Friday, 31 October 2014


Isaac William Wright - 1914 and all that!

A Proletarian Protest.

Anyway, all of this talk of the future is purely bye the bye and I use it only as a preamble to unlock the memory of a long forgotten narrative of events which took place in the town a century ago, in an era when socially aware terms such as 'core strategy', 'nimbyism' and 'credit crunch' had not yet filtered through to the lexicons of local planners.  In 1914, the never to be forgotten year that was to generate 'The war to end all wars', a proletarian battle of great personal intensity and pent-up public feeling was coming to the boil in the hallowed hall's of the local government of the small market town of Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire in which an impecunious young father of a large and hungry family and supported by a growing number of angry residents, were endeavouring to loosen the grip on shackles steadfastly maintained by local landlords. 

As a backdrop to the situation which had existed at the end of Queen Victoria's long reign of great pomp and circumstance, it could be said the the Edwardian era was to inherit one of the worst periods ever of social poverty and general decay of living standards in this country - and across Europe - as the population grew to be more and more industrialised and mechanised. A great movement of people was to occur as whole families flocked into the urban areas following decades of an agricultural existence of manual labour on the farms.  As much as 80 per cent of the working population had once been classified as agricultural labourers - 'ag labs' - but this status quo transformed dramatically as thousands gave up their ploughshares and pitchforks to migrate to work at benches in the new factories and to take up work on the booming railway networks. But as the proverb goes, '... its an ill wind that blows no one any good ...", the wind was to continue to blow exceedingly well for the landed gentry and other landlords who delighted in the status quo of filling their generally wretched, overcrowded and usually dilapidated houses with the saddest and poorest specimens of mankind, desperate to house their usually large families.

House building at this time was largely carried out by profit-seeking private builders and business keen to rent. In the cities and urban locations they mostly constructed extended streets of basic terraced red brick houses and these new communities on the edges of towns were to a great extent, unplanned. A great majority of the population tended towards renting such homes due to the fact that borrowing cash and arranging mortgages had not yet become commonplace and only the richest people could thus afford to become homeowners. The parish purse was never able to provide houses for the bulk of the working people and such provision would later need to be instigated by Act of Parliament. In the meantime, in the smaller conurbations such as market towns like Melton Mowbray, the lingering problems of poor housing increased steadily as the population numbers spiralled and in the environment of high density, unorganised neighbourhoods, overcrowding became openly obvious and commonplace. Many families could be found huddled in the dark and unsanitary courts of squalid and frequently derelict homes, often without facilities or natural daylight. Across the country, pressure was increasingly placed on the Government in London to look into the issue, but a marked reluctance was evident in most areas, especially by landlords and as mentioned, mainly with the question of a lack of funds in the case of provision by the Parish.

Geographically, the urban limits of the town of Melton Mowbray at the turn of the last century would have contained around 3000 persons and it is interesting today to peruse an Ordinance Survey map of the time.  In the example shown, which depicts the land bordered by Leicester Street and High Street, alleyways, places and yards are shown lined with what were then the homes of a struggling community, many ancient in origin and others often crowded by one family renting one room - or even sharing of families. These 'hutches' proliferated, cheek by jowl, often abutting the splendorous, lavishly furnished hunting boxes and gentlemen's clubs of the winter visitors and not to ignore the provision of more than a sufficient number of public ale houses ever willing to entertain and assuage the thirsts of the proletariat: there was no television then! It is from this desperate environment that my 'local hero' emerged to put his head above the parapet - because you can guarantee that his public 'whinings' would later be held against him - in order to breach his natural subservience. From a public platform he would plead his case of perceived injustice to the fathers of the local community in a hopeful effort to achieve justice and compassion for himself and his fellow wage earners.

A densely populated area in the centre of Melton Mowbray C 1910.

A Full House at the Town Hall.

For more than three hours on the evening of Wednesday, 2nd September, 1914, the Town Hall in Nottingham Street at Melton Mowbray was the venue for Mr Edward Leonard, an Inspector of the Local Government Board, to convene a meeting with the object of attempting to solve certain housing problems relating to the town.  The Grantham Journal was in attendance at this important civic occasion to relay a report of the proceedings for their readers and to provide me with the information I required all these 100 years later. The tabled topic of the agenda was designated:
‘Whereas complaint has been made to the Local Government Board, under Section 10 of the Housing, Town Planning, and amp;c., Act, 1909, by inhabitant householders of the Urban District of Melton Mowbray, that the Council of the said Urban District have failed to exercise their powers under Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, in a case where those powers ought to have been exercised.’
Beyond the presence of representatives of the Urban District Council and the three or four signatories to the petition to the Local Government Board, there was not more than a dozen other townspeople present, which might have suggested that the housing question was not, just at that time at any rate, a burning one.  It was also probable that in 1914, such public expostulations of anger by the working classes was perhaps considered a little unseemly. The principal complainant, a Mr Wright, together with two other brave co-petitioners, Messrs. Beckworth and Kirk were ready and waiting together with a couple of dozen members of the Urban (Town) Council. 

... and the Complainant.

So who was my plebeian hero that night, confronted by more than a quorum of starched collared and bowler hatted public servants, who had brought himself into the lion's den to argue on behalf of the poor and down-trodden of this small market town? Step forward Isaac William Wright, born in 1872 in the village of Whissendine, just over the Rutland and Leicestershire border.  Isaac was the 7th and last born child of 'ag-lab' Richard and his wife Eliza (Hibbit) Wright, his older siblings consisting of two brothers and four sisters.  Marrying in 1857 his parents seemed to have moved regularly from village to village in the Rutland area until Richard was to die, apparently unexpectedly, at the age of just 49 years when Isaac was only just 8 years old.  How Eliza Wright, who was a native of the nearby village of Exton, coped with her sudden loss and deprivation of a wage earner is not recorded but in 1881 she is to be found living at Hollis Place, Whissendine and employed as a 'charwoman'; her children Henry, Harriet, Eliza, and Isaac were still close to her.

A Bailiff!
By 1891, Isaac was 19 years of age and living at 'The Mill' in Loddington, Rutland with his older brother George and new sister-in-law, Mary Ann.  His mother Eliza was by now 'living on the Parish' with her daughter Harriet and her first grandchild William H. Wright who was born in 1888. Then by 1893, Isaac seems to have arrived in the Melton Mowbray area having gained employment with the Midland Railway Company locally and that year he was to meet and marry Sarah Richardson, a resident of nearby Frisby-on-the-Wreake. in 1901 the young family were living in rented property at No. 3 Hearn's Yard, off Leicester Street in Melton along with their first three children, John 6, Ethel 2 and Thomas 1; also resident with the family in the small property was Isaac's ageing mother Eliza, now 68 and alone.

Ten more years on, the Wright family were still apparently well ensconsed at their Leicester Street home and by now five further children had been born.  Of these, two baby girls had died more or less at birth and Isaac - by now working as an asphalter - was responsible for the wellbeing and general health of his ageing widowed mother Eliza, his wife Sarah and their six surviving young children.  On top of this, it seems that his rented living accommodation was minimal to say the least and increasingly fired by a general and frequent discourse amongst his contemporaries of what was then considered to be a 'hot potato' issue, he had learned what he could of 'Section 10' of the Housing, Town Planning, Act, 1909 and to his position as an 'inhabitant householder'.  Armed with his limited knowledge and burning to set matters right, he had had taken up cudgels on behalf of many others in the town in an attempt to ameliorate matters, he had written to Parliament to discuss the involvement of local officialdom in his now vexed question of the provision of suitable and sufficient social housing. (100 years on and this is is as contentious an issue today as it was then!)


The House and Town Planning Act, 1909.

Basically, to do away for once and for all the concept of back to back housing which was considered a great health hazard, the basic object of the ' Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909' had been conceived to provide suitable housing for the working classes by employing planning schemes in conjunction with Medical Officers of Health to provide for the establishment of public committees to debate relevant local issues. Government money would be provided and acquisition of land would be arranged in suitable and needy cases. But like many boroughs across the country, Melton Mowbray was to drag its feet on the matter and this reluctance to comply was the kernel of the much talked about, imposition of Section 10. which provided:
'... so far as it concerns metropolitan boroughs, confers upon the Board power, where a complaint is made to them by four inhabitant householders of the borough that the local authority have failed to exercise their powers under part II, or Part III of the principal Act in cases where those powers ought to have exercised, to cause a public local inquiry to be held.  If after holding such an inquiry the Board are satisfied that there has been such a failure on the part of the local authority, they are empowered to declare the authority to be in default, and to make an Order directing that authority, within a time limited by the Order, to carry out such works and do such other things as may be mentioned in the Order for the purpose of remedying the default.' 
So Parliament had providing the bullets, but would local government, many of whom were landlords in their own right, load the pistols?  Isaac Wright and his co-protesters - Alfred Beckworth and John Kirk et al - were hoping that they would.



Referring to Mr Wright as the ‘complainant’ the Inspector opened the meeting, asking, “Can you please state your case?’ to which Mr. Wright was to reply;
“I have the names of those people who have signed the petition but I have not had enough time yet to get amongst them.  I was to see you this afternoon and these people were at their work in different places about the town. The Board has had the statements of these people and for myself, I am confident that it is now quite time enough for the Council to have taken proper steps under the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1890. I have therefore made a formal complaint over the matter."
The Inspector: “ Are you telling us here today that the District Council should build housing for rent under part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act? I take it that this is your point at issue. Are you bringing to this hearing any evidence to substantiate the grounds on which you wish to take issue as to why the authorities should build? 
Isaac Wright replied. “Well the fact is quite evident in anybody’s mind ..”  to which the Inspector retorted,
“I am not concerned right now with what other people might think about this matter, I require to know what evidence you have of it, personally.”
Wright continued: "... they should have done this building work years ago …’’
“Why so?” interjected the Inspector.
“... because the houses that are in the town are inadequate for the needs of the many workpeople who live in them, many with families to be responsible for.”
“What makes you think there is a lack of dwellings in the town then?”
“Well sir, you have been out and about with me today, and you have seen for yourself …”
“That is not the point; I am asking you, why you necessarily think so. The point is that it this  matter has been put before the Local Government Board, but why is it that you think there is a lack of such new building?”
“There is a great lack …”
“But what makes you think so - is there any overcrowding to your personal knowledge?”
To this latest interruption Isaac Wright was to reply, “ … yes, I am one of the people in the town who has been complained of by the Council for the overcrowding at my house.  I have received official notice from them but I cannot get another house due to the ongoing problem, this on account of my many  children. At a Council meeting recently, Mr Bowley had stated that he personally would not let a house of his to such a family and for this reason I have not applied to him for a house. The Local Government Board is well aware that I have offered as much as 6s. a week for a house to rent and this has still been denied me because of my children.  There is me, my wife, six children all under eleven and also the children’s grandmother. We pay 3s. for two rooms upstairs and two down and I work as a plate-layer at the local railway station earning from 18s 8d to 24s 8d per week, from which I would be happy to pay as much as 4s per week for rent.
The Inspector asked Mr Wright exactly what type of house he would like to live in, to which he replied.
“Let us say for a start, a living-room and scullery with at least three bedrooms for which I would happily pay 4s a week.
When asked in general terms as to how many houses he thought needed to be provided in the locality, Mr Wright stated:
“I think accordingly that as the matter has been investigated today, at least 50 would be a reasonable and normal number and I think that a fair rental at today’s prices would be of 4s. per week.”
Committee member, Richard Barker was then to ask: “At a rental of 4s. a week, what do you think the cost of a building such a house would be?” 
Mr Wright replied: “Well if they built one odd house, it would cost more proportionally than if fifty were built. I can’t guess at the price as I stand here today but I agree with your suggestion that it might be anything from £175 to £200 per house and probably up to £220 with the additional purchase of the land on which it stands.” 
He then detailed to the hearing some of the efforts he had made in order to acquire a suitable dwelling for his large family.

Two more witnesses who had attended for the meeting and appearing as inhabitant householders in support of Mr Wright’s ideals, were a Mr Beckworth and a Mr Kirk, both also railway employees.  They supported Mr. Wright’s evidence to the hearing and had signed the petition due to the fact that they too had suffered from a scarcity of suitable and available local housing for some considerable time.  In reply to a question from Mr Barker, both admitted that they did not quite understand the bit in the petition that they had signed and delivered to the Local Government Board, which apparently stated that; ‘…half the houses in Melton were unfit for habitation.” They conceded that if there were in fact over 1,600 houses in the town, they would not like to say that 800 of them were considered to be unfit.

Mr Barker, speaking on behalf of the Council, informed the hearing that he and the Inspector, just that same day, had made a thorough physical and personal examination of the district spoken of and that he would be able to form his own opinion as to the current state of it. He further submitted that in the first place, the petitioners appearing today needed to prove their case and that in his contention they had failed so to do.  He said that he was in possession of an official list of empty houses and that taking an average amount of time he was confident that the supply of houses for habitation was easily manageable and sufficient for the demands of the class of property in question.
“Do you mean working-class dwellings?” the Inspector interjected.
Mr Barker confirmed that he did and continued to speak of the probability of providing such accommodation, if it was indeed proved to be lacking, to be supplied by private enterprise and thus by-passing any assistance from or demands of the public authority and that further, the Urban Council was of the opinion that any previous demand had always been met by private enterprise and further, that they had no reason to believe that things would be any different in the near future.  He went on to suggest that several builders in the town were constantly found to be building the class of house now being debated and that the local Council currently had plans on deposit for something like 36 cottages of the type which number should prove ample for any demand the future might bring. 

A further point which he wished to emphasise was the fact that in the present state of things - i.e the ongoing war in Europe - the town was looking forward to a large reduction in the number of occupied houses.  He also drew attention to the fact that many of the inhabitants of the borough had signed to do their duty to King and Country and that there was every expectation in the case of many young married couples, their home would in fact be given up with the wife and children returning to live at their parents home.


And so, with the convenient threat of a pending war, the whole matter was side-footed into the long grass, more than likely to the great satisfaction of the Parish paymasters and the sleeping landlords.  The war stayed around for far longer than anyone at that meeting could have ever imagined and the matter was postponed until hostilities did eventually cease.  But I like to think that the agitation instigated by the likes of Isaac Wright and his contemporaries, was to later produce a watershed moment with the passing in 1919 of the Addison Act, as wikipedia explains:
The Housing, Town Planning, etc. Act 1919 (c 35) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was also known as the Addison Act after Minister of Health, Dr Christopher Addison,  the then Minister for Housing. The Act was passed to allow the building of new houses after the First World War and marked the start of a long 20th century tradition of state-owned housing, which would much later evolve into council estates.
I presently live in a house in Melton Mowbray which was built in 1921 on land which was released under this important social Act, a subject about which I hope to write in the future. In the meantime I will raise a glass or two to the memory of plebeian Isaac Wright and his long-suffering wife and family, together with his brave friends of 1914. 


Thursday, 25 September 2014


Who Walked Around in my House?

I recently had reason to peruse the Conveyance Deeds of my family home over a small social and boundary issue which had cropped up in the neighbourhood.  In a quiet moment and with my deeds so infrequently exposed to day light, I chose to read again through the legalese of the pompously worded document. Little of much interest arrested my attention, but one astonishing fact did jump from the document to catch my attention was the price paid for the house, a standard three bedroom, pebble-dashed dwelling which had changed hands for the princely sum of 270 English pounds when it was first purchased on the 22nd day of September 1927 - more than the cost of buying a new front door today! to buy a new front door for the house would cost me twice that today!  I do know that today I would get around £200,000

This fact was to lead me to become curious as to who, just a few years after the end of the Great War, had paid out this then princely sum of £270 for the first use of my present domicile; who was it who had once perhaps constructed and retained ownership almost a century, who took the same walk up the steep steps from the now busy roadway to my creaking front door, or had almost certainly brewed tea in the same back-kitchen, the window of which overlooked the town and St Mary's church to the north?  How many other people had climbed the narrow staircase with its little twist at the top and likely slept, protected within the same four walls of the very bedrooms which we own and occupy today? - no wonder I now keep looking over my shoulder! In my hobby as a genealogist and with a sense of challenge I determined then and there to seek out the life and times of this very first person who had laid out his money to build his very own piece of real estate and legally walked through that front door in 1927, a time now rapidly approaching a century ago. This from a local newspaper of 1926

But I was less than prepared for the story which was to unfold before me as I commenced my searches as the builder, now deceased, was of no great local interest initially but when I dug deeper into his family background I was to become quite frankly, amazed at the story I was unearthing.


Who was this man?

My Deeds would verify the fact that on the 22nd September, 1921, Robert Francis Symonds, a builder and carpenter then aged 40yrs, along with his wife of ten years - the former Ada Wilmot - had signed the Conveyance in question and become the first legal owners of the property. Just ten years earlier in 1911, Robert and Ada were shown in the official census as being resident at No. 10 Brook Street, Melton Mowbray with Ada, his wife of just six months.  They were lodging with Ada's parents, Joe and Charlotte Wilmot who worked in the licensing trade locally and with Ada as the couple's only surviving child there was sure to be room to spare. An interesting and rather romantic side line to this part of the story is the fact that Ada's grandfather, also named Joe, who had been born in Loughborough Town nearby in about 1813 was of the canal fraternity - the barge people - and had almost certainly plied his barges along the canal linking the two market towns with great amounts of coal and other comestibles. He seems to have stayed on in the town with the inevitable demise of the Canal with the arrival of the Railway in 1847 and taken up as a living the occupation of 'coal higgler'. Also, on a related nostalgic note for those still around with the memory, it is on record that in 1841, the Wilmots were living in the small terrace of red brick houses - along with many other bargees of the town - then known as Birmingham Row, once well known and standing along the pathway from the Boat Inn, and not long since, removed by the town planners.

But where had Robert Symonds originated - was he local?  His place of birth given on that Census entry is clearly stated, 'Whitechapel, London E', definitely an address in the 1880s to get a writer's juices stirring! Well, in my idle curiosity, I was about to unearth to my great surprise and total amazement the most fascinating background of the family into which he was born and the world into which he was to take his first steps. Most importantly I was to learn of the existence of his intrepid father, Francis. So bear with me as I first leap backwards a couple of centuries to properly introduce you into the world of the Symonds family of Barrow in the tiny county of Rutland.


Barrow is a hamlet which lies in the Northern side of the county of Rutland, famously and widely known as being the smallest county in England. It is separated by only yards from its more populous neighbour Cottesmore; don't sneeze if you are in the area or you might drive past it!  Found inscribed in well- practised manuscript on the fly-leaf to the 1841 Census sheets for Barrow, some zealous official has penned the following personal instructions on what seems to have been a festering dispute between the two villages but don't ask me what the eventual outcome was.  The note reads:
'Note, The 'Parish Return' and 'Carlisle' both describe Barrow as a parish.  'Lewis' however calls it a chapelry belonging to Cottesmore.
The return of 1831 is not to be followed.  See 'Carlisle'.
But it was from this Census and the Parish records of the day that I was to trace the person whom I believe to be the first 'Symonds' to permanently plant his feet in the area. On Saturday the 19th February 1820 during the first quarter of a new moon, a young, 20 years old Francis Symonds of not-too-far away Boothby Pagnell in Lincolnshire, took for his bride-to-be Elizabeth Woodcock, also just 20 years of age and from neighbouring Cottesmore. It seems that the pair set up their home in the smaller of the two parishes and by 1833 had produced at least seven surviving children. It is recorded that Francis was an agricultural labourer who would typically work hard and long for the Lord of the Manor, as would his children alongside him as they grew up, but we need not bother ourselves as to the minutiae or make-up of the siblings - four boys and two girls - suffice to say that in 1821 the first-born arrival was to be named Robert, a target of my story.

Climbing socially from being an 'ag lab' was not an easy achievement in those long ago days when great servility, basically caused by a lack - or deprivation - of any education existed throughout the land. But first born Robert was not to be held back by servile tradition and at a very early stage in his life he was working ten acres of rented arable field in neighbouring Cottesmore, most likely for himself and his family.  In the 1851 Census, not only is Robert now proud to be enumerated as a 'Cottager', but it shows that he had become the first member of his family to marry and was present at his rented home with his wife Elizabeth (Freeman) and two of their three children, Francis, b. 1850 and Mary Ann, b. 1851.  Daughter of William and Elizabeth Freeman of Cottesmore, Elizabeth, and Robert, together with their families were to celebrate their nuptials on the 18th October 1848.  It is also to be noted that in the 1851 Census, Robert and Elizabeth are found to be sharing the residence with his grandfather, William who, at the age of 80 years was to die within that same year and Robert, as the oldest grandson would have inherited.

In 1853, a third child, Elizabeth, named after her mother, was safely delivered into the world and it might have seemed to all their friends that many more would be expected to follow, but tragically and without doubt devastatingly for Robert, his dear wife Elizabeth was to die without warning at the family home when she was just 28 years.  The Parish records show that the funeral took place on Wednesday the 14th June, 1854 and with oldest son Francis just 4 years old, what a desperate family affair it must have been for all.

In spite of this wretched occurrence, it seems that Robert was to get on with life as best he could. It was at a time when the Parish had funds available to assist to a certain degree, but any excessive pressure to provide such help from the public purse would frequently result in a trip to the workhouse or walking the highways in search of paid employment. There are many hints that the Symonds family were made of stronger stuff than this and as Robert had established himself with his possession of land and some form of livelihood, this would have secured his way forward. In the 1861 census ten years later, Robert and the three children are joined at home by his sister Mary Ann Symonds, now aged 34 and her son William aged 6.  With Robert a widower, who better as a surrogate mother for the growing children with dad out all hours on the farm! She, together with sister Elizabeth - who would train to be a dressmaker - no doubt contributed to the family survival whilst living in the family home.

By 1871, 'Cottager' Robert Symonds had celebrated his fiftieth year and was working the farm at Cottesmore along with his daughter Elizabeth, now 17. Also were his nephew William, an 'ag. lab.' and his mother, Mary Ann.  Sadly, in 1880, almost at the same age as her mother before her, Elizabeth too, was to die in September at the age of just 27. But an omission from the 1881 census was that of the oldest sibling, Francis Symonds who by now had reached his 21st birthday. Where could he be, had he severed his roots with Rutland or just failed to register his presence to the authorities? A close search of official records the width and length of the British Isles failed to locate young Francis from Cottesmore and my curiosity was to increase.

Whither Francis?

So where then was Francis Symonds of Cottesmore in those early days of 1871? Seemingly with a future tied to the farm of his father Robert - who had not re-married - he was by now grown into a man and I would have expected to see him preparing to take over his family inheritance into the next generation.  Excuse then, my total surprise after following all avenues, my next discovery was to be an absolute and total surprise when I discovered that, according to the National Archives 'MEPO' records, Francis Symonds, warrant number 54716, had travelled the 100 miles south to the Capital city to join the Metropolitan Police Service.  Attesting at the headquarters housed in the world famous Great Scotland Yard on the 18th September, 1877 just four days after his 22nd birthday, the official documents were to appraise me of several other personal facets of his life.
I learned that Francis then stood at 5 feet 8 1/4 inches in his stockinged feet, was fair-haired with a fair complexion and possessed hazel eyes. They also advise that a point of identification was the presence of 'Gout on the second finger of his right hand.'  His address at the end of his period of service is given as '11e Block, Peabody Buildings, Glasshouse Street, E.' an address of some interest in Victorian London which I will refer to later. On his appointment to the large police family he was initially to join 'L' or Lambeth Division which lay south of the River Thames and likely when he was there was still relatively undeveloped, intermixing agricultural land with rapidly developing  residential plots, all very different when compared with the massive and heaving population of the more established metropolitan crush to the north of the Thames. However, for reasons not known to me, on the 3rd June, 1876, Francis was to be transferred to 'H' or the Whitechapel division from where, for reasons which will later become clear, he would retire having served a total of some 20 years and 8 months, somewhat short the usual 30 years then required to claim a maximum pension.  His leaving was of his choice, he was to voluntarily resign and return to his rural roots at Cottesmore, complete with wife Elizabeth and their four young siblings to enjoy a more rustic existence.

Why then, was my discovery of the story of Francis Symonds of such a big curiosity for me? Well I now need to confess to a personal interest in his bold  choice of occupation, as venturesome it would most certainly have turned out to be - was a journey which I was to emulate almost a century later when I too turned my back on a rural life in Leicestershire to join one of the world's most venerated and famous police forces.  As a single man, my motivation was that of adventure, along with perhaps excitement and a chance to see a little more of my young world as the world was then my oyster.

Thus I conjectured and attempted to understand what might have passed through young Francis's mind all those many years ago, as he toiled on the farm and went about his rustic chores. Did he wish to become footloose and fancy free; had he known another police officer who had maybe sewn a seed or two in his head, or perhaps he had read tales of derring-do of the famous Mets in newspapers which had stirred his ambitions? Or what of his domestic situation - was there sufficient work for him on the farm, had he upset his father in some way, or was he like me whilst at a loose end, seeking excitement, adventure or perhaps independence. I fear we will never know his mindset, but whatever was the motivation which got young Francis aboard that train to London, the established fact is that he was indeed to achieve his goal.  Some time towards the end of the summer of 1871 - or of course possibly earlier, as he had told the Police that his former occupation was that of 'baker' - I have visions of a tough and weather-worn young farmer's boy with  a few saved-up shillings in his pocket and a small bundle of belongings - maybe tied at the end of a stick, Dick Whittington style - to see him through his early days in the capital city. I wondered if he walked to the railway station at the nearby town of Oakham or whether he was given a lift in a cart by his dad? Whether he would travel direct to the Metropolis from Oakham remains beyond my knowledge of train timetables of the day, but he would probably have travelled via Peterborough  Station on his way South.

Elizabeth Ann Kinnett

Having verified that Francis did indeed sign up for the Metropolitan Police and dutifully swore his allegiance to Queen and Country in 1871, I was then to discover that he encountered and courted a young lady in London whom he would be soon to marry. Of the same age as himself, Elizabeth Ann Kinnett was as much a country girl as he and she too had chosen to emigrate to the the Capital city to earn a living. Born in 1849 in the parish of Purton, Nr. Cricklade in Wiltshire, Elizabeth was the second daughter of James and Mary Kinnett.  By 1871 and at the age of 20 she was working as a live-in cook at the home of agricultural chemist, Edward Young-Jollife and his young family in London Road, St Pancras. Whenever it is that the couple met - or where - I know not but in the Spring of 1879, the couple would exchange their marital vows at Kensington in London.

Francis and Elizabeth were to start their married life in in Turner Street within the Tower Hamlets environment of East London. A quick guide to the whereabouts of the family is of some importance at this point in order to understand what an existence the Symond's family was about to undertake during the next twenty years. 1881 marked the arrival of the first of their four children with the arrival of son, Robert Francis, the man who would one build the house in which I now live in Melton Mowbray in 1921, maybe with the help of a few shillings from his father's estate, boosted  by a safe pension from his previous employers. But prior to my preamble, I will mention two extremely pertinent facts by way of a clue now, as to which way I am going here.

1. The bulk of Francis's service was carried out in 'H' division, Whitechapel, headquartered by Leman Street Police Station and the epicentre of the ill-famed Spitalfields slum area, teeming with a great influx of immigrant citizens of many and divers nationalities and widely considered to envelop the most notorious and infamous dens of iniquity, crime and deprivation of any city in England - not to mention the fleshpots, gambling dens and brothels all tucked away within the wretched and squalid poverty of the 'rookeries' of narrow streets and alleyways.

2. Over a sustained period of 1888, this area was to become the reluctant host to arguably one of the world's most notorious mass murderers who ever existed; the ever mysterious and yet never apprehended, Jack the Ripper. All four of Francis and Elizabeth's children were to be born within the catchment of those mean streets between 1881 and 1890 and I insert the following brief account of those astonishing 6 months just in case there is someone out there who has never heard of the man.

From 'THE FIFTY MOST AMAZING CRIMES OF THE LAST 100 YEARSpublished in 1936I have drawn upon;

 'The Fiend of East London: Jack the Ripper' by F.A. Beaumont.

[London's most horrible case of the invisible assassin. 
Who was he? Why did the murders suddenly stop?]

    "Don't let my doss [room]! I'll be back with the money, I shan't be long." pleaded Mary Ann Nichols, her eyes wide with fear as the lodging-house-keeper thrust her from the door of 18 Thrawl Street, Spitalfields, late on the night of August 30th, 1888.
    Abandoned by her lover, for whom she had left her husband, Mary Nichols had sunk lower and lower into the squalor of the East End of London.  And now she had reached the bottom of the abyss, for Thrawl street and its neighbourhood enclosed the worst slums in Britain.  And through the jungle of its dark and fetid alleys ranged at midnight a fiend who murdered with horrible mutilations such women as Mary Nichols.
    Thrawl Street had many cheap lodging houses for women, one with sixty beds. If she could only get the fourpence needed for a 'doss', she would be safe for one night more. Frantic with terror, she tried in vain to beg the coppers in one public- house after another. Every woman she met seemed to have the promise of shelter that night.  But no one had any money to spare for her.

    At 3.45 a.m., a man named Cross was passing down Bucks Row, a few minutes' walk from Thrawl Street, when he saw what looked like a tarpaulin lying in the road. As he was a carter, this interested him. He approached nearer and was horrified to see that it was a woman lying there with her throat cut from ear to ear, and her body stabbed and slashed in a manner that needed only one glance from a hastily-summoned surgeon, Dr Llewellyn, to decide it was the work of 'Jack the Ripper.'
.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .
    The greatest murder mystery of modern times has never been solved. The 'Ripper' killed six women in three months, all within a district covering only a square mile, densely populated, and livelier and more alert by night than in the day-time.
    Each murder was followed by mutilations of a special kind, taking several minutes, and in one case over an hour, to perform, and each occurred in a place where the murderer might have been caught in the act at any moment. The body of the victim was left lying there, and was usually found a few minutes later.
    There was a police cordon around the area of the murderer's activities, wile the district was tooth-combed day and night by the C.I.D., plain-clothes men, the police , and special patrols. Every street woman in the East End, every crook, pickpocket and bully was on the watch for the killer, and listening for an unguarded remark that might lead to his lair. And the Ripper went on murdering as recklessly as if he were in the middle of the Sahara. From that day to this, Scotland Yard has never had the slightest inkling of his identity, or motive.
    It was not until the body of Mary Nichols was found gashed in exactly similar fashion, on the cobbles of Bucks Row, did London awake to the dread that a murderer was at large who preyed on women. Dr Lewellyn revealed at the inquest that every vital part had been attacked, and a certain organ removed, and that in his opinion, the murderer had 'anatomical knowledge.' 

Much has been written of this particular terrible social aberration in the passage of London's long and turbulent history and only this year, as I write, new claims are being made as to the true identity of the ruthless assassin who arrived, left his very bloody mark on possibly 16 occasions and seemingly vanished into thin air in the briefest passage of time. But what must life have been like, dwelling within the streets, yards and alleyways of Whitechapel and its environs in that awful year of 1888. The previous year had witnessed the great and tumultuous celebrations of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, an extravagant and world-wide salute to her extended 50 years as Monarch of a great and growing Empire? Now, almost anyone out at night within a whistle's blow of a beat man could be considered a suspect and many innocent men were indeed taken in to custody by an increasingly beleaguered and fatigued police force which quite frankly just could not cope.  Bloodhounds were utilised, the sewers were swept as a possible means of escape from the dingy and narrow streets and as Beaumont writes:
   '... one newspaper suggested that every woman in Spitalfelds should be shadowed day and night by two amateur patrols. and should learn a complicated system of whistling and signalling to summon aid if she found herself attacked.

   Another urged that the stalwart giants of the Metropolitan Police Force should shave off their beards and moustaches, dress themselves in women's clothes, and try to lure the Ripper into custody. This agitation became so popular that Sir Charles Warren was forced at length to protest in strong and bitter terms against it.'

To cut a long story necessarily short, the record was to show that Marie Kelly was 'infamously' considered to be the final one of Jack the Ripper's victims. As another summer in the Metropolis was to fade away from the day-to-day lives of the by now terrified inhabitants of the parish of Whitechapel, to be followed by the dreaded long and dark nights of winter, Marie too was hideously murdered and her body violated in dissection. In the early hours of the 9th November 1888 her young life was violently ended and like all of the previous victims, there was no mistaking the mark of the Ripper.

   '... Policemen waited for hours in Dorset Street for Sir Charles Warren's pack of bloodhounds to arrive. But they never came. A few hours before the Ripper killed Marie Kelly, the Chief Commissioner was handing his resignation to the Home Secretary. And then there were no more Ripper scares. The hue and cry died down, and crime experts began to delve into a mystery that has fascinated - and baffled - them ever since.' 

Police Constable (54716) Francis Symonds.  Metropolitan Police, 'H' Division.

My point in the foregoing observations of domestic life in long-ago Whitechapel, is of course related to my discovery of the life and times of Cottesmore-born Francis Symonds.  As I have previously stated, for me as a former police officer who also travelled 100 miles from the bosom of my family to work as an unmarried police officer in the sprawling Metropolis of London, his ambition and achievements - if indeed that is what they were - have left me guessing the answers to a myriad of questions which I would love to have asked him in a different time zone.

But let me first lay out what I do know of his time in London and the place in which he was to live and raise a family of four apparently healthy children. By 1881, Francis had served his time in Lambeth and at the time of the census in the Spring of that year, he was living with Elizabeth at No. 27 Turner Street in rooms above an old police Station which was soon to be replaced. Ironically, less than 100 yards from their home, Turner Street was crossed by a road known locally as 'Rutland Street' and I wouldn't be surprised if it did not raise a memory or two in him once in a while as he walked his beat. Sharing this house with them was first-born Robert Francis who was just 10 months old.

Within the following 10 years the family had been completed and the record in 1891 was to show that in the care of Police Constable Symonds and his wife Elizabeth were all four siblings. Robert was by now 10 and he was big brother to Elizabeth Emily, b. 1883, Mary Ann, b. 1884 and Lydia Maud, b. in 1889. It is possible that a girl, Eliza Alice died at birth there in 1887.  Of interest is the fact, already mentioned, that the family were by now resident at the new Peabody Buildings in Glasshouse Street, Whitechapel, (11 'E' Block) which still stand today, now as as protected and preserved buildings considered to be iconic, living architectural markers of a Victorian past. They are in fact currently being redeveloped with a view to many more years of use yet to come. (See this interesting website)

Francis's father, Robert, who had lost his wife Elizabeth at such an early stage in his married life, never re-married and in the absence of his only son it seems that he got on with running the family farm with his nephew William.  Could this have been an abrasive cause for domestic disharmony and perhaps, a reason for Francis to decamp? Once again, we can only guess but in the early weeks of 1891 matters would come to a head when his father was to die at the age of 70 years. He was interred at Cottesmore on the 7th April 1891 but there appears to be no record of any Probate or Will in the wake of his passing, so I would hazard a guess that there was some connection with the early resignation of Francis from the police force almost exactly one year later in the light of probable inheritance questions which would have arisen. The official police record of his resignation tells us that:
'Francis Symonds, late a Constable Resigned from this Division on the 11th day of May 1892 with pay to the 6th day of May 1892, to which day inclusive he has been paid, and he is entitled to a pension of £33,, 5,, 8 per Annum, commencing on the 7th day of May 1892.

T. Arnold, Superintendent.'
I would suggest that this amount would have been a tidy little sum to take back to rural Rutlandshire, where he would be able to comfortably assume and maintain the responsibility of his new inheritance of the family smallholding at Cottesmore. Still only 42 years of age, Francis had a few years left in him yet and together with the companionship of his wife Elizabeth Ann they settled down to their new lives away from the filth and deprivation of Whitechapel, not to mention the nightmarish memories of 1888 in that part of the Metropolis. The census for 1901 shows just youngest sister Lydia Maud living at home with her parents at the age of 11, whilst Robert was pursuing a career as a builder and carpenter in nearby Melton Mowbray and his sister Elizabeth was employed as a housemaid at Market Overton. Mary, currently known by her second name of 'Annie,' was, at the age of just 16yrs, living-in as a nurse to the two young children of local Barrow farmer, James Steward.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end, though for at least another decade former constable Symonds seemed to relish his new life with Elizabeth. Both were to become most popular members of local Cottesmore society, she being in the membership of local sewing and similar committees and tea afternoons and he, according to newspapers of the day, apart from being sworn in as the local Parish Constable each April, was a frequent prize-winner at shows with his cattle and local grown produce. But the idyll was to be broken when, in the summer of 1910, an amazing period of domestic activity in the Symonds family, moments of both sadness and apparent joy, came to be in a fashion that is hard to imagine. During that summer, following a brief illness and apparently with little warning, Francis Symonds was to die peacefully at his home in Cottesmore; he was interred in the church of St Nicholas on the 13th August. Later that month, the Grantham Journal was to announce the wedding of Robert Francis Symonds and Ada Wilmott at St Mary's C of E, Melton Mowbray on the 24th August 1910. In the same 'Notices' column of that edition of the newspaper, was to be found the following notice:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: - Mrs Symonds and family desire to return heartfelt thanks to all kind friends in their sad bereavement. No cards - Cottesmore, Oakham.

Bizarrely, within just two more months, on the 10th October 1910, Elizabeth Ann Symonds, dear wife of Francis of Cottesmore for over 30 years and mother of his four children, was also to die and be buried alongside her husband - both were just 61. Daughters Mary Annie and Lydia would remain in the family home and carry on the work of running the farm, both never having married. Mary was to die in 1962 at the age of 71 years, followed by Lydia ten years later at the age of 82 in 1972. Sister Elizabeth, who also never married, spent her remaining years working in service, returning to Cottesmore to die in 1967 at the age of 85.


Having now come full circle I return to the subject of Robert Francis Symonds, the man who was in 1927 to build the house which I now own. Like his siblings, there were no children from his marriage, or indeed from either of his marriages and so with all of the family passing on, that particular branch of the Symonds family would cease to exist. Robert's first wife Ada was to die in 1939 and having spent the war years as a widower, he would in 1945 marry Elizabeth Emily Lindsay, a teacher. He was then 65 years of age but sadly he was to die on the 6th June, 1947. 20 years later in 1967, his new wife would pass away at Uppingham in 1967. This situation would now leave baby sister Lydia as the last remaining member of the Symonds family. Ask people today in the little chapelry of Barrow or its neighbouring parish of Cottesmore about any members the family named Symonds who once lived in their midst and you will almost certainly receive a negative response.  I have wondered how much people came to learn of their previous lives in the big city far away, or whether they were wont to talk later of the terrible year of 1888; nothing seems to have been recorded in local newspapers or the like.


Tucked away at the edge of the graveyard at the rear of St Nicholas' Church in Cottesmore can today be found two separate stones, the sole reminders, side by side, of the vanished family which they now represent. Barely legible engraving in the soft local weather-worn stone in which the words are carved vaguely delivers their simple message from long ago.  On the one to the right, the message states:


The one to the left is that of his daughter with its equally simple message:


A family gone now forever and apparently, forgotten.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014



In one moment of my breath I am extolling the arrival of yet another summer and seemingly in the next, I am discovering that the combine harvesters are tearing through the fields of ripe golden corn which surround my town and rushing the current crop off to market.  Summer this year has been kind to the farmers and gardeners alike with plenty of rain to get things going, followed by more than our average allocation of warm and sunny days to ripen the crop. Everything is early once more, with reports of large amounts of fruit on the trees and the blackberry brambles growing wild and uncontrolled in the hedgerows are promising heavy stems to draw the blood from our fingers once more.  The only thing around here which has not been producing, is my blog, but I always use the outside pleasures which summer usually provides as an excuse - or reason - to vacate my computer in the pecking order of domestic priorities. Anyway, let me get on with things.



Some time ago whilst trawling the archives of my local newspapers, I was surprised to come across an account of a serious incident which had touched upon a member of my wife's antecedent family in the small village of Somerby, some 4 or 5 miles to the south of Melton Mowbray.  It seems that in the early months of 1883 a sad case of unrequited love was destined to suffer a violent denouement one Saturday morning, when the male of the species arrived in the village armed with a pistol and apparently intent on carrying out his earlier threats to take a particular young lady's life. The gun was indeed fired, a woman being hit and sharp knives were wielded in a dramatic fight at the local butcher's shop before the miscreant was overpowered and the local police arrived in good time to effect an arrest.

The young lady rejecting a prior promise of marriage - at great risk to her life seemingly - was local lass Elizabeth Freeman - a great-grandmother of my wife and grandmother of her mother.  Born in 1915 - and died in 2015!  I enquired of my mother-in-law as to what knowledge she had of the very public incident at Somerby in 1883 involving her grandmother, but she asserted that she had never been made aware of such an occurrence and that it was as much a surprise for her as it had been for me on its resurrection from an old newspaper all these 135 years later.

Entranced as I frequently am by those long forgotten reporters of Victorian times who wrote such wonderful copy for their editors and the general public, I can best present the story verbatim and as it appeared at the time in the Melton Mowbray Mercury.

Monday, 9 June 2014


Scrapings of Discontent

Burton Road in quieter days - outside Craven Lodge circa 1930

(With thanks to the Francis Frith Collection)

I presently reside in Burton Road, Melton Mowbray, sometimes referred to as ‘Burton Hill’, which is actually the area centred abutting Craven and Victoria Streets.  After the establishment of Craven Lodge as the first residence to be built across the River Eye in Burton Road, dwellings of lesser proportions began to appear at the turn of the last century.  But these were not much ‘lesser’ in cost or design, as many fine houses began to appear on both sides of that road to Oakham during those first two decades of the 20th century, most of which were taken up by wealthy or prestigious people, many of them incomers to the town.  But like most newly developing neighbourhoods, a little acrimony mixed with petty jealousies occasionally bubbled to the surface, especially when matters of status needed to be settled.

It was with some amusement therefore, that I spotted in the Grantham Journal of May 21st, 1910, within the transactions of the monthly meeting of the Melton Mowbray Urban District Council, suggestions of a domestic dispute involving two prominent members of local society.  In the red corner stood local solicitor Mr James Atter, newly in town from Stamford in Lincolnshire, married and with a young family. In the blue corner, stood bachelor civil servant and recently down from the capital city, The Hon. James Walsh, General Inspector of the Local Government Board [and he with two servants and a butler].  The Journal reporter was to file his copy thus:

‘A COMPLAINT FROM BURTON ROAD. - The following letter from Mr. Jas. Atter was read, viz. :— Melton Mowbray, 13th May, 1910.  Dear Sir, - Quite recently cart loads of soil, which I claim belong to me, have been removed by employees of the Urban District Council of Melton Mowbray, from the frontage to my garden on the Burton-road, Melton Mowbray.  Such cart-loads of soil have, I understand, been given to, or sold to the Hon. Mr Walsh, or his landlord, and deposited near the building in course of erection for him.  Such soil would have done very well for my kitchen garden.  Assuming the Council had a power to sell or make a gift of such soil, do you not think it would have been better if the Council had made the offer of the same to the true owner thereof?  I dispute, however, the Council’s right to act as they have done, and I defy production of an authority for so acting.  Perhaps you will place this letter before your Council, and afterwards inform me what they propose doing in the matter.   Yours truly, JAMES ATTER.”

The DEPUTY SURVEYOR said the soil in question consisted of road scrapings which had accumulated along the the frontage in question, and was removed because it was an advantage to do so from time to time.  The CLERK said the soil was clearly the property of the Council.  Mr. WILLCOX suggested that a letter be sent to Mr. Atter pointing out that there was no intention on the part of the Council to encroach upon any rights Mr. Atter might possess with regard to his frontage.  Mr. GILL said they they must regret perhaps that the scrapings were removed without asking whether he would have cared for them, yet they must not admit he had the right to them.  He claimed them as his property.   Mr. BREWITT expressed a similar opinion, and it was decided, on the motion of Mr. GILL, seconded by Mr. MANCHESTER, to reply to Mr. Atter to this effect.’ 

And on such matters it has been said, great nations have foundered, though so far I have not learned of the final result in this particular matter.


I would draw your attention to the fact that Melton solicitor James Atter, although born in Stamford in 1870, proudly represented Leicestershire at cricket for many years and his two sons James Edward, b. 1896 [sadly killed in action in France on 16th August, 1916] and David Lawrence, b.1908, would later represent Oakham School with the bat and ball. See this website for further information.

Saturday, 26 April 2014


The Long Journey.

Ollie is our cat and he celebrated his tenth birthday this month when no doubt a few tantalising treats were once again placed before him to honour the momentous occasion.  Born in Peckham, S. E. London at some time during the third week of April in 2004, our much loved, chubby British Black with the 'cream' around his lips, is believed to have originated in that borough amongst a litter of five siblings.

My daughter Mimi who has maintained a lifelong fascination for 'Felis cactus'  was resident in Peckham when she was offered first choice of a friend's unwanted and apparently increasingly intrusive litter. As we old folk here in the wilds of the English East Midlands had recently bid a fond last farewell to 'Archie' - a very large and loveable tabby - and were still mourning his passing, Mimi carefully made the decision that we would just love a replacement. Having made her choice of the litter on offer, the chosen one was subsequently packed into a small, perforated shoebox which was, in due course, transported over the 118 miles that separated our residences.  Fait accomplis!

In truth, we were not really ready yet to replace our recently demised incumbent, but the unsolicited presentation of this little waif and stray from the mean back-streets of metropolitan Peckham served to generate the minimum of resistance from us country folk.  And who could have rejected the tiny, sad and dishevelled creature that announced his presence on our doorstep; though observing suspiciously its sad and dishevelled appearance I had visions of his antecedents being more likely of the alley-cat social order and was moved to enquire of its deliverer if he was in fact, "perhaps feral?"   Mimi brusquely and swiftly disabused me of this 'awful and hurtful' suggestion and thus it was that at that moment in our lives, one scruffy little feline became a Melton Mowbray cat.

Those people - and I know there are many - who are averse to these independent and wilful creatures will not have read this far, but we as cat lovers are well aware of the differences of opinion that exist between the protagonists, so to argue the point here to any extent is perhaps not worth the effort.  Suffice to say that we have long enjoyed the presence of a cat in our home as part of our family on the grounds of the minimum effort which is required to maintain friendship and loyalty.  Their independence assures us that all we are required to do is to feed him, notwithstanding that legend asserts that a cat can go for many days without food, as indeed many of them do in the wild.

Of course there are the trips to the Vet., the cost of his food and other minimal needs, but it is his warm presence and humerous nature which keep us in thrall as he goes about his life as a paid-up member of the household and easily justifies his outgoings. Ollie is a nocturnal creature and every night of every month throughout the year he spends outdoors, searching for mice and frogs or any other little creatures which might be abroad.  At the same time he is studiously aware that 'Reynard', the local fox, is also known to patrol in the same area.  He chases the pigeons from my bird table when the season arrives but sadly, to my great chagrin, he is also known to take baby birds from their nests in the Spring, a practice for which I chide him but with little positive effect. He does seem to be impervious to the vagaries of the weather and can often be found lying on the snow for long periods of time, though prolonged hot spells in the summer can drive him to the shelter of shadowy areas on occasions.

From what I have learned of Ollie's movements over these past ten years, it seems that he has a limited area of patrol, albeit quite a large one, which comprises the rear gardens of the houses on three nearby roads all of which form a triangular to the back of our house.  It seems that the presence of the sometimes heavy traffic on these roads is sufficient to prevent him straying further.

On a normal summer's day he is usually to be found at first light, peering expectantly through the glass of the back door, through which he is welcomed by the lady of the house.  After a bit of breakfast he will toddle off to wherever he fancies in the house to select a place to sleep deeply for the next four or five hours.  After some lunch he will continue to snooze on an off until the sun goes down when, with his batteries charged, he resumes his nocturnal prowls.  In all I would suggest that sleep takes up a good three-quarters of his very privileged life style.

The Human Touch.

It is for sure that Ollie has few enemies, the local dogs respect his presence amongst them and usually keep their distance after having once felt the sharpness of his claws on their nose and he keeps a tight watch for all unwelcome visitors on his patch.  Many times we have discovered the presence of pulverised cat hair blowing around the garden following one of his night-time scraps, the scars of which can be seen today, but his main enemy is that of the homo sapiens variety and one day he was to meet his match.

About a year ago I was spending a late Sunday evening in the garden when I heard, at first very faintly, the plaintive sound of a cats 'me-ow'. Curious as to its source, I went to the bottom of the garden where I was devastated to see Ollie, just inside his gate but lying down and obviously in much pain. As he tried to stand he fell backwards and I saw that his hind quarters were bleeding and exhibiting evidence of being run over by a vehicle or similar.  He looked so woeful and despairing that I began to cry and as I comforted him I speculated as to how far he had dragged himself to get back to the apparent safety of his own home combined with whatever pain he might have suffered in doing so.  I had no indication or knowledge of what had transpired with the little chap or where and when it had occurred, but I lifted him up gently and took him indoors.

That night being Sunday and the following day being a bank holiday, we had a problem arranging veterinary assistance and it was perhaps fortunate that Ollie remained brave and showed no signs of great discomfort, even though a fracture of his rear leg was readily apparent to us by now.  When we did eventually meet up at the surgery, the true test of our love for the species was to be sorely tested - at least it was for me.  My dear wife was to not bat an eye-lid as she stoically declared to the surgeon, "Whatever it takes." You see, we were not insured for such an event and animal surgery today does not come cheaply. The  options were limited; full surgery and weeks of isolation in a cage, let him learn to live with it and - close your eyes - say goodbye.  As is the practice these days we differed in our preferences, suffice to say that following a payment of four figure sum, Ollie was gingerly taken home to spend the next few weeks on the kitchen floor in a wire cage.

When the big day of his release finally arrived he was allowed out into the garden where he wandered off to discover what had perhaps changed in his absence and within a very short period of time, we looked out of the window to see him perched on the top of a six foot fence. "Oh no!" we both shouted in pained unison only to admire his poise as he gracefully greeted terra firma, two front feet first and these followed by his rear legs which were gingerly lowered to the ground but all in one smooth action not unlike the articulation of an aeroplanes's undercarriage in completing a copy-book landing. It was as if he had forgotten nothing during his convalescence - situ normali - and left me thinking that we perhaps underestimate these little creatures and sometimes at our great cost.

Ollie no longer ventures beyond the garden fence and only he knows what sort of awful moment overtook him on that frightful Sunday evening, but his life seems little changed now; eat, sleep, sleep, eat, sleep, sleep and why not, isn't that what we all would aspire to? - So here's to the next ten years Ollie. 


Friday, 25 April 2014



    Tucked away in the grounds of St Peters C of E church at Kirby Bellars in Leicestershire stands a headstone which is a memorial to the tragic passing of three young men all from the same family some 85 years ago; each was in his youthful twenties and all three had apparently died within a matter of weeks of one another: The now-fading inscription poignantly records the sad testimony of what must have been an awful period in the life of their family:

DIED AUGUST 9, 1927,


‘God knows the way he holds the key
He guides us with unerring hand.
Sometime with tireless eyes we’ll see: 
Yes, there, up there, we’ll understand.’




    Intrigued and fascinated in equal proportions, I pondered for a while the circumstances of these time-related passings and what it might have been about all those many years ago.  With my curiosity aroused I felt an urge to discover more details of what appeared, on the face of it, to be such an obvious human tragedy and perhaps to learn something of the people then involved.  My enquiries were to lead me to unearth the awful events of a late summer's night in 1927 and I was to learn of the terrible circumstances of one family’s tragic burden. The first named person, Horace Littlewood, had actually died at his family home of protracted and lingering injuries which he had incurred during his service in the Great War which had been followed by the indignity of internment as a prisoner of the enemy.  The demise of his two younger brothers Sidney and Charles relates to a totally different and tragic turn of events some two months later when a violent weather incident occurred locally in which they were both struck down at the cost of their lives. The following is what I have discovered of those tragic events which unfolded during that long-ago summer.

Saturday, 19 April 2014


An Olympian Ordeal

During my frequent browsing of the old newspapers which were once local to my home area, it is the occasional 'eureka' moment, like the excitement of finding an elusive 'bargain' at a church fĂȘte jumble sale or Sunday street market, that so seems to make this whole thing of research so worthwhile. Such was the case recently when I stumbled across the following little gem, almost hidden at the bottom of column 2, page 8 of the Grantham Journal, a fastidious and serious broadsheet which served to cover its neighbouring market town of Melton Mowbray in some detail.

My personal joy of the piece almost certainly relates to the fact that I was myself once a police officer and that I know that the astonishing accomplishment of village bobby, P.C Watson, of 100 years ago would certainly be recognised as an heroic feat by any serving officer of today's police service.  But there is also an irony, seemingly missed by the writer as he explains the amazing - or even amusing! - events which unfolded during that summer's day, in that the astonishing part of the story for the reader of today is reduced to but a short sentence.  Either the reporter was ignorant of the geography of the area or he thought little of it, but to assist my readers who also are not aware, I will explain at the outset that the distance the constable travelled in pursuit of his quarry was all of ten long miles of undulating road and with the help of my basic schoolboy maths I have produced some figures to explain.

Suffice to say on noting the date of this event, that at the very genesis of the world's worst ever human conflict, plucky young men such as our hero here described would sooner or later be whisked off their rural beats to fight in a dirty war in foreign fields against a foe that they never knew or even perhaps cared about.  

This is the story, as printed:

    'An audacious burglary was committed in the Market-place, Oakham, early on Wednesday morning, a plate glass window of the establishment of Miss Payne, jeweller, etc., being broken, and a quantity of watches, rings, brooches etc, being abstracted.  Thanks however, to the promptitude with which the police were warned by the discoverer of the occurrence, and the equally prompt action of the police the perpetrator was in a few hours run to ground with the whole of the property he had purloined in his possession.  About 4 o’clock on Wednesday morning, Mr. Thomas Barfield and Mr H.S. Dexter were going on duty at the Post-office, and in High-street they met a man who, while his appearance occasioned no suspicion, they made a “mental note” of, doubtless because of his being in the street at that time of the morning.  At Mr. Makin’s corner, Mr. Barfield turned into the Market-place with the object of proceeding to the Post-master’s residence, and on passing Miss Payne’s shop, situated at the corner of a block of buildings, which except for the front part nearer High-street is non residential (including the burgled premises) he noticed that the large plate glass window opposite the School House had been smashed, and articles of jewellery scattered over the pavement.  He at once proceeded to the police station and informed the Chief Constable, and Mr. Wilson, together with Inspector Golder and other police officers were quickly on the spot.  An iron bar about two feet long was lying not far from the window, which had evidently had three blows struck at it, before a hole sufficiently large had been made to get at the contents.  The Chief Constable having obtained a description of the man the postmen met in High-street, at once dispatched constables in various directions in pursuit.  P.c. Watson, stationed at Langham, cycled along the Melton-road and on reaching the Burton-road railway bridge at Melton Mowbray, he came up with a man answering the description given. He at once apprehended the man, and conveyed him to the prison in Norman-street, where he was searched under the supervision of Superintendent Hinman.  On him was found eight watches, thirty four gold rings, twenty six silver rings, and a quantity of other gold and silver jewellery, such as brooches, etc..  The man gave the name of William Bentley, a labourer of Leeds and twenty-six years of age.  He was brought to Oakham by P.c. Watson, and brought before D. N. Royce Esq., and remanded until yesterday (Friday).    The accused was again brought up yesterday, and was committed to take his trial at the Quarter Sessions.  P.c. Watson stated that when he arrested the accused at Melton, and told him who he was he said, “Oh yes: I know what you want: I have got the stuff with me.”  On the way to Oakham, the prisoner said, “I have thrown some trays away,” and he subsequently pointed out a small spinney on the roadside to witness where the jewel trays were found.'
(Transcribed from The Grantham Journal of 8th August 1914.)          

In modern times I have traversed this route many, many times and with no exception, I have always travelled by motor-car and the thought of pedalling up the the crest of each of the many extremely meaningful and tortuous hills along the way, does nothing less than fill me with awe and great pride for Constable Watson, who was no doubt in possession of a standard police issue velocipede and attired in his heavy Melton-cloth uniform - not to mention the awkward balancing of his issue helmet.  None of your Derailleur gear mechanisms in those long ago days and very rigid saddles to sit upon.

With my most basic maths and with a little help from Google I can assure you that the A606 Oakham to Melton Road today measures 10.2 English miles, (16.42 km. ). To walk this journey has been estimated to take 3hrs, 23 mins and to cycle - 57 minutes.  Olympian!

Monday, 27 January 2014


'That's Life!'

At Midday on Monday, 27th January, all available seats were taken at the beautiful old church of St Mary in Melton Mowbray as around 150 people gathered to pay their final respects to and to lament the unfortunate passing of popular resident Jim Middleton.

The Grim Reaper continues to silently plough his lonely furrow and Jim is just yet another of the town's characters to move on to pastures new, but the size of the congregation on a bitter-cold day was a warm hearted testament to the popularity of a proud man, loved, respected and admired by those who knew him.

My earliest connection with Jim a few years back was purely peripheral, someone who warranted a once-in-a-while nodding of heads across a busy Market Place on a Saturday morning, but that was until quite recent times.  About three or four years ago I encountered Jim on the upstairs deck of a converted Leicester Corporation double-decker bus which was then being utilised by the NHS as a mobile unit to provide 'man matters clinics' around the County.  In the moments in which we needed to wait for our next checks we would sit together in the seat at the back, opposite to where, in our schoolboy days, the conductor would swing round the chrome pole at the top of the stairs in order to catch the fare-dodgers, or those boys from the rough parts of town who would spit through the windows at passing pedestrians below.  As we sat and we waited our turn, we reminisced about the buses and conversed in general; we chuckled a little at the procedures we were undertaking but I was also to learn on a more serious note that Jim was beginning to suffer serious problems with his breathing and general respiration and that further and most importantly, he was not confident of a hopeful prognosis.  In turn, I was to confide in him that my problem was connected with my peeing ability and that my prognosis was an 'alleged' cancerous tumour flourishing within my bladder.

What I do remember of that offbeat little meeting of two local minds was the fact that we did spend an awful lot of the time discussing the joys of nature, birds nests, worm casts, mice in winter, how the ants all fly up at the same time on a hot summers day, etc. etc.  With no suggestion of ennui, we were both in our element and I was aware of some kindred connection that I had tapped from him. As a direct result of this clandestine interchange, our meetings would henceforth go beyond the statutory nod in the Market Place and embark upon a lively little chat.  During the service, I was reminded of this melancholy encounter on the old Leicester bus and Jim's love of nature when we all stood to sing that all-time favourite hymn written by Cecil F. Alexander in 1848 - 'All Things Bright and Beautiful'

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
          All things wise and wonderful:

          The Lord God made them all.
Each little flow’r that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.
The purple-headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.
The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.
The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.
He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.
(Cecil F. Alexander, 1848)  

Jim was born just two months after me in war-torn 1940 and as we were assured today at the service, his life was full of happiness and pleasure.  I knew his wife Ros probably better than Jim, lively, lovely and the perfect foil for him, she was sadly taken far too early in her life.  So its a fond farewell to Jim and a hope for all of the descendant family for prolonged good health and prosperity.

St. Mary's, Melton Mowbray

As a final footnote from me in reference to Jim's earnest request for people to be 'happy' on the day, I will share with you a quotation currently hanging in readiness on a wall at home which, when the Grim Reaper decides that it is my turn, should need no explanation!  I have my 'tunes to play' written on the reverse.

Rest in Peace Jim