The Elixir of the Gods: Discovered in Bournville – How One Special Food Item Began It’s Life On A Tree In Ghana And Fuelled The Excesses Of The Rich and Famous in London’s Capital County – St James’s Street, Middlesex

Throughout my life there has always been one faithful companion who not only kept me going when times were rough, but was also an exuberant buddy who wrapped me in a cloud of ecstasy celebrating the great times too.  That friend is chocolate.

During my early childhood in the Seventies, chocolate bars were given sparingly as a treat by my parents.  I had regular pocket money that I used to purchase penny sweets such as Cola Bottles, Spaceships, Rubbard/Custard Chews and Gob-Stoppers from the local newsagent. However, nothing could beat the taste of smooth, velvety chocolate whenever I got the chance to indulge.  In those days my favourites were Picnic Bar, Frys Chocolate Cream and of course the slightly crazy Curly Whirly.  One of my cousins worked for Nestles and would bring my brother and I small piles of reject Milky Bars which we loved!

In my teenage years, my school decided to open a small tuck shop which had a pretty good selection of chocolate.  Perhaps in those days (mis-guidedly) schools thought the pupils could be placated with a regular intake of sugar and fat because it also coincided with the introduction of ‘cafeteria’ style school meals – in which the former daily staple of meal and 2 veg was replaced by hamburger/chips and pizzas.  Needless to say, with the advent of both these things, us school kids were in seventh heaven!  With slightly more pocket money in my teenage years, I could also sometimes visit the tuck shop to indulge in favourites such as Maltesers, Crunchy and Fruit and Nut.

The Story of Chocolate from Ghana and Discovering Cadbury World

My recent trip to Cadbury World in Bournville, Birmingham brought back strong memories of early days in development of my chocolate taste buds and was a fantastic journey into the history of this much enjoyed food item.  As the exhibition explains, the Aztecs (whose Empire flourished from 1300-1521) enjoyed a chocolate drink prepared from cacao seeds which they believed were a gift from the god of wisdom Quetzalcoatl.  Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes is thought to have been one of the first to bring chocolate to Europe from the Aztec Empire in 1528.

Ghana in West Africa is one of the main countries where Mondelez International (who now own the Cadbury’s Brand) buy their chocolate.  I travelled to Ghana 10 years ago and took these pics of the cocoa pods growing on the trees.

Cocoa Pod

The cocoa trees there each produce around 30 pods each year. Each pod contains 30-40 seeds, which sit in a sweet white pulp, a bit like cotton wool.  These seeds are the cocoa beans.  It actually takes a whole year’s crop from one tree to make 1lb (454g) of cocoa.  When they’re ripe, the cocoa pods turn a rich golden colour. They are then cut down from the trees and the pulp and beans are removed from the outside husk. The beans are then fermented between banana leaves.  The wet beans are then dried in the sun as shown.

The beans are then graded according to quality, selected by Mondelez and shipped to the UK.  There they are roasted, kibbled (broken into small pieces) and winnowed (the broken shells blown away) leaving just the ‘nibs’ – centre of the beans.  The nibs are then ground until they become a thick chocolate coloured liquid which is the basic ingredient for all cocoa and chocolate products.

In the exhibition you can view a wonderful selection of old chocolate advertising. Remember the Cadbury’s Flake Girl delighting in the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate or contrastingly Terry Scott extoiling the virtues of non-crumbly Curly Whirly?  Although, at the moment you can’t see the factory line in action, you can view the production of some of weird and wonderful hand-decorated chocolates which can be bought in the exhibition shop (see chocolate shoes).

 

Inside Cadbury World – hand decorated chocolates

I am looking forward to trying the Milk Chocolate Cocoa Pod I purchased which actually contains some of the nibs produced earlier in the chocolate making cycle which I was assured by one of the Cadbury World staff are very interesting to try having slightly more bitter taste than regular chocolate.

Chocolate cocoa pod from Cadbury World

Chocolate Houses

During my visit to Cadbury Word I discovered that Chocolate Houses became popular with high society in Middlesex during the 17th century and rivalled Coffee Houses for their business.  One of the first Chocolate Houses was opened by a Frenchman on Queen’s Alley in Bishopsgate Street and it’s chocolate was advertised as a ‘West Indian Drink’.  Italian, Francis White, opened White’s Chocolate House in 1697 at 4 Chesterfield Street which was then moved to 37 St James’s Street where you can still view the exterior of the building.

Whites
Whites

In those days the drink was marketed – among other things – as an aid to fertility, a cure for consumption and indigestion and even revered for it’s ability to reverse the ageing process.  The diarist Samuel Pepys even lauded it’s properties as a remarkable hangover cure.

17th century White’s had a somewhat decadent and debauched reputation being featured in William Hogarth’s 6th episode of A Rake’s Progress.  One story of the extreme gambling activities behind it’s doors was revealed by the son of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, Horace Walpole.  Apparently, when a man collapsed in the street he was brought into White’s and bets were taken as to whether or not he was dead.  He is thought to have died shortly afterwards.  Other typical bets included whether or not certain members would survive the year, get married or political bets around events taking place during the French Revolution or Napoleonic Wars.  Other pastimes revolved around such things as card playing, dice, poetry recital, newspaper reading and political debate.

White’s is now an exclusive gentleman’s club – rumoured over the years to have been a haunt of Prince Charles, Prince William and even former PM David Cameron.  In fact, it seems that it was is so exclusive that I had some trouble locating it.  Upon making a phone call for directions a rather suspicious voice enquired upon my business in the club.  Not surprising as further research revealed that even in 2017 the only female to ever to have set foot across it’s doorstep was none other than the Queen herself back in 1991.  The club is said to have a 9 year waiting list with many applicants regularly turned down.

The Future

The story of chocolate is constantly evolving.  For example, in the case of Cadbury’s, the acquisition by Mondelez resulted in the combining of traditional Cadbury’s chocolate products such as Diary Milk with Mondelez products such as Oreo biscuit – something many purists might be none too keen on.  However, perhaps consumers are more open to change these days as, according to The Food and Beverages Website, Dairy Milk and Oreo is one of their best selling co-branded lines.

Worldwide, the popularity of chocolate shows no sign of diminishing with increasing growth particularly in markets in Asian Pacific countries where consumers are becoming more accustomed to Western tastes and demand is growing.

To find out more about the story of chocolate, visit

Cadbury World,
Linden Road, Bournville
Birmingham B30 1JR

If you travel by train to Cadbury World with London Midland, Virgin or Chiltern Trains you can get a 30% discount with pre-booked tickets to Cadbury World with pre-booked train tickets https://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/cadbury-world

The Story Of The Gadget King of Middlesex Who Inspired The Creation Of Wallace And Gromit

Knowing how best to spend the valuable time created by a 3 day Bank Holiday weekend can be tricky.  As Wallace said to Gromit whilst reading Cheese Holiday Magazine and trying to plan his own holiday weekend –  in the 1989 animation ‘A Grand Day Out’ – ‘We’ll go somewhere where there’s cheese – everyone knows the moon is made of cheese..!’  However, this coming Bank Holiday, it may not be necessary to go to the end of the earth or sit in a long traffic jam to find the ideal place to spend a few hours.  In fact, the best place may be right here in Middlesex in a wonderful gem of a museum in Pinner Memorial Park, which celebrates the life of artist Heath Robinson whose work influenced the animator Nick Park in the creation of cartoon heroes Wallace and Gromit.

In a sense, my journey to writing this post began several months ago.  I had called out an electrician to advise me on installation of electrical sockets at home.  As he surveyed the mass of cabling and adaptors in the corner of my living room he drew a sharp breath.  I tried to explain that I had never had enough electric sockets to furnish the mass of modern appliances that I need to keep going – such as TVs, Sky TV, DVD players, recharging points for ‘phones etc., and he muttered ‘it’s a certainly bit Heath Robinson, isn’t it?’  I didn’t think anything much about the electrician’s phraseology to describe my botched electrical circuitry until some months later, when I had the chance learn more about the life of the artist behind an expression that became so well used it became part of the English language.

The Heath Robinson museum is a few minutes walk from the entrance to Pinner Memorial Park.  It’s quite a new museum having only opened in 2016.  It was funded by the National Lottery so it’s good to know those ticket purchasers who, though failing to become millionaires, actually contributed to the existence of this amazing place.

The museum consists of two main rooms, one room contains the exhibition of the work of Heath Robinson and the other a fascinating exhibition of Rejuvenated Junk which runs until 3rd September 2017.

The Exhibition Of The Work of Heath Robinson

Heath Robinson was born on 31 May 1872 in Finsbury Park, Middlesex. He lived in Moss Lane, Pinner from 1908-1918. He came from an artistic family with his father a regular illustrator for the Penny Illustrated News and his brothers Charles and Tom both book illustrators. Although Heath had initially dreamt of becoming a landscape painter (and some of his early paintings can be viewed in the museum) he found that this occupation didn’t earn him enough to pay the bills.  Therefore, when he left art school he began working as a book illustrator with his brothers from his father’s studio in the City of London.  His early successes included the illustrations for Indian Folk tales from the Ramayana and a selection of the poems of Edgar Alan Poe for Studio Magazine. He gained some financial stability from the success of the 1902 publication called Adventures of Uncle Lubin which he wrote as well as illustrated.  In this book you can see early examples of illustrations of some of the zany gadgets for which he became well known.

During World War 1, Heath Robinson became popular with both soldiers and civilians using gentle satire and ridiculousness as an antidote to pompous German propaganda and the terror of war.

While living in Pinner, he was commissioned to illustrate Shakepeare’s Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After the War, Health Robinson left Pinner and took his family to live in the country in Cranleigh, Surrey.  At this time, he focussed on advertising and humorous drawings for magazines.  His work highlighted the human condition, the workings of fate and weakness of man.  In the 1930s he published a series of books written with KRG Brown with titles such as How to Live In A Flat, How To Be A Perfect Father, How To Make A Garden Grow, How To Be A Motorist.  The How To Books established him as ‘The Gadget King’.  In these books he illustrated a range of weird and wonderful contraptions poking fun at modernism in design and architecture.  For example, in How to Live In A Flat, there were sections on how to prove there is room to swing a cat in your living-room and inventive space-saving solutions, such as the ‘Combination Bath and Writing Desk for Business Men’, the ‘Bed Dining-table’ and the ‘Dresser-Piano’.  The nearest modern day equivalent of books using this type of concept I can think of would perhaps be something like the Ladybird Series of Books for Adults.

How To Books
How To Book

 

 

In 1934 the Daily Mail asked him to design a ‘Gadget House’ for The Ideal Home Exhibition. A firm was paid to construct a giant doll sized house with the front removed to reveal the inner workings.  Robinson found creative solutions to problems such as middle-class families not having enough money to employ servants by replacing them with pieces of string, so that people could bring themselves whatever they wanted without moving from their chairs — the early 20th-century version of remote control.  Perhaps surprisingly, Heath Robinson never made any actual models himself, but the exhibition does have a fantastic Heath Robinson-esque type model constructed by a local school called ‘An ingenious device for the successful performance of opening ceremonies’.  According to the museum signage when operational ‘music is played to calm children before the dramatic cutting of the ribbon, enabling the Master of Ceremonies to accomplish the task with rapt attention, while appearing to have complete control of time’.

The onset of World War 2 filled Heath Robinson with a sense of foreboding.  His sons went off to fight in the war and it seems that he found the whole situation so difficult to contemplate that he could not directly include it in his artistic output instead choosing to focus his work on poking fun of British soldiers and civilians on the home front.  He died in 1944 and is buried in East Finchley Cemetery.

The Rejuvenated Junk Exhibition

This exhibition is inspired by the series of drawings created by Heath Robinson in 1935 called Rejuvenated Junk, illustrating new uses for unwanted objections.  Some of the drawings were used to illustrate an article entitled ‘At Home With Heath Robinson’, written by KRG Browne and published in The Strand Magazine.  The exhibition features several of these drawings and an incredible collection of upcycled and recycled objects from 33 countries around the world collected by knowtrash http://knowtrash.com/

Nesting box
Stove from Mexico
Stove from Mexico

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Shoulder Bag from Vietnam – newspaper cut into strips and woven with thread

 

 

Bag made from metal drink cans
Boat made from Coke cans

After viewing the exhibition, you may wish to take a stroll around Pinner Memorial Park which has a nice little café, pond and children’s play area.

Pinner Memorial Park
Heath Robinson Museum and Cafe

 

The Heath Robinson Museum,
Pinner Memorial Park,
West End Lane, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 1AE
020 8866 8420

Open from Thursday-Sunday (Check website below for opening times)

https://www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org/

The Museum is less than 10 minutes’ walk from Pinner station on the Metropolitan Line (lifts in station serving both platforms). Four buses stop even closer, on Bridge St: H11, H12, H13 and 183.

If driving, there is a car park next to the entrance of Pinner Memorial Park.

Watch the following to view examples of the work of Heath Robinson:

Wallace and Gromit Plan their Bank Holiday:

Discovered In The War Zone of Brentford, Middlesex – Controversial Characters Through History (Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Prince Rupert and Charles the 1st)

Some people think that the formidable angel in the plaster over-mantel above the fireplace in the State Drawing Room in Boston Manor House, Middlesex is a dead-ringer for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Boston Manor House – Mrs T look-a-like / Abraham and Issac

The fireplace dates from 1623 and the plaster over-mantel was inspired by an engraving by Abraham de Bruyn of 1584.  The central oval medallion depicts the biblical story of Abraham about to sacrifice his son, Issac and being stopped by an angel (the Mrs Thatcher look-a-like). The inscription below reads ‘In the Mount of the Lord it shal be seene’.  The story goes that God was testing Abraham’s faith by instructing him to kill his only son. According to legend God stopped Abraham in the act at the last minute and instead instructed him to kill a sheep.

Drawing Room Fireplace Boston Manor House

Maybe seeing the Mrs T lookalike image was an omen because it seemed to me during my recent visit to Boston Manor House and Brentford that this area of Middlesex was significant to the lives of some difficult and rebellious characters throughout history.  In this post I thought I’d focus on a couple of these characters at a pivotal point in English history.  To do this we need to go back in time to the early days of the English Civil War in November 1642.

Incredible as it may seem at that time Brentford was something of a war zone with the Royalist forces advancing through Brentford towards the Parliamentarians who were encamped in London.  During the height of the Civil War, a surprise cavalry charge in the area against the Parliamentarian forces was led by a charismatic German soldier called Prince Rupert the nephew of King Charles I of England.  Rupert was known for his youthful arrogance which alienated many of the King’s senior advisers, particularly as Rupert was exempted from taking orders from anyone but King Charles himself.

On the morning of 12 November, taking advantage of a thick mist, Prince Rupert advanced with four regiments of horses along the Great West Road towards Brentford, Middlesex.  His forces attacked the small Roundhead garrison who defended the town in hand to hand combat.  Many Roundheads were driven down to the river and drowned.  The battle continued throughout the day, with a retreat of survivors made possible, upon the arrival of Colonel John Hampden’s regiment from Uxbridge, Middlesex.

After the capture of the town Prince Rupert ordered that it should be destroyed.  Boats and nets of fishermen were burned, goods stolen, homes pillaged and residents turned out. The delay caused by the Royalist destruction of the town gave the Earl of Essex the opportunity to gather the Parliamentary troops and, in a pivotal point in the fighting, the Royalist army went into retreat after a stand-off at nearby Turnham Green the following day.  In blocking the Royalist army’s way to London, the Parliamentarians gained an important strategic victory as the standoff forced Rupert’s forces to retreat to Oxford (the King’s capital) for secure winter quarters.

The mellow side of Rupert’s character was shown through his love for his dog called ‘Boy’.  The white poodle was thought to have been given to him during his time in prison in the thirty year war.  It was believed by some Roundheads that ‘Boy’ had possession of supernatural powers as a ‘dog-witch’.

It is rumoured that Charles I had watched part of the Battle of Brentford in 1642 from the roof of Boston Manor House.

Charles the First was certainly a controversial figure himself.  He was reserved (he had a residual stammer), self-righteous and had a high concept of royal authority, believing in the divine right of kings. He was a good linguist and considered to be a man of refined tastes.  He spent a lot on the arts, inviting the artists Van Dyck and Rubens to work in England, and buying a great collection of paintings by Raphael and Titian, his expenditure on his court, his picture collection as well as a number of overseas conflicts greatly increased the crown’s debts.

Charles married Roman Catholic French princess Henrietta Maria in 1625.  Parliament were concerned about the marriage because they did not want to see a return to Catholicism and they believed that a Catholic Queen would raise their children to the Catholic faith.

Charles’s ideology was opposed by those who believed that there should be a limit to Royal authority and that the people and their representatives – Parliament – should have a say in how the nation was governed.

In an act that marked the beginning of the English Civil War, on 22 August 1642 in Nottingham, Charles raised the Royal Standard calling for loyal subjects to support him.

In common with Prince Rupert, King Charles the First was also a dog lover and before his execution for high treason in Whitehall in 1649, one of his last wishes to be granted was to go for a last walk with his pet dog in St James’ Park.

Prior to the days of unrest of the Civil War, the Manor of Boston was inherited by Lady Mary Read in 1621 who was married to Sir Edward Spencer of Althorp, Northamptonshire – an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales (and her second husband).  Boston Manor House was believed to have been completed in a hurry by local builders in 1623 to be ready for the marriage of Sir Edward and Lady Mary (problems with the walls and foundations have long bedevilled the house).  Mary Read’s initials and the date 1623 can be seen on the ceiling and at the top of a drainpipe overlooking the back lawn of the house.

When Charles I watched the Battle of Brentford from the roof of Boston Manor House he may have warmed himself against the chill of the November evening in front of a roaring fire at the spectacular fireplace showing the story of Abraham and Issac?  To be a fly on the wall and hear the conversations between him and Sir Edward and Lady Mary (who if the rumours are true must have been sympathetic to the Royalist cause) would have been fascinating.

Boston Manor was home to the Clitherow family from 1670 to 1924.  It’s thought that the Clitherow moto ‘Loyal yet Free’ was painted above the fireplace in the state drawing room at around 1670.  The Clitherow family had a long association with Middlesex being magistrates at both the Middlesex and Brentford sessions.   James Clitherow (1766-1841) was also a Colonel of the Royal Westminster Middlesex Militia and Chairman of the Committee instrumental in setting up Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum in Hanwell.

Although much of the contents of the old house were sold at auction in the 1920s, you can still view much of the original features including some very rare locally made wallpaper which was fashionable in the 18th century.  The wallpaper would have been hand blocked in sections, not in a roll as it is nowadays.  Each section included 5 different colours which would have to have been applied separately.  The wallpaper would have likely been extremely expensive in those days.

Wallpaper – Boston Manor House

The Drawing Room ceiling is a highlight of any visit to Boston Manor.  Dating from 1623 it is divided into panels showing figures illustrating the senses (Light, Taste, Touch, Hearing and Smell) and the elements (Earth, Air, Water and Fire), Peace and Plenty, War and Peace, and Faith Hope and Charity.   The elements are from designs by the painter Marc Gheeraeharts.  The idea of the ceiling was that an uplifting day could be spent reading and meditating of the meaning of the design.

Ceiling – Boston Manor House
Interior – Boston Manor House
Interior – Staircase – Boston Manor House

Whilst very few people are going to have the luxury of appreciating the ceiling for a whole day, a couple of hours discovering Boston Manor House is time well spent.  It’s open every Saturday and Sunday until 29 October 2017.  Not only is it FREE of charge to go in but there’s even a guided tour at 2:30pm.

Location: Boston Manor Road, Brentford, Middlesex, TW8 9JX.

Tel: 0208 568 2818

Public Transport:

Train – Boston Manor (Piccadilly Line) 200 yards from the house, Brentford Station
Bus – E3 , E8, 195

Find out more by visiting Friends of Boston Manor and The London Borough of Hounslow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Travels of a Middlesaxon  From Birmingham To Egypt via Middlesex – A tale of 3 Sphinxes

I was in Birmingham last weekend.  Here I am posing with one of the two Guardian Sphinxes of the City.  I have been acquainted with a number of Sphinxes in my time – the others being the bronze Sphinxes either side of Cleopatra’s Needle on Thames Embankment in Middlesex – London’s Capital County and the original Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt.

Guardian Sphinx of Birmingham

So what exactly is a Sphinx?  According to ancient Greek legend, this creature has the head of a human, the haunches of a lion and sometimes the wings of a bird.  It is said to be treacherous and merciless.  Those who cannot answer the riddle of the Sphinx are killed and eaten by this terrifying creature.  In Greek mythology, it was prophesized by The Oracle that Oedipus – who was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta would end up killing his father and marrying his mother.  The prophecy resulted in his parents abandoning him on a mountain.  Oedipus was raised by King Polybus and Queen Merope.  When Oedipus learned of the prophecy believed he was fated to murder Polybus and marry Merope, so left for Thebes.  On arriving in Thebes, Oedipus found the city at the mercy of an evil Sphinx.  Oedipus was able to answer the Sphinx’s riddle correctly, defeating it and ascending to the throne of the dead King and marrying the King’s widow who unbeknown to him was his mother Jocasta.

The 2 Birmingham Guardian Sphinxes are a fairly recent addition to the City Centre dating from 1993 and can be found outside the Town Hall and Council Offices in Victoria Square.  The sculptures – made from the same Darley Dale stone as the Council House – are 3 m (10 ft) high, 2.5 m (8 ft) wide and 5 m (16 ft) long. The sculptures are not identical and take features from a variety of animals. They have been ridiculed by some for having faces like characters in the children’s television series Thomas and Friends.

The two bronze Sphinxes at the base of Cleopatra’s Needle on Thames Embankment, Middlesex -London’s Capital County  are Victorian and were designed by the Architect George John Vulliamy.  On the second image below you can still indentations at the base of the Sphinxes caused by a bomb dropped on London during a German air raid at mid-night on 4th September 1917.

Sphinx – Cleopatra’s Needle, London
Sphinx – Cleopatra’s Needle, London

The Great Sphinx in Egypt is one of the world’s largest and oldest statues that is believed to have been carved from limestone in approximately 2500BC for the pharaoh Khafra, the builder of the Second Pyramid at Giza.  Cut from the bedrock, the original shape of the Sphinx has been restored with layers of blocks.  It measures 238 feet (73 m) long from paw to tail, 66.3 ft (20.21 m) high from the base to the top of the head and 62.6 feet (19 m) wide at its rear haunches.  The statue faces from West to East.  The face of the Sphinx is believed to be that of the pharaoh Khafra.  In ancient Egypt the Sphinx had a more charitable reputation that of the Greek Sphinx but was thought of as having a temper – being known by local Bedouin tribes as ‘father of terror’.  It addition to the loss of it’s nose, the Egyptian Sphinx was thought by some to have originally have had a ceremonial beard and have been covered in a vivid paint.

Sphinx – Egypt

I wonder how many more Sphinxes I can find on my future travels.  I would be interested to know if anyone knows of any others in the UK, Middlesex or worldwide.

The Travels of a Middlesaxon: Rare Saxon Sword Decorations Found In The Kingdom Of Mercia With A £2.50 Metal Detector

On the 5th July 2009 unemployed Terry Herbert was sweeping a friend’s field with a cheap metal detector near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, Staffordshire, England and to his amazement unearthed the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold.

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is now home to this collection which is known as The Staffordshire Hoard.

The hord, which is thought to date from around 7th century AD, totals 5.094 kilos of gold, 1.442 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets.  The collection includes decorative sword hilts (handles) and pommel caps (the fitting from the top of the sword handle that anchors the hilt fittings to the sword blade).

Pommel caps, hilt guards and collars – Birmingham Museum

 

Damaged hilt plate, Mount with Filigree Decoration, Wire loop from sword handle, Mount

 

The image below shows an Anglo-Saxon sword found on Chiswell Down on the Isle of Wight that dates from the 5th/6th century (original sword is shown on left – a replica is on the right).

Anglo Saxon Sword on left 5/6 century – Birmingham Museum

At the time the hord was buried Lichfield was part of the Kingdom of Mercia. The Kingdom of Mercia was created by native Britons and incoming Saxons.  Mercia means the ‘Marches’, the borderlands between the English and the Welsh.  At its height Mercia stretched from Wales to East Anglia and from the Humber to the Thames.

Swords were rare in Anglo-Saxon England – only nobility and the King’s elite warriors had swords with gold or silver handles. Swords were given names and believed to have their own personalities.

When he died in 1014AD, Aethelstan, the son of King Aethelred II, left 10 swords in his will.  They included First …. to Christ and St Peter …. the sword with the silver hilt which Wulfric made; …. and to my father, King Aethelred …. the silver-hilted sword which belonged to Earl Ulfketel; … and to Edmund my brother I grant the sword with the pitted hilt  …. and to my brother Eadwig a silver-hilted sword.

Mercia was often at war with other Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms.   Perhaps decorative sword fittings of the type shown in the photos above adorned the weapons used by King Aethelstan’s descendants in battle In Middlesex?

The gold could have been collected during wars with the Kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia. Some of the items were bent and twisted.  Maybe the hord was hurriedly buried when the owner was in danger? The fact it was never recovered suggests the owner was probably killed.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Chamberlain Square
Birmingham, B3 3DH

 

6 Worldwide Spring Celebrations And The Danger Of Forgetting of Our County’s Own Special Day

Springtime is just as challenging a time of the year as Winter. Whilst I find it cheering to view trees laden with blossom and see the first buds and blooms, this time of the year also gets me thinking with a greater intensity of the things that are less than perfect in the world and my life in general.

I am more aware of the passage of time and my often futile efforts to achieve anything of note on a day to day basis.  The World seems a more unstable place than it ever has been in my lifetime – with war and threat of more war just around the corner.

I suppose this is why people do practical things like Spring cleaning at this time of the year.  The fresher brighter light tends to make the cob-webs and dust that much more visible. Either we attack the dirt and dust or find some way of living with it until winter comes again and it’s no longer so noticeable.

This is why Springtime is peak season for festivals around the world.  Getting out and doing something a bit unusual or a bit crazy helps you to forget about the depressing stuff and clear your mind for the future.  Festivals unite communities and provide a chance to make new friends and renew old aquaintances.  Celebrations provide a connection to past history and the hopes of the future.

Here’s a selection of some of the most unusual festivals I could find that take place around this time of the year:-

(1) The Cheung Chau Bun Festival in Hong Kong – Every year around this time 2 huge bamboo mountains covered with handmade buns are set up near Pak Tai Temple on the Island of Cheung Chau a short ferry ride from the city.  The festivities in celebration of the God Pak Tai, who is said to have conquered plague and evil spirits on the Island, culminate in a “bun scrambling contest” at mid-night on the last day.

(2) The Bunun Ear Shooting Festival – Takes place in the Village of Yongkang, Yanping District, Taitung County, Taiwan.  The contests taking place during these festivities sharpen the hunting skills of warriors and teach young boys these traditional skills. In the past, the targets would have been the ears of pigs and deer but now they are animal shaped targets drawn on pieces of cardboard.

(3) The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in Gloucester, England.  From the top of a hill a 9lb round of Double Gloucester Cheese is rolled and and competitors start racing down the hill after it.  The aim is to reach the cheese.  However, with the cheese reaching speeds of up to 70mph that is unlikely that this would happen, so the first person to reach the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. In 2013, for reasons of health and safety, a foam replica replaced the actual cheese.

(4) The Sanja Matsuri or Three Shrine Festival takes place in Asakusa, Tokyo held in honour of the 3 men (Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari, and Hajino Nakatomo) who founded the Buddhist Temple of Senso-ji.  During the festival days, people flood the streets surrounding the Senso-ji and the air is filled with the sounds of flutes, whistles, chanting and taiko (traditional Japanese drums).  Three black lacquered wood shrines decorated with gold sculptures and painted with gold leaf are paraded through the streets. Other festival attractions include Geisha (traditional Japanese female entertainers), Taiko performances and tatoo displays by Yakuza (criminal syndicate) members.

(5) Teachers’ Day in South Korea – Pupils traditionally pay their respects to their teachers by presenting them with carnations and handmade “love cards” expressing messages of gratitude towards their teachers.  Teachers’ Day in South Korea is said to have originated in Seoul back in 1963 after a team of Red Cross youth members began visiting their sick ex-teachers in hospitals.

(6) Kattenstoet – The Festival of the Cats takes place in Ypres, Belgium.  The festivities include a parade to mark the Ypres tradition from the Middle Ages in which cats were thrown from the belfry tower of the Cloth Hall to the town square below.  It is said that the cats were associated with witchcraft and that killing them was thought to rid the town of evil spirits. Another story says that the cats were kept to control vermin attracted to wool stored in the town and were cruelly disposed of when the temperature warmed up and the wool had been sold in Springtime.

Why We Risk Losing Touch With The Past

Researching a little further into the background of these festivals makes enlightening reading.  It’s just a shame that some landmarks in time are overlooked and at risk of being forgotten. For example, many people do not realise that today is actually Middlesex Day. This day marks the victory of the Middlesex Regiment (known as the “Die Hards) on 16 May 1811  (The TV series starring Sean Bean was based on them) in stopping the advance of Napoleon’s French forces into Portugal giving the British and Wellington to time to
re-trench.

When those men who survived returned home to Middlesex they would have depended upon their family and support of community to help them to recover from the trauma of war and lead productive lives in the future.  However, it seems that the ultimate sacrifice the men made in the name of the County may not have been enough to secure a place in the hearts and minds of future generations and Middlesex Day is in danger of being forgotten.

Many festivals which take place around the world arose to commemorate war and other challenging situations.  Does it take something as life changing as this in order for us to change the lives of others for the better?

All too often in my own life I find myself focusing and worrying about unimportant things rather than choosing to take simple steps to work towards my own personal goals as well as hopefully make the world a better place in any small way I can.

As John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when your busy making other plans”.

Taking Action to Create a Better Future

Half way through writing this post I got up to make one of numerous numbers of cups of coffee that I enjoy sitting at my computer.  The simple act of just turning on a tap and getting water to drink or make a beverage is an unknown concept in many corners of the globe.

According to United Nations 2013 data some 783 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and 2.5 billion do not have adequate sanitation.  I cannot image what it must be like to walk for miles in over-whelming heat to fill a bucket with polluted water that would quench your thirst but damage your health.

Whilst making my coffee, I remembered an organisation that I had heard about recently called Global Angels.

In an act of metaphorical Spring cleaning, rather than undertaking some dusting or sorting of papers, when I returned to my computer, I went straight to the Global Angels website and made a donation.

The exciting thing is that just one simple act of donating a tenner means that one person in Africa is provided with clean drinking water for 20 years!!  So whilst I may not be able to create something as huge as world peace I can take just a small step like this and create a big change in someone’s life that is arguably much more important.

These days people worry about their donation going to the right place but with these guys they do give a promise that every penny of your donation will go straight to their work on the ground.

In honor of the spirit of the Middlesex “Die Hards” and Middlesex Day, why not send a tenner to Global Angels and make that glass of water or cup of tea or coffee taste that much more wonderful knowing that you’ve provided someone with clean drinking water for 20 years.

Happy Middlesex Day to all!

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese New Year Celebrations in Sydney – Australia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oaxaca Mexico – Festivities

 

Why The Killing Of The Brexit Dragon by St George Creates An Incredible Opportunity For Reinvention Of The English National Identity: An Old Legend re-imagined in honour of St George’s Day 23 April:

 Just the other day I was considering how the legend of St George could be applied to the challenges facing the UK at the moment as we march towards Brexit.  I had fun putting together the following semi-fictional scenario based on real events. 

Once upon a time on the North Western edge of a large Continent there was a small tea drinking island nation inclined to dull wet weather which the people took great pleasure discussing, moaning and commenting on at regular intervals.

At the end last World War, this class ridden island – know as the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – was made up of mainly well meaning people doing their bit to get by.  At that time, on the large continent there lived a seemingly benign dragon called Europe which had been bashed around a bit during the war and was in the process of re-inventing herself.

As the years went by the Dragon Europe recovered and some parts of it prospered and became more powerful.  The political leaders of the small island looked on enviously.  Their small island had also suffered during the war.  Having come through the post-war rebuilding and the boom times of the swinging sixties they reached the more tricky era of the seventies – with industrial unrest and increasing unemployment they wondered if closer links to the dragon might help secure a more stable and peaceful future for their island.  Dragon Europe had sensed their interest for some time and conducted a campaign of flirtation and seduction of the UK political leaders.

In 1972 one of those leaders – a slippery character known as Grocer Tedward Heath – took one of the most significant steps towards closer ties with Dragon Europe by enacting the European Communities Bill through an ordinary vote in the House of Commons – having gone back on his word that it would be wrong if any Government were to take this step ‘without the full hearted consent of Parliament and people’.  Heath did not have a referendum at the time as opinion polls showed that the island people were opposed to joining the European Club.  The British constitution – though not formalised in the same way as the US constitution –  according to Magna Carta (1215), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1701) requires a prior consultation of the people (either by a general election or a referendum) on any measure involving constitutional change.  The European Communities Bill legislated for the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Communities (EC) (which was the collective term for the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Economic Community (also known at the time as the “Common Market”) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC) and also legislated for the incorporation of European Union law (then Community law) into the domestic law of the United Kingdom.

This was just part of a series of sacrifices to be made to Dragon Europe made through the decades.

In 1975 the Government of Baron Old Harry Wilson sought to put the constitutional error right by having a retrospective referendum posing the question `Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?’  So the UK islanders were asked if they should join something they had already joined.

The islanders were lied to again (a recurring theme) being told that they were just joining a free trade association so by majority voted to stay in not realising the original lie by Grocer Tedward Heath had caused the illegal enaction of the European Communities Bill before Parliament without conducting a referendum and that Old Harry Wilson was perpetuating the lie.

As the years went by the ferocious fire breathing dragon became ever more demanding leading to even more sacrificial legislation in the form of the Single European Act (1986), The Maastrict Treaty (1992), the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) and The Treaty of Lisbon (2007) resulting in diminished UK control in the areas of law making, foreign/security policy and immigration.  Some of the more crazy rulings of the EU involved the drawing up of an EU-wide banana import regime (Regulation 404/93) categorising mis-shapen bananas as sub-standard and rulings on the shape of cucumbers (which needed to be perfectly straight) – which were eventually overturned but remains on the guidebooks and a ban on powerful vacuum cleaners in 2014 for not being energy efficient but resulting numerous dirty carpets up and down the island.

From the late 1990s, a beer swilling soldier by the name of St George De Farage took up arms against the Parliament of the European Dragon repeatedly calling it’s actions into question.  De Farage fought on from over 20 years – alternatively being condemed as a deluded fruit cake and racist by many.  Some doubted his ulterior motives – being an ex-city person maybe he was just looking to make some money for his old mates there? In 2016 he was finally able to fatally damage Dragon Europe when the British Government – led by Cameron Le Toff – finally agreed to hold a referendum.  Cameron Le Toff agreed to hold the referendum hoping that this political hot potato would be dealt with once and for all not expecting that the islanders would vote to leave.  As a result of the leave vote De Farage was finally able to retire to prop up the bars of Kent for the rest of his life.

Moving back into reality, now that the UK is on the path to Brexit, in this special festival day of 23 April 2017 of the real St George, this post now considers the following 6 opportunities for the English to re-invent their nation-hood :-

(1) If Brexit does lead to the break up of the United Kingdom – with Scotland aiming to stay in the EU – surely we should have our own non-political unifying figure on a special day when we can celebrate everything special about being English – just as the Scottish, Welsh and Irish do.   Would St George be such a bad choice?  There is an advantage that he is not actually English as he is certainly someone celebrated in a multi-cultural sense also being the patron saint of  Portugal, Venice, Beirut, Malta,Ethiopia, Georgia, the Palestinian territories, Serbia and Lithuania.

(2) If we don’t adopt St George what about making a bigger fuss of the English counties? Could we unite behind the Flags of say Middlesex, Essex, Somerset or Suffolk – and the people of those counties who achieved great things?  Completely dropping the St George flag design and going for county celebrations could be one way of avoiding the sometimes perceived negative connotations of the flag of St George being thought of by some as a racist symbol.

(3) Alternatively, we could re-design the flag of St George.  23rd of April is the date of birth and date of Shakespeare – so what about super-imposing the image of Shakespeare above the flag.  The bard could be a good non-controversial choice – uniting people locally, nationally and internationally.

(4) What if all UK counties were to have their own special day – as in Middlesex Day on 16th May – a day where we could celebrate all that is wonderful on our own doorstep – such as tasty local produce and local entertainment – eg. musicians, comedians.

(5) If nothing else, having a special day for St George or the English counties (Middlesex Day) is an excuse for a national holiday. Everyone works far too hard these days and the UK has too few Bank Holidays as it is (as I publish this post I note that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed national holidays for St George’s Day, St Andrews, St David’s Day, St Patrick’s Day in the election campaign).

(6) Embracing the culture of the English counties would enable people to get over the divisive referendum campaign and put aside any perceived guilt or embarrassment of some of the less wonderful aspects of the history of England.

If any of the above fail, at least we’ve re-gained control over the shape of our bananas and cucumbers and turbo power has been restored to our vacuum cleaners!

All the best and Happy St George’s Day to you.

Photos below – St George’s Day Feast, Trafalgar Square, London 22 April 2017

Are The British Are The Party Poopers Of The World When It Comes To Celebrating Their Own Culture?

Can you imagine for one moment, Americans not wanting to celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, the French not wanting to mark Bastille Day with a grand military parade along the Champs-Elysees or the Irish not celebrating St Patrick’s Day by downing a few pints of Guinness and painting the town green?

The very thought sounds ridiculous.  So why is it that the British are so reticent about celebrating the things that are wonderful about our country?   We know that there were both good and bad aspects to the British Empire – but do we need to be hung up on the bad forever?  It doesn’t make sense.  No-one would advocate, for example, that the modern day Germans should feel a sense of guilt about Hitler and World War 2.

On the 23 April this year we had the opportunity to celebrate the birth and 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare as well as St George’s Day at a number of events organised around the country.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a Bank Holiday on 23 April for the triple celebration for St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s Birthday and the creation of the English Counties?

Most English counties have long and colourful history that dates back as far as The Middle Ages.  A visit to a Tourist Information Office in any town in the UK, will reveal a multitude of attractions large and small.  In fact, I’ve found that some of the lesser known places of interest are often the most worthwhile but regularly overlooked and it is these which I take the most delight in writing about in this blog.

Last year I visited a number of County Shows and was fascinated to be able to view some of the many and varied collections on display.  The question is, how many other collections are there like this up and down the country that never see the light of day?

chertsey agricultural show - Fullers cart

chertsey agricultural show United Diaries Yiewsley

Old Fullers London Pride and United Dairies, Yiewsley Carts on display at Chertsey Agricultural Show 2015

 

 

Essex County Show

Essex County Shows

Essex County ShowCollection of metal plates used on engines at Essex County Show – 2015

 

A Bank Holiday to celebrate all these things would give us all a chance to connect with each other and reflect on the goods points about the Britain of the past and present.  It would be a great opportunity for people to learn a bit more about their own locality and on a larger scale to visit counties nearby and further afield.  The publicity surrounding such a Bank Holiday would also surely stretch overseas thereby promoting tourism and interest worldwide.

Today, 16th May 2016, is Middlesex Day.  Although dissolved as an administrative authority in the minds and hearts of those who live or have lived there it will always will be the place of their home rather than another anonymous chunk of London. Find out more about Middlesex and its special day here and here.  Some years ago we used to have our own Middlesex County Show event held every year which sadly no longer takes place.  We would love to see the re-instalment of this event and a Bank Holiday on the 23rd of April for the triple celebration of Shakespeare’s Birthday, St George’s Day and the creation of Middlesex.  This would certainly awaken awareness of the culture of our county and help to make this possible.

I was fortunate enough to spend some time in and around London during the 2012 Olympics.  The excitement in the air was palpable as officials and volunteers clearly identifiable by their uniforms could be seen on the tube and in the streets on their way to events.  A luxury cruise liner – of type more often used on luxury Caribbean cruises – pulled into Docklands and waiters with little trays of drinks were clearly visible serving officials and members of the German Olympic team lucky enough to be able to call it home for 2 weeks.

There was a sense that everyone in London was playing a role.  Even many regular commuters were allowed to work from home to free up space on the trains.  Although the event may have disrupted some business activities it did increase the volume of tourists even 12 months after the event.  When the main Olympics finished, we were treated to the inspirational experience of the Paralympic Games increasing awareness that went a long way to changing perceptions about people with disabilities.  The new Bank Holiday would recapture some of the Olympic spirit of every year in Britain.

Many people would definately appreciate an extra Public Holiday with the average working week in the UK now 43.6 hours.  Other countries have not followed the UK along the path of long hours culture.  The Netherlands has the shortest work week of any modern nation at just 29 hours a week.  Followed by Denmark and Norway on 33 hours a week, Ireland on 34 hours a week and Germany on 35 hours a week.

In addition, the UK has fewer bank holidays than in many other countries. Japan has twice as many bank holidays as the UK from Greenery Day in May to Respect for the Aged Day in September.  Places like Spain, South Korea and South Africa also have more public holidays than the UK.

The British Philosopher, Bertrand Russell, was not a fan of work.  In his 1932 essay, “In Praise of Idleness”, he reckoned that if society were better managed the average person would only need to work four hours a day.  As he put it, such a short working day would “entitle a man to the necessities and elementary comforts of life”.  He thought that the rest of the day should be devoted to pursuit of other activities such as science, painting and writing.

Whilst Russell may have been right that society should be better managed, he and many other great thinkers of times past, were proved wrong in their view that technological advancement would bring about freedom from the tyranny of long hours and increased quality of life.

Children aged 8 to 18 now spend an average of 10 hours and 45 weeks a day online (Source: Kaiser Family Foundation Study January 2010).  Ofcom’s 2015 Communications Market Report found that 33% of smartphone users see this as the most important device for going online – with typical usage around 2 hours per day. Constant users of smartphones and computers may be at risk of developing stress, sleeping disorders and depression (according to research by experts at the University of Gothenburg in 2012).

The effects of long working hours and high internet usage result can be seen in research conducted by Bisto in 2014 which found that 2 out of 3 families were too busy to eat together and that 1 in 7 don’t even own a dining table.

Britain has become an increasingly isolated society.   Office of National Statistics data from the 2011 Census shows that a staggering 51% of the general population is single.  This situation appears to worsen in the older age groups with two fifths of all older people (about 3.9 million) saying that the television is their main company (Age UK, 2014).

Surely the time has come to place a greater value on our personal time than we currently do for the following reasons.

(1) Additional hours worked don’t necessarily result in increased efficiency.  A 2014 study by John Pencavel at Stanford University showed that when people worked over 50 hours per week productivity actually declined. This would appear to be confirmed by the 80/20 rule (also known as The Pareto Principle) which claims that 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of the work of its staff.

(2) It has been shown that people who take regular holidays show a decrease in blood glucose levels (reducing risk of diabetes), improved body shape (weight loss in the middle of the body lowering risk of heart disease) and improved energy levels and mood (source: Holiday Health Experiment – Kuoni and Nuffield Health 2012).

(3) Bank Holidays are not always bad for business particularly if the weather is fine.  This can be great news for beach resorts and other attractions such as theme parks and stately homes.  Having more people out and about and on holiday tends to result in more takings for service industries.

Although an additional Bank Holiday would not solve these problems it would surely be a small step in the right direction and, of course, an excuse for a good old knees up …….

In celebration of 16 May 2016 Middlesex Day: From The Seal of Royal Approval to the First Ever Indian Restaurant – 6 Vital Links from Middlesex of The Past That Helped Shape The World of Today

I was never a huge fan of history lessons as a child.  They just seemed to comprise of a succession of dry dates and disconnected facts.  I couldn’t see the relevance to my own life.  I remember learning about certain periods in history such as Russian Revolution, the Tudor age, the First and Second World Wars but they seemed like random pieces of an incredibly complicated puzzle that I had no chance of solving.

However, in more recent times, some well made TV documentaries and my own explorations of Middlesex, the UK and overseas led me to revise my formerly held view of the subject.

Whilst it’s obvious that I clearly cannot call myself an expert, just by learning a little about the history of Middlesex – a place inter-woven in the fabric of my life – I’ve started to understand a lot more about the subject.

In today’s post, in celebration of Middlesex Day on 16 May 2015, I would like to look at 6 ways in which Middlesex of the past has helped shape the world we know today – locally, nationally and internationally:

(1) Royal patronage of Middlesex and the Prince William Connection – The Middlesex Regiment – also known as “the Diehards” (see previous post for information on their legendary victory at Albuhera) once shared our current Prince William’s royal title. In 1881 the 57th West Middlesex Regiment and 77th East Middlesex Regiment merged to become The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment).  The royal to hold the title Duke of Cambridge at that time was Prince George, 2nd Duke of Cambridge.  Prince George of Hanover was an army man through and through and something of a military traditionalist opposing a number of army reforms.  Whilst he may have had somewhat conservative views with regard to the military when it came to his personal life he was something of a rebel marrying a former actress Sarah Fairbrother in 1847 in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act (which said that no descendent of George II could marry without the consent of the reigning monarch).  As a result, Sarah (who was ignored by a disapproving Queen Victoria) could not take the title of Duchess of Cambridge instead calling herself Mrs Fairbrother or Mrs FitzGeorge.  The title Duke of Cambridge fell into extinction after the 2nd Duke of Cambridge’s death.  It was only 107 years later that Queen Elizabeth II awarded the title to Prince William on 29 April 2011 – the day of his wedding which took place in Westminster Abbey, Middlesex.

The Middlesex Regiment Crest

Middlesex Regiment

(2) Crime and Punishment in Middlesex and how this spawned a family of overseas Middlesexes.

Due to overcrowding in Middlesex jails in the early eighteenth century those found guilty of a crime could be transported to the colonies for life – often for very minor offences.  As late as 1822 a boy aged 13 was sentenced by Middlesex Justices to transportation for life for stealing a handkerchief worth 10 shillings.  Conditions on the journey out were often appalling.  If a convict survived the crossing they were handed over or sold to a master.  The subsequent quality of the convict’s future life depended on the character of his employer.  The name Middlesex crops up in modern day Jamaica, Belize, USA and Canada – it seems likely that some of these may be a throw back from those convicts who were transported from Middlesex and established these communities overseas with a familiar name.

(3) Middlesex Guildhall – What was once the most powerful court in Middlesex is now the most powerful court in the UK.

The most powerful court in the UK – The Supreme Court in Westminster – is also the home of what was once the most powerful court in Middlesex – Middlesex Guildhall.

This site was once on an island where fugitives could seek refuge from their pursuers at the junction of the Tyburn and the Thames.  The old courthouse which was eventually built was replaced in 1889 by the first Middlesex Guildhall which housed the Middlesex County Council and Quarter Sessions.

In 1889 during boundary changes Westminster became part of the County of London.  Property was divided between London and Middlesex with Guildhall going to Middlesex and Middlesex Sessions House in Clerkenwell going to London.

MiddlesexMiddlesexThe present building opened in 1913.  The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for UK civil and criminal cases and also hears appeals on arguable points of law of general public importance.

Interior of the courtroom and outside Guildhall Building

(4) Middlesex is documented in the earliest public record created – The Doomsday Book – which was kept from the early 13th century in Westminster Palace and then in the Abbey (prior to this is it was kept at the Royal Treasury in Winchester).  In 1066 William of Normandy landed at at Hastings.  William’s forces headed towards London marching through Hertfordshire and Middlesex laying waste the country on their way.  On Christmas Day in 1066 William was crowned in Westminster .  After building the Tower of London to protect him from the raids of the Norsemen, he ousted the Saxon landowners and divided the country among his faithful followers.  He then set in motion the compilation of one of the most remarkable surveys in history – The Doomsday Book.  The book was a record of the land and resources owned in England at that time.  There was a need to defend England from invasion threats from Scandinavia and costly campaigns in northern France and the huge arm of William’s needed substantial funding.  William saw the Doomsday Book as a thorough assessment of the amount of tax he could potentially raise from his subjects and their assets.  The information was compiled by Royal Commissioners who were sent out around England to collect and record the information from thousands of settlements.  The Commissioners carried with them a set of questions and put these to a jury of representatives – made up of barons and villagers alike – from each county.  The Commissioners then returned to London and the information was entered into the Doomsday Book(s) – (there were actually 2 books – Great Doomsday and Little Doomsday).

The part of the study in Doomsday which relates to Middlesex is divided up into six Hundreds, with the except of the Hundred of Isleworth which was then callled the Hundred of Hounslow.  The following places were mentioned by name: Hayes, West Drayton, West Twyford and Willeseden in the Hundred of Ossulstone, part of Kingsbury, Harrow, Hendon and Stanmore in the Hundred of Gore; Hampton and Isleworth in the Hundred of Hounslow; Edmondton, Enfield, South Mimms and Tottenham in the Hundred of Edmonton; Colham, Cowley, Cranford, Dawley, Greenford, Hanwell, Harefield, Harlington, Harmondsworth, part of Kingsbury, Hillingdon, Ickenham, Northolt and Ruislip in the Hundred of Elthorne; and Ashford, Bedfont, Charlton, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell and Sunbury in the Hundred of Spelthorne.  Chief landowners included Geoffrey de Mandeville who held Northolt, Pervalue, Edmonton, Enfield, Hadley and Ickenham, the Abbot of Westminster who held Ashford, Cowley, Greenford, Hanwell, Staines, Shepperton, Sunbury, Hendon and Laleham and Ernulf de Hesding who held Kingsbury and Ruislip.

The survey shows that most of the county was arable land or pasture with large areas of wood along its western and northern boundaries.  Isolated wooded areas are recorded at Isleworth, Northolt and Hanwell.  Surprisingly, vineyards were to be found in Colham, Hillingdon, Harmondsworth, Kempton and Staines – so Middlesaxons at that time obviously enjoyed a glass or two of Chateaux Harmondsworth!

The Doomsday manuscript is currently stored in the National Archives at Kew and is still a valid legal document which can be used as evidence of title to land.

(5) The World’s First Electronic computer that aided the Allied code-cracking effort in World War II was built in Middlesex by a Middlesaxon.  The Colossus computer used at Bletchley Park to crack the German Enigma machine code (messages passed between Hitler and his generals) was designed and constructed between 1943 and 1944 at Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station.  The Colossus design was drawn up by Senior Post Office Middlesex Engineer Tommy Flowers who was born in Poplar in 1905.

The prototype, Colossus Mark 1 was operational at Bletchley Park on 5 February 1944.  An improved Colossus Mark 2 that with increased processing speed, was operational from 1 June 1944, just in time for the Normandy Landings on D-Day.

Colossus was essential to the success of the Landings and its no exaggeration to say that the outcome of the Second World War may well have been very different had it not been invented.  Sadly those involved in the construction of Colossus did not get the recognition they deserved in their lifetimes as the hardware and blueprints were destroyed in an effort to maintain security.  A functioning replica of Colossus was completed in 2007 and is on display at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

The Dollis Hill Post Office Research Station closed at the end of the 1970s and has since been converted into a development of flats known as Chartwell Court.

(6) Middlesex was the home of the first Indian Restaurant – there are now more than 9,000 restaurants in the UK.  In 1809 the Hindostanee Coffee House at 34 George Street, Marylebone was the first Indian restaurant to open in the UK.  Proprietor Deen Mahomet was born in Bihar in 1759 and served in the Bengal branch of the British East India army as a surgeon.  In 1784 Deen travelled to Ireland following his patron Captain Godfrey Baker (who had been forced out of the Army for extorting money from villagers).  In Cork, Deen met Jane Daly an Irish girl and eloped with her in 1786.  Around this time Deen wrote and published his book entitled The Travels of Deen Mahomet.  Deen and Jane came to London and Deen took employment at a bath house in Portman Square offering Indian head and body massages before making his move into the restaurant business in 1809.

The restaurant was aimed at Europeans who had worked or lived in India.  Deen and Jane prepared a range of meat and vegetable dishes with Indian spices served with seasonal rice.  He furnished the restaurant with bamboo cane sofas and chairs and adorned the walls with a range of paintings of Indian landscapes, Indians engaged in social activities and sporting scenes set in India.

Although the coffee house initially received a favourable reception in the long term it lost out to competition with other coffee houses in more favourable locations with established clientele.  After less than a year Deen took on a partner – John Spencer – to raise more cash for the business.

Sadly the partnership did not prove successful and Deen Mahomet went bankrupt 3 years later.  However, under new ownership the Hindostanee carried on until its last Chicken Tikka Masala was served in 1833.

Left with very little Dean had to find a new way of supporting himself and moved his family out of the Coffee House to a boarding house in far less salubrious neighbourhood  in Paddington Street and advertised for employment as an upper servant.  His newspaper advertisement read “MAHOMED, late of HINDOSTANEE Coffee House, WANTS a SITUATION, as Butler, in a Gentleman’s family, or as Valet to a Single Gentleman; he is perfectly acquainted with marketing, and is capable of conducting the business of a kitchen; has no objections to town or country”.  It seems mention of the business failure in the advertisement proved a miscalculation and Dean was unable to obtain a position so finally settled back into his previous occupation working in a vapor bathhouse.

Middlesex and it’s people have a lively and vibrant history to be proud of and one that should never be forgotten. It is true that modern Middlesex would never win prizes for being the most beautiful county in the UK but there are gems waiting to be found by anyone.  All it takes is a bit of curiousity, willingness to learn and of course a sense of fun. The way I see it, life can only be improved by taking the opportunity to discover Middlesex.

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The Travels Of A Middlesaxon: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday By The Danube And Other Adventures

It is perhaps a little unfair that Budapest is sometimes described as “The Paris of the East”.  The city offers more than enough attractions of a romantic nature to stand on it’s own without hanging on the coat-tails of Paris.  However, it can be said, that the Eastern influences seen through some of the architecture do add a slightly more exotic feel to this fascinating city that is as popular with couples in love as it is with party revellers and culture vultures.

Buda and Obuda on the West Bank came together with Pest on the East Bank on 17 November 1873 to form one city.  Like an argumentative couple that are as different as chalk and cheese, Buda and Pest sit side by side separated only by Europe’s longest River “The Danube”.   Buda, home of The Royal Palace and amazing views from Fisherman’s Bastion – peaceful green gardens and squares and a popular residence of families with young children. The louder Pest, more bustling and crowded – the place for the young to party.  Budapest, as the locals will tell you, should actually pronounced  “Buda-pesht”.

Arriving on my Whizz Air flight from Luton on Wednesday afternoon I took the airport shuttle bus to my apartment very centrally located on Rakoczi ut (on the Pest side of the city).  As Budapest is pretty compact, I chose to walk to most of the attractions over the next few days (though there were plenty of public transport options should I have needed them).  I was lucky enough to be blessed with several full days of blue skies and sunshine (almost T-shirt weather!)

On my trips I am always amazed at how many aspects of the history and culture of lands so every different from my own is inter-woven with that of the County of Middlesex – evidence of the wide reaching the influence of the County around the world.  10 highlights from my trip to Budapest – some with a Middlesex twist – are listed below.

(1) Shakespeare Statue – Shakespeare (though born in Stratford-Upon-Avon) was resident in and around Middlesex living for some time in the Bishopsgate area and eventually moving to Southwark to be close to the Globe Theatre.  Therefore on my first afternoon in Budapest, I was surprised to discover this statue of Shakespeare located on the Banks of the Danube (on the Pest side) outside a Bank near the Marriot Hotel.

Shakespeare Statue, Budapest

Whilst Shakespeare never visited Budapest (Whizz area weren’t doing cheap flights in those days!), the image of Bard reached the Banks of The Danube due to the vision of retired Hungarian Attorney and Shakespeare admirer Dr Karoly Nagy.  On a visit to Australia, Nagy came across the original statue created by Hungarian Sculptor Andor Meszaros in the City of Ballarat.  He thought it would be a great idea to create a replica in Budapest.  Upon his return to Hungary he founded the Shakespeare Statue Committee and began raising funds for the project.  In 2002 the moulding was organised on site in Australia, the casting done at the Foundry of Hungarian sculptor Gabor Mihaly and the statue was finally erected in Budapest in 2003.

Shakespeare Statue, Budapest

Shakespeare Statue, BudapestReturning to the statue a couple of days later, I came across an event celebrating the birth (and death) of the Bard on 23 April – where the audience enjoyed live performances of Shakespeare’s work and music of the era.  Unfortunately, I could only stay for the beginning of the event, but walking back along the Danube later that same evening I saw flowers had been laid at the foot of the statue (perhaps a sign of appreciation of the audience).

(2) The Tree of Life outside The Great Synagogue.  On the occasion of my visit, the Synagogue was closed for Passover, so I wasn’t able to go inside but got this photograph of the Tree of Life Memorial located outside the building.

The Tree of Life, The Great Synagogue, Budapest

The Tree of Life was designed by Imre Varga in 1991 and is made of stainless steel and silver.  The willow tree is a traditional symbol of mourning.  The names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust are inscribed upon each leaf.  The memorial was sponsored by the Emanuel Foundation of New York (the Foundation was created in 1987 by the actor Tony Curtis – real name Bernie Schwartz – in honour of his father Emanuel Schwartz, who emigrated to New York from Mateszalka in Hungary).  Visitors often place rocks by this memorial, a custom which is believed to have come from burying the dead underneath rocks to protect them from the wildwife and weather.

In Middlesex, we also have work by Imre Varga in the form of a statue of Hungarian composer Bela Bartok located on a traffic island outside South Kensington tube.

Bela Bartok Statue, South Kensington

This statue was originally unveiled in 2004 but then taken away when the area outside the station was re-developed.  It was then placed back in it’s current position in 2011.  Bela Bartok is one of the most significant Hungarian composers of the twentieth century.  His work established a connection between the music of rural Hungary and that of the concert hall.  Bartok lived in South Kensington and often stayed there whenever he visited London at the address of Sir Duncan Wilson and Lady Freda Wilson at 7 Sydney Place.

(3) The Hungarian Parliament Building – designed by Imre Steindl in 1885  this building was thought to be inspired by London’s rebuilt Palace of Westminster (Middlesex Guildhall is of course just over the road from the Palace).  A blend of neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque and neo-baroque the Hungarian Parliament building is certainly stunning.  Sadly, Steindl did not manage to see the full construction going blind before completion of the building in 1902.   During Communist times a large red star was added to the central tower above the dome but later removed when Hungary gained independence.  Judge the similarities for yourself from photos of the Hungarian Parliament and London Parliament Buildings below.

Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest

Houses of Parliament, Budapest

 

Hungarian Parliament Building

 

 

Houses of Parliament, London

Houses of Parliament, London

 

British Parliament Building

 

 

(4) Walking Across The Chain Bridge linking Pest and Buda – Budapest has 8 iconic bridges (Megyeri Bridge, Arpad Bridge, Margaret Bridge, Chain Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, Liberty Bridge, Peofi Bridge, Lagymanyosi Bridge).  All bridges were bombed and virtually destroyed during World War 2.   I used The Chain Bridge (officially known as Szechenyi Chain Bridge) most during my trip to cross from the Pest to Buda side of the City.  The Chain bridge was designed by English civil engineer William Tierney Clark – who also once worked as a engineer for West Middlesex Waterworks Company (a utility company that used to supply water to parts of the county).  The Chain Bridge opened on 20 November 1849 and was, at that time, the second largest bridge of its type in the world. Interestingly, Tierney Clark’s first suspension bridge project was actually in Middlesex – Hammersmith Bridge – which opened in 1827.

The Chain Bridge, Budapest

The Chain Bridge, Budapest

 

 

 

 

(4) Art Nouveau Buildings – there’s no doubt that Budapest is an Art Nouveau treasure trove. I recommend visiting Bedo House (an apartment block designed by Emil Vidor) to view some lovely furniture, china, glass and costumes from the period.  There’s also an excellent coffee shop on the ground floor in the same building.

Bedo House, Budapest

Bedo House, BudapestBedo House, Budapest

 

 

 

 

Other Art Nouveau buildings worth visiting are the Primary School (designed by Armin Hegedus which has some colourful mosaics depicting childrens’ games) and Torok Bank House (which sports a secessionist mosaic by Roth called Patrona Hungariae) – both of which date from around 1906.

Primary School, Budapest

DSCN8602

Primary School, Budapest

 

Primary School

 

Torok Bank House

Torok Bank House

 

Torok Bank House

 

 

Whilst Middlesex/London doesn’t have as many Art Nouveau buildings as Budapest, there are a few good examples  – one of which is pictured below in the form of the exterior of The Fox and Anchor Pub in Charterhouse Street, Farringdon.

The Fox and Anchor

The Fox and AnchorThis dates from around 1898 and is constructed from moulded cast stone and Doulton tiles designed by William James Neatby.

 

The Fox and Anchor

The Fox and Anchor

 

 

 

 

(5) Soviet Era Statues – On the 4th day of my trip I awoke to find the blue skies and sunshine of the first 3 days of my visit had vanished to be replaced by a steady drizzle and big drop in temperature.  I decided to explore a little further from the main tourist area by travelling to Memento Park in suburban Southern Buda.  I took the park bus from Deak Ter (don’t be fooled by the sign saying the bus stop is out of use as the white coloured park mini-bus does stop there).  At the time of writing the bus leaves at 11.00am every day and takes roughly 30 minutes to reach the park.  The cost of the bus is about 4,500HUF (including admission to the park and museum).

This park contains some of the last symbols of Soviet occupation in Budapest in the form of 42 Communist statues (including The Republic of Councils Monument, the Worker’s Movement Memorial and the Bela Kun Memorial).

Following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Hungary in 1989 (the last Soviet troops left in 1991) the statues were removed from the city centre.  Whereas in other countries such symbols of dictatorship were destroyed, in Budapest (after much heated debate) it was decided to create a park in the Suburbs of Southern Buda where these statues could be viewed.   There is a small shop at the park where you can buy a guide providing more detail about the statues and also a small museum where you can view films on how the secret police were trained to spy on their own citizens.

It is incredible to think that these somewhat intimidating statues were towering over the gardens and squares of central Budapest as recently as the late-1980s.

Memento Park, Budapest

Memento Park, BudapestMemento Park, Budapest

 

 

 

 

In Middlesex, Soviet era statues are not easily found but I did recently come across this bust of Lenin in the Islington Museum.

Lenin Bust, Islington Museum

The statue was originally the centre-piece of a monument erected in 1942 by Finsbury Council.  The monument stood in Holford Square looking towards number 30 where Lenin had lived in 1902-03 (during this time Lenin worked for a newspaper called The Spark).  It was originally planned as a sign of friendship in support for Russia which was an ally during World War 2.  However, some people felt that Communism should not be celebrated and the bust was vandalised.  It was then taken away and displayed in Islington Town Hall where it was again vandalised and red paint was thrown over it.  During the 1980s the bust became one of the symbols of what the press described as a Looney Left Council.

(6) Strolling along the Banks of the Danube

I just love river walks.  I never grow tired of walking alongside the banks of the Thames in London and viewing the ever changing landscape and of course those buildings that seem to form the very fabric of the city such as St Paul’s Cathedral.

Budapest By NightIn Budapest, this stroll along the Danube towards the Chain Bridge quickly became one of my favourite walks.

With the music of Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz ringing in my head, I admired the Royal Palace and the Chain Bridge are lit up against the inky blue night sky punctuated by the sound of the trams trundling past every so often.

The Royal Palace, Budapest by Night

Budapest by NightBudapest By Night

 

 

 

 

(7) The View from Fisherman’s Bastion

Budapest

This area is heaving with tourists but the view of the Chain Bridge and Parliament is simply stunning so a must have photo opportunity.

 

 

(8) Matthias Church Roof – It’s well worth exploring the interior but to my mind nothing can beat the beautiful roof of this building – covered with Zsolnay tiles manufactured only in Pecs, Hungary.

Matthias Church, Budapest

Matthias Church, Budapest

Matthias Church, Budapest

 

 

 

 

(9) Heroes Square – The nation’s monument to its earliest ancestors and a memorial to its war dead.  This is the  largest square in the city and is located at the end of Andrassy Avenue next to the City Park.  The Millenium Monument in the middle of the square was erected to commemorate the 1000 year history of the Magyars.  Archangel Gabriel sits on top of the central pillar holding the holy crown of St Stephen (the first King of Hungary) and double cross of Christianity.  When the moment was originally constructed the last 5 spaces on the left of the colonnade were reserved for members of the ruling Habsburg dynasty. The Habsburg emperors were replaced with Hungarian freedom fighters when the monument was rebuilt after World War 2.

Heroes Square

Heroes Square, Budapest

Heroes Square, Budapest

 

 

 

 

(10) The Basilica of St Stephens – St Stephens Basilica was given it’s title by Pope Pius XI in 1931.  It took more than 50 years and several architects to build the Basilica.  During construction the dome collapsed with added to the time taken to build it.

The Basilica of St Stephen's, Budapest

The Basilica of St Stephens, Budapest

The Basilica contains one of Hungary’s most sacred objects: the mummified holy right hand of its first King St Stephen.  Every year on the Feast of St Stephen on 20th August, the right fist is carried at the head of a parade through the city.  St Stephen was canonised in 1083, and as part of this process his corpse was exhumed and his right arm was found to be as fresh as the day he was buried.  The arm (which was said to have holy properties) was cut off and preserved.  The mumified hand went through a number of different owners before returning to Hungary.  In the 13th century during the Tartar invasion, it was sent to Croatia for safekeeping by Dominican monks. Around this time the monks cut the hand from the arm and sent the upper arm to Lemburg and the lower arm to Vienna – the idea being that different branches of the church could own different pieces to ensure no one felt hard done by! In 1771 the Austro-Hungarian Empire placed the Holy right in Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna before eventually returning it to Hungary. However, as World War 2 approached the hand was returned to Austria and kept by the Archbishop of Salzburg. On 20 August 1945, a priest of the American army returned the hand from Austria to Hungary.

The Basilica of St Stephens, Budapest

The Basilica of St Stephen's, Budapest

 

 

 

 

It’s worth taking the lift up to the viewing deck of the dome to catch the wonderful city views.  On the day I visited I was fortunate enough to take in the scenery to the background of some relaxing music from a local band.

Roof of the Post Office Savings Bank, Budapest

View from St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

View from St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

 

 

 

 

Views of the Zsolnay tiles on the Roof of the Post Office Savings Bank and other City Views Taken from St Stephen’s Basilica Dome

Back at home in Middlesex, we know of St Stephen through the Christmas Carol “Good King Wenceslas”:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

Other things worth doing in Budapest

Try the Goulash – apparently the secret’s in the Hungarian Paprika!

Goulash, Budapest

Whilst being no Goulash connoisseur – I did enjoy this dish (made with very tender beef) at a little pavement cafe in the Buda area in the castle.  The people of Budapest love their meat and the city is a bit of a carnivore’s fantasy – though it is possible to find vegetarian options too.

 

Take a Walking Tour – You can’t beat exploring a City on foot.  I recommend taking this tour on your first day.  It’s a great opportunity to orientate yourself with the layout of the City, the main sites and to learn some little known facts from the knowledgeable guides. Though they are called Free Walking Tours, everyone usually leaves some tip money and the idea is that you give whatever you can/or feel the tour is worth.

I would love to return to Budapest one day, so with these thoughts in mind I paid a visit to this young lady just before my departure.

The Little Princess, Budapest

The Little Princess Statue sits on the Banks of the Danube on the Pest side.  Created by Laszlo Marton in 1972 this was inspired by his eldest daughter who enjoyed dressing up in a Princess Costume and also wore a crown made out of newspaper by her father – the image of his daughter playing in the Taban area of Budapest dressed in this clothing inspired him to create this sculpture and locate it on the river bank.  Apparently, Prince William liked this statue so much that he had a replica of her installed in Buckingham Palace. In the interests of research I made sure I rubbed her knees as legend says that if you do so you will return one day to Budapest.  I hope I am able to do just that and one day re-aquaint myself with this wonderful city.

Further Information – please click on the headings below to go to the relevant sites to check details of admission charges and opening hours.

The Great Synagogue – Budapest, Dohány u. 2, 1074 Hungary.

Hungarian Parliament Building – Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, 1055 Hungary.

Chain Bridge – Budapest, Széchenyi Lánchíd, Hungary

Bedo House – Budapest, Honvéd utca 3., 1054 Hungary

Matthias Church  – Szentháromság tér 2, 1014 Hungary

Memento Park – Balatoni út – Szabadkai utca sarok, 1223 Hungary

Heroes Square – Hősök tere, 1146 Hungary

St Stephen’s Basilica – Szent István tér 1, 1051 Hungary

Free Walking Tours – I took the original walking tour which leaves Vörösmarty square (at the lion fountain) at at 10:30am and 2:30 pm and takes approximately two and a half to three hours.