black Lace.

If I am something of a scholar of the Thorpe Affair, it is understandable. I joined the party two months after Thorpe was charged; when I started going to Liberal Party Assemblies we sang songs about it – ‘On Exmoor bah t'at’ – at the Glee Club.

So in reviewing A Very English Scandal I have to remember that it was a drama, not a point-by-point recreation of events 40 or 50 years ago. Seen as a drama, it was very good indeed even if some figures received scant justice. David Holmes, for instance, was a successful entrepreneur not a buffoon, while Emlyn Hooson was far from the bitter, vengeful figure he was painted as. This portrayal, however, did show us that not all Liberal MPs were seduced by Thorpe’s charm or well treated by him.

Hugh Grant’s performance as Jeremy Thorpe has been rightly praised. As well as his arrogance, Grant showed us why Thorpe was an attractive figure to liberally minded voters, particularly in the scenes set in the Commons chamber. I thought no actor would be able to get near to Thorpe’s ugly-handsome, doglike face, but there were times when Grant made me see it.

It is no criticism of Grant to say that the script never showed us what a formidable local campaigner Thorpe must have been. When he gained North Devon for the Liberals in at the general election of 1959, it was an extraordinary feat.

I was also going to suggest that Thorpe must have had more charisma than Grant showed us, given the lengths to which others were prepared to go to help him. Thinking about it, however, I have seen parties do that for the most mundane people. It was a sad fact about the nature of political allegiance rather than the function of some extraordinary feature of Thorpe’s personality that saw him so indulged.

Ben Whishaw’s Norman Scott was a more modern figure than the real Scott, but then a drama written so long after the event is bound to take a different approach than would have been taken at the time and will probably be more interesting for it.

So while Whishaw was wholly convincing as Scott the fashion model in Sixties Dublin and touching in the scenes that showed the failure of his marriage, we never heard the tones in the real Scott’s voice that told us he had spent time among the horse-riding classes and desperately wanted to pass as one of them.

His great scene – giving evidence at the Old Bailey – was very much a Russell T. Davies one and it showed Whishaw’s Scott at his most 21st century. At the actual trial Scott was repeatedly asked by the judge to speak up: here drama you half-expected him to break into ‘I Am What I Am,’ with the whole courtroom joining in the final chorus.

The sexual politics of A Very English Scandal were complicated because they were complicated in Norman Scott’s own mind. Was he a victim of rape or a partner in a loving and unacknowledged relationship? Those who say that today Thorpe would face no problems with such a relationship risk underestimating Scott. It is hard to imagine him going quietly, like a Victorian parlour maid who goes home to have her baby after being seduced by the young heir to the lord of the manor.

Much clearer were the issues at stake in the powerful scene where the Earl of Arran (“Call me Boofy”) gave his reasons for taking Leo Abse’s bill to decriminalise gay sex through the Lords. “And the deaths go on,” he says, remembering his own brother. “By hanging, by poison, by gas. Men killing themselves through fear and shame. And I don’t think it’s suicide: I think it’s murder. They are murdered by the laws of the land and I think it’s time it stopped.”

There were many fine performances among the minor characters and much fine writing for them too. In his book John Preston makes Peter Bessell, Thorpe’s friend and fellow Liberal MP, the centre of the story, even if you could never claim he is its moral centre. By all accounts Alex Jennings caught him and his lounge-lizard voice perfectly.

Then there were the indomitable Michelle Dotrice as Edna Friendship, Eve Myles as the tragic Gwen Parry-Jones (who reminds us of Scott’s ability to scatter suffering in his wake) and, above all, Monica Dolan as the redoubtable and unexpectedly loyal Marion Thorpe: “I practically grew up with Benjamin Britten … I’ve toured with orchestras. I couldn’t begin to tell you the things I’ve seen.”

Many of the lesser male characters, particularly those caught up in the plot to do away with Scott, were played for laughs. This “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry” approach is very Russell T. Davis, but I wonder if the contrasts in approach to the story here were too great.

Nevertheless, Davis went in for a lot of shaping of events, because the Thorpe story is stranger even than it was shown to be in A Very English Scandal. Sir Jack Hayward – “Union Jack” – was an idiosyncratic millionaire whose good causes included keeping his home-town football club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and purchasing Lundy Island for the National Trust.

It was through the Lundy campaign that Hayward came into Thorpe’s orbit. Though he was no Liberal, Hayward gave money to the Liberal Party because, in words that later acquired a heavy freight of irony, he had sympathy for the underdog. The money he gave did not go through the party’s books, but was put at Thorpe’s personal disposal. It was the prosecution’s claim at Thorpe’s trial that some of it had gone to pay to have Scott dealt with.

Other murky financial transactions gathered around Thorpe. He gave the running of the National Liberal Club to “Georges de Chabris” (real name George Marks), who moved his family in to live rent-free and then left suddenly owing the club £60,000. Before that, a Department of Trade report into the collapse of the secondary banking firm London & County Securities, of which Thorpe was a director, had been highly critical of him.

I sometimes got the impression from Liberals of Thorpe’s vintage that it was the mishandling of the party’s money that they could not forgive him for – the shooting of poor Rinka came a distant second.
Was he guilty as charged? It would have been a brave jury that committed on the basis of the evidence given by Scott, Bessell and Newton. Yet one of the jurors, when interviewed after the trial by the New Statesman (it would be illegal today), said they would have convicted Thorpe at least of a conspiracy to frighten had such a lesser charge been put before them. They were frustrated, he said, that it had not been.

But the truth and what can be proved in a court of law are two different things. Why did Andrew Newton travel to Barnstaple – all right, Dunstable and then Barnstaple – to look for Norman Scott whatever his precise motive? It is hard to believe that Thorpe’s difficulties with Scott do not supply the answer to that question.

Let us end on a sobering note. Four years after Thorpe’s trial the Liberal Party, in alliance with the SDP, received more than 25 per cent of the national vote. Three years on from the end of the Liberal Democrats’ coalition with the Conservatives, we can only dream of such riches. There appear to be some things Liberal voters, like Thorpe’s contemporaries, find harder to give than shooting a Great Dane.

36 Leicestershire bus routes under threat from the Conservatives

Grim news in the Leicester Mercury:
Bus routes at risk after the county council approved plans to cut £400,000 from the passenger transport budget have been identified. 
Leicestershire County Council will look at services that it currently provides over the next five months before making a decision on which routes it will continue to provide and which will be scrapped.
A series of consultations on threatened services has been announced - there are 36 in total.

The consultation on three routes serving Market Harborough - the 58 to Lutterworth, the 44 to Fleckney and Foxton and the 33 town service - will take place in July.

The omens are not good. Leicestershire Conservatives tweeted an attack on Labour and the Liberal Democrats for trying to defend bus services in the council's budget meeting.

And the council's director of transport, as quoted by the Mercury, has a patronising attitude and seems to find the idea of bus services faintly ridiculous:
"We can’t offer gold plated vehicles but we can work within the financial envelope to develop ideas with communities. 
"People’s idea of public transport is a 52 seater bus driving around at this time from this place, stopping here, but things are changing now."
But at least I will have one more summer with local bus services to aid my explorations.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

A former shop in the back streets of South Wigston

You never know what treasures you will find.

A new coach park for Market Harborough

When I heard last year that a site had been identified for a new coach park in the centre of Market Harborough I had a pretty shrewd idea where it would be.

Sure enough, today Harborough FM reported that the council is to buy this derelict site near the market on Northampton Road.

It has been in this pleasing state for 45 years to my knowledge, and over that time the town has improved to the extent that coach parties now stop here. Hence the need for a coach park.

Fortunately, there are still other derelict sites to enjoy here.

Neville Masterman (1912-2019)

Neville Masterman was the son my favourite Edwardian Liberal Charles Masterman and his wife Lucy. He died earlier this year at the age of 106.

His son-in-law Richard Pepper has written an obituary of him for the Guardian.

Masterman lectured in English at a Hungarian university in the 1930s, returning to England in 1940. He passed through Paris just before the Germans arrived and later worked on Japanese codes at Bletchley Park.

After the war he lectured in history at Swansea until his retirement in 1978.

Martyn Shrewsbury posted his memories of Neville Masterman last month:
I remember Neville Masterman very clearly. He was my personal tutor in the Autumn term of 1977. Neville taught a course called the ‘Crisis of Liberalism” I was 19 at the time. I was an arrogant 19 year old who thought that he knew everything. Neville was very patient with me and told me I would think in many different ways by the time I was sixty. 
He told me of a certain Liberal MP warning the party against coalition with the Tories. Neville said that the words were “You will be used like plump cattle and then slaughtered”. I am sad that in his long life he saw that happen three times. I remember quoting these words to Peter Black in 2010. Peter laughed but Neville was right…
I wrote an article on Charles Masterman for Liberator in 2014.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Pagan London 5: A Bronze Age burial mound by London Bridge

There is a Bronze Age burial mound under One London Bridge, once Fenning's Wharf. Beneath the mound, the ashes of cremated children were found.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

The Marquis of Queensbury, South Wigston, and Gertie Gitana

I was in South Wigston to but a new cooker - where else would one go? - and this building was across the road from the shop.

The Greater Wigston Historical Society tells us:
The Marquis of Queensbury, formerly known as the Duke of Clarence and the Gaiety, is a relatively large two storey structure of red brick under a pitched slate roof. Although now converted to apartments, the building was constructed as a hotel with ballroom at first floor. 
Despite the building's size and commanding presence, it sits well within the street scene. The building has been awarded a Blue Plaque by Wigston Civic and Historical Societies.
That plaque is in honour of the music hall artist Gertie Gitana.

That Wikipedia entry records other memorials:
In the early 1950s, Frederic Street in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, was renamed Gitana Street in her honour;the street leads to the rear of the Theatre Royal in Hanley and the public house now called 'The Stage Door' (at the corner of Gitana Street) was at one time called 'The Gertie Gitana' and it still has her portrait over the door. Her name continues at 'Gitana's', a public house in Hartshill Road, Stoke-on-Trent. 
Her London memorial — 'The Nellie Dean' at the corner of Dean Street in Soho (renamed thus in her honour) — at one time had a shrine of her stage memorabilia. In Cockney rhyming slang, Gertie Gitana means a banana.
Her grave is in Wigston cemetery and some recordings of her singing have made it on to YouTube. Try My Dear Marie.

Forget Brexit: What about the threat to Uppingham's only bank?

The group Uppingham First has lived up to its name in a letter to Theresa May.

It hasn't quite demanded she "puts Brexit on the sidelines to intervene before the last bricks and mortar bank in the town closes on April 26," as the Leicester Mercury says. But it has come close to it.

The paper quotes from the group's letter:
"This is a critical blow to the town’s economy, given that our post office building is already a busy place, does not have mobility impaired access and the nearest Barclays branch is a substantial car or bus journey away. 
"A financial transaction centre of some kind will, however, be vital to the town’s economy and future way of life. 
"We recognise and understand your preoccupation with Brexit and its implications for the country. However, the issue of vanishing small town banks is equally urgent."
It's all a bit Ealing Comedy, but the decline of banks in small towns is a problem.

There is, incidentally, still a branch of the Bank of Rutland in the village at the gates of Bonkers Hall, but I am not sure I can recommend using its cashpoint,

Channel 4 News on Arron Banks this evening

Millionaire Brexit backer Arron Banks eagerly pursued a multibillion-pound gold deal brought to him by a Russian oligarch with links to the Kremlin just months before the EU referendum, Channel 4 News can reveal.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Six of the Best 854

"After a year of navel-gazing about 'Registered Supporters' now our Leadership doesn’t even seem to have the energy to ask potential supporters to register with this party in particular." Alex Wilcock demands better of the Liberal Democrats.

Jane Dodds explains why the Welsh Lib Dems want to trial Universal Basic Income.

"It’s hard to find a hero in this story. It seems to me to illustrate in a small way the huge challenge at the heart of modern politics: how to fix complex problems in an accountable way with an increasingly broken system." Ed Maxfield on the closure of Norfolk's Children's Centres.

Who were Jack the Ripper's victims and what sort of lives did these women lead? Hallie Rubenhold presents five things you probably didn’t know about them.

Alexandra Alexa looks at Tolkien's illustrations for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

"As you are a first-time visitor we’ll head up through the mixture of deciduous woodland and onto the grass common of Whitcliffe with its wild-flower meadows where you have the best views over the old town with the Clee Hill in the background." Jude takes us for a walk around Ludlow.

Lib Dems pick Martin Sawyer as candidate for Northampton North

The Liberal Democrats in Northampton North have chosen Martin Sawyer as their prospective parliamentary candidate.

Back in 2010 the Lib Dems were less than 2500 votes behind the winning Tory in a three-way marginal. In 2017 we gor only 2.5 per cent of the vote.

I like Sawyer's plan for the site of the town's old Greyfriars bus station, which has been lying unused since demolition in 2015.
"My vision for Greyfriars is an urban park with canopies for buses if needed. I've seen something similar in Budapest. The green space would help the town with its air quality problems."
And it gives me an excuse for republishing this video of the demolition.

Government confirms electrification will reach Market Harborough

A Leicester Mercury story begins:
The electrification on the Midland Mainline will be extended into Leicestershire, the Government has confirmed. 
Transport ministers have said Network Rail has been instructed to draw up plans upgrade the rail route as far as Market Harborough.
Searching this blog, I find that I reported this news in June of last year.

My source was a comment to the Nottingham Post by Sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, after the publication of the invitation to tender to provide the service on this line.

So the campaign by Harborough's MP Neil O'Brien to have the wires reach the town may have been pushing at an open door all along.

Even when electrification was planned to stop at Kettering, there was to be a substation at Braybrooke, a couple of miles from here, where power lines cross the railway.

It's not clear if the we shall gain much from this decision, but the further north the wires go the better.

The Tories fought the last election promising to electrify the line all the way to Sheffield, even though a decision had already been taken to stop 100 miles south of there.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England.

As you can see from this list of the 10 most recent ones, I am happy to consider a wide range of subjects.

If you would like to write a guest post yourself, please send me an email so we can discuss your idea.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Derby County vs Leeds United, 1 November 1975

Football in the 1970s. Maverick geniuses, muddy pitches and violence on and off the field.

Here you have Charlie George and Duncan McKenzie, though the lush grass at the Baseball Ground belies the reputation the stadium had.

And there is a fist fight between Francis Lee and Norman Hunter than turns into a free for all.

The confusion over the sendings off, incidentally, shows why red and yellow cards were introduced.

GUEST POST Joseph Merrick in the cigar factory

Joanne Vigor-Mungovin looks at an early episode in the life of Joseph Merrick ('The Elephant Man') and in so doing opens the shutters on the Dickensian conditions of working-class life in Leicester in that period.

At 13 years old Joseph Merrick left school, and just like many other children of his age, attempted to bring money into the home. He writes in his autobiography that nothing would "satisfy [my] step mother until she got me out to work". 

Many hard-working families were often up against intense household poverty. Emma (Joseph’s stepmother) came into the marriage with two young daughters, and Joseph Rockley (Joseph’s father) with two less-abled children.

Joseph like most children when he reached the school leaving age, he would have been expected to find employment and contribute to the family purse. Even basic additional household tasks such as fetching wood or water were effectively allowing for a higher standard of living. It must have also been very hard work for Emma, who has been described as the ‘Wicked step-mother of the East’, to have two extra children to look after. 

Marian, Joseph's little sister, who had been disabled from birth, may not have been able to work or even attend school. There is no record suggesting the type of disability she suffered from, only what has been written on the census record of 1881, which states ‘deformed from birth’.

Joseph found employment with Freeman’s cigar manufacturers on Lower Hill Street in Leicester a road which ran parallel to Lee Street, Joseph's birthplace. Making cigars was a fiddly business. Before Joseph could make and roll the cigars they were prepared by his work colleague, who would take the leaves one by one, fold them and strip off the stalks with very quick and dexterous movements. The leaves would then be laid out smoothly and handed to Joseph, who was the cigar maker. 

Joseph would be seated on a low stool in front of a low workbench which had three sides with raised edges. Joseph started by smoothing out the leaf in front of him and cut it into a long cigar shape, similar to the shape of the side of a hot air balloon. A few fragments of tobacco leaf were spread on the balloon-shaped leaf, consisting of various small cuttings, and then he would roll the leaf to form the cigar and place it into a gauge made of iron, cutting it to the given length. 

After taking it out of the iron guide, Joseph rolled the cigar and twisting the end to prevent the tobacco leaf from loosening. Joseph would have to do this very swiftly, as only a few seconds were required to make the cigar, and a good maker could turn out 1000 cigars a day. 

While Joseph was working at Freeman's, a terrible incident occurred to one of his work colleagues. John Nicholas Higgott, a young cigar bundler, at fifteen-years-old the same age as Joseph, when he died at the neighbouring Gladstone Arms beer house at 38 Lower Hill Street on 28 February 1877. Higgott, who lived at 54 Burgess Street in the north end of the town near St Margaret’s Church, suffered from pleurisy, an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the lungs and lines the rib cage. 

In his post-mortem, the surgeon Dr Henry Meadows noticed his left lung was slightly smaller than his right and that he died from the formation of a blood clot on the right side of his heart. Although Meadows stated in his report the pleurisy was not brought on by neglect, Thomas East, another of Joseph's work colleagues, and who also worked next to John Higgott in the workshop, said that on several occasions Higgott had only a bit of bread to eat which lasted him all day. 

On the Monday before he died, Higgott told Thomas his father had made him get up at 5.30 in the morning and had not given him any food. Higgott had been ill for weeks and on his last working day, Wednesday, 28 February 1877, his manager Bernard Rothschild sent him home, buthe was so ill he had to be carried to the door of the factory. Rothschild gave him 3d and sent him to the beer house across the road to keep warm before sending for his parents. 

John Higgott died at 2.30 that very afternoon in the presence of his manager, Bernard Rothschild. Even though his parents had been sent for between one and two o’clock, his mother didn’t arrive until after 2.30 in the afternoon, and his father until after half past three.

On one occasion before his death, Bernard Rothschild had caught Higgott crying. Rothschild wanted to send him home but Higgott refused, saying his father would beat him and if he lost any time at work, he would not eat. Following Higgott's death, the surgeon noted that he was not wearing undergarments such as socks or stockings, even though it was very cold. 

An inquest was called, and even though no charges were brought against the parents for neglect, the coroner concluded his findings at the inquest stating he "had never seen a person display less regard and more indifference at the loss of a child then the mother in this case has shown."

Joseph worked at Freeman's for about two years until he was 15-years-old,but by then the increasing heaviness and awkwardness of his malformed right arm, hand and fingers made it almost impossible for him to accomplish the delicate work required in making cigars and had little alternative but to leave.

This is an edited extract from Joanne Vigor-Mungovin's book Joseph: The Life, Times and Places of The Elephant Man. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Case for Expanding the Rail Network

The Campaign for Better Transport has published a new report backing 33 rail reopening schemes.

Between them they would add 343 miles to the passenger rail network (166 miles of reopened route and 177 miles of freight-only route upgraded to passenger rail standards).

One of the schemes advocated is the freight-only line from Leicester to Burton upon Trent, though the report envisages fewer intermediate stations than were planned when this scheme was close to being put into practice in the 1980s.

Another freight line mentioned is the one from Walsall to Water Orton through Sutton Coldfield. The photo above shows the former Sutton Park station in 1982. (Don't look for it; it's not there anymore.)

Among the proposed reopenings of lines that have closed altogether is the one from Harrogate via Ripon to Northallerton, which has always been high on the list of Beeching's greatest mistakes.

You can download The Case for Expanding the Rail Network from the Campaign for Better Transport website.

The Good, the Bad and the Queen: Merrie Land

A downbeat anthem for a country poised on the crumbling edge of Brexit.

The Good, the Bad and the Queen are a modern-day supergroup, formed of Damon Albarn from Blur, Paul Simonon from the Clash, Simon Tong from Verve and the legendary Nigerian percussionist Tony Allen.

Merrie Land is the title track from their second album, which was released at the end of last year.

Madison Bloom writes of it on Pitchfork:
In a passage from the title track, Albarn closes in on that isolation, to claustrophobic effect: "So rebuild the railways/Firm up all the roads," he sings. "No one is leaving now this is your home."
Albarn’s plainspoken phrases hover above the mix, lending a blunt edge to the song’s loping circuit of strings and woodwinds. Simonon's trudging bassline and Allen’s sparse snares imbue his words with an oppressive weight: In Merrie Land, national identity is not a promise but a trap - an estrangement from one’s own true past and the collective history that builds a country.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

A tribute to Wigston South station

I was in South Wigston today when I came across this bus shelter. Why had it been made to look like a railway relic? And why were there more railway connections when I had a look at it?

The answer is that it stands on the site of the old Wigston South station.

This is not to be confused with the present-day South Wigston station on the Leicester to Birmingham line.

Wigston South was on the old Midland Counties line from Leicester to Rugby, which formed part of George Hudson's original route from London to York.

That station closed, along with the whole line, in 1962. Its demise may have been hastened by a level crossing over the A5 at Willey near Ullesthorpe that was notorious for delaying road traffic.

Former lecturer on the paranormal is the Tory candidate for Leicestershire and Rutland's PCC

Rupert Matthews MEP, a former lecturer on the paranormal with the "International Metaphysical University" was today chosen as the Conservative candidate for 2020's police and crime commissioner election in Leicestershire and Rutland.

According to Michael Crick, who has taken an interest in Matthews' eccentricities, the course he introduces above would have set you back $425 in 2012.

Back in the days of Conservative modernisation, the party was not amused by the cover of a book published by Bretwalda Books - Matthews describes himself as its 'editorial director'.

Defending himself to the BBC in 2011, he said:
"I'm a shareholder in the company but I didn't do that one - I do the history stuff."
But what are the implications of Matthews' idiosyncratic take on the world? How would it affect his conduct of the role if he were elected to a role currently filled by Labour's Willy Bach?

True, he is on record as saying:
"The evidence for UFOs and for the humanoid creatures linked to them is pretty compelling."
But there is good news too:
"However, most of the evidence that suggests some sort of global threat is a lot less convincing. It rests on dubious testimony or simply does not mesh with the mass of evidence about UFOs available elsewhere."
So maybe he won't want to raise his precept to fight those humanoid creatures linked to UFOs.

Friday, March 01, 2019

The tunnels under the hills of Gwent

Where does my thing about the Welsh border come from?

In part, of course, it is the children's books of Malcolm Saville. But I also had a holiday in Llanfoist near Abergavenny with one of my mother's many cousins when I was 14.

That and a radio adaptation of Alexander Cordell's Rape of the Fair Country the following year had me hooked.

A combination of natural beauty and industrial archaeology is my ideal landscape, and in this video we explore the the hills around Llanfoist and the tunnels that run beneath them.

Malcolm Saville was right: You can have identical boy and girl twins

Because I started reading Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine stories at a tender age, I identified most with the twins Dickie and Mary.

They are nine years old in the first story Mystery at Witchend and have aged a couple of years by the time final one was published 35 years later.

There role in the stories haddiminished by then, in part a reflection of the shrinking of the world of younger children across the years from 1943 to 1978.

Many children's adventure stories of that era have twins among their cast, no doubt because it made it easier to present a family group of children who were close in age. But Saville is one of the few writers who gives you an idea of what it must feel like to be a twin.

In presenting identical boy and girl twins, he has always been accused of defying biology. But it seems that, though the phenomenon is vanishingly rare, such twins can be born.

Over to the Guardian:
A pair of twins have stunned researchers after it emerged that they are neither identical nor fraternal – but something in between. 
The team say the boy and girl, now four years old, are the second case of semi-identical twins ever recorded, and the first to be spotted while the mother was pregnant. 
The situation was a surprise to the researchers. An ultrasound of the 28-year old mother at six weeks suggested the twins were identical – with signs including a shared placenta. But it soon became clear all was not as it seemed. 
“What happened was the mother came back for her routine ultrasound some months later, and we saw one [twin] to be a boy and one to be a girl,” said Dr Michael Gabbett, first author of the report from Queensland University of Technology in Australia.
The little girl in this case suffered serious health problems, but it seems Malcolm Saville was right after all.

Thanks to Keith Frankish, philosopher and Saville admirer, for sending me this report.

My first acquaintance with Social Democrats

Embed from Getty Images

As I warned might be the case, The Independent Group is looking to replace the Liberal Democrats rather than do a deal with us.

Which means there may not be much of a market for memories of the early days of the Alliance.

Still, here are my recollections of the first time I met the SDP.

The first parliamentary by-election I worked in was Birmingham Northfield in October 1982. Until a few months before I had been working in the city, but by then I was back in Market Harborough between jobs so I had time on my hands

I travelled to Birmingham and ended up at the house of Roy Lewthwaite, who had been the Liberal candidate for the seat in 1979, somewhere out near Bromsgrove.

The job to be done was stuffing personalised letters into envelopes and a party agent kept us going for hours with tales of rough politics in Dorset.

When I say "us", I mean a roomful of Liberals. Next door there was a room of Social Democrats.

It happened that the letters did not fit the envelopes very well. I think one was an International size and the other an Imperial.

Someone, I fear it may have been me, made the joke about having Liberal letters and Social Democrat envelopes. At which someone came in to ask us not to make jokes like that because “it might upset the Social Democrats”..

There was a young SDP member who was friendly, When one of the Liberals said he came from Southampton, the young Social Democrat asked if he knew Bob Mitchell. Mitchell had been elected as Labour MP for Southampton Itchen and then joined the SDP.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice"Yes," came the reply, "I fought him at the last election."

A little research shows that the Liberal in question was John Pindar, who is still around in the Liberal Democrats today.