Thursday, February 28, 2019

GUEST POST Forgotten Victorian folklore collectors: An undiscovered treasure trove

Francis Young on the rediscovery of forgotten riches.

Collecting folklore was all the rage in Victorian England. Although there were occasional collectors of ‘popular antiquities’ in the 17th and 18th centuries (John Aubrey is perhaps the most famous example), it was not until after William Thoms coined the word ‘folklore’ in 1846 that books dedicated to folk beliefs, stories and customs became popular.

 The foundation of the Folklore Society in 1878 inaugurated the golden age of English folklore collection, which lasted up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. As the progress of technological innovation and social change intensified, so too did fascination with England’s vanishing rural lore. Folklore collection was an activist form of nostalgia which engaged the interest of everyone from learned scholars and dilettantish amateurs to hack journalists and the proprietors of local newspapers.

The Victorian folklore collectors were a strikingly diverse group, compared with authors of other kinds of literature. The Folklore Society struggled hard to turn folklore into an academic discipline, even a ‘science’, but this effort has never really succeeded.

Folklore remained (and, to a large extent, remains to this day) the domain of enthusiastic amateurs of all social classes. Some folklorists were aristocrats or members of the landed gentry, who sought to gather up the folklore of their tenants from a great height. But one of the earliest serious collectors of local folklore was the poet John Clare, who began life as a rural labourer in Northamptonshire like the people whose songs and stories he collected.

Furthermore, many of the early folklore collectors were women, since the recording of traditional lore was a form of writing considered acceptable for female authors. These folklore collectors gathered stories from other women, producing a form of literature that almost uniquely gave voices to rural working class women.

The work of many Victorian folklore collectors, especially those who were working class or female, remains obscure. Less well-off or well-connected folklorists struggled to get their writing into print, or were only published in local newspapers. Others fell victim to publishers who did not understand how to market or promote books about folklore, or to journalistic plagiarists who appropriated the hard work of folklore collectors as their own.

The first obscure Victorian folklorist whom I had the privilege of bringing to light was Charles Dack (1847–c. 1920), a self-taught railway clerk who became volunteer curator of Peterborough Museum. Dack was able to get a few articles and short pamphlets published, but he simply did not have the financial resources to publish a larger work on the folklore of the Soke of Peterborough.

Some of Dack’s papers were later acquired by Cambridge University Library, and I relied heavily on these to produce my book Peterborough Folklore (shortlisted for the 2018 Katharine Briggs Folklore Award), which is largely a tribute to Dack’s fieldwork.

My book Suffolk Fairylore, published in 2018, similarly sought to excavate the work of some forgotten folklorists, notably the sisters Anna and Lois Fison, who were responsible for recording three folktales they heard from their old nurse in Barningham, Suffolk growing up in the 1830s: ‘Brother Mike’, ‘Cap o’Rushes’ and ‘Tom Tit Tot’.

A leading member of the Folklore Society, Edward Clodd, soon muscled in and reported ‘Tom Tit Tot’ without attribution to the Fisons; Clodd brought the tale to the attention of European folklorists, and although he later apologised to the Fison sisters, their role as the original collectors of the tales was often erased in subsequent folklore studies.

Another woman folklorist who suffered plagiarism was Margaret Helen James (1859–1938), a figure so obscure that her identity was not known until 2017. James was a cousin of the famous writer of ghost stories M.R. James. She published only one book, Bogie Tales of East Anglia (1891), a folklore collection that rapidly became very scarce but was extensively plagiarised by a journalist, Morley Adams, in 1914.

Margaret James’s Bogie Tales was the earliest book dedicated to the folklore of East Anglia, but her contribution has been entirely overlooked until now because her identity was unknown and much of the folklore she collected has been attributed to Morley Adams. I have recently edited Margaret James’s book, with a critical introduction and notes, so that it can finally be made widely available.

The 19th century’s regional folklorists were remarkable individuals – dedicated, eclectic in their interests, often eccentric and sometimes self-taught. Their writings, both published and unpublished, often remain a treasure-trove still to be uncovered.

The digitisation of local newspapers and Victorian pamphlets, making them searchable, is bringing much lost folklore recording to light, and we are currently living through a golden age of folklore research – not because there is still traditional folklore to be collected (in most cases there is not), but because folklore collected over a hundred years ago is finally emerging from the shadows.

Read more from Francis Young on his website.

Jo Swinson votes for Labour motion by mistake

Jo Swinson voted for Jeremy Corbyn's Brexit motion in the Commons last night.

According to the New European:
Her apparent defiance of her party’s policy raised eyebrows in Westminster - but a party source said it was a "genuine mistake".

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Iain Sinclair and John Rogers talk about London Overground

It's a while since we had some Iain Sinclair.

So here he is with John Rogers, whose videos about lost London rivers I have been posting lately, answering questions on their film London Overground.

Six of the Best 853

Peter Geoghegan and Jenna Corderoy reveal how dark money is winning the Brexit influencing game.

"According to anthropologist David Vine: 'British agents, with the help of Navy Seabees, quickly rounded up the islanders’ pet dogs, gassing and burning them in sealed cargo sheds. They ordered … the remaining Chagossians onto overcrowded cargo ships.'" Simon Allison supplies the background to the court victory by the Chagos Islanders.

Alexandre Afonso says the academic job market is structured like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders.

Andrew McCloy asks if England's network of long-distance footpaths has lost its way.

"He was very easy to dismiss. He wasn’t the front-man like Davy Jones. He wasn’t the great voice that Micky Dolenz has. And he wasn’t the mercurial genius that is Michael Nesmith. But what he was was a fine comic actor (and of all four Monkees he was the one who was most different from the character he played on screen, the only one who was really stretching himself), an excellent multi-instrumentalist, and a fine songwriter." Andrew Hickey pays tribute to Peter Tork.

Thomas the Tank Engine fandom made John Lubbock less cynical about the internet.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pagan London 4: The Dagenham idol

Let's take a break from the Liberal Democrats and the TIGgers and enjoy a bit more Pagan London.

In 2011 the Barking and Dagenham Post covered the campaign to keep the idol in Dagenham.

According to Wikipedia, that campaign succeeded and it is now on permanent loan to Valence House.

David Boyle: The Lib Dems should act decisively and join The Independent Group now

My old friend David Boyle has stirred things up with an article on the Guardian website this morning:
So this is what I believe Vince Cable should do. As soon as possible, the Lib Dems should join the Independent Group in parliament. I suggest this partly for the good of the independents. 
Joining the 11 Lib Dems (plus Stephen Lloyd, who resigned the whip recently, but who would surely then follow suit) would double their size and give them momentum. The new group would then be almost two-thirds of the way to becoming the third largest party (currently the SNP with 35 seats), and closer to the public funding attached for policymaking. 
I am not suggesting that there should cease to be a Lib Dem group. I see no reason why they should not be a party in their own right, as the Co-operative party manages to be within Labour.
Debate has been raging in the comments on a post on Liberal Democrat Voice ever since.

Last time I met David we reminisced about the sense of being a moral crusade that the Lib Dems had in the 1990s under Paddy Ashdown.

But I suspect that, like me, he fell in love with the Liberal Party and has always seen the Lib Dems as a something of a flag of convenience.

Certainly, for myself, I am surprised whenever someone replies to one of my regular complaints that the Lib Dems have no philosophy by quoting the preamble to our constitution as though it is a knockdown argument.

To me that preamble has always read like what it was: something put together in a hurry in an attempt to please two very different parties that were merging. How you apply it to an issue to find the principled Lib Dem view, I have no idea.

But wouldn't the distinctiveness of the Lib Dems be lost if we threw in out lot with The Independent Group?

David's reply to that is:
The truth is – though it breaks my heart to say so – the Lib Dems these days have no obvious distinctiveness to lose, and must face up to that.
If that sounds harsh, I find I wrote something similar the other day:
Commentators used to accuse the Liberal Party of living off the intellectual capital of the Grimond years. Sometimes I wonder if the Lib Dems have any intellectual capital at all.
But I won't be supporting David's call. In part because I am not sure the TIGgers will last: in part because I am not sure they will allow us to join. But mostly because I am far from convinced that they offer much of a way forward.

As I wrote in the same post:
Just for starters, we need to rebuild local democracy and our public services, reform our democracy and put the environment at the heart of our politics. 
Is this really the group do it?
You could, or course, ask the same thing of the Lib Dems.

It may be that the Lib Dems' position is so precarious that we will be forced into seeking such an arrangement if the TIGgers remain on the scene for a few years,
Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
But there is a deal of ruin in a political party and the Lib Dems are not finished quite yet.

Lib Dems fear a slump in donations

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Just to cheer you up, here is a report from Business Insider:
The Liberal Democrats are worried about a potential exodus of financial backers, after a number of donors withdrew their support to get behind the new anti-Brexit Independent Group of MPs. ... 
Following their departure, Charlie Mullins, the anti-Brexit owner of Pimlico Plumbers, confirmed that he intends to support TIG after previously donating £25,000 to the Sir Vince Cable-led Liberal Democrats in 2018. 
Multiple sources have told Business Insider that other major donors are either holding back funds from the Lib Dems, or have already walked away from the party to pump money into TIG.
There is a crumb of comfort lower down the page in the shape of the inevitable "Lib Dem insider", who claims that the party has enjoyed "a mini-surge in new members over the last week".

But the report's claim that
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThe Lib Dems have also been buoyed by the lack of their own MPs walking out and joining TIG.
is setting the bar a little low.

Undercover police shoot dead party guest at mansion of Lib-Dem pizza tycoon

This one didn't take the judges long. Well done to the Daily Mirror.

The Lib Dem pizza tycoon in question, incidentally, is Baron Verjee.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Girls Gone By edition of Mystery at Witchend

This paperback was an unexpected find in the bargain box at Waterstones on Saturday. It is the second printing of the Girls Gone By edition of the first of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine series.

Unlike many Saville paperbacks, it has the full text of the original hardback. The Armada editions, for instance, were heavily cut and much of the character development and period detail in the stories was lost.

I have a first edition of Mystery at Witchend from 1943, though without its dustwrapper. It is rare to find the book with a wrapper, but one such copy has sold on the net this evening for £420. I am surprised it wasn't more.

This Girls Gone By edition  has the Gretchen Breary illustrations from the first edition and, as an appendix, the Bertram Prance ones used in printings from 1945 onwards.

There is also a slightly sniffy article about errors and inconsistencies in the text - don't they know there was a war on? - and a good essay by Saville's friend Mary Cadogan.
In the hills and meadows there is mud as well as mystery, beauty and drama. Life at wonderful Witchend does have negative aspects. Water has to be pumped; the coalman comes only once a year, so firewood has to be gathered regularly; milk has to be fetched twice a day from a nearby farm; Dickie has to be pulled out of a bog; and there is heavy, unyielding rain - the "slow drip, drip of moisture from the trees".

Lib Dems shouldn't assume The Independent Group wants a deal

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The important news for Liberal Democrats comes right at the end of Dan Sabbagh's Guardian article on The Independent Group:
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said her party needed “to be working together with the Independent Group MPs but we need to find a 2019 way of doing that and I’m open-minded about how that looks”. 
But despite Lib Dem enthusiasm, TIG MPs said they wanted Lib Dem MPs to quit their party and join them. They argued that the Lib Dem brand has been tarnished by the period when the party under Nick Clegg went into coalition government with David Cameron’s Conservatives.
It seems that the second of my Five Thoughts was right. We should not assume the TIGgers are as keen on a deal with us as we are on a deal with them.

Details of Vince Cable's Lib Dem 'supporter' scheme published

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When Vince Cable first  proposed allowing people to register as Liberal Democrat 'supporters' I
wrote that it reminded me of the more relaxed arrangements that prevailed in the old Liberal Party.

Active local parties naturally acquired a wider circle of people who wished them well but did not wish to join.

For that reason, I find it hard to get too concerned about the idea. Though the decision to allow people to register as potential supporters before the new status has been endorsed by the party's democratic machinery is a pretty blatant attempt to bounce members in to accepting it.

The details of the scheme that will be put to the party's spring conference in York have now been published:
Registered supporters will have regular contact with the Federal Party about news and campaigns and invitations from local parties to events and campaigning activities. (Local parties will have access to their details to contact them, just as with members.) 
Supporters will be able to attend conferences in a non-voting capacity and will be consulted on campaign issues and policy ideas (separate from member consultations). If approved at the Spring conference in York, they will also be eligible to vote for the leader of the party, subject to further requirements and protections. 
Members will continue to be the only ones to decide party policy and governance, vote at conference, serve on party committees and as party officers, select party candidates and stand for election to Parliament, devolved bodies and local councils.
The "further requirements" surrounding the right to vote in leadership elections are set out in detail, but I do wonder if we are not being a little naive in this age of Boaty McBoatface.

If you want to read an enthusiast for the scheme, try Christine Jardine on Liberal Democrat Voice.

No doubt she will be the first of many MPs to write enthusiastic articles about it there.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Homer and Wigwig feature in Road Sign of the Day

Found in a wallet of prints from the 1990s.

As you can see if you look closely, this sign is to be found just outside Much Wenlock.

Willie Rennie talks up chance of other MSPs joining the Lib Dems

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In his speech to the Scottish Liberal Democrats' conference yesterday, their leader Willie Rennie said:
"I offer the hand of friendship to those who believe our country can do better than this. People who have given up on the Conservative and Labour leaderships. People who are craving change. 
"Leaving your party after many years is hard. It is a risk. I get that. To those in parliament and across the country who have taken those first, bold steps I am full of admiration. To those in Scotland yet to decide – you know who you are."
A report in The Herald gives a clearer of idea of what he had in mind:
In an interview with The Herald on Sunday, Rennie said he had spoken to MSPs and tried to "understand some of the trials they have been through with their party". 
He said: "I have asked if they would like to join us. They, quite rightly, have been very cautious."
Asked if he believed there would be MSP defections, Rennie said: "There is a real possibility that it could happen. A real possibility. I hope it happens. I don’t want to put pressure on people."
But just when the paper was getting somewhere:
The Herald on Sunday asked whether he would welcome a named MSP to his party, but he changed the subject.

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel: Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)

This reached number 1 in the UK singles chart in February 1975. Like the early Queen singles, it sounded witty and agile when against the background of galumphing glam rock.

And, like Ian Hunter's before him, Harley's vocal style points the way to punk.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Stevington & Turvey Light Railway and The Arches Theatre

There are a couple of points passed over lightly by the Rediscovering the Bedford to Northampton line video I posted on Monday that are worth more investigation.

At 3:43 we are told that this section of the line used to be occupied by the Stevington & Turvey Light Railway.

A 2014 post on National Presevation tells its story:
Many of you will have heard of the private Stevington and Turvey Light Railway, hidden away in deepest Bedfordshire. The railway has been operating since the 1980s, but last Sunday was the final operating day for the railway. 
The stock and track are being moved to a new site nearby in Woburn where they will have full engineering facilities and security. Sadly the railway has been attacked several times by metal thieves in the last few years.
Wikipedia adds:
The Stevington and Turvey Light Railway was a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge light railway on the outskirts of the village of Turvey in Bedfordshire, England. It was about 3⁄4 mile (1.2 km) long. The railway was formed in the early 1980s by former members of The Surrey Light Railway which was based in Hersham, Surrey. 
The railway was established on the former track bed of the Bedford to Northampton Line. The main signal box on the line was named Needham, and contains a 31 lever Westinghouse 'L' frame which originally came from Battersea Park Signal box.
And at 6:30 the caption says a project is underway to turn an old bridge into an open-air theatre.

Remarkably, the project is complete and the theatre is open. It is The Arches Theatre at Clifton Reynes near Olney:
t takes its name from the four beautiful railway arches, built in 1872, that are used to stage exciting outdoor performances.
Situated in parkland next to the River Great Ouse in the picturesque and peaceful Buckinghamshire countryside, The Arches Theatre will be the stage to a number of fantastic theatre productions over the summer months.

Two contrasting by-election performances by the Liberal Democrats


There were two local by-elections yesterday and they saw contrasting performances by the Liberal Democrat candidate.

In a Northamptonshire County Council contest in Oundle we moved from third to second place in what had previously been a safe Tory ward, increasing our vote from 10 to 35 per cent of the poll.
We may have been helped by a story that broke in the Northamptonshire Telegraph in the week of the poll:
A district councillor who missed two thirds of meetings last year is standing for this Thursday’s Northamptonshire County Council by-election for Oundle. 
Conservative Annabel de Capell Brooke wants to be elected to the county to represent the Oundle ward despite only attending nine of the 24 meetings she should have gone to at East Northamptonshire Council in 2018.
The name de Capell Brooke will be familiar to anyone who has studied political history in this part of the world. They owned Brooke House in Market Harborough in the 19th century.

There seems to be a tendency among local Tories to fall back on their great families when they are short of candidates.

At the height of the Lib Dem ascendancy here in Market Harborough they put up two Hazleriggs from distant Noseley Hall.

Their ancestor Sir Arthur Haselrig was one of the five members whose arrest Charles I sought and would have taken the radical side in the contest.

The most significant story from Oundle may be the fall in the Labour vote.

Oundle, with its public school and fine stone buildings, does not feel like the kind of town that is ever going to elect a Labour councillor. But it does lie within the Corby constituency, which is a key Tory-Labour marginal.

At the last election the Tory majority was only 2690 and it is just the sort of seat they need to win to gain a majority next time round. Instead they are going backwards.

The second by-election was in Cardiff and saw the Lib Dem vote dropped to only 2.4 per cent.
The Ely ward has never been an area of strength for us, and the top Lib Dem candidate last year outpolled the other two by some way, so we may have lost a personal vote here.

Still, it was a poor result and reinforces the point I made yesterday in my Thought 2. 

We should not assume that The Independent Group will rush to do a deal with us that encompasses every seat in the council. They have little to fear from us in most of them.

Convicted Oakham councillor resigns from Rutland County Council

So the saga that began with the Liberal Democrats losing a tied Rutland by-election on the drawing of lots has ended.

Richard Alderman, who was the lucky candidate, today resigned from the council.

In October of last year he received a six-month community order for threatening Facebook posts aimed at various female politicians.

As his sentence involved a 7pm to 7am curfew, and as the council declined to give him leave of absence during those six months, be faced disqualification for not attending meetings.

He also faced an investigation by the council for a possible violation of its own code of conduct.

Alderman was originally described as an Independent, but it soon transpired that he stood on behalf of the group Democracy Rutland. I don't know if his views are typical of its members.

The group's website does not appear to have been updated for a while, so neither do I know if it will be standing candidates in May's council elections.

Anyway, there will be no by-election in Oakham South West because of the imminence of those elections.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Brian Glover vs Les Kellett in the wrestling ring

Sometimes you don't realise how much you liked a public figure until they die.

I remember being on a walking holiday in the West Country in 1997 when Brian Glover died and borrowing someone's newspaper in the pub so I could read his obituary.

Before he was an actor, Glover was a wrestler and British Wrestlers Reunion explains the genesis of Leon Arras:
At the start of his career Glover took the ring name of Erik Tanberg from Sweden but he was struggling to make any impact and despite his best efforts did not seem to climb the wrestling ladder. Glover having completed his studies as a student proceeded to become a schoolteacher and supplemented his income by wrestling in the evenings. However, fate was about to take a turn that would catapult Glover into the public eye. 
One night whilst appearing on a show a wrestler from France by the name of Leon Arras had not arrived leaving the Promoters with a headache. The solution was to put Glover in the match as Leon Arras, the man from Paris with the promoter saying 'Nobody knows what Arras looks like so they won't know it's not you.' As a result of this Glover made his debut as Leon Arras and the rest is history.
Les Kellett was the absent hero of Simon Garfield's book The Wrestling.

If he doesn't look much of an athlete here, he looked even less of one when I saw him wrestle at the Hemel Hempstead Pavilion in 1972. (I was on World of Sport, sitting in the front row, two weeks running.)

Many of the British wrestlers of those days had been on the circuit since the end of World War II and were looking their age by then.

Anyway, this video is great fun - there are two more parts if you want them - so thanks to Keith Frankish for tweeting it.

Tory PCC hopeful is an expert on ghosts as well as aliens

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I regard myself as a Fortean - happy in general to accept that "there are more things in heaven and earth...", but distinctly sceptical in individual cases.

Recently I came across a podcast called The Unexplained, which is introduced by a smooth professional broadcaster called Howard Hughes who has an obvious interest in such matters.

Some of the episodes are really good. I recommend one on the death of Dr David Kelly with the journalist Miles Goslett and the most recent one, which looks at the D.B. Cooper plane hijacking in the US.

There are also interviews with David Icke - I have passed on those.

But what do we find if we skim through the other episodes?

Step forward Rupert Matthews, would be police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland and believer in UFOs and aliens.

In one episode Matthews talks to Hughes about the ghosts of Hampton Court and Surrey in general.

He comes over rather well and I like his theory that talk of a ghost can be a way of keeping a horrific crime alive in local memory.

But he does sound mighty sure that ghosts exist.

Five thoughts on The Independent Group and the Lib Dems

Something had to happen and I am glad that it did. The two main parties have both been captured by groups of extremists that have more in common with each other than they do with the political mainstream.

You only have to see the happy faces of The Independent Group MPs to see what a strain it has been to fight for mainstream values in the Conservative and Labour Parties.

The response from Corbyn loyalists, at least, has shown how broken our political system now is.

I have no idea what will happen next, but I have a feeling it will be more fun than the last few years have been,

Tim Farron rushed to offer us as an army to help the TIGgers to power. But, pleased as I am by the turn events have taken, I believe we Liberal Democrats need to be more wary than that.

No doubt there have been talks between us and the new group, but are we certain that they wish us well? Already Anna Soubry has urged Lib Dems to join her instead.

Remembering the endless hours expended on seat negotiations by the Liberal Party and the SDP, I would be tempted to pursue a selfish strategy if I were in charge of TIG and it had grown into a national party

I would give the Lib Dems a clear run in the seats they hold and in another dozen where they had realistic chances of winning. After that, I would stand a candidate in every seat in the country and let the Lib Dems stand against me if they dared.

So low is the present Lib Dem support across much of the country, I would reason, that if we can’t supplant then we TIGgers have no future as a party anyway.

Another worry about TIG is that it will all be a little vague. How could it be otherwise when they had to begin by attracting both Labour and Conservative MPs?

The question for TIG is whether it can move on from its launch Statement and become the driver of the reforms Britain needs.

Just for starters, we need to rebuild local democracy and our public services, reform our democracy and put the environment at the heart of our politics.

Is this really the group do it?

So what should the Liberal Democrats do next?

Richard Kemp offers some characteristically sensible advice: we must concentrate on the May local elections and gain as many seats as possible and leave grand strategy on the back burner for a while.

The better we do in those elections, the stronger the hand we will have to play in whatever happens next.

If we doubt that TIG has the coherence or intellectual heft to put forward the reforms Britain needs, then we Lib Dems are going to have to do some of the work.

Commentators used to accuse the Liberal Party of living off the intellectual capital of the Grimond years. Sometimes I wonder if the Lib Dems have any intellectual capital at all.

If that sounds harsh, think of how quickly we moved from being a party that wanted better-funded public services to one that supported George Osborne’s austerity.

We need some good internal rows over policy. We need to be a bit less of a family and a bit more of a political party.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Pagan London 3: Shepperton Henge

Older than Stonehenge, London's own henge is to be found in J.G. Ballard country at Shepperton.

The only Conservative MP to join the SDP

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On Monday I blogged that I found the decision of seven Labour MPs to leave the party more sad than hopeful:
Rather than the launch of a new movement, I see seven individuals who have succumbed to the hard left's perennial tactic of making life so unpleasant for those who oppose them that they eventually walk away from the fight.
Things seemed rather different this morning when three Conservative MPs joined the in The Independent Group.

Isabel Hardman tweeted:
Heidi Allen kicks off the defection press conference with jokes and a v upbeat tone. Couldn’t be more different to the sorrowful atmosphere from the ex-Labour seven on Monday.
Back in the 1980s only one Conservative MP crossed the floor. That was Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler, who sat for North West Norfolk.

Apparently he was known to his colleagues as Dogger Bank Trawler because he was "as wet as the North Sea".

He lost his seat at the 1983 general election, though he came only 3147 votes behind the winning Tories. He lost by a much greater distance four years later.

The last time I saw him he was selling Liberal Democrat ties from a stall at a spring conference in Nottingham not long after merger.

Looking him up today, I found that Brocklebank-Fowler is still with us and that he joined the Labour Party in 1996.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Land of Lost Content reopens in Craven Arms

Craven Arms does not just have a mosque: it also has a privately owned museum too.

The Land of Lost Content, housed in a former Nonconformist chapel, bills itself as "Britain's foremost collection of pop culture ephemera, obscure and ordinary objects from the pre-digital era."

But last September, reports the Shropshire Star, fire inspectors ordered its closure because "it did not come up to modern safety standards".

Having visited it myself a few years ago, I was not wholly surprised.

The good news is that the owners have spent the past five months bringing it up to standard and it has now reopened.

It's definitely a place to visit if you like social history or find yourself at a loose end in Craven Arms.

Six of the Best 852

Adrian Slade has some lessons from history for those who scent an easy way to power: "Soggy centrism has never worked and the process of arriving at a realignment that actually achieves something is very far from easy, particularly without reform of the electoral system."

"Right now, forbidding kids to walk and play outside unsupervised seems normal. But thanks to states revisiting their neglect laws - including South Carolina, Arkansas and Texas - soon this may seem as strange as it would have in the '80s." Lenore Skenazy reports growing support for free-range parenting.

Lynn Hunt reviews two books on the French philosopher Diderot, whom she describes as "the most radical thinker of the eighteenth century".

Stephen Fry and Ben Challacombe, his surgeon, discuss the former's operation for prostate cancer.

Film treatments of the Arthurian legend tell us much about the time they are made in, argues Neil Archer.

With a 1972 article about East London buildings at risk as his guide, A London Inheritance walks from Bromley by Bow to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs.

What Ruth George tells us about the culture of Corbyn's Labour

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Ruth George, the Labour MP for High Peak, has apologised for claiming the seven MPs who left her party yesterday may be funded by the Israeli government:

So she should, because her comments have to be seen to be believed.

Here is the report on BBC News:
Ms George, who was first elected in 2017 and is a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, said on Facebook that the new group should be more open about its financial backers. 
She was responding to a councillor in her Derbyshire constituency "loving" a post with a picture of the seven MPs with the word Israelis underneath. 
Asked to comment on this, she said she would "condemn the calling of anyone as an Israeli when it is not the case" but suggested the comment "appears not to refer to the independent MPs but to their financial backers". 
"Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel of which Luciana was chair is possible," she added. 
"I would not condemn those who suggest it, especially when the group's financial backers are not being revealed. It is important for democracy to know the financial backers for any political group or policy."

George's apology is handsome:
"I unreservedly and wholeheartedly apologise for my comment. 
"I had no intention of invoking a conspiracy theory and I am deeply sorry that my ill-thought out and poorly worded comment did this. I withdraw it completely."
but what other construction did she imagine people would put on her words is she did not want them to think she was invoking a conspiracy theory?

Still, let's take her at her word. Let's accept she doesn't spend her spare time goosestepping the streets of Chapel-en-le-Frith singing the Horst Wessel Song.

What is more important is what this episode tells us about the culture of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. And that is well summed up in this tweet:

Monday, February 18, 2019

Rediscovering the Bedford to Northampton line

This video traces the line that ran from Bedford to Northampton and finds a number of lineside railway buildings surviving on the way.

All three of Northampton's station served as the terminus of trains from Bedford in their time. I recently posted an aerial photo of the long-vanished Northampton St Johns.

The Independent Group feels more sad than hopeful

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Today's announcement by seven Labour MPs that they were leaving the party did not feel hopeful so much as sad.

It is hard to see much hope in the statement of values their Independent Group has published. It is hard to imagine anyone reading it and thinking: "At last someone has put into words what I have been feeling all these years."

Rather than the launch of a new movement, I see seven individuals who have succumbed to the hard left's perennial tactic of making life so unpleasant for those who oppose them that they eventually walk away from the fight.

After the victories of Trump, Corbyn and Leave, it is hard to say anything in politics is impossible. But it's hard to believe today's events will prove the start of something big.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Roy Goodman on Allegri's Miserere

The night the Liberal Party merged with the SDP, I played Allegri's Miserere as an expression of my feelings.

It was the famous recording made by the choir of King's College, Cambridge, in 1963, with Roy Goodman singing the treble solo.

Here is a documentary Goodman made for the BBC in 2006, which tells the story of that recording and investigates the complicated history of the piece.

State school pupils are 'potted plants', said Jacob Rees-Mogg

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There is nothing more absurd than an Old Etonian posing as an anti-elitist.

Anyone who has been taken in by Jacob Rees-Mogg's act should read this piece Andy McSmith published back in 2006:
State school pupils are 'potted plants', says Tory 
One of the leading members of the David Cameron generation of new Tories created a storm yesterday by comparing people who were not privately educated and did not go to Oxford or Cambridge universities to "potted plants". 
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who will be fighting one of the Tories' target seats at the next election, also gave the impression that he thinks that anyone educated in the state sector is incapable of writing an "articulate" letter. 
Mr Rees-Mogg was asked for his reaction to a survey by the BBC programme Newsnight which showed that 28 per cent of those on the A-list of people that Mr Cameron wants as future Tory MPs are from Oxford or Cambridge, and a majority - 52 per cent - were privately educated. 
Mr Rees-Mogg, the Eton and Oxford-educated son of the Tory peer and former editor of The Times, William Rees-Mogg, said: "Oxford and Cambridge are world-renowned universities that get the crème of British academic life. It would be absolutely perverse to be biased against some of the cleverest people in the country. 
"We don't want to make it harder for intellectually able people to be Tory party candidates. The Tory party, when it's elected, has to be able to form a government and it's not going to be able to form a government if it has potted plants as candidates simply to make up quotas."
Given the damage caused by its former pupils in recent years, I would put Eton into special measures and look for more candidates educated in the state sector as a matter of urgency.

Six of the Best 851

"First, some figures. From 1899 to 1902, roughly 48,000 people died in British concentration camps in South Africa. Of the 28,000 white deaths, 22,000 were children under the age of 16. More than 4,000 were women. The 20,000 Black deaths were less clearly recorded - a mark of official indifference - but most estimates suggest that about 80% were children." Robert Saunders puts Jacob Rees-Mogg right on British concentration camps in the Boer War.

"Being Asian and a curry lover you would think that I would feel sorry for him but I don’t. Those from immigrant communities who vote or advocate for narrow interests always draw my ire." Jane Chelliah is not moved by the secretary general of the Bangladesh Caterers Association's regret at influencing his members to vote Leave.

Paul Russell reconsiders the moral philosophy of Bernard Williams, whom I heard speak at York as a student.

John Boughton examines the history and architecture of the Church of England's engagement with council estates.

"We have one of the most complete town walls in Europe. But neglect and overdue repairs have led Historic England to add Ludlow town walls to its Heritage in Danger list. The town council should be ashamed of this." Andy Boddington on the failure to repair Ludlow's fallen town walls.

Tim Holyoake watches Shoestring again after 40 years and is not disappointed.

The Prodigy: Charly

The Prodigy's first single from 1991 and some good advice from Charley.

Wikipedia explains the sample:
Charley Says is a series of very short cut-out animated cartoon public information films for children, produced by the British government's Central Office of Information and broadcast in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and 1980s. Six films were made in 1973. 
Most of the topics dealt with everyday safety issues children face, such as not going off with strangers or not playing with matches. 
They featured a little boy called Tony (voiced by the seven-year-old son of one of the neighbours of producer Richard Taylor) and his cat, named Charley, voiced by Kenny Everett, who would "miaow" the lesson of the episode, which the boy would then translate and explain.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

David Penhaligon on Desert Island Discs

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Having blogged about John Pardoe's appearance on Desert Island Discs, I'd better do the same for my other Liberal hero of the 1970s, David Penhaligon.

You can hear the full programme on the BBC website.

By the time David Penhaligon appeared on the show, it had been taken over from its originator Roy Plomley by Michael Parkinson.

And if the date of broadcast on the BBC site is correct (March 1987), then Penhaligon was already dead when it aired.

For he died on 22 December 1986 in an early-morning car crash as he was on the way to visit postal workers coping with the Christmas rush. Cornwall Live published an article about his life and death at the end of last year.

David's widow Annette Penhaligon later wrote a book about him. It is one of the best accounts I have read of the Liberal Party in the years before merger with the SDP.

Funds needed to restore Bishop's Castle Railway weighbridge

Last summer I blogged that the Bishop's Castle Railway Society had begun restoration work on the old weighbridge at the town's former station.

This week the Shropshire Star reported on the progress that has been made. It quoted Lin Dalton, a committee member of the Bishop's Castle Railway Society and deputy project manager of The Weighbridge Project:
 "We have got quotes from builders and have broken it down to come to the figure of £25,000. We need to repair the walls, put on a new roof and also install new windows and doors. 
"We did go for Heritage Lottery Funding but unfortunately we didn't get it, so we are having to do it ourselves. We have been very lucky that we have had so many generous donations and some fundraising and now this is the final push.Once we have raised the final £8,000 we can give the builders the go-ahead. 
"Volunteers have already done an awful lot of work at the site, clearing undergrowth, stripping ivy from the building and tidying up. 
"They have also been working on the weighbridge mechanism to help get it in to better condition. We plan to be able to show people how it worked when it was operational."

The Old Fire Station, Market Harborough

These days I spend my free time wandering the back streets of obscure towns looking for unexpected buildings to photograph.

Today I was in the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough and came across this former fire station.

But seriously folks, this building in Abbey Street was our fire station from 1903 until the new one opened in Fairfield Road in 1989.

Today, imaginatively named The Old Fire Station, it is home to a number of small businesses, with a restaurant about to move in from premises across the road.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Trevor Eve and Harry H. Corbett in Shoestring

This video is a bit murky, but it contains an extract from Shoestring that brings together two great television performers.

Before he played Harold Steptoe, Harry H. Corbett was a revered method actor - the British Brando. And Trevor Eve did not use to be angry all the time.

Eve also appeared in a film with Albert Steptoe - Wilfrid Brambell - but you will need IMDB to tell you which.

Six of the Best 850

We must rebuff the calls to scrap GCSEs and A levels, says Mark Lehain, because they ensure every child gets a broad and balanced education until 16.

In the 1960s British Black TV drama was sharp, hard-hitting and streets ahead of America. Steve Rose asks what happened to it.

Gillian Darley on a Tolstoyan commune in Essex.

Backwatersman reviews Stephen Fay and David Kynaston's biography of John Arlott and E.W. Swanton. The England opener Peter Richardson emerges as a hero for his teasing of the latter. He "continued to vex him by submitting accounts of the doings of fictitious public schools to 'The Cricketer' and comically blimpish letters in praise of Swanton to 'The Daily Telegraph'."

"Before viewing Harlequin ... it’s best to set aside the old-fashioned notions of 'good' and 'bad.' They just don't apply here. I've watched the film twice now, and I still have no idea if it's a 'good' film or not. But it is flat-out crazily entertaining, and I love it." Jim Donahue watches the film directed by David Hemmings and starring Robert Powell.

Caroline from Flickering Lamps shows us the turbulent history of Clerkenwell's Spa Fields

School strike for climate action: The Kids are Alright

I know we are supposed to believe that every single day in school is precious and one lost is never recovered, but that is bollocks.

It was great to see schoolchildren protesting about climate change today.

In an age when MPs behave like spiteful children, someone has to play the adult.

So farewell then Andrew Neil and This Week

It was announced today that Andrew Neil is giving up presenting This Week and the BBC is taking the opportunity to scrap the programme.

There was a time when I never missed This Week. The problem, as a confirmed hater of Question Time, was how to fill the 20 minutes between Newsnight ended and it began.

Then I got older and realised that I could go to bed and watch it on iPlayer the next day.

Then I gave up watching it at all.

There were always too many "funny" items that weren't funny - step forward Kevin Maguire and Quentin Letts.

But Andrew Neil is a better broadcaster than the Dimblebys added to John Humphrys and multiplied several times over.

OK so he has run with the hare and hunted with the hounds too much recently, but at his best he is peerless. The BBC should have made better use of him.

I remember, in the days when he was seen as a meritocrat from a humble background, Neil's forensic politeness forcing from Michael Gove the admission that his adoptive parents had paid for him to attend one of Scotland's most expensive private schools.

And This Week could be brilliant. I remember a riveting discussion of alcoholism with Shirley Williams and Rosie Boycott on the evening of the day that Charles Kennedy resigned as Liberal Democrat leader.

I used to grumble about its late-night slot, but maybe the BBC should have made a virtue of it and made it open ended - something along the lines of Channel 4's old After Dark.

If you keep politicians up late enough and lubricate them with Blue Nun, they start to tell the truth.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Pagan London 2: The Stanwell Cursus

The second is this series of videos looks at a prehistoric earthwork that is now partly beneath the runways of Heathrow.

My Liberator review of Jonathan Coe's Middle England

Having disposed of Lord Bonkers, I can post my review article on Jonathan Coe'e Midland England from the current Liberator.

These two photographs of Bridgnorth appear with it in the magazine, albeit it in black and white.

Middle England
Jonathan Coe
Viking, 2018, £16.99

I was taking a short holiday at the Prince Rupert Hotel in Shrewsbury and planning my days out – Ludlow or Much Wenlock? Ironbridge or Bishop’s Castle? – when the August 2011 riots broke out. The news of arson, looting and murder in London, Birmingham and Leicester came from a completely different country, but it is a country we are all living in today.

Perhaps the feeling that the times are out of joint and the certainties you grew up with no longer apply is an inevitable accompaniment of growing older, but English society and English politics have changed to an extraordinary degree in the last 10 years. It is that change and that sense of middle-aged disconnection that are the subject of Jonathan Coe’s new novel.

Middle England is the slightly unexpected sequel to The Rotters’ Club and The Closed Circle, and deals with the struggles of some of the cast of those novels living through the run up to and aftermath of the referendum on British membership of the European Union. The action of the novel takes place between April 2010 and September 2018, and I can be so precise because the action dated to a month and year throughout.

It finds Benjamin Trotter, the unheroic hero of the trilogy, living in a converted mill house on the banks of the Severn north of Shrewsbury. The towns and villages he passes through on the drive to or from his widowed father’s house – Bridgnorth, Alveley, Quatt, Much Wenlock and Cressage – are an incantation that runs through the book.

Coe means business here, which threatened to be disappointing to someone who enjoys his more fantastic register, as displayed most famously in What A Carve Up!, but Middle England is a funny book as well as a serious one.  Here is the Conservative spin doctor Nigel, a new character introduced in this book, who is presented throughout as a laidback admirer of Cameron. Until:
“Cameron,” said Nigel, his face twisting. “What a twat. What a grade-one, first-class, copper-bottomed arsehole. Sitting in his fucking shed writing his memoirs. Look at the mess he’s left behind. Everyone at each other’s throats. Foreigners being shouted at in the street. Being attacked on the bus and told to go back where they came from. Anyone who doesn’t toe the line being called traitors and enemies of the people. Cameron broke the country, Doug. He broke the country and ran away!”
Coe is fair to his characters – come to that, the paragraph above is entirely fair to David Cameron. So, while Benjamin’s father is not above the odd racist remark, his confusion when he finds that the Longbridge car factory is no longer there has the nobility of a Lear:
“Whatever happened to all that? It was bad enough when I was working here. Every man for himself, survival of the fittest, I’m all right Jack. That’s what was starting to take over. But now it’s even worse . . . fancy clothes and Prosecco bars and bloody . . . packets of salad. We’ve gone soft, that’s the problem. No wonder the rest of the world’s laughing at us.
It wasn’t laughing at us, of course, though it may be now.

What this episode does bring out is the way that support for Brexit was closely aligned with a distrust of the ethics and outward appearances of social liberalism. A review of the novel for Politics Means Politics by Chris Grey makes the same point, noting how, in the experience of many people, that liberalism too often consists in Them telling you what you cannot do:
In Middle England, this theme first appears when Sophie has to attend a speed awareness course … at which she meets one of the instructors, Ian, whom she subsequently marries. Amongst those attending, there is a palpable air of “righteous indignation” at being “picked on” so that the room “smelled of victimhood”.
In the middle of this national slide over the cliff came a bright spot: the 2012 London Olympics and their opening ceremony in particular. Thanks to Coe’s enthusiasm for dates, I can tell you it took place on Friday 27 July 2012.

The ceremony was as good as everyone said at the time, presenting a vision of Britain that was liberal, inclusive and true to its history. It was all the better for not trying to improve its audience, as the planners of the Millennium Dome had done under Blair. Then, one commentator suggested the Work Zone resembled nothing so much as a giant restart interview. Whatever that ceremony’s virtues, however, they have vanished without trace.

The closest parallel to this brief flourishing of a liberal Britain is the Festival of Britain in 1951. In a famous essay published a dozen years later, Michael Frayn wrote:
Festival Britain was the Britain of the radical middle-classes, the do-gooders; the readers of the News Chronicle, the Guardian, and the Observer; the signers of petitions; the backbone of the BBC. In short, the Herbivores, or gentle ruminants, who look out from the lush pastures which are their natural station in life with eyes full of sorrow for less fortunate creatures, guiltily conscious of their advantages, though not usually ceasing to eat the grass.
And in making the Festival they earned the contempt of the Carnivores - the readers of the Daily Express; the Evelyn Waughs; the cast of the Directory of Directors - the members of the upper- and middle-classes who believe that if God had not wished them to prey on all smaller and weaker creatures without scruple he would not have made them as they are.
And the Carnivores soon had their revenge. By the autumn of 1951 their political wing, the Conservative Party, was back in power and Churchill ordered the Festival’s South Bank site to be cleared.

For Carnivores and Herbivores then, read Leave and Remain today. Perhaps Brexit has only brought into prominence a divide that has always been there, yet the impossibility of communication between political tribes and generations is one of the themes of Middle England and an urgent and important one at that. It is lent a sad irony by the way its characters’ lives are stuffed with phones, computers and all the technology for it they could ever need.

While Coe’s litany of Shropshire place names –  Bridgnorth, Alveley, Quatt, Much Wenlock and Cressage – chime with my August 2011 in the county, that month’s riots were not the first indication that the times were out of joint. I would now point to the patient queues I saw waiting to withdraw their savings from the local branch of Northern Rock during the 2007 Liberal Democrat Conference. Which suggests it is the credit crunch that lies at the root of our ills and that the vote for Brexit was only a symptom of the malady.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceThere will be other fictional takes on the extraordinary period through which we are living, but I doubt if many will combine seriousness of purpose with humour in the way that Coe does in Middle England. Sam Leith in the Guardian described it as “ great big Centrist Dad of a novel” and, to writers and reviewers of a certain age, that can be nothing but a compliment.

When the Conservatives insisted on Churchill's demotion before they would join a wartime coalition

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Yesterday we were debating Theresa May's habit of scraping the mould of the top of a jar of jam and then using it.

Today it is "Winston Churchill: Hero or villain?"

For what it is worth, I suspect May is right. We are too squeamish about food these days.

And Churchill? He was in many ways a flawed character, but I am glad he was there in 1940. Without him, it is unlikely that Nazism would have been destroyed.

Churchill, of course, was a Liberal for a while and at the forefront of the Asquith government's social reforms.

Those Conservatives who have been claiming a monopoly on him today should remember what happened in 1915, when Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and Asquith wanted a coalition government to prosecute the war:
A new coalition was needed to bolster confidence. But the Conservatives were deeply hostile to Churchill and demanded his resignation. Backed into a corner, Asquith had no choice but to agree, and on the 15 November the resignation was confirmed. 
Demoted to the ceremonial position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the hurt and demoralised Winston resigned from the government altogether and left for the Western Front.
Talking of Conservatives who do not understand Churchill, here is Richard Evans' magisterial demolition of Boris Johnson's biography of the great man.

Daniel Kawczynski climbs down over Marshall Aid tweet

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As ever, the Shropshire Star is first with the news:
Shrewsbury MP Daniel Kawczynski has apologised and admitted he was incorrect in stating that Great Britain did not receive aid under the Marshall Plan after the Second World War.
The paper goes on to quote him:
"It has been pointed out to me by eminent academics/professors and senior researchers in the House of Commons Library that Britain did receive aid under the Marshall Plan. 
"The line in my tweet which stated that Britain did not benefit was therefore inaccurate.
"I would like to apologise for putting this inaccurate sentence within my tweet."
If you are getting the sense that this is a heavily qualified apology, you are right.

Kawczynski continues:
My own personal conviction however remains that the massive loans that Britain had to take out during the war from America outweighed the benefits of the aid received. 
"On December 31, 2006, Britain made a final payment of about $83m (£45.5m) and thereby discharged the last of its war loans from the US. By the end of Second World War Britain had amassed an immense debt of £21 billion. 
"I have asked the House of Commons Library for their assessment of what the £21 billion from that era is in today’s money."
So Kawczynski won't change. His sense of victimhood will remain and find a different grievance to attach itself to. Which is odd in someone born in 1972.