News and Forthcoming Events

17th November 2015: A reflection on a long-standing entente

William Penny Brookes and Pierre de Coubertin

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To Ludlow Assembly Rooms to speak to Ludlow Landscape Society. This is often quite a demanding booking, as the organisers require a 45 minute presentation, then a break for coffee, then another 45 minutes of presentation.


Today, however, I was delighted to return to the subject of the contribution of Much Wenlock, Shropshire to the revival of Olympic Games.


Born out of Wenlock was published in 2011, in anticipation of the London2012 Games. It tells the story of the Wenlock Olympian Games, begun in 1850 by local doctor, William Penny Brookes (1809-1895). Uniquely in England, at their foundation, these athletic games of mixed disciplines were staged for men of all classes.


In the 1860s, Brookes extended his annual Games first to county level with Shropshire Olympian Games, and then, in 1866, he staged the first National Olympian Games at venues around London (as in 2012), with the athletics taking place at the Crystal Palace cricket ground, Sydenham. WG Grace notably won the 440 yards hurdles. Ultimately, however, Brookes’ efforts to form a national governing body for all sports were thwarted by the gentlemen amateurs’ formation of the Amateur Athletics Club (later Association).


In parallel with this work Brookes waged a 43 year campaign to secure legislation that would provide Physical Education (rather than just drill) for all children in elementary (primary) schools in England and Wales.


Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin (1863-1937) came into contact with Brookes in 1889, and visited Much Wenlock in October the following year. Coubertin came to discuss the role of PE in education, but Brookes went further and staged, for the benefit of his visitor, a Wenlock Olympian Games, forty years to the day since his original event.  The pageantry of the Wenlock Olympian Games that Coubertin witnessed helped to sow the seed of an Olympic Games revival in the mind of the younger man.


After the events in Paris of the past week-end, it was good to recall in preparation for this morning’s talk, the lifelong affection that Brookes had for Paris and for France.  He trained in the French capital in 1829, when ‘walking the Paris hospitals’ was an effective education for aspiring British surgeons. He also witnessed the latest spasm of revolution at the end of July 1829; one of his fellow students was shot dead in the uprising.


Brooks also took his bride to France on their honeymoon in 1835.  He frequently held up the French as a model to the British, for example noting in The Lancet in 1850 the French establishment’s acknowledgement of the work of military surgeons who, by contrast were overlooked and undervalued in Britain. He early deplored the physical weakness of French youth when compared with their counterparts in the German states where physical training was observed in schools from a young age. His warnings on this score were sadly borne out by the rapid victory of the Prussians over the French in the war of 1870-71.


After his visit to Much Wenlock in October 1890, Coubertin wrote an account of the doctor’s work. Of Brookes, he had learnt ‘qu’il connaît la France, qu’il la comprend et qu’il l’aime,’ - that he knows France, understands her and loves her.


Brookes was delighted when, four years later, Coubertin formed the International Olympic Committee at a conference at the Sorbonne University, and declared the aim of holding the first Games of the modern Olympiad in Athens, in 1896. Sadly Brookes never saw this outcome of his rendez-vous with Coubertin and their on-going entente cordiale. Brookes died just seventeen weeks short of the opening of the 1896 Athens Games.


Brookes fully supported Coubertin in his endeavour. There is a strong sense that his experience of living in Paris when he was young had shaped Brookes' outlook, and enabled him to reach out to Coubertin when Coubertin was looking for others internationally with experience in the field of PE in education. The descriptions of Coubertin's visit to Much Wenlock have a strong perfume of the modern-day twinning visit - toasts to both nations, a tree-planting ceremony, generous hospitality of the foreign guest, sharing the best of the locality, straining to emphasise mutual connections (Much Wenlock's Abbey was a Cluniac foundation).


Greater mutual understanding and cooperation were among Brookes' aspirations for international sporting events. as they would bring together the youth of disparate nations who would share their common passion for sport and compete on friendly terms. That seems a remarkably enlightened and almost sadly naive view in a week that has seen young men attack fellow youngsters in Paris (and at a sporting event - football was included in Brookes' first Wenlock Olympian Games), and systematic doping exposed in some pockets of athletics' elite.


Naive perhaps, but there seems to be little more important to strive for at the present time than greater mutual understanding and cooperation.

23rd October 2015: Agincourt 600 in Herefordshire

Local links to the battle and ways to mark the anniversary in 2015

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As the commemoration of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415 approaches, thoughts have turned to Hampton Court, Leominster as the Herefordshire house with the most obvious connection to the anniversary.  Burford, near Tenbury Wells, and Stapleton Castle, near Presteigne also have close links to the battle.


Sir Rowland Leinthall

John Leland, touring Britain in 1535, wrote that Hampton Court had been ‘sumptuously erected’ by Sir Rowland Leinthall using money earned from the ransoms of French prisoners taken at the Battle of Agincourt.  We know that King Henry V did indeed grant these ransoms as gifts to those who had served him in the French campaign, and it may be that Leinthall did benefit in this way, but I have not yet found any contemporary primary evidence of that.


Rather Leinthall’s wife, née Lady Margaret FitzAlan lost her brother during the campaign. Thomas FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel was married but had no heir.  His was one of the richest and most powerful families in the country and was closely related to the Lancastrian line.  Thomas’ death on 13th October 1415, his thirty-fourth birthday, led to the sharing of his wealth between his three sisters. 


In the year 2000, the compilers of the annual Sunday Times Rich List attempted a rich list for the entire first millennium since 1066. Second on that list was Lady Margaret’s grandfather, the thirteenth earl, whose wealth was estimated to have been the equivalent (in 2000) of £48 billion.  The family had since fallen from favour and lost much of its land, but Thomas had been rehabilitated by Henry V, and a third share of the remainder would have been a generous bequest.  It seems likely therefore, that this is how the Agincourt campaign financed the building of Hampton Court.


Sir Rowland contributed between eight and a dozen men at arms and thirty-three to thirty-six foot archers to the Agincourt campaign. The king gave Leinthall and others jewels, plate and other items as security for the wages that they were paying their men on behalf of the king.  Leinthall survived to return to Herefordshire. In December 1415 he was granted by Henry V income from the Mortimer family’s estates at Wigmore ‘in consideration of his great expenses on the king’s last voyage’. (Calendar of Patent Rolls, 6th December 1415)


Leinthall continued to benefit from royal favour and largesse under Henry V and his son Henry VI, until Leinthall’s death in 1450.


Sir John Cornwall

The most important Herefordshire connection with Agincourt is probably that of Sir John Cornwall (c1364-1443) of a junior line of the Barons of Burford near Tenbury Wells.  Cornwall was considered a model of contemporary chivalry, had proved himself in combat, and was a Knight of the Garter. He married Henry IV’s sister, Elizabeth after he had caught her eye at the York Tournament of 1400. He was known as ‘The Green Knight’.


Cornwall mustered thirty men at arms and ninety archers for Henry V’s new campaign in the summer of 1415.  At the siege of Harfleur that preceded Agincourt, Cornwall carried out reconnaissance for his nephew the King, and when the army marched north towards Calais, from early October, Cornwall was heading one of its three divisions.


At Agincourt itself, Cornwall is said to have captured two French noblemen.  He was certainly granted the ransoms of Peter de Reux, Marshal of France, and Louis de Bourbon, Count of Vendome.  With these he was later able to build Ampthill Castle, Bedfordshire.  It is said that before this new home was built, he spent time at his castle at Stapleton, near Presteigne in north-west Herefordshire.  It was here, in the great hall, that he displayed his Agincourt armour. 


Cornwall too benefited from further titles and gifts, becoming Baron of Fanhope (Fownhope, Herefordshire) and a Privy Councillor to Henry VI in 1433, and Baron of Milbroke in 1442.  He, like Leinthall, continued to be active in France.  Cornwall had his only son, aged seventeen, at his side at the Siege of Meaux in early 1422, when he had the horror of seeing the boy's head blown off by stone shot.  Cornwall’s only other child was a daughter, Constance, who was contracted to marry John FitzAlan, whose father had claimed the Arundel title after Thomas’ death in 1415. As if to seal this triangle of families, Sir Rowland Leinthall’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Thomas Cornewall, 6th Baron of Burford, a young cousin (three times removed) of Sir John Cornwall.


Family alliances of this kind were indeed typical of the period, but cemented too through service on the battlefield.


Hampton Court is open this week-end from 10.30am-5pm with tours during the day.


The remains of Stapleton Castle are privately owned but can be visited on Sunday, 25th October. The owner, Trefor Griffiths, will be giving tours at 11am and 2.30pm followed by tea and cake. On the evening before, at 7.30pm there will be a talk and (Medieval) refreshments at The Judge’s Lodging, Presteigne by Dr Charles Kightly. Each event costs £10 but a combined ticket may be bought for £16. To book a ticket, telephone The Judge’s Lodging on 01544 260650.


The Cornwall tombs, including that of Sir John’s wife Elizabeth, are spectacular and survive at St Mary’s Church, Burford, Herefordshire.

13th April 2015: One Household at War: Women in Munitions at Gloucester

From the Colchester-Wemyss Collection at Gloucestershire Archive

Contemporary comment on the development of National Filling Factory No 5 Quedgeley

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Following my blog of 20th February, a return to the Arkwright household of Kinsham Court, Presteigne, Herefordshire in World War I.



One theme from World War I illustrated by the experience of the Arkwright family is the changing role of women.  Always difficult to convey is contemporary feeling at observing these changes underway.


EAF Prynn's 1918 portrait of Maynard Colchester-WemyssParticularly vivid in this regard is one of the letters of Maynard Colchester-Wemyss, Chairman of Gloucestershire County Council (1908-1918) who from 1915 assumed the additional role of Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary. 



From 1910, the position of Chief Constable had been held by Richard Chester-Master, Jack Arkwright’s brother-in-law.  Dick (as Chester-Master was known) rejoined his old regiment the King’s Royal Rifles in March 1915.  With the 13th Battalion, he embarked for France on 30th July 1915.



In Dick’s absence, Colchester-Wemyss oversaw his duties.  He also sustained a correspondence with Rama VI, King of Siam (Gloucester Archives, Ref D37).  This covered a broad range of issues, including, when Dick returned on leave, the latest information about trench warfare, which Colchester-Wemyss would then convey to the King of Siam.



Women in Munitions at Gloucester

In the last blog I quoted Colchester-Wemyss’ comments on women on the railways; this time, it’s women in munitions factories (written 30th December 1915).


Then of course now in the Munition Factories thousands of women are employed, both in attending to the machinery that turns out the shells and in filling the completed shells with explosives.  I think I have told you that a big munitions Factory is being rapidly erected near Gloucester; this is to be not for making shells, but simply for filling them; many different sizes & kinds of shells will be brought there, different explosives will be brought there, & there a small army of 2000 women will be employed in filling them.  All these women will have to live in Gloucester, & they have put a siding right into the new works off the Railway, & every morning & evening a train will take them out & bring them back the 4 miles the works are from the City.


The munitions factory in question was Gloucester National Shell Filling Factory, built from 1915-16 three and a half miles south of Gloucester at Manor Farm, Quedgeley.  The factory was in production from March 1916 until November 1918.  During that time it was to produce nearly 10.3 million eighteen pounder shells, over 7 million cartridges, and 23 million fuses and other components.  As Colchester-Wemyss wrote, the factory had a branch connection to the Midland Railway main line for the transport of workers and raw materials, but also nine miles of two foot narrow gauge line within the works for the movement of work in progress.


At its maximum, the Quedgeley factory employed not 2,000 women, but 6,364 people, approximately 5,000 of them women.  This number fluctuated, particularly when scares from TNT poisoning took hold (December 1916).  Symptoms included irritation of the skin which could turn yellow, resulting in the workers being known as ‘canary girls’.  The women did most of the manufacturing and filling work.  When taken on, many of them had previously worked as domestic servants, dress-makers, dairy-maids and factory or shop workers.


Male workers were generally either under 18 years of age, too old or unfit for service, or were discharged or wounded soldiers.  They mainly undertook maintenance work or handled the trolleys on the internal rail network.  Initially Gloucester and the surrounding villages supplied the labour force, who came to work by train, bicycle or on foot.  As time went on, rail connections were made to Stroud and Cheltenham.


A lively social scene clearly took hold around the works as two sports days were held, in June 1917 and 1918.  In addition to this clubs included those for hockey, football, cricket, bowls and tennis.  In 1918 a factory band was formed.  Plans for a choral society were curtailed by the end of the War. 


Mercifully, there was no serious injury as a result of the explosives at the factory.  The workforce had uniforms to wear while at work and searches for matches, cigarettes, pipes and tobacco were carried out.  Between June 1916 and November 1918 only three females were prosecuted, fined or jailed for infringements of the rules, and 150 males.


Production at Quedgeley ceased in November 1918.  The mainly wooden buildings were demolished from 1924-1926 and the site ultimately became part of RAF Quedgeley (closed February 1995).  Today a new estate, Kingsway, has been developed on part of the site.


* * * * * * *


The letter from which I quote above is at Gloucestershire Archives Ref D/37/1/87 M Colchester-Wemyss to King of Siam 30th December 1915

My sincere thanks to Gloucestershire Archives for permission to reproduce here the image of Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne's 1918 portrait of Maynard Colchester-Wemyss. This can be seen at Gloucester Shire Hall.

For further details of  making a visit to see the Colchester-Wemyss letters, click here.

For Brian Edwards’ excellent article on the history of this factory, ‘National Filling Factory No 5 Quedgeley’ Gloucestershire Society for Industrial Archaeology Journal, 1994 pp32-52 go to

23rd March 2015: King's Body Found

Bones discovered at probable burial site

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This week’s run-up to the burial of Richard III has reminded me of an account I came across in 2013 of the possible discovery of the bones of King Henry I.


In the Gentleman’s Magazine 1785, July-December p881 (November) correspondent F Piggot told the Magazine how ‘workmen employed in digging a foundation for the erection of a house of correction at Reading’, on the site of the old Abbey, came upon ‘divers bones’.


Anticipation was high.  The scholarly King Henry I (c1068-1135) had indeed been buried in Reading Abbey, which he had founded in 1121.  The Abbey had been mostly destroyed in 1538, during the Dissolution.  By 1785, ‘Antiquaries’ had ‘frequently enquired where this monarch’s remains might be found; but time had effaced every possible mark’.


So, when the remains came to light, each bone

'was seized as a kind of treasure, contemplating it as one of the king’s, till at length a vault was discovered, the only one there, and which was of curious workmanship: in the vault was a leaden coffin almost devoured by time.'


And what was in the lead coffin?


A perfect skeleton, ‘which undoubtedly was the king’s.’


In the absence of DNA profiling what was the rationale for this conclusion, other than the notable craftsmanship of the vault, and the lead coffin?


The king, Piggot explained, ‘died at the castle of Lyons [then St Denis en Lyons, today Lyons-la-Foret, Normandy] in Rouen, on the 2d of September, 1133 [sic] was there embalmed, and sent from thence, according to his own desire, to be interred in the abbey at Reading’.


Two more detailed accounts of immediate aftermath of the king’s death survive.


The medieval chronicler Rapin ‘says his body was cut in pieces, after the rude manner of those days, and embalmed.’


Gervase of Canterbury confirms Rapin’s version of events, writing


'they cut great gashes in his body with knives, and then powdering it well with salt, they wrapped it up in tanned ox-hides, to avoid the stench, which was so great and infectious, that a man who was hired to open the head died presently after.'


Notably, in 1785 small pieces of leather were discovered inside the coffin, a detail which appeared to confirm the identity of the remains.


And were the king's remains reinterred in a Reading church?  No such ceremony for Henry I.


The bones were divided among the spectators; the lead coffin was sold to a plumber.   Pigott himself got the mandible, with sixteen teeth in perfect condition.


Plaque at Reading Abbey in memory of King Henry IPlaque near Henry I's burial place today




Sources: Gentleman's Magazine, 1785 July-Dec

Image by Robin Sones for

23rd February 2015: And the Academy Award goes to...

The link between the 1924 Paris Olympics of Chariots of Fire and the Wenlock Olympian Games

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Radio 4’s And The Academy Award Goes To (Paul Gambaccini) this week covered the background to the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.  The film follows competitors to the 1924 Paris Olympics with which Shropshire's Wenlock Olympian Games has a connection.


Eric LiddellOn the boat crossing the Channel with Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell (left) was twenty-year-old Harold Langley of Birmingham’s Sparkhill Harriers (photo included in Born out of Wenlock, plate 23 copyright Wenlock Olympian Society). 



Langley competed in Paris in the triple jump.  Although he was unplaced, his inclusion in the team alone was a triumph for the Wenlock Olympian Games.  Langley was the first Wenlock Olympian Games competitor to compete also at the Pierre de Coubertin-revived Olympic Games (first held in 1896 – 46 years after the first Wenlock Games and 6 years after Coubertin visited Much Wenlock and met Dr Brookes).



The previous year, Langley had competed in the 67th Wenlock Olympian Games in Shropshire, when 3,000 spectators had seen him win the 1923 Pentathlon.  Langley went on to act as a Field Judge at the post-war London ‘austerity’ Olympics of 1948.





Olympic Outsiders

Much was made in Gambaccini’s And The Academy Award Goes To (which can be found here on iplayer) of the theme of the outsider triumphing against the odds – both with regard to Harold Abrahams who faced anti-semitism, and Chariots scriptwriter Colin Welland who had moved from acting to scriptwriting and won his 1982 Oscar from well outside the Hollywood pale. 


Dr William Penny Brookes (1809-1895 standing with medals centre cover, below) founder of the Wenlock Olympian Games was also an outsider (besides thinking outside the box).  He sought to offer athletics to the labouring man who needed it so much more than the public schoolboy in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century.  Boys at Britain's private schools were the only ones at the time to benefit from sport at school. 


Brookes’ National Olympian Association – an extension of his work in Shropshire and founded in November 1865 - was ultimately crushed by the Amateur Athletics Club (founded in December 1865, later recreated as the AA Association).  The Club was led by gentlemen Oxbridge amateurs who didn’t feel that Britain’s athletics should be headed, and its rules administered, by a Shropshire doctor.   They felt that ‘London as a centre is as essential to its success as Newmarket to a Jockey Club.’


Cover of Born out of WenlockBrookes’ attempt to standardise rules nationally and to stage annual national games was undercut by the AAC who gazumped his date for the first National Championship by weeks and threatened to disqualify any competitors who competed in Brookes’ Games.  Brookes’ NOA was not of London (although its first games were held at the Crystal Palace in 1866) and Brookes and his collaborators were not gentlemen, which in the class-dominated nineteenth-century rendered the NOA illegitimate.  This is the more subtle allusion of the book’s title Born out of Wenlock.


Olympic Legacy

Besides doing much to secure the inclusion of sport in all primary schools in England and Wales, Brookes’ legacy has far outlived him. 


The first Wenlock Olympian Games medal winner to go on to win a medal at the modern Olympic Games is Alison Williamson.  In 1981, aged 10, she won silver at Wenlock in the archery competition.  At the Athens Olympics of 2004, she won bronze.  She most recently competed at London (Lord’s Ground) in 2012.


The Wenlock Olympian Games are still staged annually at Much Wenlock, Shropshire. In 2012, young sportsmen and women from Brazil competed, symbolising the handover from London to Rio.




For five firsts of the Wenlock Olympian Games that give an idea of the scope of the remarkable Dr Brookes’ work, see the News item for 30th March 2012.

20th February 2015: WWI Surprise: woman porter carries luncheon boxes

From the Colchester-Wemyss Collection at Gloucestershire Archive

Evidence for contemporary surprise at the changing role of women during World War I

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Poster for Rifles & Spades ExhibitionOn 22nd January I spoke at Leominster’s Grange Court about the Arkwright household of Kinsham Court during World War I, as part of Leominster Museum’s HLF-funded ‘Rifles & Spades’ season of events.  This is an enlargement of the events covered in the Epilogue of Champagne & Shambles.


One theme from World War I illustrated by the experience of the Arkwright family was the changing role of women.  Always difficult to convey is contemporary feeling at observing these changes underway.


Particularly vivid in this regard is one of the letters of Maynard Colchester-Wemyss, Chairman of Gloucestershire County Council (1908-1918) who from 1915 assumed the additional role of Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary. 


From 1910, the position of Chief Constable had been held by Richard Chester-Master, Jack Arkwright’s brother-in-law.  Dick (as Chester-Master was known) rejoined his old regiment the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in March 1915.  With the 13th Battalion, he embarked for France on 30th July 1915.


In Dick’s absence, Colchester-Wemyss oversaw his duties.  He also sustained a correspondence with Rama VI King of Siam (1880-1925).  His letters covered a broad range of issues, including, when Dick returned on leave, the latest information about trench warfare, which Colchester-Wemyss would then convey to the King of Siam.


These letters are excellent for the immediacy of surprise at the changes underway in society.  As Colchester-Wemyss himself wrote on 30th December 1915:

…after the war, there will be I believe a marvellous blending and mixing of “couches sociales” [layers of society] which hitherto have been kept in different glasses.  I wish I were younger, I cannot live many more years, but I do most honestly believe that the 10 years of English life which will follow the war will probably be the most fertile & the most interesting in the whole of the Empire’s History.


On women


On 30th December 1915 Colchester-Wemyss wrote to the King:

I got led away from further writing about the employment of women in my letter last week, because my meeting with Chester-Master fresh from the Trenches, caused me to write on other matters…


EAF Prynne's 1918 portrait of Maynard Colchester-WemyssThankfully for us, in this letter, Colchester-Wemyss resumed his theme, discussing the imminent employment of his granddaughter in her father’s quarry in Devon ‘instead of one of the clerks who is now in the Army’, women working on the railways, in munition factories, and even training mounted officers and running Army horse depots.  (Munitions and horses will follow soon on this blog.)


Today I quote the section of this letter about women ‘engaged on the railways’.


…at the big stations there are gangs of them occupied in cleaning carriages, you see them as ticket collectors, in the refreshment Rooms; today, for instance I was in the train & I confess it went a little bit against my old-fashioned grain, when I saw a nice-looking young girl come along the platform, carrying two luncheon-baskets for two young khaki officers who were in my carriage.  If it had been me, I think I could not have helped carrying my own luncheon basket (if I had wanted one) from the buffet to my carriage, but these two young fellows seemed to take it quite as a matter of course, and so did the girl for that matter. 


Then in some places they act as regular porters, & I heard rather a good story of a young giantess at Manchester who caused dismay to the contractor who was supplying the girl porters with uniform, & who dealt promptly with a young man who tried to be funny; the Report said “she touched him”, and he rolled over twice.


Colchester-Wemyss died in mid-1930, remembered by the Gloucester Journal as "one of the most perfect of Engllish Gentlemen."  He was therefore spared to see the decade after the War, including in 1928 the introduction of the vote for all women over twenty-one years of age.


Up next, Women and Munitions



The letter from which I quote above is at Gloucestershire Archives Ref D/37/1/87 M Colchester-Wemyss to King of Siam 30th December 1915

My sincere thanks to Gloucestershire Archives for permission to reproduce here the image of Edward Arthur Fellowes Prynne's 1918 portrait of Maynard Colchester-Wemyss. This can be seen at Gloucester Shire Hall.

For further details of  making a visit to see the Colchester-Wemyss letters, click here.


26th January 2015: World War I: One Household at War

Rifles & Spades series in Leominster

On Leominster Museum's recent events commemorating World War I

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Last Thursday I spoke at Leominster (Herefordshire)'s recently-refurbished Grange Court in the heart of the town.  The half-timbered building is the work of C17 craftsman John Abel and was formerly the town's market hall.


Leominster's C17 former Market Hall by John AbelThe building was relocated in the mid-C19 by John Arkwright after its obstruction of the junction of five streets in Leominster led to calls for its removal.  Arkwright bought it at auction, re-erected it on land he owned, walled up the ground floor arcade, and let it to tenants.  It now belongs to a trust whose efforts have resulted in an inspired renovation.


My talk was on 'One Household at War' using archive material relating to Kinsham Court, Radnorshire, the house to which the Arkwrights moved in 1911 from Hampton Court.  The occupants in 1914-18, including Jack Arkwright (Press Secretary to Viscount Milner who sat on Lloyd-George's War Cabinet), his wife Stephanie (VAD nurse at her niece Gwendolen's hospital at Corton, Presteigne, specialising in amputees), and Head Gardener William Bevan (saw action in the trenches and was 'slightly' gassed in 1918) covered a remarkable range of issues relating to the First World War.


Also included were Jack's sisters, the eldest of whom, Geraldine, was married to Richard Chester-Master, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire constabulary.  He served on the Western Front with great distinction from March 1915 until his death in August 1917.  Jack's youngest sister was also a nurse for the Red Cross, including service in France, at Rouen and Boulogne.


Their first-hand accounts of their times, and the accounts of those that knew them, brought to life the experiences of World War I as they were seen at the time.


The talk was part of Leominster Museum's 'Rifles and Spades' series of Heritage Lottery Funded-commemorative events.  Evaluation forms were sprung on the audience at the end.  Those that have been shared with me suggest that many enjoyed the evening, as did I.


Thanks, if you were there, for your patience with my croaking voice.  Parts of some of the documents from which I quoted will pop up here in coming days.

3rd October 2013: The Power of Gap Year Travel in the reign of Elizabeth I

Some eminent Elizabethans with anniversaries at this time of year

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Philip Sidney, Fulke Greville and Thomas Coningsby
Late-September/to early October is the season to remember some Elizabethans I've come across in my research. They all have significant dates at this time of year. A talk on Saturday at Hampton Court, Herefordshire brought them again to mind.
Fulke Greville
Today, 3rd October is the anniversary of the birth of Fulke Greville (1554-1628) first Baron Brooke (left) poet and playwright probably best-known for his biography or 'Life of Sir Philip Sidney' (published 1652).  
Greville and Sidney were both educated at Shrewsbury School as Sidney's father, Sir Henry Sidney, was  Lord President of the Council in the Marches of Wales (1560-86), and, with some (lengthy) periods of absence, expected to reside at Ludlow Castle.
Sir Thomas Coningsby by George Gower, National Portrait Gallery
It was in this context that the young Philip Sidney became acquainted with Thomas Coningsby (1550-1625) of Hampton Court, Herefordshire (left, by George Gower, National Portrait Gallery).  
Coningsby was the son of Anne Englefield, whose father Sir Thomas Englefield, a Judge in Common Pleas was the right hand man of earlier President of the Marches' Council, Bishop Rowland Lee.  
Coningsby's father died when he was eight or nine years old, and his mother married secondly Sir John Huband of Ipsley, Warwickshire (today Worcestershire) another member of the Council of the Marches (besides being Steward to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Constable of Kenilworth Castle).
Sir Philip Sidney by unknown artist National Portrait GalleryThus it was that on 25th May 1572 when Elizabeth I granted licence to Philip Sidney (left, artist unknown, National Portrait Gallery) to travel beyond the seas, Coningsby was one of his companions.  In Paris the travellers met King Charles IX and a fortnight later, were witnesses to the St Bartholemew's Day massacre, when Protestants were murdered in the city.  Coningsby's mother's family, the Englefields, was notable for its Catholic recusancy; this event must have gone some way to eradicating any residual tendencies towards the old faith that Coningsby harboured.
On via Lorraine, Strasbourg, Heidelberg and Frankfurt to Vienna for horsemanship and then, by 1574 to Venice (where Veronese made Sidney's portrait) and Padua for astronomy, science, music and art. At one point on the road, the young men were tricked by an innkeeper into paying twice for their lodging.  Before the deception was known, Sidney wrongly accused Coningsby of having stolen money from his purse - an embarrassing misapprehension.
Evidently there was no long-term damage as Coningsby was to marry Sidney's cousin Philippa Fitzwilliam of Milton, Northamptonshire.


Memorial to Sir Philip Sidney at ZutphenSidney was back in Vienna in September 1576 as envoy for Elizabeth I, accompanied by Greville.  They returned via the Netherlands for whose struggle, and that of the Belgians, against Spain Sidney developed keen sympathy. The Queen appointed Sidney Governor of Flushing to which he had moved by November 1585. Sidney was fatally injured at the Battle of Zutphen on 22nd September 1586 and died on 17th October, aged 32 (left, Zutphen memorial).  
Today Sidney is perhaps best remembered for his work 'Arcadia'. This was planned in 1580 when, after an altercation at Court, Sidney withdrew to Wilton, home of his sister, Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke.  'Arcadia' recalls the courtly virtues of courage, religion, generosity, courtesy and fidelity. Sidney famously demonstrated many of these qualities himself when, lying injured at Zutphen, Water was brought to him and he instructed that it be given instead to a comrade lying near him.
Coningsby was unquestionably much influenced by Sidney.  He is said to have run his home, Hampton Court, as an academy of the courtly arts.  Evidence of the influence of their travels through Italy survives in a drawing of a classical fountain head in the courtyard of Coningsby's home.  Furthermore Coningsby was once much offended by being called in the street 'an italianate knave'.  
Canaletto, Warwick Castle, East Front, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Greville never married and remained a favourite at Court besides manifesting administrative abilities which won him positions under Elizabeth I and James VI and I.  The latter granted Greville Warwick Castle (left, by Canaletto, 1752, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery) which Greville rescued from dilapidation with an outlay of £20,000.  He was raised to the peerage in 1621 as Baron Brooke.  
Seven years later, he was stabbed by a disgruntled servant.  His wounds being treated with lard and becoming infected, Greville died an agonising four weeks later, on 30th September, days before his 74th birthday.
Thomas Coningsby was knighted by the Earl of Essex (a presumption by Essex much to the Queen's displeasure) outside the walls of Rouen on 8th October 1591, almost five years to the day after the death of Sidney.  Of his campaign in France Coningsby left a remarkable account in which, perhaps not surprisingly, he describes some of his adventures in the style of the medieval courtly romance.  His wanderings also betray something of the contemporary Spanish picaresque literary style.
Ben Jonson's character Puntarvolo in 'Every Man out of his Humour' (1599) is said to be based on Coningsby. Certainly Puntarvolo has more than a little of Don Quixote - six years before Cervantes' masterpiece began to be published:
'he can sit a great horse; hee will taint a staffe well at tilt; when he is mounted, he lookes like the signe of the George, that's all I know; save, that in stead of a dragon, he will brandish against a tree, and break his sword as confidently upon the knottie barke, as the other did upon the skales of the beast.'
Coningsby Hospital, Hereford photo by Pauline EcclesFor all his outmoded eccentricities, Coningsby, like Sidney, did not forget his fellow old soldiers.  In 1593 as the MP for Herefordshire, Coningsby had spoken about the need for a subsidy for disabled soldiers.  Four years later, Parliament passed a statute permitting those seized of an estate in fee simple to 'establish one or more hospitals' for the 'sustenance and relief of ye maimed poor or impotent people.'  In 1614 Coningsby founded in Hereford 'Coningesbies Company of old servitors' (left, The Coningsby Hospital) providing lodgings for a chaplain plus eleven 'poor old... souldieres, mariners or serving men'.
Coningsby specified their allowances and their apparel, including, to be worn 'as he goeth abroad a Cloke of Red Cloth Lined with Bayes of Red and reaching to ye knee'.
The red cloaks of Coningsby's old soldiers are said to have come to the mind of Nell Gwynn, a native of Hereford, when Charles II established the Royal Hospital, Chelsea in London in 1682.  The Chelsea Pensioners' red coats (below) may well owe something to the Quixotic Thomas Coningsby and his inspiration, Philip Sidney. 
Chelsea PensionersSources:
T Coningsby A journall of cheife thinges happened in our jorney from Deape, the 13. of August, untyll [blank] British Library MS Harl 288 f253-279
Coningsby Hospital BL MSS Ro King's 47 
HR Fox Bourne A Memoir of Sir Philip Sidney (London, 1862)
A H Gilbert 'The Italian Names in Every Man out of his Humour' Studies in Philology XLVI, 1947 pp195-208
F Greville Life of Philip Sidney (1907 edition)
P Hasler History of Parliament, The Commons 1558-1603 Vol I A-C
B Jonson Every Man out of his Humour (Clarendon Press, Oxford) 1927 Ed CH Herford & P Simpson
R Poole Sir Thomas Coningsby Bodleian MS 1902
P Williams The Council in the Marches of Wales under Elizabeth I (1958)
T Zouch Memoirs of the life and writings of Sir Philip Sidney (second edition, 1809)

9th July 2013: Andy Murray's predecessor & the Wenlock Olympian Games

Wimbledon Men's Champion 1913 Tony Wilding

A reflection on Murray's win and echoes of the 1912 Olympics and 1913 Wimbledon men's singles

Read on...

In September, post-London2012, while I was preparing for a talk on Born Out of Wenlock, a story came to light that intones well with Andy Murray's Wimbledon Championship victory, with the current debate about the legacy of London2012, and hopes for what Murray's win might mean for tennis in Britain.


Frederick C Wilding (1853-1945) of Hereford was listed in the Wenlock Olympian Society’s Roll of the Victors as having participated at Wenlock Olympian Games in 1873, and in the National Olympian Games held at Much Wenlock in 1874 and in Shrewsbury in 1877 (about twenty years before the IOC Olympics began).  


The 1871 census revealed Wilding to be an articled clerk, aged 18, living at 17 Widemarsh Street, Hereford, the home of an uncle on his mother’s side.  He was a native of Montgomery, over the Welsh border from Shropshire. Wilding's father was, like William Penny Brookes of Much Wenlock (the founder of the Olympian Games that helped inspire the modern Olympics) the town’s surgeon apothecary.


Wilding's Olympian Record

Frederick Wilding was an all-round athlete (strength being something that Murray has worked on in recent years).  In the 1873 Wenlock Games Wilding was second in the Pentathlon, then called the ‘General Competition’.  This comprised long jump, high jump, putting the shot, a half-mile foot race and climbing a rope (initially 55’ then increased to 75’).  


In 1874 a National Olympian Games was staged at Much Wenlock.  Wilding again came second in the Pentathlon. He competed besides in the individual events of long jump, which he won with a 19’5” leap, and  shot put in which he came second (20’ 7 1/2”).


Wilding returned to compete for the last time at the National Olympian Games of 1877, held in Shrewsbury.  He came second in the shot put (‘putting the weight’): his, presumably right+left hand throws totalled 34’ 3”.



In 1879 Frederick Wilding married Julia Anthony in Hereford.  Later the same year the newly-weds emigrated to New Zealand.  Wilding became a lawyer in Christ Church.  (The family home was called Fownhope, after a Herefordshire village.)  The following year they had their first son, Frederick Archibald, who died soon afterwards.  They went on to have two daughters and three more sons, the eldest of whom was (Frederick) Anthony Wilding, born on 31st October 1883.  Frederick Wilding evidently inspired his son with a love of sport, and also passed on generous measures of his ability.


Tony Wilding, Wimbledon Champion

In an example of Wenlock’s extended legacy, Anthony (Tony) Wilding went on to become New Zealand’s greatest tennis player and a poster-boy of the international circuit.  Tony Wilding played Davis Cup tennis for Australasia from 1905, helping the team to three consecutive victories 1907-1909 (over Britain, and the USA twice).  He won the Australian Open in 1906 and 1909.  He was Wimbledon Champion four times straight 1910-1913, narrowly losing in 1914 to his doubles partner that year, Norman Brookes. Four Wimbledon men’s doubles titles were also his between 1907 and 1914.


A century ago, Tony Wilding was the World No 1 player. In 1913 he won all three of the majors of the day: the World Hard Court Championship (in Paris, on clay); the World Lawn Tennis Championship (at Wimbledon on grass); and the World Covered Court Championship (Stockholm, indoor wood).  In 1912, at the Stockholm Olympics he had taken a bronze medal in the men’s singles. 



Almost three years to the day after he was knocked out of the 1912 Stockholm Games in the semi-final, Tony Wilding, then 31 years old, was killed in the First World War, on the Western Front near Neuve-Chapelle, when a shell landed near his dug-out.  The principal tennis venue in Christ Church, New Zealand is named Wilding Park in his memory.  His sister, Cora founded New Zealand’s Youth Hostel Association.


Tony's father Frederick, ‘FC’ as he was known, had been educated at Hereford Cathedral School in whose library we sat for the talk last September.  Indeed, a Wilding, though not FC (probably his older brother) had held the school’s long-jump record of 20’ 6” for at least a century from the 1860s.



The Wildings’ story, connecting as it does William Penny Brookes’s Olympian Games in which Frederick Wilding participated, with Coubertin’s IOC Olympics in which Tony Wilding won bronze, demonstrates yet again how Brookes’s legacy, until recently largely unknown and unacknowledged, has quietly threaded itself around the World.  Murray's London2012 gold medal and Wimbledon 2013 title echo Tony Wilding's achievements.


Given Murray's nationality, it seems appropriate to note, among Tony Wilding’s list of worldwide tennis victories, the 1904 Scottish Championships, played at Moffat.


In establishing his Wenlock and later National Olympian Games, William Penny Brookes showed many of the characteristics so memorably on display and applauded last summer in London – dogged determination, remarkable perseverance and, in the Games Makers, public-spirited self-sacrifice to a bigger cause. Few did more than Brookes to press for physical education, particularly gymnastics, to be on the timetable of every school in Britain (poignant to note in the context of Dunblane).


Brookes would be delighted to note the part played by his Games in the Wildings’ story, but not a bit surprised that it should have taken them from Wenlock to Wimbledon via New Zealand. When others tried to pour scorn on Brookes’s ambition to bring the benefits of sport to all through his Olympian Games founded in remote Shropshire, he met their doubts with a prophetic metaphor:


‘Sow a single seed of a rare plant in the most secluded spot and if the soil and other conditions are favourable to its germination, it will grow up and bear other seed, and, in time, produce plants sufficient to cover the length and breadth of the land.’ 


Murray like Brookes, has demonstrated remarkable determination and perseverance.  He has certainly shouldered the greater cause of a long-sought British win in the Mens' Championship at Wimbledon with a good grace, and perhaps privately, the determination to rehabilitate Dunblane in the national psyche.  Dunblane might seem a very 'secluded spot' for a Wimbledon champion to have taken root, but then who would have thought that the modern Olympics could have been inspired by the Games of a Shropshire market town?  In the week of Murray's win, as Wenlock hosts its 127th annual Olympian Games, it is to be hoped that Murray's success at Wimbledon in 2013 might seed future tennis winners, and that in time we might see British tennis flourish across the length and breadth of the land.


WANTED - careful gardeners.


                                                                       * * * * * * *


Compiled from: the records of the Wenlock Olympian Society, the Ancestry Tree of mhurrell143, census information on, and Wikipedia.

7th June 2013: Farewell Dennis German

I'm so grateful to have met you

Read on...

This “Gerry” was one of ours


I have been remembering through Twitter in recent weeks the loss with all hands seventy years ago of HMS Untamed, a U Class submarine, during training exercises off Campbeltown on 30th May 1943.  I researched her story as part of my work on the Arkwright family of Hampton Court, Herefordshire for Champagne and Shambles.  John Arkwright (1907-1943) was one of the men lost in her.  My article on HMS Untamed is here on the website.


Having contacted the Submariners’ Association as part of my work, I was astonished to learn that a crew member, who had served on Untamed was alive and well.  Dennis German (inevitably in the War known as “Gerry”) was generous enough to meet me in August 2000.  He helped me to understand the submariner’s life, and corrected my howlers.  He also explained how an extraordinary quirk of fate saved his life. 


I learnt yesterday that Dennis died aged 93 years on 22nd May, almost exactly seventy years after Untamed sank.  He is to be buried today.


A quirk of fate                                                                                  

Dennis and a few other crew members had joined the submarine in late 1942 for a couple of months while she was being completed at the Vickers-Armstrongs yard at High Walker, Tyneside.  Then the small crew became acquainted with Untamed, ‘making our way around to the West Highlands in easy stages’ until it docked alongside a depot ship at Sandbank, Holy Loch.  There the full crew would train before deployment, taking part in exercises.  They were ‘rather shocked’ on arrival to learn that their sister ship, HMS Vandal had sunk nearby on 24th February 1943. 


It was at Holy Loch, on ‘virtually the first “restful” day… and our first opportunity of shore leave, I went and suffered a hernia.’  The injury was to save Dennis’ life.


Dennis German (front left) John Gilliland (front right)Despite worrying about his condition, Dennis (image left, far left, standing next to John Gilliland) went ashore, wanting particularly ‘to get my photograph taken in my “new” uniform”.  The next morning, he reported to the Doctor and was immediately sent for an operation at the Royal Naval Auxiliary Hospital at Kilmacolm.  He caught a cold, causing his operation to be postponed for a week.  He then spent a further three weeks recovering and enjoying being ‘spoonfed with fruit jelly by a nurse’.




Meanwhile, completely unknown to Dennis, Untamed had bottomed in only 150’ (45.7m) of water within sight of the foreshore at Campbeltown.  The crew had been unable to escape and all thirty-six of his colleagues had perished.





Dennis returned to Sandbank, just days or perhaps a week after Untamed sank, still ignorant of the fate of his fellow crew, so tightly had the embargo on the news been kept.  


‘Arriving at around 1600 I met the first “liberty men” coming ashore. I recognised some mates from other boats and got funny looks from some, one told me that my boat had “gone”; aboard the depot ship HMS Forth I handed my papers to the Duty Officer, perusing them he said to me, “It will be a long time before you see the “Untamed” again!”


On board HMS Forth, Dennis met his friend, John Gilliland, the Leading Signalman, who had similarly been ‘dragged off unwillingly to have his tonsils removed, like me he did not want to leave the boat, we would have gone anywhere with it and our officers, but like me, he was spared.’


Dennis recalled that he had not said goodbye to any of the men on Untamed.  On leaving, Lt Noll had assured him that he would keep his place for him.


The graves of HMS Untamed's crew at Dunoon

Dennis attended the funeral of his crewmates at Dunoon in July 1943.  He was given two months’ light duty  and was afterwards assigned to HMS Truculent (which, bizarrely, would also sink post-war, on 12th January 1950 after a collision with Swedish oil tanker Divina in the Thames estuary, an accident that cost the lives of 64 men).





After the War, Dennis left the Navy in 1947 and became an ice-skater in pantomime until 1954.  After a few months as a Dictaphone salesman he joined London Transport and became a Signal Engineer on the Underground from Easter 1956.  He worked for London Underground for 25 years and eleven months.  He married in his fifties but his wife died only three years later. 


In 2000 a thoughtful former Underground colleague invited Dennis to spend an afternoon watching him at Barking ‘in front of his push button console controlling all the signalling over a wide area’. Dennis then chatted to other former colleagues by phone. ‘It was very gratifying to be welcomed back so enthusiastically.’


It was only relatively recently, when he returned to a commemorative event at Dunoon, that Dennis was given a copy of the inquiry into the sinking of Untamed.  ‘I was very grateful, it cleared up doubts that had been in my mind all those years.’


The local branch of the Submariners’ Association will be attending his funeral this afternoon, with their standard.



Quotes are from my conversation with Dennis in August 2000

My sincere thanks to Tony Wingate for taking the trouble to let me know of Dennis' death.

16th May 2013: At Home with Mrs RO Backhouse

A peep over the wall into a fascinating garden

Read on...


Sarah Elizabeth Dodgson, Mrs RO BackhouseI recently had the immense pleasure of meeting Mrs RO Backhouse at her gracious home in the Herefordshire countryside.
This may read like the introductory sentence to the society column of a county magazine of the 1950s, but it happened the week before last, although Mrs RO Backhouse (born in 1857) died in 1921. 
The Mrs RO Backhouse whom I met, is the narcissus (daffodil) named after Sarah Elizabeth Backhouse (née Dodgson).  The variety is famous for being the first to have a pink (in fact apricot-coloured) cup (trumpet) which caused a sensation when it was unveiled in 1923 by its breeder, her husband Robert Ormston Backhouse (1854-1940) two years after her death.  
The couple had worked for about thirty-five years hybridising narcissus, galanthus (snowdrops), hyacinths, colchicums and lilies at their home, Sutton Court, north of Hereford.  
Sutton Court, Herefordshire
The parents of narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse are believed to include ‘Lord Kitchener’, another of Sarah Backhouse’s introductions.
Robert was to register fifty-eight narcissus varieties in all, and their son, William Ormston Backhouse (1885-1962) a further thirty.  
Narcissus Little Witch at Sutton Court
Both men's output is dwarfed, however, by the remarkable Sarah.  Her additions hover around the 600 mark, from 'Abdiel' to 'Zoe' and include the plucky looking 'Little Witch' of the Cyclamineus group (6) of classification, flowering in her garden when I visited.
James Page at Sutton Court
But it was narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse that swept all before her, selling for £20 a bulb in 1926.  She was just coming into flower when I visited Sutton, courtesy of James Page, the nephew of Mrs Backhouse's daughter-in-law.
Many varieties still flower in the walled gardens and beyond.  A descendant from another branch of the Backhouse family (eighteenth-century Quaker bankers from County Durham that produced generations of gifted botanists and horticulturists), Caroline Thomson, of the Rofsie Estate in Fife, Scotland, is working hard to identify the Backhouse Heritage varieties. She had just visited to collect samples  while they were in bloom. 
Block of narcissi emerge every Spring
Orderly blocks of narcissi appear from the grass at Sutton Court and still bloom every year, particularly outside the walled gardens.  These may be stock plants that were used to hybridise, or alternatively crosses that were deemed useful for future breeding.  Others may just have been seedlings surplus to requirements but too good to throw away.  
Daffodils in the walled garden overlooked by Sutton St Nicholas church, where the Backhouses are buried
In one of the walled gardens the narcissi still bloom in a wonderfully naturalistic environment, beneath trees and among other spring bulbs, overlooked by the church in whose yard Sarah and Robert are buried.
Rusting corrugated iron panels deterred plant thievesIn a heap in one corner of the grounds remains a stack of rusting corrugated iron panels with pointed tops which, though apparently unromantic, add to the mystique.  The panels were formerly erected around a patch of the best breeding bulbs and noteworthy introductions.  Prize-winning seedlings took many years to bulk up; the slowly-increasing stock and best parent plants could be a target for thieves.  Today the plates at the base of bulbs are sliced carefully to multiply new varieties more rapidly, reducing the time it takes to bring them to the market.
A glasshouse and cold frames at Sutton Court
The Backhouses' glasshouses, vineries and cold-frames survive and are gently being coaxed back into life with sensitive restoration by Mr Page's son in law.  This approach is ensuring that the magic of being amongst the former 'laboratories' of this remarkable family is not lost.
Narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse being modest
And so to the edge of the garden near the mistletoe-bowed orchard, where introductions are finally made.  
Mrs RO Backhouse, just out, is too modest to look one in the eye, which makes me recall that Sarah herself was a Quaker.  In a surviving childhood letter to an aunt, of 1865, she uses the characteristic 'thee' of Friends' speech - anachronistic even then. In 1884, two years before they moved to Sutton, Sarah had married Robert at the Friends' Meeting House in Redcar, Yorkshire.  
In 1898, the names of Sarah and Robert Backhouse were removed from the nearest Friends' register as there was 'no prospect' of their attendance at meetings. This is probably less a reflection on their beliefs and more a practical acknowledgement; it was an 84 mile round trip to the Pales Meeting House near Penybont, Radnorshire.
Narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse assisted by Mr Page
The down-turned bloom is given a helping hand by Mr Page.  The strong sunlight makes her appear rather golden here.  The bloom to the left of the group perhaps better conveys her true apricot and creamy colouring.
Narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse is technically classified as a Division 2 (Large-cupped) daffodil with a white perianth (petal) and pink cup. The apricot colour deepens at the outer rim which is slightly frilled.
Although I have read about her and seen illustrations, I have never before seen Mrs RO Backhouse in the flesh, as it were, and to meet her for the first time in the garden where she was created is truly a moment to savour.  
The impact that this daffodil had when she was first shown in 1923 is today difficult to appreciate.  Her pink cup 'astounded the horticultural world' (Davis).
Glaucous blue foliage sets off very well the colouring of Narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse
I am struck by how well the slightly glaucous foliage sets off the peachy colouring.  
Narcissus Mrs RO Backhouse is (or was when she was first introduced) a genetic wonder, the fond memorial of a man to his life's love, and the perfect tribute to a remarkable lady about whom I am keen to know much, much more.  As GH Engleheart, himself a titan of the narcissus world, recalled after her death, in 1921: 
'Those who were privileged last April to compare the contents of the Royal Horticultural Society's hall at large with her one small stand will have discerned the wide gap between talent and genius'.
Post Scriptum
In a bizarre twist, I was delighted to find that the Backhouse daffodils, apparently far removed from the early Olympic Games that were the subject of my last book, Born out of Wenlock, in fact had a connection.
Robert Ormston Backhouse of Sutton Court
Sarah's husband, Robert O Backhouse was a keen amateur archer.  At the first IOC London Olympics, in 1908, he competed in the York Round, scored 516 points and came thirteenth.  He then participated in a demonstration round 'in the Continental Style' and scored a creditable 260 points.  Had this been an official competition at the 1908 Olympic Games, he would have received a silver medal.  
RO Backhouse's Diploma from the London Olympic Games 1908
I was delighted to find that Backhouse's diploma, signed by Lord Desborough, had survived.
The Archery Lawn at Sutton Court, Herefordshire
The gardens at Sutton Court still incorporate Robert's own private archery lawn.
Can there be many more expressive encapsulations of the English on the eve of the First World War than this stretch of sporting turf spread beneath the narcissi of a country garden in Spring?
Note and Acknowledgements:
Kindly note that Sutton Court garden is private and not open to the public.  I am deeply endebted to James Page and his family for granting me permission to visit and photograph at their home, and for sharing their  papers.
I am also very grateful to Sally Kington, former International Daffodil Registrar of the Royal Horticultural Society for suggesting that I explore the Backhouse narcissi and for generously sharing her own research with me.  For a full list of Sarah Backhouse's narcissi, search the RHS Daffodil Register at
Photographs copyright C. Beale.
P Davis 'The Backhouses of Weardale, Co. Durham, and Sutton Court, Hereford', Garden History Spring 1990 Vol 18, No. 1
Backhouse papers at Herefordshire Record Office Ref: G89
Backhouse papers at Sutton Court
Cheltenham Chronicle Saturday 17th April 1926 Daffodil and Spring Flower Show Prize List

18th April 2013: High Street at Risk

Competition threatens small trader

Read on...


A brief reflection on the condition of the market town that seems surprisingly modern, considering that it was written by Lady Dorothy Nevill in 1910, rather than Mary Portas in 2013.
Every little country town was formerly a real centre of vitality, and its shops did a thriving business, which enabled their owners to live and die well assured of their own and their children's moderate prosperity.  In a great measure of course, they depended upon the local gentry for support, who in turn depended upon the land.  To-day the local gentry, when able to reside on their estates, procure most of their supplies from the huge emporiums in town, and the village shops generally find considerable difficulty in maintaining a mere existence.
There are a couple of details in here which reveal the fallout of the agricultural depression of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and its effects on the landed class, as illustrated in Champagne and Shambles.
"...when able to reside on their estates" is a reference to the number of country house owners who were by 1910 having to let their properties and live either in their town house or on a smaller house on the estate.  The 'big house' would be rented by the city dweller looking to motor down from town with his pals to play at the country life, before returning to London.  Thus they could enjoy all of the pleasures with none of the responsibilities.  Initially owners that resorted to letting were scorned by their peers, but they broke a taboo, enabling others to follow suit as the need arose.  Recourse to this was often the prelude to a sale.
"who in turn depended upon the land." Here, Lady Dorothy identifies the main cause of the change in fortunes for both the gentry and the shopkeepers - the decline in the fortunes of land.  As Oscar Wilde had Lady Bracknell quip in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895, has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure.  It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up.
Wilde goes on to explore the 'agricultural depression' in typically witty style in an exchange between Cecily and Gwendolen.
Gwendolen: ... The country always bores me to death.
Cecily: Ah! This is what the newspapers call agricultural depression, is it not?  I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at present.  It is almost an epidemic amongst them, I have been told.
The recommended cure for the High Streets' ills is the same today as it was in 1910 - eschew the emporia and buy locally.  And if you're motoring down from town to your week-end cottage, don't fill the boot at the London supermarket before you leave - buy it from the local shopkeepers when you get there.
Under Five Reigns by Lady Dorothy Nevill (Methuen, London) Fourth Edition 1910 found on the Internet at:
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde from the Complete Works (Hamlyn, London) 1963

27th February 2013: King's body found!

Bones discovered at probable burial site

Read on...

Two of life’s clichés came good during a search of the Gentleman’s Magazine at the British Library yesterday.

1.    I didn’t find what I wanted, but turned up something much more interesting – like the nuggets discovered on the newspaper that used to be wrapped around fish and chips; and

2.    in the manner of London buses, you wait ages for a ‘lost’ king to be dug up on the site of an old abbey, the two come along at once.


The volume in question was 1785, July-December p881 (November).  Correspondent F Piggot wrote to the Magazine to tell how ‘workmen employed in digging a foundation for the erection of a house of correction at Reading’, on the site of the old Abbey, came upon ‘divers bones’.


The scholarly King Henry I (c1068-1135) had been buried in Reading Abbey, which he had founded in 1121.  The Abbey had been largely destroyed in 1538, during the Dissolution.  By 1785, ‘Antiquaries’ had ‘frequently enquired where this monarch’s remains might be found; but time had effaced every possible mark’.


So, when the bones came to light, each

was seized as a kind of treasure, contemplating it as one of the king’s, till at length a vault was discovered, the only one there, and which was of curious workmanship: in the vault was a leaden coffin almost devoured by time. 


And what was in the lead coffin?


A perfect skeleton… which undoubtedly was the king’s.


In the absence of DNA profiling what was the rationale for this conclusion, other than the notable craftsmanship of the vault, and the lead coffin?


The king, Piggot explains, ‘died at the castle of Lyons [then St Denis en Lyons, today Lyons-la-Foret, Normandy] in Rouen, on the 2d of September, 1133, was there embalmed, and sent from thence, according to his own desire, to be interred in the abbey at Reading’.


Henry I was famously said to have died from a 'surfeit of lampreys'. Two accounts of immediate afermath of the king’s death survive.


WARNING! Best not to be eating for this bit.


The medieval chronicler Rapin ‘says his body was cut in pieces, after the rude manner of those days, and embalmed.’


Gervase of Canterbury confirms Rapin’s version of events, writing


they cut great gashes in his body with knives, and then powdering it well with salt, they wrapped it up in tanned ox-hides, to avoid the stench, which was so great and infectious, that a man who was hired to open the head died presently after.


Notably, small pieces of leather were discovered inside the coffin.


And were the remains reinterred in a Reading church?  No such ceremony for Henry I.


The bones were divided among the spectators; but the coffin was sold to a plumber. 

Plaque near Henry I's burial place today



Pigott got the mandible, with sixteen teeth in perfect condition.


Please email any responses to or Tweet me @CBeale1



Sources: Gentleman's Magazine, 1785 July-Dec

Image: Plaque:

11th January 2013: Scandalous Susan

The Lady Lincoln affair

Scandal sees future Prime Minister WE Gladstone acting the sleuth

Read on...


The Lincoln Affair, and the Resultant Pickle


During current work, I have come across a remarkable Victorian scandal of which until now I had never heard. It involved two ducal families and drew into its web, Prime Ministers William Gladstone and Robert Peel.


Most of my information for this account is taken from Virginia Surtees' 1977 A Beckford Inheritance: The Lady Lincoln Scandal.  Using original correspondence, Surtees portrays the unhappy marriage of Lady Lincoln, née Susan Hamilton (1814-1889) and Henry Pelham-Clinton, heir to the fourth Duke of Newcastle (National Portrait Gallery image here).  Lincoln (1811-1864) was a politician and statesman, successively Chief Secretary for Ireland, Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Secretary of State for War during the Crimean conflict (over which he stood down).  His family's seat was Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire (Image by kind permission of Matthew Beckett's LostHeritage website here). 


Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

Susan was the indulged only daughter of the 10th Duke of Hamilton and his French-born wife Susan Euphemia, daughter of the fabulously eccentric William Beckford (1760-1844) of Fonthill Abbey, Wiltshire.  The Lincolns were married on 26th November 1832 and three weeks later, Lincoln was elected to Parliament.  Susan was pregnant by the middle of the following year.  The son and heir, Henry was born in early 1834.  Within a year Lady Lincoln was bored by her husband.  Nevertheless a second son, Edward arrived in August 1836. 


Susan had shown symptoms of hysteria before her marriage (fainting, screaming, temporary paralysis, deafness and blindness) but unhappiness in her marriage exacerbated the condition.  Surtees believed that she was irked by the fetters imposed by marriage, and ‘repelled by physical intercourse with her excessively demanding husband’.  The latter Susan confided to Lincoln's younger brother William with whom she appears to have begun an affair during the snowed-in Clumber Christmas of 1836.  The family became aware of their inappropriate intimacy at the end of January 1837. 


An Unhappy Marriage


Lincoln stormed off to London while Susan's parents swooped in and conveyed her to London and on to the Continent.  Her husband went to Paris at Easter to try to rebuild relations, and the children followed.  Susan gained strength, but improved health and relations only brought increased revulsion towards her husband.  Perplexed, Lincoln grew more dictatorial and controlling which only drove Susan back to sickness.  A sad cycle had been set in train – sickness and rupture, followed by periods of affection before renewed strife.  A daughter, Susan was born in April 1838 and a third son, Arthur in 1840. 


By now, Susan’s state of mind was further clouded by heavy use of laudanum.  In 1841 she appears to have had a new lover (identity unknown) and Lincoln determined that the children must be removed from their mother for their own well-being.  Susan seems to have accepted this as the necessary cost of freeing herself from her marriage.  A break seemed certain until, on Lincoln's suffering from gout in Ryde in 1844, Susan flew to his side to minister to him and, to everyone's amazement, he took her back again.  At Christmas 1845 Susan had her fifth child Albert, to whom the Prince Consort was sponsor.


The years 1845 and '46 were relatively stable, but Susan strayed again in September 1847, only to return a couple of months later.  By the New Year 1848 the Lincolns were again unhappy.  Susan went away with her mother but in May was summoned home by her husband.  Susan left for good on 3rd August 1848, under the pretext of visiting doctors in Germany.


The Picaresque Years


It was in Bad Ems that Susan came under the influence of Lord Walpole, later the 4th Earl of Orford (National Portrait Gallery image here).  Walpole was the great-great grandson of the brother of Robert Walpole, the Georgian 'Prime Minister'.  His great-grandfather was therefore the first cousin of Horace Walpole (1717-1797) of Strawberry Hill.  Surtees describes him (page 71) as


a year older than herself, a man of some learning, who had married seven years previously when severely in debt, the granddaughter of Lady Holland, a woman of extreme eccentricity in manner and dress, witty but charitable…  She lived mostly at her villa in Florence, while he, a notorious philanderer, travelled where, and as, he pleased.  There had been an outrageous incident in Rome the previous year when Lady Walpole, having unintentionally come upon her husband in the company of a lady in the gardens of the Villa Borghese, was followed home by him, beaten about the head with pistols, kicked, thrown down the stairs, and spat upon.


Walpole sent flowers to Susan's hotel every two to three days, accompanied her on donkey rides into the hills and was soon dining nightly in her hotel, sometimes remaining until after midnight.  In October they began their wanderings from Frankfurt to Basel, and on to Genoa and Rome.  It was in Genoa in early November that Walpole's courier Noele Paovich inadvertently walked in to Walpole's room and found the couple in flagrante on the sofa before the fire.  His evidence thrilled the gossips during the Lincolns' divorce case in May 1850.


Back in England rumours were already rife.  Society travellers returned home with tales of sightings of and encounters with Susan and Walpole.  Lady De Tabley wrote to Gladstone's wife Catherine

Lord Walpole is indeed an odious man to be near her.  What could you do against so poisonous an influence – I fear very little.  Lord W is not a man to stop before he has gained his object – he will probably be tired of her at the end of a few months and then poor creature, her eyes may perhaps be opened.


By March 1849, Paovich noted that Lady Lincoln was 'becoming larger in her figure'.  Susan was indeed pregnant.  By April, she and Walpole put it about Rome that Susan was confined to her house on account of a fall.  Lake Como was chosen for the birth, false passports were acquired, and in mid-May, Walpole and Susan headed north. 


Meanwhile, a group of the Lincolns' friends were conspiring to rescue Susan (as they saw it) and make her return home to her husband and children.  Gladstone, Peel, Sir Frederick Thesiger (later first Lord Chelmsford and Lord Chancellor) and Archdeacon Manning together planned 'The Mission', under which one of them would go out to Italy and make Susan return.  It fell to Gladstone to undertake the task.


William E GladstoneGladstone trailed the ne'er-do-wells from Naples to Milan and on to Como, uncovering their false identities as he went.  On 31st July Gladstone arrived at the rented villa on the shore of the lake and, being refused a meeting with the heavily-pregnant 'Mrs Laurence', resorted to skulking about near the gates trying to catch a glimpse of Susan and so confirm her condition.  Walpole and Susan, hearing of an Englishman on their tail, assumed it to be Susan's husband. 


Walpole fled at once, leaving Susan to follow.  He caught a cold crossing the lake and took to his bed in Varenna. Susan found her own way to Verona.  There, at the hotel Torre de Londra, with only a maid and courier for company, she gave birth to a son on 2nd August 1849.  The baby was baptized Horatio (Horace) on 25th August in her rooms.  By the end of September, a former butler from England had formally identified her and divorce proceedings were put in hand in London.


Susan moved on to Florence, where Walpole had a house.  There, baby Horace was probably left with nuns or on a farm.  Walpole had abandoned Susan and by the end of the year, she was in Nice (allegedly in the company of Sir Charles Lamb).  Rumours were circulating that the baby had died.  In early 1850 Walpole was divorced by his wife.  The Lincolns' divorce was passed by the House of Lords at the end of May 1850, while Lord Lincoln was out of the country on a tour of the Levant.  He inherited his father's title the following year as well as chronic debt.  Lincoln died in early 1864.  Queen Victoria travelled north to visit him during his final illness.


After the Storm


In 1862, Susan married Jean Alexis Opdebeeck, her Belgian courier.  Initially they lived abroad, but from the 1880s she returned to England and lived first near Croydon, then Bournemouth and finally at Wynnstay, a large red brick Victorian house at Keymer, near Burgess Hill, Sussex. When she died on 28th November 1889, Susan left Opdebeeck all her property - £300.  She was buried at St John's cemetery, Burgess Hill. 


Despite producing five legitimate children, Susan was survived only by her son Edward (who was Groom in Waiting and Master of the Household to Queen Victoria).  Her only daughter Susan was a maid of honour at the Princess Royal's (Vicky's) wedding in 1858, and afterwards an occasional mistress of Bertie, Prince of Wales.  She allegedly bore him an illegitimate son in Ramsgate in late 1871.  She died in 1875.


Susan Lady Lincoln's illegitimate son by Walpole, Horace (whom she called 'her pickle') is believed to have attended Heidelberg University.  He was made a ward of Chancery, became a Captain in the King's Royal Rifles and Lieutenant-Colonel in the 4th Battalion of Norfolk Regiment (1889-96). He styled himself Colonel Walpole.


Horace married, in 1887 Pauline, daughter of the Hon. Charles Langdale, of Houghton Hall, Yorkshire (not to be confused with the better-known Houghton Hall in Norfolk, confusingly formerly the seat of the Walpoles, Earls of Orford).  They had two daughters whom Horace named (after his legitimate Orford half-sisters) Dorothy and Maude. His wayward father succeeded as Earl of Orford in 1858 and died in 1894.  Horace attended his father's funeral, a requiem mass at St James, Spanish Place.  Horace, Colonel Walpole died in 1919, finally closing this remarkable tale of Victorian high society.


I am very grateful to Matthew Beckett for permission to use the image of Clumber from his website:



V Surtees A Beckford Inheritance: The Lady Lincoln Scandal (Russell, Salisbury) 1977

Burke's Peerage, 1880

Catholic Who's Who, 1908

Walford County Families, 1912

The Times 12th December 1894

The Newcastle Family papers are at Nottingham University, Manuscripts and Special Collections (




Tuesday 18th September 2012:

The Wenlock Olympian Games: the Games that inspired the Games that inspired a generation

A tennis legacy from the Games

How the spirit of Brookes's Games travelled to New Zealand and produced a champion

Read on...

On Friday I went to Hereford Cathedral School to speak to Herefordshire Historical Association about the Wenlock Olympian Games – the first such talk since the end of the Paralympics.  It was good to be speaking on this side of an extraordinary summer of sporting achievement, topped off brilliantly by Andy Murray’s US Open Tennis championship title.  Prior to the Games there was scepticism about the wisdom of hosting London2012 and criticism of the cost and likely metropolitan chaos.  There were no such doubts on Friday.  Indeed, the event produced a remarkable tale.


As so often in all sport, it was the stories of the competitors’ struggles, and the personal qualities that they displayed in overcoming them, that got us behind the athletes at the Olympics and, particularly, at the Paralympics.  I had been aware of this in researching Born out of Wenlock.  It is one of the reasons that I listed at the back of the book all the competitors who had participated in William Penny Brookes’ Wenlock Olympian Games (1850-95), Shropshire Olympian Games (1861-64) and National Olympian Games (1866-68, 1874, 1877, 1883). 


Forty-five years of competition produced too many competitors for me to be able to research them all for the book.  Furthermore, the stories of ostlers, general servants and farm labourers have rarely been recorded.  Often only bare facts culled from censi could be used.  Some of the Victorian competitors, though, did have extraordinary tales to tell (see 4th July blog).  Several descendants of competitors who had no idea of their family link to Brookes’s Games have since come forward to fill gaps.


Giving talks also shines a light on competitors from a specific town/city/county and prompts me to dig once again for background detail.  In preparing for Friday's event, a story came to light that intones well with the current debate about legacy and London2012’s desire to ‘Inspire a generation’.


Frederick C Wilding (1853-1945) of Hereford was listed in the Wenlock Olympian Society’s Roll of the Victors as having participated at Wenlock Olympian Games in 1873, and in the National Olympian Games held at Much Wenlock in 1874 and in Shrewsbury in 1877.  Hereford was well connected with Much Wenlock by train, so it is perhaps not surprising to find half a dozen athletes from the city competing in the 1870s, and one of Herefordshire’s grandees and philanthropists, Sir James Rankin, on William Penny Brookes’s National Olympian Games committee of 1874. 


The 1871 census revealed Wilding to be an articled clerk, aged 18, staying at 17 Widemarsh Street, Hereford, the home of an uncle on his mother’s side.  He was a native of Montgomery, over the Welsh border from Shropshire, where his father was, like William Penny Brookes of Much Wenlock, the town’s surgeon apothecary.


Frederick Wilding was an all-round athlete.  In the 1873 Wenlock Games he was second in the Pentathlon, then called the ‘General Competition’.  This comprised long jump, high jump, putting the shot, a half-mile (later quarter-mile)  foot race and climbing a rope (initially 55’ then increased to 75’).   In the 1873 Pentathlon, Wilding came third in the high jump, first in the long jump and second in putting the 32lb shot.  In 1874 a National Olympian Games was staged at Much Wenlock.  Wilding again came second in the Pentathlon, this time to William ‘Tiny’ Oldfield of Birmingham Athletic Club.  Wilding had won the high jump (5’4”) and the shot put (right+left hand throws= 36’4”), come second in the long jump (18’9”) and joint second in a dead-heat in the quarter-mile race.  His rope climb let him down.  He was unplaced.  He competed besides in the individual events of long jump, which he won with a 19’5” leap, and in the shot put in which he came second (20’ 7 1/2”).


Wilding returned to compete for the last time at the National Olympian Games of 1877, held in Shrewsbury, when he came second in the shot put (‘putting the weight’) when his, presumably right+left hand throws totalled 34’ 3”.


In 1879 Frederick Wilding married Julia Anthony in Hereford, and later that year the newly-weds emigrated to New Zealand where Wilding became a lawyer in Christ Church.  The family home was called Fownhope, after a Herefordshire village.  The following year they had their first son, Frederick Archibald, who died soon after.  They went on to have two daughters and three more sons, the eldest of whom was Frederick Anthony Wilding, born on 31st October 1883.  Frederick Wilding evidently inspired his son with a love of sport, and also passed on generous measures of his ability.


In an example of Wenlock’s extended legacy, Anthony Wilding went on to become New Zealand’s greatest tennis player and a poster-boy of the international circuit.  Tony Wilding played Davis Cup tennis for Australasia from 1905, helping the team to three consecutive victories 1907-1909 (over Britain, and the USA twice).  He won the Australian Open in 1906 and 1909.  He was Wimbledon Champion four times straight 1910-1913, narrowly losing in 1914 to his doubles partner that year, Norman Brookes.   Four Wimbledon men’s doubles titles were also his between 1907 and 1914.


Tony Wilding was the World No 1 player in 1913, when he won all three of the majors of the day: the World Hard Court Championship (in Paris, on clay); the World Lawn Tennis Championship (at Wimbledon on grass); and the World Covered Court Championship (Stockholm, indoor wood).  He had wanted to play at the 1908 London Olympic Games, but had been omitted owing to an administrative error.  In 1912, at the Stockholm Olympics he took a bronze medal in the men’s singles. 


Almost three years to the day after he was knocked out of the 1912 Stockholm Games in the semi-final, Tony Wilding, then 31 years old, was killed in the First World War, on the Western Front near Neuve-Chapelle, when a shell landed near his dug-out.  It seems fitting to remember him a century on from his Stockholm Olympic medal and after the latest London Games.  The principal tennis venue in Christ Church, New Zealand is named Wilding Park in his memory.  His sister, Cora founded New Zealand’s Youth Hostel Association.


After sharing the story of Frederick and Tony Wilding at Hereford on Friday, our chairman, Dr Howard Tomlinson, informed us that Frederick, ‘FC’ as he was known, had been educated at Hereford Cathedral School in whose very library we were sitting.  Indeed, a Wilding, though not FC (probably his older brother) had held the school’s long-jump record of 20’ 6” for at least a century from the 1860s.


The Wildings’ story, connecting as it does William Penny Brookes’s Olympian Games in which Frederick Wilding participated, with Coubertin’s IOC Olympics in which Tony Wilding won bronze, demonstrates yet again how Brookes’s legacy, until recently largely unknown and unacknowledged, has quietly thread itself around the World.  It is also good to note, among Tony Wilding’s list of worldwide tennis victories, the 1904 Amateur Championships of Shropshire played in Shrewsbury, where his father had competed at Brookes’ Olympian Games nearly thirty years before.  (Andy Murray might be pleased to know that Wilding won the Scottish Championships the same year, played at Moffat.)


Brookes showed many of the characteristics so memorably on display and applauded this summer in London – dogged determination, remarkable perseverance and public-spirited self-sacrifice to a bigger cause. He would be delighted by the Wildings’ story, but not altogether surprised.  When others tried to pour scorn on Brookes’s ambition to bring the benefits of sport to all through his Olympian Games he met their doubts with a prophetic metaphor, vindicated through stories like the Wildings’:


‘Sow a single seed of a rare plant in the most secluded spot and if the soil and other conditions are favourable to its germination, it will grow up and bear other seed, and, in time, produce plants sufficient to cover the length and breadth of the land.’


Compiled from: the records of the Wenlock Olympian Society, the Ancestry Tree of mhurrell143, census information on, and Wikipedia.

Wednesday 1st August 2012: Brookes speaks at Crystal Palace this day in 1866

Coubertin will quote his words in 1889

National Olympian Games speech by William Penny Brookes that Coubertin will quote at the 1889 conference on Physical Education in Paris

Read on...

On Wednesday 1st August 1866, William Penny Brookes made a speech at the award of prizes for winners at the first ever National Olympian Games, held at the Crystal Palace in London.  The recipients of prizes included WG Grace who had won the 440yds hurdles.  Brookes's speech would be printed up and later included in a package that he sent to Pierre de Coubertin when in 1889 the young Frenchman was looking for input for his Paris conference on the role of PE in education.


At the Crystal Palace, Brookes spoke of the need to be heedful of physical strength and health now that over half Britain's population lived in towns and cities.  In particular, he warned that if the people of Britain were to give up 'manly games' for 'the delicate amusements of the drawing-room and the croquet lawn - then, I can tell you, what will assuredly and rapidly pass away - the freedom, the long-cherished freedom, and with it the power, the influence, the prosperity, and the happiness of this great empire (much cheering)'.


He wisely foresaw obstacles for his National Olympian Games.  They were already facing opposition from the gentlemen amateurs of England who had formed the Amateur Athletics Club (later Association, the 3As) and were trying to squeeze out Brookes' National Olympian Association.  'But obstacles, be it remembered, when rightly handled, are often great aids to success.  Let us continue, then, to persevere, in the hope that the inhabitants of all the great towns in England may follow our example, and that the Government of the country may at last see that, in a nation like Great Britain...the maintenance of the physical stamina of the people is an object not unworthy the attention, the patronage, nay even the support of the state'.  (As yet there was no requirement of state schools to offer children PE.)  Brookes resumed his seat 'amid several rounds of applause and waving of flags'.


The Oxford Journal hailed Brookes as 'the father of the Olympian movement' and announced the intention to hold NOA festivals annually in London, Southampton, Norwich, Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol.  National Olympian Games were held the next year (1867) in Birmingham, and were planned the year after that for Manchester, but were relocated to Wellington, Shropshire.  Beyond that, the AAA emerged victorious, but by daring to presume to form the umbrella body for British sport, Brookes had provoked the formation of the body (AAA) that was to run athletics throughout the twentieth century.  


His campaign to bring PE to all children in primary schools continued until finally successful in 1895.  It was this that drew Coubertin to visit Much Wenlock to meet Brookes in 1890.  Coubertin had quoted Brookes's Crystal Palace speech at his Paris conference on Physical Education the year before, describing the Shropshire doctor as 'un orateur perspicace', yet failing to mention the Olympian Games by name.  As yet, Coubertin hadn't considered reviving the ancient Games.


For Coubertin's visit to Much Wenlock, Brookes decided to put on a special October version of the borough's annual Olympian Games for Coubertin to see.  It was the 40th anniversary of their very first Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850.  What Coubertin saw on a wet Shropshire afternoon in October 1890 inspired him to form the International Olympic Committee in 1896.


Therefore words uttered at the Olympian Games in London exactly 146 years ago led, indirectly, to the wonderful festival sport that we are enjoying in London today.  'A perceptive speaker' indeed - a visionary man.

Wednesday 4th July 2012: Pistorius' qualification recalls Victorian competing with able-bodied

The remarkable misfortune and resilience of 'one-arm' Roly

Read on...


It has today been confirmed that South-African double-amputee Oscar Pistorius will be competing at the London2012 Olympic Games in the 4x400 metre relay and the individual 400m, alongside able-bodied competitors.  This is greeted by many as a welcome development in attitudes to amputees competing in the Games - besides being an astonishing achievement.  
But the record of such encounters stretches back further than you may think.
The Victorians are often portrayed as particularly guilty of shutting away from view those with mental or physical disabilities.  Yet at the Wenlock Olympian Games of 1870, William Rowlands, a one-armed, one-eyed labourer not only competed in but won the quarter-mile handicap, beating six others.  
'Roly' as he is affectionately remembered by his great-grandaughter Linda West, was described by contermporary newspaper reports of his victory as 'one-armed'.
In researching for my book, I double-checked the census of 1871, where he was described as 'blind in one eye not from birth'.  The latter seemed more likely as his occupation was given as 'land drainer', for which digging trenches across fields was essential.  In writing up the episode, I hedged my bets, mentioning both.
When Born out of Wenlock was published, I was contacted by Linda who described herself as 'pleasantly astounded to see his name in print'.  She confirmed that her great-grandfather was in fact one-eyed and one-armed.
It transpired that Roly lost an eye aged about seven years old, when a cannon exploded at Homer (Shropshire) wakes in 1857 (the annual church event - like a small fair in the churchyard).  He lost his arm about five years later, after it became entangled in a wheel when working with a threshing machine.  The arm being 'frightfully mangled' before the machine could be stopped, the local surgeon, William Penny Brookes was obliged to amputate it close to the shoulder. (Salopian Journal)
The surgeon was the same Dr W P Brookes who had founded the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850 for the labouring classes of Wenlock borough.  It seems highly likely that Brookes was responsible for encouraging Roly to participate in the running at the Wenlock Olympian Games.  The races were usually handicapped - ie runners were started at different points around the track depending on their known ability.  In the 1872 quarter-mile race, there were seven competitors and Roly was given a fifty-yard start. The Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News of June 11th recorded that what ensued was a 'capital race', with Roly coming home first.
Roly went on to marry local girl Emma Hill and to have at least 8 children.  He was widowed though by 1891.  One of his sons, David, aged twenty-one, died in 1901 of enteric fever (like so many) in the Boer War . He is buried in a mass grave in Bloemfontein, South Africa.  David's name is recorded on the Boer War memorial of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry at the Quarry (Gardens) in central Shrewsbury.
So when the Blade-Runner takes to the track during the Olympics, spare a thought for William 'Roly' Rowlands amazing the 10,000 strong crowds at Much Wenlock 142 years ago.
With thanks to Linda West for permission to share Roly's story. 

Friday 25th May 2012: Coubertin on the Wenlock and Severn Valley Railway

Founder of the International Olympic Committee remembers going to Much Wenlock by train

Read on...


Former line of the railwayIf you enjoyed the Olympic Torch’s ride on the Severn Valley Railway yesterday (including the elephants at West Midland Safari Park) here’s a little postscript to yesterday’s piece -  Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s words about taking the train on the Wenlock and Severn Valley Railway to Much Wenlock in October 1890. 



While in Much Wenlock to talk to Dr William Penny Brookes about the role of Physical Education in schools, Coubertin saw a special autumn Wenlock Olympian Games.  Twenty months later, he had decided to revive the ancient Olympic Games as an international sporting championship.


In Review of Reviews Vol XV 1897 January-July pp62-65 ‘A Typical Englishman: Dr WP Brookes of Wenlock in Shropshire’ Coubertin wrote of his journey:


The railway from Wellington to Craven Arms runs through a valley as green and sunny as a Shropshire valley can be.  Here and there the train has to make its way into a narrow pass with overhanging rocks and bunches of heath that remind you of the Scotland highlands; then the valley widens again and the hills on both sides are crowned with woods, while at the bottom a nice stream of water shines in the meadows.  On nearing Wenlock the scenery grows less imposing, but more merry, and when the old borough comes to sight you almost feel as if you had been there before and had made friends with the people.


Former station at Much WenlockThe former station as it appears today, converted to homes.


Thursday 24th May 2012: Torch Relay takes to the Train

Why it is so appropriate that the Severn Valley Railway should carry the torch

Read on...


Today the torch takes to the train on the Severn Valley Railway.


Apart from the photo opportunities afforded by the combination of flame and steam, the choice of alternative transport reflects the links of the Severn Valley railway with the history of the Olympic movement.  A branch line south from the Severn Valley line, called the Wenlock and Severn Valley Railway brought thousands of spectators and participants to the Wenlock Olympian Games from 1861.


The Wenlock Olympian Games, an athletics meeting held annually at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, had been started in 1850 by local doctor, William Penny Brookes for the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of all classes of the local population.  Pierre de Coubertin watched the Games in 1890 and was inspired to revive the Olympic Games, forming the International Olympic Committee in 1894 which staged its first Games in 1896 in Athens.


The Wenlock Olympian Games were an immediate success when they began in 1850 and were soon drawing extraordinarily large crowds.


By 1859, the tenth Games, parking had become an issue after the field 'was approached by parties from all directions.  Even the break-neck Wenlock-edge offered no obstacle to passengers by carriage or on foot; for they one and all seemed to make for the scene of display,' and 'traps phaetons, carriages, &c. rolled rapidly up and took "stands".'


In 1860 parking attendants had to be appointed  ‘to station carriages as they arrive on the ground'.  The newspapers reported that 'on the opposite side of the track [from the grandstand] marked out were lines of carriages, phaetons, traps, flys, and innumerable waggons, with parties select and mixed.'


Thankfully by now, an alternative was in prospect.  A sixteen-mile spur line from the Severn Valley Railway, close to the River Severn at Buildwas and running south to Much Wenlock was planned by the Wenlock and Severn Junction Railway Company, whose Chairman was Brookes' brother Andrew, also a local doctor.


Discussions about the possible route had been underway since 1853 but there were significant local landowning interests to be squared.  Finally, with a route agreed and engineers Thomas Brassey and John Fowler approving the choice from Buildwas, over a new Severn bridge, through Farley Dingle to Much Wenlock, the company was formally founded in 1859. 


About  50 navvies moved in to build the line – extraordinarily strong and hard-working but with a reputation for hell-raising to match.  In October 1860 four Irish navvies were arrested for causing an affray in Much Wenlock.  The Wellington Journal observed that 'incidences of this kind seem to have been all too frequent of late by labourers involved in building the railway from Much Wenlock to Buildwas.'


The commercial rationale for the line was the transport of limestone from the quarries along Wenlock Edge to Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge.  However William Penny Brookes could see advantages to his Games of having a line to Much Wenlock.  Indeed, the line was due to open on the day of the Wenlock Olympian Games in 1861.


Victorian Health & Safety intervened, though, and the grand opening was threatened by the Board of Trade Inspector not having yet travelled the line and passed it fit for use.  Brookes, undaunted as usual by protocol, negotiated permission to run a special train from Shrewsbury to Much Wenlock, 'taking up by the way such ladies and gentlemen as had confidence in the security of the line'. 


Thus an Olympian Games train, complete with the Shropshire Artillery Band, pulled out of Coleham Station south of the river in central Shrewsbury at 10am on 23 October 1861.  As it neared Much Wenlock, 'crowds had assembled at various spots commanding a view of the line; and amid waving of handkerchiefs, and loud cheers the train steamed past the Windmill Field where the Games were held, and pulled up at the temporary platform at the Goods Station. There it was met by the fife and drum band and the whole Wenlock Olympian Games procession, including tilters on horseback.


It was the start of a long partnership between the Games and the railway.  By 1872, the crowds for the Games day were an estimated 6000-10,000 people.  Although many attended 'in vehicles of every description, some crowded to an astonishing extent, and returning home even still more crowded' it was the railway that brought the majority to watch.


The station had originally been planned close to the Gaskell Arms inn in central Much Wenlock, but Brookes managed to change this, so that the passenger station was built in 1864 right next to the entrance to the Windmill Field where the Wenlock Olympian Games were staged.  Every Olympic city seems to give its transport infrastructure an update, including stations close to the Olympic park, and here was (yet) another way in which Brookes was showing the way.  The temporary passenger building at the Goods Station was recycled as the club house for the Bowling Club on the Games Field, and it still stands there today.


The crowds continued to make good use of the railway on Games day.  In 1870, carriages made for eight were carrying 15 and before they had come to a halt ‘the living mass was pouring through the doors, utterly regardless of the voices and gesticulations of the officials.’  In the evening, before the 7.10pm arrived, the platform and waiting rooms were ‘closely packed’ with ‘a good-tempered crowd’, overseen by station master Mr Ruscoe.


Once on the train, the newspaper reporter, sharing a first class carriage with fourteen others, had first the pleasure of ‘two individuals [who] attempted to amuse the occupants by singing’.  Having got rid of these ‘we were troubled with the hunting reminiscences of a local farmer, and it was not without a feeling of satisfaction that we found the train had arrived at Wellington.’ 


In 1871, special trains ‘had to be put on with double steam power’.  In 1872, specially long trains ran continually, ‘yet these were insufficient, for… crowds were left behind, compelled to be satisfied with the prospect of “waiting for the next train,” although as many as from 15 to 20 positively packed themselves into each compartment.’  And in the evening, instead of two trains between Wenlock and Wellington, five were needed to get everyone away, the last at 11pm. 


The size of the crowds fell away during the 1880s, as agricultural depression began to affect local incomes and other athletic societies were springing up.  However, the Wenlock and Severn Junction line had one crucial passenger to deliver to Much Wenlock.  In October 1890, Pierre de Coubertin arrived by train at the station which he found more like a charming cottage than a station.  He stayed with Brookes, watched a special version of the Games in drenching rain on 22nd October, planted an oak tree and dined at the Raven Hotel.  What he witnessed caused him to write on 21st July 1892 ‘I have come to the conclusion that if the Olympian Games were started anew & held every four years as in the old times, it would be a great benefit to modern athleticsm’.


Sadly the last train pulled out of Much Wenlock station in 1962.  The station is today divided into cottages but the line adjacent to the Game Field can still be enjoyed by walkers.


What better symbolism could there be, therefore, of that momentous handover from the old man of the Olympian movement to the young Coubertin than the bearing of the Olympic flame along the Severn Valley railway?

Friday 11th May 2012: Wenlock's answer to Olympic Park's Orbit - VictOrbit

Tallest structure on the Field

The Victorian Wenlock Olympian Games had a 'high point' that held a message for competitors

Read on...

Arcelor Mittal sculpture

As journalists take their first visit to the ArcelorMittal Orbit (left, under construction last October) at Olympic Park, designed by Anish Kapoor, and appear (early impressions) a little mystified by its meaning and purpose, it seems a good moment to look back at the Victorian Olympian Park at Much Wenlock, Shropshire for a similar vertical icon.  There are a couple of candidates.




The Wenlock Olympian Games were begun in 1850, open to all social classes and held on the horse racecourse on the edge of the town, but it was a bit of a 'blasted heath', set high and exposed to wind (left).  


For the third Games in 1852, the events were relocated to Windmill Field, where they finally settled from 1858, and remain today.




2011 Wenlock Olympian Games with windmillThe Windmill


The Field derived its name from a windmill on the bank at the north-east end.  Sited at the top of rising ground which provided a superb natural amphitheatre for crowds to watch the events, the windmill had been hit by lightning and burnt out in 1850.  This was the inaugural year of the Wenlock Olympian Games, so they might justifiably be said to have had their own cauldron of fire, with Prometheus personally delivering the flames.




Windmill Hill was a perennial favourite of contemporary journalists.  They couldn't resist painting a verbal picture of it 'prettily-dotted' with knots of spectators 'lazily lying'.  After a wet start in 1873, people gradually appeared on it 'like spontaneous mushrooms'.  In 1859, local landowner James Milnes Gaskell fitted up the tower as a viewing platform, 'from the summit of which an excellent view may be obtained of the Games and the surrounding country'.  He also had 'Seats for accommodation of a large number of spectators' set out on the adjoining hill making a 'picturesque' scene.


The ruined Windmill still stands sentinel over the Wenlock Olympian Games that take place every July on the Field (above, 2011) and at the neighbouring William Brookes school.  Today though, the trees that Brookes invited guests to plant at the beginning of each Games (including the oak planted by Pierre de Coubertin when he visited in 1890) have grown up to obscure the view for spectators on the bank.


The Rope Climbing Pole

The second candidate for Victorian Orbit (or as Siobhan Sharpe in 'Twenty Twelve' would surely quip, VictOrbit) would be the pole to which was attached a rope for climbing by competitors in the Pentathlon competition at the Wenlock Olympian Games.  Rope Climbing first appeared at an occasionally-held autumn round of Games for locals in 1867. The rope was suspended ‘from a gaily painted pole some 55 feet in height’.  


There were four entrants and Isaac Nevett (aged 21, who dressed iron at a local works) was the sole competitor to reach the top at the first attempt.  At the Games the following summer in 1868, rope climbing had become part of the Pentathlon competition, as well as high-jump, long-jump, putting a 36lb shot and a half-mile foot race.  By 1868, the Pentathlon, (for which the reward was the beautiful Nike medal currently on display at the British Museum, designed by Brookes and made by Queen's silversmith Hunt & Roskell) was drawing competitors from London and Liverpool.  The outstanding pentathlete was Henry W Brooke (no relation) of the German Gymnasium (that still stands outside St Pancras Station, London) who was victorious in both 1869 and 1870.


By 1870, the climbing pole had been taken down and replaced with a greater challenge.  Walter Horton of Stanway Manor near Much Wenlock donated a climbing pole of an astonishing 83' in total length and a colossal 5'7" circumference at the base.  Mr Stimpson oversaw the 25 volunteers who got it upright, leaving 73' above ground.  A flagstaff was stuck on the top, taking it to a total of 81', making possible a competitive rope climb of 75'.  The pole was painted with white rings every ten feet, for judging the height climbed by competitors.  


On a crossbar at the top was painted the word 'Excelsior', a reference to Longfellow's hugely popular poem of the same name, which had also been set to music as a favourite parlour song.  This was literally about climbing an alpine peak, but was almost the motto of the muscular Christian movement so popular at that time.  Excelsior's underlying message was an exhortation to aspire to ever higher achievement - a foreshadowing of Coubertin's 'Citius Altius Fortius' for the modern Olympics.


The climbing became a thrilling element of the Pentathlon competition.  In 1872, Birmingham Athletic Club competitors were prominent, John Anderton taking the prize and getting to within a few feet of the top.  Topping them all, though, was the Society's helper,

engaged to remove the flag and rope from the cross-piece at the top of the pole.  He easily ascended by means of the rope, got on the iron supports of the cross-piece, and taking the rope from its hook, let it fall.  This, in the opinion of many of the spectators, placed him in a fearful predicament, but greater became their astonishment when he dislodged the flag and commenced carefully and slowly to descend the pole with the flag in his hand, which he succeeded in doing without any assistance, to the surprise and admiration of those who witnessed it, as they testified by their applause.


Today, Walter Horton's climbing pole has long since disappeared, but its message of aspiration to self-improvement continues to be at the heart of what Olympic competitors are doing every day.  The Windmill still stands at the edge of the field, not so much like some abandoned Olympic Flame holder that the wind has puffed out, nor a modern interpretation of "Towerness".  


The Windmill, Much WenlockMuch Wenlock's stocky little windmill stands as a symbol of the apparently Quixotic Dr Brookes,  who, when he began his Wenlock Olympian Games in 1850 was offered by many only 'heartbreaking discouragement'.  At the torch-lighting ceremony at Olympia, Lord Coe made reference to the role of Olympics in difficult times - in current economic straits and in 1948 after world war.  In 1848, Europe had been disrupted by European revolution and in Britain, Chartist frustrations were aflame.  Many believed that gathering the working classes together for a day of sport in 1850 was a potentially explosive experiment.  Yet the 5'2" Brookes stood immovable, motivated by his desire to improve the lot of the working man in his community.  He put his trust in the local labourers and they didn't let him down.  As history has shown, sport and the modern Olympic movement have reason to be thankful that Dr Brookes went tilting at the Windmill Field.

Wednesday 9th May 2012: Jubilation over Williamson's selection for TeamGB Archery

Why the hoopla for Wenlock of Williamson's selection?

Catherine explains why she thinks Alison Williamson should be the GB flag-bearer at the opening ceremony

Read on...


Alison Williamson's selection for the British archery team at London 2012, announced today, means that she will be participating in her sixth Olympic Games. 
Apart from being a remarkable achievement, it is especially fitting that she should be there.  Aged 10 in 1981, and living at Church Stretton, in Shropshire, Alison won silver in the archery competition at the Wenlock Olympian Games.  At the Athens Oympics in 2004, she won a bronze medal.
Alison Williamson is the only medal-winner at the Wenlock Olympian Games
also to have won an IOC Olympic medal.
In 1923, Harold Langley won the Pentathlon at the Wenlock Olympian Games.  He was part of the British team at the following year's Paris 'Chariots of Fire' Olympics, but sadly wasn't with Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell among the medal-winners .  Langley went on to steward at the 1948 'austerity' Olympics in London.
The Wenlock Olympian Games were watched by Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on a visit to Shropshire in 1890.  Despite pouring rain and a reduced programme of events, what he saw and learnt of the 40-year-old institution inspired him to go on and revive the ancient Games as an international festival of sport. He founded the IOC in 1894, and it staged its first Games at Athens in 1896.
The founder of the Wenlock Olympian Games, who passed on to Coubertin his passion for sport for all, was local doctor William Penny Brookes (1809-1895).  Coubertin made Brookes an honorary founding member of the IOC, but sadly Brookes, who had urged the Greeks for decades to revive their Games (even sending a £10 prize to an early Greek attempt at revival in 1859 - before Coubertin was born) died seventeen weeks before the Athens Games began.
Brookes's contribution to the Olympics was largely forgotten until the 1980s.  London 2012
is therefore the first opportunity to recognise his contribution in his home country.  
Would old Brookes, who only once had a sporting competition for women at his Games have approved of a female Olympian?  Emphatically yes.  He moved with the times, and when in 1881 a tennis court was proposed for the Games Field at Wenlock, he welcomed it, 'especially when we consider the importance of promoting healthy, agreeable, and appropriate outdoor recreations for the fair sex'.
Besides his contribution to Olympic revival, Brookes was also largely responsible for physical education becoming mandatory in primary schools from 1895.  Therefore, though few of us are talented enough to become Olympians, all those educated in the UK since 1895 have been touched by the work of this Shropshire doctor - a fact that is often cast into shadow by the glare from the Olympic torch.
Alison Williamson is therefore not only an extraordinary athlete but also a remarkable link between these two great sporting institutions - the Wenlock Olympian Games and the IOC's Olympic Games.  For this reason, I believe she should carry the GB flag for the team at the opening ceremony in July.  It would be a highly appropriate way to honour Brookes's contribution - right on target.
For the full story of the Wenlock Olympian Games and its influence on Coubertin, read Born out of Wenlock.  To order, click left, and I'll be delighted to sign a copy and get it out to you asap.

Wednesday 18th April 2012: Inspire a Generation - official motto for 2012

London 2012 motto unveiled as oak from Wenlock planted alongside Olympic rings at Kew

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Lord Coe has revealed that the official motto for the London 2012 Olympic Games is 'Inspire a Generation'.


The announcement was made at Kew Gardens where floral Olympic rings visible to aircraft approaching Heathrow have been bedded out.  An oak sapling was also planted at Kew, one of a ribbon across the country joining Much Wenlock's Olympian Games field to the Olympic Park, London.


This is a gesture symbolic of the fact that the Wenlock Olympian Games started by Dr William Penny Brookes (1809-95) in 1850 were attended by Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the International Olympic Committee) in 1890.  What Coubertin saw in Shropshire inspired his Olympic movement.  He founded the IOC just four years after his visit to Much Wenlock, and the first IOC Olympic Games were held in Athens two years after that, in 1896.  For Brookes, this would have been the culmination of a life's dream, but he died just seventeen weeks short of the Athens Games.


Brookes's contribution was forgotten and not mentioned at London in either 1908 or 1948.  London 2012 is the first time since the importance of his role has come to light that any acknowledgement of his contribution will be made.  The naming of the Olympic mascot 'Wenlock' was another tribute, though the message behind the gesture has perhaps been obscured by comment on the appearance of the mascot.


When Coubertin attended the 1890 autumn Games amid 'drenching showers, almost incessantly', he planted a gold-leafed oak (Quercus rubra 'Aurea') at the north of the Games Field.  Brookes officially welcomed him expressing 'the great gratification afforded to the members of the Wenlock Olympian Society by your visit to their Olympian Games and to this ancient town'.    

Oak Tree labelBrookes doused the roots liberally with champagne and said 'May this tree flourish for ages and always be looked upon with feelings of pleasure, and of respect for Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the earnest and eloquent promoter of all those athletic sports which help to build up a manly and a noble race.'


In this foreshadowing of the entente cordiale, Coubertin thanked the Society for its kind gesture which he hoped would 'cement the friendly feeling between the two countries, which ought to be everlasting'.  

The tree planted at Kew today is one of 40 grown from acorns from Much Wenlock's Coubertin oak that will link four on the Olympic Park with one at William Brookes School, Much Wenlock on the edge of the Games Field, where they are similarly planting a sapling.


Former National School, Much Wenlock where Brookes proved benefits of PEWenlock's school is symbolic because it was in the town that Brookes, by experiment on a dozen boys at the primary school in 1872, demonstrated the benefits of PE over the drill that was the only exercise then given to school children.  The growth, particularly in the chest of those boys that did PE as against those that did drill only, demonstrated that PE was essential to building strength in the young.  With pulmonary tuberculosis (consumption) such a killer, the doctor was well placed to see the implications of this.  He campaigned incessantly for its adoption by the government in all elementary (primary) schools and was finally successful in 1894, the year before he died.


Brookes's work has therefore inspired (through his campaigning for PE in schools and his Olympian Games) not just one generation, but all those that have come after him.  Though few become Olympians, anyone educated in England and Wales since 1894 has had PE as part of the curriculum.  Much Wenlock's schoolchildren had it from 1872.


Lord Coe hopes to inspire the rising generation with this year's Games.  In 1874, Brookes wondered what the British might be like in 150 years time - that would be 2022 - the generation at which Coe is aiming.


"What might we behold?  On the one hand, should we have attended to the health and cultivated the bodily power of the young in our National Elementary [primary] Schools, we might see women as beautiful as at present, for we could not wish them more so, but healthier as we would all desire... and in the men a stalwart, noble race, strong in body and in mind... On the other hand, how mournful might be the spectacle, that of a stunted, puny, miserable race, deficient in strength and courage, ... a luxurious, effeminate [at the time connoting 'lazy'] wealth-adoring, degenerate people."


Consumption was the threat to health in Brookes's day - and perhaps remains so today (calorific and electronic).  In seeking to combat it, Coe's mission and that of the athletes who will leading by example, is surely as noble as that of the too-long-neglected William Penny Brookes. 

Friday 13th April 2012: London 2012 motto - lessons from history?

Read on...

As London 2012 announces the Olympic motto for this year's games, here's a look at some inspiration  from the Wenlock Olympian Games (begun in 1850 - 46 years before the first IOC Olympics and still going today) and the National Olympian Games of 1866-1868.


Both the Wenlock and National Olympian Games were inspired by William Penny Brookes (1809-1895) the surgeon/general practitioner of the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock.  He believed that athletic sport, at the time mainly enjoyed  (where it was practised at all) by the leisured classes at the public schools, should be available to all - particularly the labourers who, in his area, worked on farms, in the limestone quarries on Wenlock Edge, and in the coal mines supplying Coalbrookdale and Ironbridge.  No one needed physical fitness more than they did.  They also needed amusement to draw them out of the beer houses.  


In 1890, on the 40th anniversary of the first Wenlock Olympian Games, Pierre de Coubertin attended Brookes's Games and what he saw strongly influenced his future Olympic movement.  He formed the International Olympic Committee four years later and the first IOC Games were held in 1896. Brookes died seventeen weeks before the Athens Olympics of 1896, and his input was forgotten.  It was never marked in London in either 1908 or 1948. London 2012 is the first opportunity to mark Brookes's contribution appropriately in his home nation.  (see Five Firsts for Wenlock - 30th March in this News section of the website)


For his Wenlock Olympian Games (which continue today), Brookes took the motto "Palmam qui meruit ferat" meaning "Let him who has earned it, wear the reward".  This was best known in Brookes's day as the motto of Admiral Lord Nelson's coat of arms, adopted after the battle of the Nile.  The motto (in English) was first seen in the procession of athletes and officials to the Games field at Much Wenlock, Shropshire in 1852 - the third ever Games.  The motto was surrounded by a laurel crown held aloft on a floral pennant.  It was the design of John Roberts, a tailor and the local Police Constable, who also won the wheelbarrow race that year.  Roberts' son, William was to become one of the outstanding hurdlers in future Games.  In 1862 he beat Jack White, the famous runner, known as the 'Gateshead Clipper', who travelled to Much Wenlock to compete in the Shropshire Olympian Games (which shared the Wenlock motto).  In true Olympic spirit, William went on to act as the starter in the Wenlock Olympian Games and sat on its committee until the end of the century.


"Palmam qui meruit ferat" appeared on the first ever programme produced for the Wenlock Olympian Games in July 1859.  The running-order was printed in Birmingham by the appropriately-named M Billing of Livery St.  The motto went on to be adopted by the short-lived stepping stone to Brookes's national Games, the Shropshire Olympian Games (1861-64 inc).  At the 1864 Shropshire Olympian Games, Brookes had also added the motto "Civium virtus civitatis tutamen" - the virtue (or valour) of the citizens is the safety of the State.


By then, Brookes was turning his sights to a national association that would standardise athletic rules nationwide, serve as an umbrella body for all athletic sport in the UK and stage annual national championships.  In November 1865, along with John Hulley of Liverpool Gymnasium and Ernst Rubinstein of the German Gymnasium at St Pancras in London, Brookes founded the National Olympian Association.  Its motto was "Civium vires civitatis vis" - Juvenal's 'the strength of the individual/citizen is the strength of the state'.


Ultimately, the NOA lost out to the Amateur Athletics Club (later Association - the 3As) which became the leading body in UK athletics.  The NOA's motto, though, was adopted by the National Physical Recreation Society (founded 1886) on whose committee Brookes sat.  This Society was successful in getting Parliament to demand that Physical Education be added to the curriculum of all primary schools in England and Wales in 1894.  Thus, although few of us will become Olympians, anyone educated in the UK in the 20th/early 21st century has had to do PE, and so has been influenced by Brookes's work.


And what of the mottos?  The strength of the nation residing in the strength of the individual will sound far too collectivist for many in the UK today, smacking as it does of PE being the civic duty of all, and of that darling of newspaper shorthand, the nanny state.  But a shift in attitude in that direction, much as driving without a seatbelt, or drink-driving became socially unacceptable, might be necessary with a national obesity problem looming and state-funding for health-provision seeming imperilled.  


For me, the idea of the medal going to the athlete who truly merits it strikes at the core of some of the doping issues surrounding Olympic athletics today, and it might be popular with clean competitors.  So my pick would be the original Wenlock Olympian Games "Palmam qui meruit ferat".  I only hope that Brookes finally gets to wear the palm that he so richly deserves.  His contribution to the modern Olympic movement and to PE in general should be much more widely known and acknowledged, particularly in Britain.  


After all, he also influenced Coubertin in seeking a motto for his fledgling IOC.  Brookes couldn't make it to the inaugural IOC conference at the Sorbonne.  He'd hurt his leg and ankle and described himself to Coubertin as 'a limping instead of an Olympian member' of his own Society in Wenlock.  But the Wenlock Olympian Society held  a meeting to consider the aims of the Paris conference.  Amongst its recommendations was the adoption of a Greek or Latin motto.  And so the IOC has its own Citius, Altius, Fortius - faster, higher, stronger.



Thursday 12th April 2012: Arkwrights' thoughts on the Titanic

Home thoughts from abroad...

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Evelyn Arkwright (1876-1953) of Hampton Court, Herefordshire was at the Gran Hotel, Vina del Mar in Chile when Titanic sank on 15th April 1912.  She wrote home to her brother Jack on 19th April:

"It is terrible abt the Titanic: it really seems almost a judgement on building such gigantic and luxurious ships - and if it is true that there were not enough boats, it is really criminal."


It must have been sobering for her to make the trans-atlantic journey home on RMS Amazon on 31st May.  Amazon, built like Titanic by Harland and Wolff, was to be sunk by a U-Boat on 15th March 1918.


The Arkwright family of Hampton Court were direct descendants of Sir Richard Arkwright, the textile industrialist of Cromford, Derbyshire.  The story of their Herefordshire estate is told in Champagne and Shambles (see left) recently described by a reader as a 'great antidote to Downton withdrawal'.


Friday 30th March 2012: Five Firsts for the Wenlock Olympian Games

Food for thought about the remarkable Wenlock Olympian Games

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Here's a sample five firsts about the Wenlock Olympian Games, Shropshire:

1. First out of the blocks: these annual Games were the first recognisably modern athletics meetings.  Begun in 1850 - that's 46 years before the modern Olympics - they were seven years ahead of athletics at Cambridge University and ten years ahead of Oxford.  There was then no Football Association, no Ashes cricket and no swimming association.  Bicycles with pedals and tennis had yet to be invented. Pierre de Coubertin watched the Games on their 40th Anniversary in 1890 and was inspired to give international athletics competition Olympic form.  He also admired Wenlock's cultural competitions (poetry, painting, essays etc) - hence the Cultural Olympics.
2. First to pit disabled runners against able-bodied:  In 1870 William Rowlands of Homer, Shropshire, won the quarter-mile handicap. Two years later he was third in the labourers' half-mile race.  Rowlands had only one eye and one arm.  His right eye he lost when a cannon burst at a church wakes event c1857.  His right arm was 'frightfully mangled' in a threshing machine in 1862.  The Wenlock Games's founder, Dr William Penny Brookes, as the local surgeon, had to amputate it near the shoulder.  Nevertheless 'Roly' continued to work in land drainage - and to win races.
3. First to stage 'Britain in Bloom':  At the 1865 Wenlock Olympian Games, three 3 prizes, of £10, 10s., and 5s, were given to "those Inhabitants of the Town of Wenlock, occupying houses rented under £6, the fronts of whose dwellings shall be most tastefully planted with shrubs and flowers, and with creepers trained against their cottage walls."
4. First to demand Physical Education (PE) for all children in schools in England and Wales:  William Penny Brookes, from his second Wenlock Olympian Games speech in 1851, began to demand PE for all children in elementary (primary) schools.  He campaigned for this for 44 years until the measure was passed in 1894 and enacted in 1895.  Much Wenlock's pupils had PE from 1872 thanks to Brookes and local schoolmaster Edward Stroud.
5. First to create a national body for all sport: In November 1865, Brookes joined forces with John Hulley of Liverpool and Ernst Ravenstein of the German Gymnasium, St Pancras and formed the National Olympian Association to standardise rules for sporting competition nationwide.  They staged National Olympian Games in July/August 1866 at the Crystal Palace, London.  (At these games, a young WG Grace, who had been excused fielding at a cricket match at the Oval, won the 440yd hurdles!)  These would have been the first national championships except that the Amateur Athletic Club got together and beat the NOA to it by holding their own Games earlier the same year.
From Born out of Wenlock: William Penny Brookes and the British origins of the modern Olympics - to order a copy, click on the Buy Now button under Born out of Wenlock in the margin on the left.

Friday 2nd March 2012: Hardy-Country

A talk to the Dorset Gardens' Trust, Cerne Abbas

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To lovely Dorset - a true agricultural county and surely the spiritual home of the farm labourer after his portrayal by Thomas Hardy.
Catherine was fortunate indeed to find herself the guest of the Dorset Gardens Trust Chairman, Rachel James.  The views from her window looked out over the Purbeck coastline to the Isle of Wight.  Sadly one of the classic mists of this time of year obscured it all... though it also served to create a sense of enclosure within Rachel's remarkable garden - heightening an awareness of what a privilege it was to be in that timeless spot.  A private tour confirmed that this was a garden of great structure - the only possible explanation for a garden looking this good on 2nd March.
The Dorset Gardens Trust had visited Hampton Court, Herefordshire in the summer 2011 when Catherine had taken them round the house, touching on the reasons for the decline of the landed estate in the late nineteenth century.  The subject had appealed to their group as it helped explain the decay of many formerly grand gardens. The Trust's stated aim is to "protect and enhance historic parks and gardens from inappropriate development, neglect and ignorance". She had afterwards been invited to speak to the Trust at Cerne Abbas.
In addition, some members that had not travelled to Herefordshire wished to hear a brief history of that remarkable garden.  The talk therefore stretched to an hour, covering both the subject of Champagne and Shambles with newly-researched information relevant to Dorset's estates, and an illustrated outline of Hampton Court's Gardens.
Afterwards, Catherine was fortunate to catch up with old friends in Wiltshire, on the Fonthill estate.
Once again flawless spring weather exhibited this historic landscape in all its seductively statesque splendour, as these photographs show.
Quite a welcome.  One of the lodges on the approach to the Fonthill estate, Wiltshire.









Urns near the boathouse grotto


Ornamental urns near the boathouse on the lake at Fonthill, Wiltshire.










Fonthill from the stud farm

Today William Beckford's legendary house at Fonthill is long gone, but the landscape around the present-day home of Lord Margadale remains breathtaking, as can be seen in this view across the stud farm and the lake.


Given the subject of Champagne and Shambles, the opportunity to explore a little of this magnificent estate was a real pleasure.


It also gave an opportunity to sample the considerable delights of the Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford.


Sincere thanks to Rachel James, Fran Dowse and June Butchart.

Thursday 23rd February 2012: Catherine leads Wenlock Olympian Games Tour

Former Cheltenham Ladies' College pupils join tour of Much Wenlock

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On 23rd February 2012, a group of former Cheltenham Ladies' College pupils and their guests met at the Raven Hotel, Much Wenlock for a tour of the town.
Catherine explained that it was at the Raven that French founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin, dined after watching the 40th anniversary Wenlock Olympian Games in October 1890. What he saw and learnt during his visit to the town influenced his work to create the modern Olympic movement.
The group of about two dozen, set off from the square outside the newly-renovated Museum and followed Catherine up the High Street and back, stopping to hear, amongst other things, how the Games grew from a class of the borough's Agricultural Reading Society into an independent Olympian Society, of the scandal surrounding an assault on Dr William Penny Brookes, and how the Games procession used annually to form up outside the Gaskell Arms and move through the town on its way to the Games Field.
The tour paused behind the 16th century Guildhall (above) in view of the church and Brookes's former home and medical practice in Wilmore Street.
Tour group on Wenlock Olympian Society's Games Field
Then, on up Sheinton Street to the Station and the Games Field.  The glorious weather contributed to a lovely afternoon's walk.  At the Field, Catherine pointed out features of interest, particularly Brookes's tree, a mature Wellingtonia near the school named after the Games' founder.
They also paused for a photo by the recently-commissioned sculpture by Adrian Reynolds, an Ironbridge craftsman, which commemorates Brookes' contribution to the Olympics (below).
Group stands behind new sculpture by Adrian Reynolds
On to the former Primary School, where in 1872 Brookes first gathered statistical evidence of the superiority of gymnastic exercise over the drill exercises that then formed the only PE on the schools' curriculum.
Group at Brookes Family Graves outside ChurchFinally, back to the churchyard, and to the Brookes family graves at the south-east end of the church. The group also had time to look inside the church at the memorial erected to Brookes' memory after his death in 1895.
After the tour, everyone was ready for the fantastic cream tea served up by Lucy and Kirk Heywood at the Raven .  The hotel is known for the warmth of its welcome, and the plates of sandwiches and huge scones with jam and cream bore this out.
Thanks to Elizabeth Birch for organising a successful afternoon.


Friday 17th February: Fun, Fossils and a famous Frenchman feature as refurbished Wenlock Museum opens

HLF grant helps showcase the best of the region

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Much Wenlock Museum has just re-opened its doors after a refurbishment part-funded by a £520,800 grant from Heritage Lottery Fund and also by Shropshire Council. The new museum includes, besides displays about the remarkable local geology on Wenlock Edge, and the Priory (English Heritage), a super reworking of the Wenlock Olympian Games-related material.


Shropshire Council staff, Wenlock Olympian Society archivist Chris Cannon, Wenlock Councillors and Wenlock inhabitants all mixed at an open afternoon on Friday 17th February, as they enjoyed a first glimpse of the new layout. Catherine enjoyed seeing the tilting lances and rings overhead, and a particularly striking wall of faces and quotes which invites the visitor to press switches to light up audio/visual material.


Many of Brookes’s medals from other societies are displayed, as well as cups, the herald’s costume and a couple of splendid vintage bicycles whirring along the course.


There’s also a re-created Victorian shop interior that acts as the museum shop, strung with festive jubilee bunting and crammed full of tempting buys.  These included, Born out of Wenlock the cover for which was clearly visible on BBC Midlands Today's coverage of the opening last week.


Until 7th April, the museum is open on Tuesday, Friday (both 10.30am-1pm, 1.30pm-4pm) and Saturday morning (10.30am-12 noon). If in doubt, ring to check (during opening hours) on 01952 727679.

mid-November 2011: Born out of Wenlock comes out on in ebook format

Catherine's latest book goes digital

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In mid-November 2011, Born out of Wenlock was published by JMD as an ebook, downloadable to e-format readers of all kinds.  So now you can enjoy it on your phone, Kindle or equivalent.


Catherine sees this as a particular boon to older readers, who often find print books tricky to read.  With e-readers you can usually enlarge the text to any size you like.


Also great to have it out in time for Christmas...


Amazon seems to be the main outlet for this format, partly to protect authors from piracy.  However, it seems a bit tough that authors can't sell this format from their websites, so getting a greater return on their own product, and helping to finance future work...


Born out of Wenlock is available in ebook format on Amazon at

Thank you for your support.

24th October 2011: Olympic Park Tour

A sneak preview of the 2012 site

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Sniffer Dog on duty

Thanks to the Wenlock Olympian Society, Catherine was part of a tour round the Olympic Park in east London on 24th October 2011.  The site is visited by bus and security is extremely tight, with two forms of identity required, followed by a check of the bus by a sniffer dog.





The Park itself was impressive, over 95% of the buildings being completed and some staggering statistics about the extent of clean-up required before building could even begin.  The site had formerly been polluted by a variety of different industries.






VelodromeThose on the tour were particularly impressed by the velodrome, designed in the shape of a bicycle saddle and clad in horizontal strips of wood. 





Velodrome underbellyThe tour bus seemed like a sardine passing close to the underbelly of a whale, so immense did it feel up close.  The group was told that for the first time spectators will be able to sit all round the track, not just on the straight sides.









Main StadiumThe stadium itself is mainly complete and resembled a crown, perhaps especially appropriate for diamond jubilee year.  The triangular pieces on the skyline are allegedly for use during the opening and closing ceremonies.



Arcelor Mittal sculptureBetween the stadium and the swimming pool was rising like a helter-skelter scaffolding, the ArcelorMittal orbit designed by Anish Kapoor.  Visitors to the park will be able to go up to the top for views over the park.





Swimming PoolOn to the ray-like swimming pool with its temporary extensions, and behind that the water-polo pool which was one of those still to be completed.





Of all the buildings, the athletes’ accommodation was perhaps the most unexciting, but  the tour was told that within there are courtyards with fountains, and that what is at the moment all rooms will be converted after the Games into apartments.

The Press block was also huge, and will include a small village of facilities open 24 hours a day as the journalists working there will be working round the clock to link with their own time zone back home.

The Wenlock tour was left with the impression of a remarkable metamorphosis of a run-down area into a spectacular park which, according to the information on display, will link up with other parks and sports facilities adjacent and nearby.  The amount of water running through the park was particularly surprising, as was the extent to which it has been used to bring building materials to and from the site during construction.

Monday 19th September 2011: Ludlow Museum's Friends learn of their Olympic heritage

The Friends of Ludlow Museum were astonished to learn of the extent of the influence of William Penny Brookes on the Olympic movement when Catherine spoke to them at Ludlow Conference Centre.

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Many of the audience were familiar with the outline of the story of the Wenlock Olympian Games, but several confessed that they had had no idea that Brookes had been such a pioneer of PE.  They particularly appreciated having their 'local' story put in the wider context of sport nationally and internationally.  Many were amazed that sport should be as recent a phenomenon, in historical terms, as it is, given its ubiquity today.


Despite a disappointing turnout, those present enjoyed hearing about the rural sports in Ludlow Castle ward that had greeted the arrival of the railway to the town in 1852.  Ludlow had also refused Brookes's invitation to host his National Olympian Games, when invited to do so by him in person at a meeting in 1882 - a rare showing of independence in Shropshire, but prompted by the costs of hosting the event at a time when the agricultural depression was beginning to bite.

Wednesday 14th September 2011: Champagne launches the year for Walsall National Trust Association

Champagne and Shambles was the opening talk of the year for the National Trust Association's Walsall, Birmingham branch

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Around 120 National Trust members turned out at the Blue Coat Church of England Comprehensive School for their first get together of the 2011-2012 season.  For Catherine (and probably the audience) it was a bit of a marathon, being required to speak for an hour, break for tea, then resume for a further half hour before questions.  But the voice held out, and the audience didn't appear to make a break for it during the interval.


Catherine tried to draw out aspects of Champagne & Shambles that might be of particular interest to the geographical area covered by this audience, including local houses lost in the 20th century, the work of Joseph Arch of Warwickshire in the formation and Presidency of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union (1872), and of Chandos Wren Hoskyns' influence in the High Farming debate of the middle of the century.  Hoskyns had inherited the Wroxall estate (Warwickshire) on his marriage to the last living descendent of Sir Christopher Wren.  


Other connections included Johnny Arkwright's marriage to Lucy Davenport of the erstwhile Staffordshire pottery family, and the strong influence of Birmingham MPs on the Herefordshire labourers contemplating emigrating to the United States in the 1870s.


The organisers seemed pleased with the event, describing it as a 'great start to the year'.  Quite by chance, the excursion or field group of the Walsall Association was that week-end heading to Presteigne to visit the award-winning Judge's Lodging, the restoration of which to its Victorian heyday was a project to which Catherine had contributed in 1996-97.

Monday 29th August 2011: First Born out of Wenlock talk at Presteigne Festival

On 29th August, Catherine gave her first talk based on her latest book, Born out of Wenlock, at Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts on the Welsh border.

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Presteigne Festival is predominantly a classical music festival featuring a healthy dose of music by living composers.  It takes place annually over the August Bank Holiday week-end.  


Catherine was invited to give her lecture on William Penny Brookes and the British origins of the modern Olympics to an audience of over fifty at the Assembly Rooms.  She explained that she was wary of the likely reception for her subject, given the lively debate around funding for the arts in the run up to the London Olympics next year.  


Despite her misgivings, the first airing was well received, and she is looking forward to taking this remarkable story further afield in the run-up to London 2012. 

Thursday 7th July 2011: Shropshire Magazine Interview

'Fun and Games, and Intrigue too', appears in July's Shropshire Magazine

An article about Catherine's writing appears in this month's Shropshire Magazine

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'Fun and Games' article July 2011 Shropshire MagazineEditor Neil Thomas chatted to Catherine about writing both Champagne & Shambles and Born out of Wenlock.  His article and accompanying pictures appear in this month's Shropshire Magazine.

Monday 4th July: Born Out of Wenlock is launched out of Wenlock

Monday 4th July saw Catherine's latest book, Born Out of Wenlock launched in perfect weather at a party at the Raven Hotel, Much Wenlock.

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Catherine Beale and Chris Cannon at the book launch in wenlockProprietors Kirk and Lucy Heywood had generously closed their restaurant for the evening so that over eighty people could enjoy the evening both inside and out in the hotel's courtyard. Guests came not only from Shropshire but from further afield, including representatives of the British Olympians' Association and of Birchfield Harriers AC.

Chris Cannon, Chairman of the Wenlock Olympian Society introduced Catherine's speech by explaining that one of the Society's aims is to spread the message of Brookes's work and he felt that the book made an important contribution to that. He described it also as a 'bodice-ripper' with some great stories to tell. International interest in the story of Much Wenlock's Olympian Games is at an all-time high, with TV crews from Japan, China and NBC from the USA having visited in the last week alone.

In her speech, Catherine outlined the story of William Penny Brookes and the Wenlock Olympian Games' development from local to county to national level. At the National Olympian Games of 1866 at the Crystal Palace, London, cricketer WG Grace left a match at the Oval to go over and win the 440yd hurdles. She also explained that Brookes was responsible for a 44 year campaign to have PE put on the curriculum of schools in England, a measure finally passed in 1894 and enacted in 1895. This is a story that has touched all of us.

In writing the book, she hoped to set the Wenlock endeavour in the wider context of sport, both in the UK and beyond. She had enjoyed seeking out the stories of some of the competitors which certainly added spice. She asked those present to help spread the story, quoting Brookes, on the propagation of athletics, in 1867:
book signing"Sow a single seed of a rare plant in the most secluded spot and if the soil and other conditions are favourable to its germination, it will grow up and bear other seed, and, in time, produce plants sufficient to cover the length and breadth of the land." Many present responded to the call and bought copies for themselves and to send to others as far away as Australia.

Martin, Chef of the Raven produced some sensational canapes for the guests, based on a menu of the Wenlock Olympian Society's dinner of 1852. These included pan fried pigeon with beetroot balsamic, seared sea bass with a savoury rhubarb and herb crumble, and braised beef and mushrooms with truffle oil (to book a meal at the Raven go to These were enjoyed with wine generously sponsored by Tanners Wines of Shrewsbury ( Also available for the first time was Woods Brewery's WPB Athlete's Ale, kindly sponsored by Edward Wood ( The evening was a celebration of Shropshire at its best.

A happy time was had by all and Born Out of Wenlock launched on a tide of goodwill.

7-11th July 2011: 125th Wenlock Olympian Games

Main weekend of the Wenlock Olympian Games 2011 (equestrian events are the previous weekend), Much Wenlock, Shropshire. Catherine will be in Wenlock over the week-end. Visit the Olympian Society for full details

Mid-June 2011: Publication of Born out of Wenlock

Catherine has been working, for the last few years on the story of how Much Wenlock, a market town in Shropshire, was the inspiration for the modern Olympic movement. It is surely one of sports history's more amazing stories, but is indeed true.

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the cover of 'Born out of Wenlock - an Olympic tale'In 1890 Baron Pierre de Coubertin, 'Renovateur' of the Olympic Games visited the Olympian Games started by Dr William Penny Brookes at Much Wenlock forty years before. Within two years Coubertin had decided to revive Olympic Games as an international competition, something that Brookes had been wanting to do for decades. His contacts with the Greeks dated back to the 1850s.

Given the forthcoming Olympic Games at London in 2012, the subject seemed worthwhile pursuing, and to merit a full-scale book. DB Publishing will be bringing out the results of her research in mid-June. Watch this space for further information... In the meantime, take a look at

Sunday 29th May 2011: Daily Mail Online

The Daily Mail on-line features the story of Henry Arkwright's death on Mont Blanc in 1866, and Catherine's appearance on the Antiques Roadshow on 20th February.

Catherine was contacted by a news agency that follows up on interesting items featured on the programme, and it submitted the story to the Mail.

8pm Sunday 29th May 2011: BBC One Antiques Roadshow

Catherine stands in for the owners of a set of silver bulls head stirrup cups.

The second part of the Hampton Court recording will be aired on 29th May 2011. It will feature the silver bulls head stirrup cups that Johnny Arkwright commissioned whenever he won prizes at the national and regional shows with his Hereford herd of cattle.

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Catherine was asked to stand in for the owners, and to share what she knew of these lovely antiques. Suffice it to say that silver expert Alastair Dickenson was very pleased to see them...

13th April 2011: Royal Wedding Build-up

It seemed appropriate in the run-up to the recent royal wedding, to be heading to south Herefordshire to speak to the Ross Civic Society about Champagne and Shambles. Johnny Arkwright's mother, Tally Hoskyns was from the Harewood estate, just north of Ross. The house and estate is today the property of the Duchy of Cornwall. The Prince of Wales has had planning approved to build a new house (if you believe what you read in the 'papers, for one of the Princes) on the site of Tally's home, which was demolished in 1959.

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Tally's father, Sir Hungerford Hoskyns (7th Baronet) fell on hard times, and Tally's brother Chandos tried to rescue the estate for the family from the 1860s. To do so, he sold his own estate at Wroxall, Warwickshire, which had come to him through his first marriage to Theodosia Wren, descendant of Sir Christopher Wren. But all his efforts were in vain, and the Harewood estate was sold in 1877.

During her talk, Catherine also spoke of the contribution that Chandos Wren Hoskyns made to agricultural debate in the Victorian period, particularly the improvement of estates using guano (that of the penguins of the Pacific being preferred - the shipping of which from Peru to the UK helped the Gibbs family build Tyntesfield, recently bought by the National Trust). He was also a powerful advocate in favour of the introduction of an agricultural census. Chandos's column for the Agricultural Gazette was written under the pseudonym of 'Talpa', the mole.

The meeting was well attended and enjoyed. It was good to see, on the journey home, Hereford cattle grazing in the fields at Llandinabo, formerly a part of the Harewood estate.

8pm Sunday 20th February 2011: BBC One Antiques Roadshow

Catherine tells the story of Henry Arkwright of Hampton Court

In July 2010, the Antiques Roadshow recorded two episodes at Hampton Court, Herefordshire for BBC One. Catherine contributed to both programmes. On 20th February 2011, 8pm BBC One, she will be talking to Fiona Bruce about the death of Henry Arkwright in an avalanche on Mont Blanc in 1866, and the recovery of his remains 31 years later.

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Fiona Bruce reads from an Arkwright family letter written after Henry was killed on Mont Blanc in 1866Items recovered with his body were filmed, and Fiona Bruce read from a letter of his sister Mary to their mother, Sarah (Tally) Arkwright.


Details of the second episode will follow once notification is received

Friday 10th December 2010: Hampton Court Castle Christmas Fair

Catherine will be signing and selling copies of Champagne and Shambles at the Hampton Court Castle Christmas Fair from 6-9pm on Friday 10th December. Come along and say hello, or share your knowledge or experiences of the house. She will be delighted to answer questions or sign your copy if you already have one and want to bring it along.

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Hampton Court will be decorated for Christmas with produce from the gardens. On Friday evening there will be carol singers and Liz's famous mince pies and mulled wine to enjoy.

The fair runs from Thursday 9th -Saturday 11th December (11am-4pm), with late night opening on Friday 10th December (11am-9pm). For details of the event, see Hampton Court's website at

22nd July 2010: Antiques Roadshow at Hampton Court

On 22nd July, the BBC's Antiques Roadshow was at Hampton Court to film for a future broadcast. There was a terrific turnout of people hauling with them cherished items from their homes, and waiting with patience and great good humour to meet the valuers to find out what their item might be worth.

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Catherine helped the producer to identify possible stories about the house, which might appear in the autumn. Dates to follow. This seemed a great way to mark not just 200 years since Richard Arkwright the younger bought Hampton Court (7th July 1810) but also 500 years since the Coningsby family purchased it from the founders, the Leinthalls. The Coningsby were by far the longest owners - for 300 years from 1510.

13th July 2010: North Herefordshire Group Farm Women's Club Talk

The Farm Women's Club was a national organisation established by the Farmer's Weekly magazine. The formal link with the magazine no longer exists, but many of the clubs survive still.

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Catherine spoke to the North Herefordshire group, some of whom farm on land that was formerly part of the Hampton Court estate. Given the profile of the group, she focussed on some of the women at Hampton Court in particular, and their role at the house, as well as identifying some of the farms and their tenants.

4th June 2010: After Dinner Speech Three Counties Show

On 4th June, Catherine attended a dinner for 200 Stewards of the annual Three Counties Show, at the Society's Showground in Malvern.

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She delivered the after-dinner speech, and enjoyed hearing from landowners and farmers from Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire of their connections with the Arkwright, Coventry and Chester-Master families mentioned in her talk, and the properties that they owned. The Society gives a dinner every year, just before its prestigious show, to thank Stewards for the contribution that they make to the success of the event. Catherine's grandfather, Trevor Price had been a judge of Hereford Cattle at the Show in the 1930s, and it was a great pleasure to renew the connection.

April & May 2010: April and May brought two events at Hampton Court

First on 23rd April 2010, an exclusive talk for Hampton Court Members, in the ballroom. This, called 'Movers and Shapers' covered the development of the house over the centuries, the men who financed it, and how.

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After that, on 18th May, Catherine led a tour of Hampton Court for Yalding Garden Society from Kent, who were on a week-long visit of Herefordshire gardens. It was an opportunity to draw out some of the connections between the Elizabethan owner of Hampton Court, Sir Thomas Coningsby, and his friend and relation Sir Philip Sidney, with whom he toured Europe. Penshurst, home of the Sidneys, is still well known for its Italianate gardens, probably influenced by their grand tour.

13th March 2010: Champagne & Shambles at Hampton Court

On the afternoon of Saturday 13th March, Catherine gave the talk to accompany her book, Champagne and Shambles at Hampton Court itself, where the story's events unfolded.

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The Hampton Court audience in today's ballroomTo speak in the Arkwrights' former drawing room, beneath, as she put it 'Johnny's bedroom' seemed a particularly appropriate setting. About 65 people forsook a spring afternoon outside to learn about the factors that contributed to the demise of many landed estates in the second half of the nineteenth century. The event was hosted by Herefordshire Council's Reader Development Librarian, Anne-Marie Dossett, after various reading groups in the county had requested the book for their club. Several of Hampton Court's tour guides also attended, keen to learn more about the history of this remarkable house.


Catherine answers questionsAfterwards, an evaluation over tea and cakes yielded the following comments:

"Excellent, informative, very well presented, clearly spoken.

It was excellent enjoyed it immensely!

An excellent presentation Excellent- venue, speaker, subject.

Excellent talk

Excellent - good well structured talk with supporting slides and anecdotes lovely to be held in the appropriate property

Excellent speaker I could hear every word First Class"

24th February 2010: Champagne & Shambles and Hereford & Worcester's Historic Gardens

Around 75 members of Hereford & Worcester Gardens Trust travelled to Ledbury's Burgage Hall to hear about the consequences of the events described in Champagne & Shambles for the two counties' great gardens.

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The Trust is concerned to 'protect our historic parks and gardens' and Catherine's talk attempted to show why many of them had fallen into varying degrees of disrepair in the 20th century, from which some are now emerging.


She was afterwards thanked for 'such a full and fascinating lecture', and for giving the Trust such a 'brilliant start to our year', particularly by referring in her talk to so many places with which they were familiar, or were shortly to visit.

16th February 2010: U3A learn about 500 year old Tapestry

Catherine Beale spoke to Leominster U3A about the remarkable late-Medieval tapestry at St Andrew's Church, Presteigne, which this year celebrates its 500th birthday.

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Over sixty members heard her describe how this remarkable artefact - one of only two pre-Reformation ecclesiastical tapestries still in a church in Britain today - had survived. She also described recent conservation work to the fabric carried out at Hampton Court Palace's Textile Conservation Studio. Now, the U3A hopes to make a visit to Presteigne to see the tapestry in situ. "I came rather expecting to be bored," confessed one gentleman, "but what a fascinating subject!"


The tapestry, depicting the Entry into Jerusalem, will, appropriately, be a focus of special celebration at this year's Palm Sunday service at St Andrew's, Presteigne, at 11am.

9th January 2010: Derbyshire Paper Marks Paperback Launch

The publication of Champagne & Shambles in paperback resulted in a feature article in the Derby Evening Telegraph, on 9th January 2010.

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The Telegraph is, of course the 'local' paper of the Arkwrights' original home, Cromford in Derbyshire, where the Arkwright Society is based at Cromford Mill - now part of the World Heritage Site of the Derwent Valley. To read 'Tale of a Charming Gentleman', click here .

Friday 13th November 2009: Champagne and Shambles Launched in Paperback

Location: Lunchtime signing at Leominster's West Street bookshop, Borders Books

In mid-November 2009, the paperback of Champagne and Shambles was published by The History Press.

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The cover was redesigned to include a photograph of Johnny Arkwright, the 'Three Graces' and Charlie at the Hampton Court conservatory door, and the subtitle altered to The Arkwrights and the Country House in Crisis.


Owner Barry Simmons laid on champagne, and the date promised great potential for a shambles. However, it was anything but, with tremendous support from the town, including a visit from the Mayor, Richard Westwood, a photographer from the Hereford Journal, a queue on to the pavement, and a sell-out of all but a couple of copies in the window. More stock had to be delivered by local distributors Ludlow Books, in time for opening the next day. It was a great start for the new edition.


To enquire about any events by Catherine Beale, please contact: