Sunday, July 31, 2022

Arts Fresco is coming back to the streets of Market Harborough on 11 September

Great news! Arts Fresco returns in full on Sunday 11 September 2022.

As the Arts Fresco website explains:

Often described as a 'mini Fringe festival', Market Harborough's Arts Fresco is a free street theatre festival, that for one day every September, transforms the town centre into the biggest street arts festival in the Midlands.

When Covid hit, we had to leave the roaming dinosaurs, mad chefs and wheelie bins that drive themselves back in their own crazy world, and move to a virtual festival. However for 2022, we're back where we belong - on the streets of Market Harborough.

You can hear Neil Kitson, chair of the organising committee, talk about the plans for this year on HFM News.

The photos on this page are ones I have taken at Arts Fresco over the years.

The Jaynetts: Sally, Go 'Round the Roses

With its layered sound and elusive lyrics, this was a no. 2 hit for the Bronx-based girl group the Jaynetts in September 1963.

They were famously due to take part in an edition of American Bandstand to be broadcast from Dallas, Texas, on the evening on 22 November that year.

But it never went out, because President Kennedy had been assassinated in the city earlier that day. Maybe that's one reason why the Jaynetts remained as one-hit wonders.

Wikipedia (with lots of references) says of Sally, Go 'Round the Roses:

Sally, Go 'Round the Roses was unlike other pop songs of the day, with a spooky, even ominous, musical ambiance heightened by the sometimes odd and opaque lyrics, which gave the song a mysterious feeling that probably accounted in part for its popularity, and which has led to speculation on the meaning of the song. 
Sally. Go 'Round the Roses could be interpreted as a conventional song of heartbreak over cheating, or it could be – and has been – seen as alluding to deeper matters, including drug use, illegitimate motherhood, madness, suicide, or, most especially, lesbianism.

The song can be about all those and all of them at once. That's why people sometimes choose to write poems and song lyrics rather than committee reports.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Dreams and numinous landscapes: How Malcolm Saville made his stories strange

The other day I wrote about how Alan Garner ran up against the limitations of children's holiday fiction. I should also have emphasised that Susan Cooper's attempt to vault over them in Over Sea, Under Stone is not wholly successful.

But maybe that school of writing is more interesting than I made it seem. Certainly, its Ur text, Bevis: The Story of a Boy by Richard Jefferies, is shot through with nature mysticism.

And the landscapes authors choose are often numinous or have come to be accepted as so by readers. My own childhood favourite Malcolm Saville set stories in Sussex and on Romney Marsh, territory already sanctified by Kipling and Russell Thorndike.

He also, as I may have mentioned, set stories in the Shropshire hills where the presiding genius was Mary Webb. 

Malcolm Saville knew Church Stretton and the Long Mynd before he started writing his stories, but I once heard his son, the late Revd Jeremy Saville, tell a meeting he was sure Malcolm had not visited the Stiperstones when he wrote Seven White Gates (1944), the first book he set there. 

So its distinctive atmosphere came from a reading of Webb's novels, which is why we find Jenny and Peter (Petronella) encountering the Wild Hunt on the Stiperstones during World War II:

Then the atmosphere became cold and clammy as the fog swirled round them. suddenly Jenny gave a stifled little scream and pointed up the track which led to the mines. Shadowy in the thickening mist, the two girls seemed to see a figure on horseback waving ghostly arms but no sound of hooves came to their straining ears. Then far away on the hilltop, it seemed to Peter that tiny, gnome-like figures flitted in uncanny procession. 

Jenny turned and wailed into Peter's shoulder. 

"Peter. It's true. It's them. They're riding again. What shall we do, Peter? We must hide our eyes. We mustn't even see them. Don't look, Peter."

Saville had another way of making his stories: the dream. His characters (in the three I've remembered off the top of my head all girls) can see the past or the future in dreams.

So, in the opening chapter of The Secret of Grey Walls (1947), Peter, before she had ever met Penny, has a dream that foretells the adventure they and the rest of the children are to share:

Peter began to see the dream country through which she was running. First, she realized that everything around her was cold and grey, but the light was so weird that she could not tell whether it was day or night. ... 

She turned her head and, with a sudden shock, saw that she was not alone. A few yards to her left  a girl of about her own age was running with her, and as, in her dream, Peter looked at the with curiosity, the girl turned towards her and have her a friendly smile. ... 

Then the girl at her side broke the spell by stepping forward a few paces to where they could see, between the trees, a rough cart-track, winding downhill. She clutched Peter's arm and pointed ahead, and suddenly Peter felt that the ugly, grey-walled house squatting in the hollow below them was one of the things for which she had been searching.

Later in the series, in Treasure at Amorys (1964), Penny herself has an extraordinary dream in which she witnesses a Mithraic ritual from Roman times:

The torch-bearers were now lining each side of the central aisle, and although she was surrounded by soldiers somehow she could see the faces of those in white robes who were taking their places between them. But they weren't faces. Not ordinary faces. Their heads were enormous and inhuman. One was beaked like a raven with a great mop of hair, another was a snarling lion and several others, the most frightening of all, were completely blank.

It's no surprise that a Mithraic temple is later found under the grounds of the house where the children are staying.

And late in his career, in one of his less popular series, a Saville heroine had another, less frightening, dream of Roman Britain. Here is Lucy's dream in The Roman Treasure Mystery (1973):

She was alone and not frightened. Happy and at peace. She heard the sound of running water and of a sweet voice  singing words that she did not understand. ... 

Then, in her dream, she was almost overwhelmed by the desire to hurry through the trees to meet the singer with the silver voice. Now she knew that the singer was a boy and suddenly, with a feeling of indescribable joy she saw him, standing between the trees in a pool of moonlight waiting for her. 

A boy of about her own age dressed in a white tunic. His arms and legs were bare and he held his head high as he sang. Then he looked towards her and smiled, and at that moment she was sure that she would never forget the beauty of his face.

So Malcolm Saville could make his stories strange when he wanted, which might just make him the master of the children's holiday adventure I thought him when I was 10.

The Spectator uncovers more of Liz Truss's Lib Dem past

Steerpike of the Spectator has got hold of a leaflet Liz Truss put out when she made an unsuccessful attempt to be elected treasurer of Lib Dem Youth and Students, which was then the party's youth wing.

He writes:

Underneath a headline which proclaims 'Elizabeth Truss for Treasurer' it lists her skills as an 'experienced community campaigner' and a 'founder member of the Leeds North East Young Liberal Democrats.'

It notes her maiden speech 'calling for the party to practice [sic] what it preaches' at the Torquay Federal Conference and even boasts an endorsement from-then leader Paddy Ashdown: 'Elizabeth is a good debater and is utterly fearless.' 

Longtime Lib Dem activist Kiron Reid also predicted that 'Liz will be a determined treasurer and lively member of the executive.'

I've reproduced the leaflet here with no one's permission. Meanwhile, Kiron will be investigated by the Liberator editorial collective for suspected counter-revolutionary activity.

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Joy of Six 1065

Russia’s war in Ukraine is a genocide. It's not just a land grab but a bid to expunge a nation, argues Kristina Hook.

Giles Wilkes finds himself increasingly uncertain about the desirability of economic growth: "What is the right approach to value, for example, all the incomes that were generated in the ecosystem around a busted cryptocurrency? It now turns out it was just a few thousand fools throwing real or fake money at one another, consulting, meeting, emailing, writing software, and now it is all bust. Was it real GDP at the time, and now not? Never real in the first place?"

"This was Britain as a rich, diverse, multicultural, imaginative, inventive nation comfortable with its identity and capable of reconciling its contradictions. We were traditional yet modern. We were powerful yet caring. We were orderly yet anarchic. We had a vast back catalogue of world-changing culture from which to draw. We knew how to put on a good show. And we had a sense of humour." Steve Rose asks if the 2012 Olympics the last gasp of liberal Britain.

Terry Eagleton plays with the word "character" and considers Boris Johnson as a character in literary fiction: "It helps to be a character to scramble into power, but you need to have character to stay there."

"It’s not just the case that if Mady Villiers had gone to pretty much any other state school in Essex, she would never have played for England. It’s that more than likely she wouldn’t have played at all." Phil Walker investigates whether cricket is becoming even more elitist.

"When footbridges and underpasses cease to be cared for, when the gardens become overgrown, and the concrete sickens, the shine can go off a new town pretty fast." Ray Newman looks at how post-war British new towns have been depicted on film.

How an 18th-century chimney sweep's boy helped Coleen Rooney win the Wagatha Christie case

I suspect it was that too-conveniently lost mobile phone that did for Rebekah Vardy.

As the Guardian report says:

The judge was highly critical of the loss of key communications in the case. She said it was not believable that Watt accidentally dropped her mobile phone in the North Sea shortly after a legal request was made to search its WhatsApp messages.

But then:

There was widespread mockery in court of the loss of potentially crucial evidence by Vardy and those around her. Rooney’s lawyers invoked a legal precedent from 1722 to argue that, in the absence of evidence, the judge should assume the worst.

And if you follow the link to find the 1722 precedent, you arrive at this:

Owing to the absence of direct evidence, Rooney’s legal defence has relied on a 300-year-old court ruling, Armory v Delamirie, involving a young chimney sweep who found a piece of jewellery while cleaning a fireplace. When the sweep had it valued, a jeweller surreptitiously removed the gems, leaving behind a number of empty sockets.

The 1722 legal ruling set a precedent that if the court can tell that evidence is missing, then the assumption should be that what is missing is of the highest possible value that would fit. 

This, I believe, is one of those cases, like the one with the snail and the bottle of ginger beer, that all law students learn.

It's real importance lies not in the assumption about the missing stones, but in the assumption that the finder of property has a legal claim over it until a better one comes along. So the sweep's boy Armory may have been an unlikely owner of jewellery, but he had a better claim to it than the jeweller (in fact it was his apprentice) who filched the precious stones.

Much is known about "Delamirie", who was in reality Paul de Lamerie, who has been described as "the greatest silversmith working in England in the 18th century".

But what of the boy Armory?

A website maintained by Professor Eben Moglen of  Columbia University quotes the legal historian A.W. Brian Simpson:

I’ve tried to find out more information about [Armory v. Delamirie], but so far I’ve got nowhere. I’m still trying. But the trouble is that if the people in the case are poor, they tend to leave no trace in historical records. 
So if you do a case involving fairly wealthy people, you often find information. It’s easier to find information in the nineteenth century, because there are extensive newspaper reports. They often give very detailed accounts of litigation, so you get a lot of information from them, but the further back you go, the more difficult it gets. . . 
It’s such a strange case. I mean, here’s this chimney sweep boy, they were the lowest of the low, somehow suing – who paid for his lawyer? He’s suing the most distinguished silversmith of the early eighteenth century. The defendant’s work now sells for a million dollars an item. And yet we don’t know anything about how the case happened . . . 
I’ve [tried to get information on the case] intermittently for years, but I haven’t gotten anywhere. History is sometimes just hopeless. Sometimes you just have to give up.

But whoever Amoey was and however old he was, Coleen Rooney owes him her deep thanks.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The last days of Leicester Belgrave Road station

Writing about Leicester's Willow Brook, I promised to tell you more about Leicester Belgrave Road station. This was the Great Northern Railway's terminus in the city.

Though regular passenger business never amounted to much, Belgrave Road was famous for the holiday trains that left there for Skegness and other East Coast resorts.

These lasted until 1962, and the last freight train ran in 1969. This was when the oil depot at Belgrave Road closed - a link with the Midland main line had been put in so trains could reach it from there and the rest of the GNR line closed.

When the Belgrave Road site was eventually cleared, a Sainsbury's supermarket and other stores were built there. The Sainsbury's has since been closed and demolished. The dull picture above, which I took on Saturday, shows some of the 1970s buildings still on the site.

A 2019 Leicester Mercury article looked at the plans for the site, but there's no sign of anything happening yet.

But forget all that and look at the photograph below.

It shows one of those late-1960s workings to the oil depot starting on the journey back. And it also shows what an enormous site this was.

The station itself is in the distance on the left-hand side of the photo, with the goods warehouses further to the right. 

And the b&m store in the photo above is halfway between the station and the camera and the Willow Brook may be marked by the tree in the distance on the far left of the photo.

Photo © Nigel Tout.

Man crashes into shop, runs off and is attacked by emu

This week The Searching Beak of Emu goes into road safety.

Meanwhile, the Bristol Post wins our Headline of the Day Award.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and the making strange of the children's holiday adventure story

First, congratulations to Alan Garner for being placed on the Booker longlist at the age of 87 for his adult novel Treacle Walker.

Justine Jordan says the book

"a flinty little fable about a convalescent boy visited by a rag-and-bone man, reads like a perfect distillation of his long-worked themes: mythology, archaeology, childhood, the transient rhythms of vernacular speech, deep time and inner visions."

And you can listen to a special edition of the podcast Backlisted devoted to it.

Garner first found fame as a children's writer in the 1960s and I suspect his best work of all, a young adult novel called Red Shift, appeared in 1973, but it's great to see him getting the recognition he deserves.

The news about Garner sent me to an interview he once gave to the archaeologist Mike Pitts. There he mentioned the opening of his first children's story The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, which turns out to run:

The guard knocked on the door of the compartment as he went past. "Wilmslow 15 minutes!"

"Thank you!" shouted Colin.

So we have nicely behaved children of on an adventure by train. On reading that I immediately thought of three things.

The first was this blog's hero Malcolm Saville, whose first children's book Mystery at Witchend (1943) begins with the line:

They changed trains at Shrewsbury.

The second was the observation by Victor Watson in his Reading Series Fiction that children's "camping and tramping" fiction grew out of the agricultural depression at the end of the 19th century, which made the countryside a playground for middle-class children, and was killed off by Common Market farming subsidies.

He adds:

And at about the same time the Beeching cuts closed down the branch lines that had taken so many fictional children by steam to their favourite holiday destinations.

And the third was how much Garner hated the limitations of this variety of fiction when he found himself writing it. 

As he told the Guardian in 2012:

"I could not go on. The book was within a few pages of its end, but I'd had enough," says Garner. He had come to "loath" the characters, describing them as "zeroes", the novels as "drivel". He brought the story to a swift, unexpected conclusion. He pauses: "Wait, I think I can do it", and he recites from memory. "'We wins!' said the Morrigan from the rhododendron bushes. And when the moon came out and the house reappeared, she went up to the room where Colin was and wrung the little bugger's neck."

Garner twinkles ferociously as he recites the lines. But he forced himself to find a more suitable ending, finished The Moon of Gomrath by the age of 27, and vowed – despite entreaties from a publisher – not to cash in on his now-established name and turn the hugely popular novels into a series.

Then I thought of Susan Cooper, who set of to write a conventional holiday adventure and, as she tells in the part of this video I have selected, found something different happening,

And how does Over Sea, Under Stone begin?
"Where is he?"

Barney hopped from one foot to the other as he clambered down from the train, peering in vain through the white-faced crowds flooding eagerly to the St Austell ticket barrier. "Oh, I can't see him. Is he there?" 

The new Private Eye: Just fancy that

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Joy of Six 1064

"Putting a transformative agenda of levelling up at the heart of an electoral and governing agenda in 2019 should have represented a lasting realignment, rather than a passing electoral flirtation. Fundamentally, if a Tory prime minister wants to win the next election, make the realignment permanent and leave a positive legacy, they should follow a One Nation agenda with levelling up at its heart." David Skelton says Red Wall voters want more spending not tax cuts.

David Renton looks at what Eton taught Boris Johnson: "The school tells new pupils that they should aspire to be intelligent, hard-working and self-disciplined and that they should be incredibly ambitions. Crucially, they should be capable of concealing the public show of that ambition so that if they do arrive in power this will seem to be at just the same time both the most natural thing in the world (reflecting their innate talent) and the most extraordinary surprise, so that the recipient of power will be unassuming and modest."

Christopher Lane looks at new research that calls into question the theory that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance.

In 1984 Dr Seuss published the anti-war The Butter Battle Book. Groovy History has the story.

"There’s always something fascinating about brands that arrive, dominate, and disappear. Harp Lager in particular is interesting because of the sheer amount of time, money and energy which Guinness sank into it over the course of decades." Boak & Bailey examine the rise and fall of a beer.

Brian Phelan says its time the 1974 film Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs was rediscovered.

Wellesley Tudor Pole and Edward Tudor-Pole

David Boyle introduces us to Wellesley Tudor Pole:

He was a former major in the British army, who had been on Allenby’s staff in Jerusalem in 1918 and had gone to great lengths to make sure that the British protected the life of the mystic 'Abdu'l-Bahá, one of the key figures in the start of the Baha'i faith. Later in life, be bought the site of Chalice Well Gardens at the foot of Glastonbury Tor.

His proposal to Churchill was that, with the help of anyone of goodwill, he would build a psychic barrier against Nazi invasion.

For one minute every day at 9pm, he would light a  candle and, for a minute, he would imagine the barrier and pray for peace.

This was said to be why Churchill asked the BBC to broadcast the Big Ben bongs every night at 9pm, as a kind of focus, which they did from November 1940.

David is writing about how we can deal mentally and spiritually with the threat of nuclear war.

And me? On reading that I wanted to know whether Wellesley Tudor Pole is related to Edward Tudor-Pole. And the answer is yes. He is his grandfather.

Write a guest post for Liberal England

I welcome guest posts on Liberal England. Not only that: I'm happy to publish ones on subjects far beyond the Liberal Democrats and British politics.

If you'd like to write something for this blog, please send me an email first so we can discuss your idea.

Following the Willow Brook across Leicester 1

Blogging about Leicester's Willow Brook, after seeing it emerge from beneath Belgrave Circle to enter the canal, I suggested it offered "the possibility of some urban river walks of the sort I post here by John Rogers". I tried the first of those walks on Saturday, heading upstream.

The pictures above shows the brook flowing towards me as it approaches Belgrave Circle. The stream is contained in a concrete channel - a contrast with its natural appearance on the other side of the roundabout - but at least there was a brisk flow.

I next caught up with the brook at Syston Street West at the Falcon Cash & Carry. The brook runs behind the palisade fence to the left of the building.

The far side of the stream was the site of Leicester's lost railway terminus: the GNR's Leicester Belgrave Road. Together with its goods yards, it occupied a huge site. I'll do a separate post comparing the station in its pomp with what you will find there today.

But as you can see, the cash and carry and its neighbouring buildings were obviously there long before the railway site was cleared in the 1970s. (Trains ran to an oil depot here until 1969.) And some of them are built over the brook. Could it be that they had some connection with the railway?

The next bridge to cross the brook carries Orchardson Avenue. Beside  it stands a rather smart, but obviously disused, office building. Then we look upstream to see the brook continuing in its concrete channel - I'll try not to show you too many photos like that.

Catherine (the last syllable rhymes with fine) Street comes next. It used to soar over the railway tracks on almost a viaduct just past its bridge over the brook, but that has been swept away and the road now runs at ground level. 

And in this photo looking upstream from the Catherine Street bridge you can see, if you look carefully, that the Willow Brook still helps to drain the land on its banks.

In finding the brook again I came across these two fine (though not always finely photographed) Victorian industrial buildings. The sign saying "Curzon Howe Works" is made up of original tiles.

I caught up with the Willow Brook again at Cobden Street. There was a greasy spoon takeaway to service all the industrial premises in this party of the city and another with an Indian menu just down the road.

The brook itself was free of its narrow artificial channel, looking more like it did when I first saw it entering the canal on the other side of Belgrave Circle.

Upstream of Cobden Street, the Willow Brook enters a tunnel beneath the Midland main line and the land once occupied by the sidings and goods yards beside it.

This last photo may show the brick portal of that tunnel, though the satellite photograph on Google has a line of greenery extending for a bit further, though this may be a remnant of the brook's old course. 

The parallel fences, by contrast, suggest the stream does stay above ground a little longer, but it didn't look the kind of site that would welcome visitors.

One day I shall pick up the Willow Brook on the other side of the railway and follow it further across the city. But first I shall post a video by some more principled urban explorers who have walked through the tunnel - it's a surprisingly impressive structure.

I hope it's been clear which words relate to which pictures. Thanks to John Rogers for the inspiration: as he says, following rivers - lost or still existent - takes you to parts of a city you wouldn't otherwise see.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Private Eye's Remote Controller is no cricket fan

It seems churlish to complain about an issue that covers the great Market Harborough bungalow mystery, but the Eye TV column this time is piss poor.

Take its author Remote Controller's description of Andrew Flintoff as "the last-but-one 'next Botham'".

The rest of us stopped talking about "the next Botham" almost 20 years ago when, er, Andrew Flintoff established himself as a test-class allrounder. 

He didn't stay at the peak of his form for many summers, but while he did he was a key member of the side. And because that peak included the classic 2005 Ashes series, Flintoff will be remembered for just as long as Botham will.

And then there is this gem about the series Freddie Flintoff's Field of Dreams:

This series is also disfigured by the BBC's belief that the most important scores in sport now are chromosome counts and position on the A-B-C1-C2-D-E scale.

If you love cricket you want everyone to be able to play it. Indeed, part of the Tory love of the game comes from the soothing picture of the Lord of the Manor and the labourer meeting as equals on the field of play.

And if you want England to do well you want wide participation too, because if the game is confined to the higher classes then there will be a smaller pool of talent to draw on.

But for Remote Controller maintaining privilege seems to be what matters. Because if we do nothing the game will be increasingly dominated by the products of private schools.

He must have loved the Noughties, when England tried Alex Loudon (Eton) and Jamie Dalrymple (Radley) before running out of ideas and being obliged to turn again to Graeme Swann (some ghastly comprehensive somewhere).

Lord Bonkers' Diary: An ostrich I met during my stay at the zoo

The end of another week at Bonkers Hall. This is the first of these diaries to appear on my blog without having first appeared in Liberator and Lord Bonkers is delighted with the experiment.

"Why don't we do this every week?" he asked just now. "Think of all the good things people currently miss: my thoughts on Free Trade, my dealings with the Elves of Rockingham Forest, the latest sighting of the Rutland Water Monster...."

Believe me, that's not going to happen. At least Meadowcroft seems to have forgiven him for the incident with the fly whisk.


As it does to any right-minded Englishman or, indeed, Englishwoman, to me Sunday luncheon means a roast joint. Today the table simply groans with what Cook serves forth: a baron of beef, horseradish, Yorkshire pudding, a selection of the finest produce of Meadowcroft’s vegetable garden, a spotted dick and custard and a ripe Stilton to finish, all washed down with some rare vintages I have had brought up from the cellars.

Would you believe that there is a cabinet minister who will have lunched, not on roast beef, but an ostrich’s anus? I am told the culture secretary simply cannot get enough of it. Now, an ostrich I met during my stay at the zoo - a peppery fellow, if I am honest - told me that all his species are blessed with long claws and a powerful kick, so much so that they can kill or at least disembowel a person with one blow. To be frank, if an ostrich caught someone sneaking behind it with culinary designs on its anus, I should not blame it.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Edwyn Collins: In Your Eyes

Edwyn Collins was the lead singer with the Scottish post-punk band Orange Juice and later enjoyed solo success, notably with A Girl Like You in 1995.

In 2005 he suffered two cerebral haemorrhages. The Observer journalist Euan Feguson met him in 2007, as he was slowly recovering:

Edwyn can't, thanks to the right hand, strum any more, but he does manage mean chords. He limps up and across to fetch a guitar and shows me how the simple placing of fingers on frets can be made to work, especially if amped up. "I use an amplifier on it, hammer away chords on the left hand, and it works. Mainly the Memphis chords. Steve Cropper, Otis Redding, those guys. Plus, I’m surrounded by great people."

He has toured, to acclaim, though critics have occasionally found the need to contrast the singing with the quality of speech between numbers, and is eager to tour again, and often. 

In Your Eyes comes from his album Losing Sleep. Released in 2010, it was the first he recorded after his illness.

He has released two more since and today works mainly as a record producer.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

St Patrick's School, Royal East Street, Leicester

A year or two ago, while I was caring for my mother, I came across the intriguing fact that there is a derelict Catholic school from the 19th century still standing in the centre of Leicester.

Trouble is, I forgot its precise location and only rediscovered it the other day. So today I got to see the building itself.

St Patrick's School is a fine building standing in the improbably named Royal East Street. I suspect the street used to be longer: the school end of it is a cul-de-sac and the other end peters our in a car park under one of the city's few remaining flyovers.

This building was built as a school and chapel in 1854, with the classrooms occupying the ground floor and worship being held above.

It was built by Joseph Hansom for the Dominican Order of Holy Cross Priory. It was used as a combined school and chapel until the order built its church between Wellington Street and New Walk in 1867. 

Hansom, a Catholic himself, designed the Hansom cab, as well as Lutterworth Town Hall here in Leicestershire and St George's, York.

Lynda Callaghan's The Irish in Leicester blog has some photographs of the interior of the building and says:

Spencer’s Guide to Leicester, 1888, describes the school as ornamental and well-conceived…"there are 500 children in the schools which Dominican Sisters teach. Being so handy and central it harbours children of many denominations who receive the same attention as the large colony of Irish children who crowd the courts and alleys of the district that lies between St Margaret’s and St Marks."

The school closed in 1937, replaced by the current St Patrick's School in Harrison Road.

St Patrick's School is along way from ruin, but it's hard to see what use can be found for it in this location. So for now let's just enjoy it the way it is.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Distinctly miffed little girls in tutus

In reporting the aftermath of the Liberal Democrats' most recent by-election victory, Lord Bonkers lets us see his human side.

Life's not all orchard doughties and exploding focuses here, you know.


Politics is a rough old business and it is easy to forget that for every winner there are many losers and that our opponents are but human. Take our recent triumph and Tiverton and Honiton: delighted as we remain at the victory of our own Richard Foord, it behoves us to spare a thought for his Conservative opponent. 

When she arrived at the count she was told by her agent that the game was up and took it very badly: she locked herself in a dance studio and refused to speak to anyone. I am told by my agents in the West Country that she remains in that studio to this day.

People slide pizzas and slices of Parma ham under the door to keep her going, but every day crowds of disappointed women in leotards and distinctly miffed little girls in tutus gather outside. 

The manager of the building is concerned that the latter, in particular, are getting restive and will have the door off its hinges one day soon.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Friday, July 22, 2022

Gran 'scared to death' as grave-robbing badgers dump human skull and bones in her garden

Wales Online wins our Headline of the Day Award for this macabre tale.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: I strongly advise you to give your bargepole the day off

Grant Shapps announced his campaign for leadership of the Conservative Party on 9 July 2022 and withdrew from the race on 12 July, If he doesn't get a seat in the new prime minister's cabinet he may return to his business activities.

In that eventuality, this guide to his various aliases may prove invaluable.


As is widely known in Westminster circles, the Secretary of State for Transport has a history of trading under names other than his given one of Grant Shapps. When asked to list said names, many will come up with Michael Green, Corinne Stockheath and Sebastian Fox. 

There are, however, many more and I am including them here as a public service: Dave Formula, Dom Estos, Jim Prideaux, Lene Lovich, Hann Redwin, Elvis Paisley, Toby Esterhase, Uncle Quentin, the Suffragan Bishop of Bosworth, Abdul the India Rubber Boy, the Dowager Duchess of Worksop, Alec and Eric Bedser, Rear Admiral Morgan-Giles, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Lord Melbury, Count Alucard, Queen Salote of Tonga, the Very Revd Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, the Peggy Inverarity Harmonica Rascalettes and Dobbin. 

Should you be offered a business proposition in any of these names, I strongly advise you to give your bargepole the day off as said proposition may arguably exhibit a degree of curvature not unconnected with that of a nine-bob note. (That’s the last time I let the lawyers loose on my diary.)

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Bernard Weatherill, the best Commons speaker I have seen

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The speakership of the Commons tends to be appointed on the basis of Buggins' Turn. Which is fine until there is a crisis, when a second-rate speaker will be exposed.

Michael Martin was not up to dealing with the scandal over MPs expenses: now Lindsay Hoyle has been exposed by his failure to deal with Boris Johnson's contempt for parliament.

The best speaker I can recall is Bernard Weatherill, who combined wisdom with old-fashioned courtesy and had no wish to be a "character". He served from 1983 to 1992.

There was a story about him that I have long known, and now I have a source for it I can post it here.

Peter Viggers, then the Conservative MP for Gosport, told it when the Commons was paying its tribute to Weatherill after his death in 2007:

For a while after the election of every Speaker, there is a period when the House wonders what kind of stamp or mark they will put on the House, so for a few weeks after the election of Mr. Speaker Weatherill the House was wondering how he would be as Speaker. 
During that period, there was a vigorous debate - it was a noisy event - and a very much loved, popular Member on the Labour Benches, Eric Heffer, was in full flow. 
If Eric Heffer had a fault, it was that he had a bit of a temper. He was being baited mercilessly by one of our younger whippersnappers on the opposite side of the House. Eventually, Heffer completely lost his cool, spun round and shouted, “Shut up, you stupid git!” 
From the Chair, Mr. Speaker Weatherill said, "Order, order. I think I’m meant to say that."

Never mind abolishing the royal family, did Liz Truss vote to decriminalise cannabis?

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The media has picked up on the 1994 Liberal Democrat conference where Liz Truss unsuccessfully moved a motion calling for the abolition of the royal family.

A glance at Liberator 224, the first issue published after that conference, reveals that Truss's motion was very much a sideshow.

What really annoyed the party leadership that September was conference calling for the establishment of a royal commission on drug policy. 

Though this fell some way short of the call for the decriminalisation of cannabis the original motion sought, Paddy Ashdown, then the party's leader, was said to be furious.

In later years he admitted that the idea of decriminalisation had proved much more popular with the public than he'd expected. Today, it is Liberal Democrat policy.

But there were two brief mention of Liz Truss's royal family motion in that issue.

Radical Bulletin reported:
No party serious about constitutional reform can shy away from the future role of the monarchy, and the Liberal Democrats were right to debate it, But then the Youth and Students motion was predictably defeated, a group of right-wing youths started waving Union Jacks and singing patriotic songs. If these sad gits are this bad in their early twenties, what on earth will they be like in middle age?
I imagine they're all in the Conservative Party and looking forward to voting for Liz Truss

Meanwhile, Lord Bonkers commented in his diary:
One disappointment is that the Conference declines to order the immediate transportation of the entire Royal Family.
Back to the motion calling for the decriminalisation of cannabis, which was moved by the Saffron Walden branch of the party and enthusiastically supported by LDYS (Liberal Democrat Youth and Students - then the party's youth wing).

So what I really want to know is: did Liz Truss back the call for the decriminalisation of cannabis in the original motion?

Later. This post has been slightly revised as it originally said the drugs motion came from LDYS.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: There I swing from bough to bough

Have we heard the last of Lord Bonkers' gorilla costume? 

I sincerely hope so, but it's not yet the season for bonfires and the odds must be that it will crop up again sooner or later.


You may think it odd of me, but there are still times when I feel more comfortable as a gorilla. It is refreshing to cast off the world of anger and telegrams, put on the old suit and head for one of my coverts. There I swing from bough to bough without a care in the world. 

Sad to report, as I slinked in through the French windows this evening, a parlour maid caught site of me. "Oh my gawd!" she shrieked. "Someone’s gone and caught that monkey pox good and proper." I hastened to the safety of my quarters and changed back into human garb.

It will pain me, but tomorrow I shall hand my gorilla costume to a slightly sulky Meadowcroft and order him to burn it on his next bonfire.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Another song about the Jeremy Thorpe trial: Jeremy Is Innocent by Rex Barker and the Ricochets

It's been a good day today. Not only has it been much cooler, but I have discovered a second song about the trial of Jeremy Thorpe.

Rex Barker And the Ricochets is a pseudonym for the artist also known as Doc Cox and Ivor Biggun. Under the last name he released records that he calculated would be banned by the BBC and thus become irresistible to 13-year-old boys across the country.

In my day we had Judge Dread.

Let's be honest: Jeremy is Innocent is not a patch on the similarly named Jeremy Thorpe is Innocent by The Surprises. But I'm still glad it exists.

And not just because Doc Cox was a near neighbour of the Liberator editorial collective when I joined it in the 1980s.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Every Tuesday evening at a discreet establishment in Roehampton

I was in The Goat Hotel, Llanfair Caereinion, a few summers ago and overheard an old boy reminiscing to his wife about an Army friend who was given to labelling  notices "Top Secret: Burn Before Reading."

She had probably heard the story before, as I think you've heard this one before, but I thought it was rather good and noted it down...


In the days when those jolly Pankhurst girls were chaining themselves to railings and the first Lady Bonkers was busy rugby-tackling Derby favourites, there were those who warned of the dangers of ”petticoat government”. That always seemed odd to me, particularly as I knew for a fact that the most vociferous among them paid good money to suffer precisely that every Tuesday evening at a discreet establishment in Roehampton. 

No, I am convinced that the extension of the suffrage to the fairer sex has been a success and, in the same spirit, I have welcomed the by-election victories of Sarah Green (one of those amusing young people from Liberator magazine) in Chesham and Amersham and Helen Morgan in North Shropshire. 

I will say in the privacy of my diary, that it was good to see a chap win in Tiverton and Honiton – particularly one with a background in the Services. Richard Foord and I have already had a conversation about the correct use of infantry on polling day, and having him around reminds of dear old Paddy Ashplant. I miss those letters of his, marked ‘Top Secret: Burn Before Reading,’ arriving by every post.

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

Earlier this week in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The mystery of Barry Evans

The actor Barry Evans died in the Leicestershire village of Claybrooke Magna in 1997. The circumstances of his death were mysterious, but no charges have ever been brought.

This video told me much I didn;t know about his career - in particular that he had grown up in care. It would be interesting to know how he managed to get to the Italia Conti Academy and then the Central School of Speech and Drama from such a background.

The clips of his early work here, and the fact that he acted at the Royal Court and the National Theatre, suggest he was capable of far more than the light comedy he became know for and eventually trapped in.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is a likeable film, and not only because it has both Traffic and the Spencer David Group on its soundtrack, but after that things went downhill.

The Doctor sitcoms were popular, but they looked back to the Dirk Bogarde films of the Fifties. I never watched Mind Your Language, but it had a reputation for low-grade racism.

Meanwhile, the only films being made in the early Seventies were sex comedies or films of popular situation comedies.

Evans moved to Claybrooke Magna in the Harborough district in 1993 and became a taxi driver. Four years later he was dead.

A Harborough Mail story from a year ago said:

An author is writing a new book about a tragic TV star whose death at his home in a Harborough village is still a real mystery - and he wants your help.

Daniel Ward has carried out over 80 in-depth interviews with the former colleagues and co-stars of much-loved actor Barry Evans - who lived in Claybrooke Magna, near Lutterworth.

And he’s now asking for anyone who knew Barry after he moved here to Harborough to share their personal memories with him as he puts together his biography.

Jenny Jones, the pro-Brexit Green peer, recants (sort of)

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It's easy to forget that the Green Party's only parliamentarian besides Caroline Lucas at the time of the EU referendum, the peer Jenny Jones, voted Leave and campaigned for Leave.

She made "the Green case for Brexit" in the Guardian a fortnight before polling day.

Today Jenny Jones published a partial recantation on Politics Home website:

I’m fed up with the government’s Brexit mess. This government has made such a mess of Brexit that I think we have to start talking to the EU about options for restoring closer ties.

Unlike most others in my party, I voted for Brexit and campaigned for Brexit. I was with the majority of voters in the referendum and like many of them, I now have serious misgivings. A poll last week found that for the first time a majority of people want to rejoin the EU.

Things are shifting as the realities of long queues at the border, roaming charges and export companies going bankrupt, become an everyday norm. There are people making specialist bread, exporting sea food or wine, who can’t sell to Europe anymore because of the form filling. It’s crippled hundreds of small businesses. 
For me, the worse thing is the stories of crops being left to rot in the ground due a shortage of labour when we have millions in the United Kingdom going without food.

All these points were foreseeable and foreseen before the referendum.

Her response at the time in that Guardian article?:

My message to Green voters and anyone undecided on this issue is don’t give in to Project Fear. 

What surprises me more than this failure to understand the economic effect of Brexit is her woeful political judgement. 

Why didn't she grasp that a victory for Leave and the forces behind it would bring about the precise opposite of the kinder, greener, decentralised Britain she sought?

I made a similar complaint of Paul Keetch and his Liberal Leave in March 2016 when he criticised the EU's attitude to refugees.

Still, when I mentioned Jones's belated conversion this afternoon, Lord Bonkers remarked:

"As our Lord said, and I think rightly, 'I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.'"

Mind you, he did use salty language when I told him Jones had cited Tony Benn and Bob Crow as her political heroes.