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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gordon Brown & Gillian Duffy - Lo! The Bird is Fallen


Gordon Brown's demise at hands of a lovable Lancashire Lass pensioner stirs memories of similarly unfortunate clashes with the Scots.

In the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite Rebellions, Lancashire was split between the 'Blacks' (the Liberal Whigs) and the 'Jacks' (the white emblem Tories - who were allied with the Scots).

As late as 1747, there was still a bit of bother going on now and again in Rochdale between rival gangs of lads under the Blacks and Jacks banners.

It all tended to end badly.

Following the Battle of Preston in 1715, the Lancashire Lads who had sided with the Jacobites were given an especially hard time in terms of executions and transportation to the West Indies - reflecting the probability that a special deal had been cut with the Scots to persuade the Highlanders to surrender.

In the main though, Lancashire stood firm with the rest of England. And the exploits of local sharp-shooter Edward Jolly in the Battle of Preston were commemorated in a local doggerel ballad that I have refashioned for the current occasion.


Three cheers for Gillian Duffy
Who fought a doughty fight
When the rabble from Whitehall
She drove in headlong flight.

Going for bread and milk
She stumbled on a Scot
Who jacked her up
With smarming on the spot

He’d come with party brigands
To loot with dirk and kilt
Fattening his expenses
With England’s largesse spilt

She asked about the debt
And schools, and immigration’s ills
From east, and north the Border -
With Scottish votes on English bills

Spying on this one-eyed Jack
Haughty, angry, distant
The media eavesdropped
On him and his assistant.

He turned and told his henchman
‘She thinks! - She isn’t one of mine
This grandma is a bigot
Find me Jacks who toe the line’.

He said it was heat of moment
He was sort of caught off guard
Pressure of the campaign
And being humble is so hard

With pride she kept peace
Against whose cannonade
No microphone, no rebel
Might raise a barricade.

In honour of this noble deed
Her name through all the county
Was seen a heroine’s name
Deserving Rochdale’s bounty.

Three cheers for Gillian Duffy
Who fought a doughty fight
When the rabble from Whitehall
She drove in headlong flight.

Two salvoes true and mighty
Rang with this grandma’s fun
And lo! “The bird is fallen”
Raised cheers from everyone.

And so it was that famous day
That Gillian was called brave
For many a English voter’s life
Her gallantry did save.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Cleggymania & Once More With Feeling


As a former member of the UK Labour Party and then defector to the offshoot Social Democratic Party (SDP) I have been immersing myself in the ongoing UK General Election campaign – for me it is all as luxurious as being Cleopatra in a bath of fresh, warm milk (minus the asp).

I don’t find any contradiction in maintaining my loyalty to the NZ Labour Party and having a soft spot for the successors of the SDP, the Liberal Democrats. In fact I know that a couple of very good friends – John MacArthur in Leeds and Bob Wharton in London - will be working their yellow socks off to maximize the vote for the Lib-Dems.

In the first place, no party deserves a long lease on government in a democratic system. Beyond that, the policies of both the modern NZ and UK Labour Parties have been influenced to some extent by those of the SDP and the Liberals. Both try now to balance a commitment to sound public finance and administration with a concern for giving a helping hand up to those who need and appreciate it.

Or as our SDP motto had it: ‘Caring about Costs – Caring about People’.

Back in 1982, as an SDP member of a televised political panel questioning Labour Leader Neil Kinnock in Leeds, I took exception to his claim that ‘the SDP had a rag-bag of policies’, and asked ‘if our policies are a rag-bag, why have you stolen our clothes?’

And the New Labour Party that Blair and Brown rode to power did indeed make good use of Lib-Dem commonsense and pragmatism about the proper role of the state in a modern mixed economy.

So let’s see what Der Spiegel has to say about Cleggymania.

[Extract of Comments from Marco Evers of Der Spiegel]

After 13 years of Labour Party rule, Britain is on the verge of historic change as the May 6 general election approaches. For the first time, the Liberal Democrats, the country's third party, could win a big enough share of the vote to force electoral reform and end the traditional two-party system.

One of the most difficult tests in the life of a British politician is the summons to appear on Jeremy Paxman's ‘Newsnight’ program on the BBC. Paxman, the grand inquisitor of British journalism, has been known to make even seasoned politicians squirm in their seats with his hard-hitting questions.

If he feels that an interviewee is being evasive, he repeats his question -- a dozen times, if necessary. He makes it clear that he is not satisfied with their answer and just gives up on them with contempt.

As it turned out, Nick Clegg, 43, the boyish leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Britain's third party, fearlessly entered the ring with Paxman. He withstood everything Paxman threw his way for a full 30 minutes, and came off looking good in the process: telegenic, relaxed and quick-witted.

Compared with the dour Brown and the sometimes supercilious Cameron, Clegg made a profoundly refreshing impression.

The interview, which aired two weeks ago, was Clegg's first sensational success, and it bolstered him and his fans. Several other interviews and two 90-minute television debates later, Clegg has risen to the level of political superstar.

Clegg is no outrageous extremist. Nevertheless, he is unusual for a British politician. He is the son of a half-Russian father and a Dutch mother born in Indonesia. He is married to a Spanish woman, and he speaks German, Dutch, French and Spanish. His sons are not named James and Harry, but Antonio, Alberto and Miguel.

Clegg has worked for the European Commission in Brussels and in Central Asia. He admires the EU project and thinks the euro is a wonderful idea -- two things he has candidly admitted, despite his desire to appeal to the notoriously euro-sceptic British electorate.

The Tories' strategists, who were until recently confident of victory, are frantic. After 13 years in power, the Labour Party is finished, and its prime minister, Gordon Brown, is washed-up and unpopular.

And now, ironically, the centre-left Liberal Democrats, a party that for decades has carved out an unfortunate existence as a third party in a two-party system, could thwart an election win for Cameron.

The British majority voting system has always made it difficult for the Liberal Democrats, because elections are not decided by a party's share of the total vote, but exclusively by the number of constituencies won in a "first past the post" system. This can be cruel. In 2005, the Liberal Democrats captured more than 22 percent of the popular vote nationwide, but had to make do with only about 10 percent of seats in parliament.

As recently as early April, London bookmaker William Hill considered the possibility of Clegg's party achieving a majority in parliament about as likely as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster.

But now that Clegg has hypnotized voters in front of their TV sets, some polls are already putting his party in first place, with about 33 percent of the vote, with the Tories following close behind and Brown's Labour Party bringing up the rear. All polls agree on the fact that a small British party has never made it this far this quickly.

Since the surprising poll results emerged, the conservative Rupert Murdoch press, which includes the tabloid The Sun and the centre-right The Times of London, has done its best to paint an unfavourable picture of the nation's new darling, but without success.

Millions of Britons are in love.


Well, where are these new potential votes coming from?

Mary Dejevsky in the UK Independent picks the Aspiring Low Earners:

‘But now Britain's army of low-earning workers are flocking to Nick Clegg in an unprecedented surge in support for the Liberal Democrats.

All the parties have been attempting to woo the 14 million voters in the group, who have jobs and are part of households with a total income of up to £27,000. But, whereas they had looked likely unenthusiastically to back the Conservatives, after the television leadership debates support for the Liberal Democrats surged.

Polling carried out by Ipsos MORI for the think-tank the Resolution Foundation found that the Liberal Democrats had secured an 11-point lead among voters in the group, with the party taking support from the Tories and "other" parties.

The support for the Liberal Democrats is a major breakthrough as these voters do not traditionally vote for them. The poll found the Liberal Democrats had attracted 38 per cent of voters in the "low-earners" category, with both the Tories and Labour on 27 per cent.

On the other hand, Dominic Lawson picks the Worthy Middle Class:

‘As the Economist magazine pointed out last month, "the middle class has had a worse time of it than is generally recognized". Labour have done much to support the least well-off, at least through the tax and benefits system, and have also been very good to the super-rich non domiciles: it is the "hard-working middle class" that have actually done least well out of government policies – however much Gordon Brown eulogises them in principle.

Yet, as the Economist went on to say: "Mr Cameron epitomizes British elites: he understands his high-earning peers and feels a genuine noblesse oblige towards the poor, but the people in between seem somehow beyond his ken."

Who knows, perhaps a part of the sudden surge of support for the Liberal Democrats is from exactly those "hard-working middle classes", who feel overtaxed by Labour and do not feel that David Cameron is truly on their side? This represents a spectacular collapse in support for David Cameron.

In the cases of both the Aspiring Low Earners and the Worthy Middle Class, I find some disturbing resonances of an ostensibly totally unrelated group in the USA. As Kate Zerniket explains in the New York Times;

‘Tea Party Supporters are Doing Fine, but Angry Nonetheless. They are just as likely as others to be employed, and more likely to describe their economic situation as very or fairly good. Yet they are disproportionately pessimistic about the economy and the nation.

What accounts for this gap between how they are faring and how they feel the country is faring?

History offers some lessons. The poll reveals a deep conviction among Tea Party supporters that the country is being run by people who do not share their values, for the benefit of people who are not like them’.


So what we are really seeing, at least in part, is a ‘plague upon both your houses’ response to Labour and the Tories, the registering of self-interest and protest about perceptions of unfairness, and a lack of loyalty to any party principles.

Not such a bad thing - just a reflection of a distracted public that puts a lot of emphasis now on ‘what’s in it for me?’ and on putting politicians in their place (somewhere above City Bankers, somewhere below Reality TV Stars).

So I try hard not to get my hopes up too much for substantive change in the UK. A week is as Harold Wilson remarked ‘a long time in politics’.

And, after all – we have been here before.

In a previous incarnation back in 1982, I stood as a Council Candidate for the Social Democratic Party (UK) in Leeds.

I lost. But as they say, it was an interesting experience. We were doing very well on the door step when we knocked until Mrs Thatcher ordered the sinking of the Argentine Navy cruiser the General Belgrano, killing 323 young Argentinians.

Overnight, it became a nationalist (or ‘Khaki’) Local Election. I well remember one Yorkshire-man justifying his switch back to the Tories by claiming a basic skeletal affinity with the Union Jack: ‘if you break open my bones lad, you will find that they are red, white and blue’.

So why was I there on the pavement in North Leeds?

As I still do, I despised the caste-ridden Tory Party, and Mrs Thatcher’s survival of the fittest ethics and avowal that ‘there is no such thing as society’.

On the other hand, I knew from working as a public servant in North East England 15 years before that the Labour Party had frequently become a corrupt Tammany Hall gang at the local level and was open to infiltration by Trotsky-influenced zealots from the ‘Militant Tendency’ who believed that their ends justified any means.

I was also very much opposed to Labour aspirations for the nationalization of private enterprises, its antipathy to the European Union, and its commitment to unilaterally dismantling the UK’s nuclear deterrent without securing any quid pro quo from the USSR.

The final straw for many in the breakaway of the SDP had been the behaviour of former Chancellor of the Exchequer Denis Healey during the Labour leadership campaign to find a replacement for James Callaghan. He bluntly told those assembled to “vote for him” – no questions taken. At the end of one meeting, when asked why they should vote for him, Healey answered "You have nowhere else to go" (to stop the left-winger Michael Foot from winning).

The SDP enjoyed a considerable honeymoon period with the press, who made considerable mileage out of their quirk for proffering claret at their functions. Claret is an "agreeable" wine, and a metaphor for the party's harmonious internal relations compared to those of the strife-torn Labour Party of the period.

As Wikipedia explains:

‘The policies of the SDP emphasized a middle position between perceived extremes of Thatcherism and the Labour Party. The SDP favoured economic reforms during the 1980s (such as anti-trade union legislation and the privatization of state industries), but took a more welfarist position than the Conservative Party, being sceptical of Conservative welfare reforms (particularly regarding the Health Service).

The SDP formed the SDP-Liberal Alliance with the Liberal Party late in 1981, under the joint leadership of Roy Jenkins (SDP) and Liberal leader David Steel. The Liberal Party, and in particular its leader, David Steel, had applauded the formation of the SDP from the sidelines from the very start.

However, Liberal pride was damaged by the sustained lampooning of the Alliance by ITV's Spitting Image puppet comedy programme portraying Steel as the craven lickspittle of Owen. One Spitting Image sketch had a Machiavellian Owen proposing to a simpering Steel that the parties merged under a new name: "and for our side we'll take 'Social Democratic', and from your side, we'll take ‘Party'", to which a hesitant Steel agreed.

During an era of public disillusionment with the two main parties – Labour and the Conservatives – and wide-scale unemployment, the Alliance achieved considerable success in parliamentary by-elections. At one point, the party had an opinion poll rating of over 50 percent.

By 1981, David Steel was able to address the Liberal Party conference with the phrase "Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government!"

In early 1982, after public disagreements over who could fight which seats in the forthcoming election, the poll rating dipped, but the party was still well ahead of the Conservatives, and far ahead of Labour. However, following victory in the Falklands War in June 1982, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher soared from third place in the public opinion polls.

The standing of the Alliance and Labour declined. The Alliance did well in the 1983 general election, winning 25% of the national vote, close behind Labour's 28%.

Because of the British "first-past-the-post" electoral system, only 23 Alliance MPs were elected, six of whom were members of the SDP. Two more SDP MPs were elected in by-elections in the next four years, but in the 1987 general election, with the SDP under the leadership of David Owen, the Alliance's share of the vote fell slightly, and the SDP's parliamentary party was reduced from eight members to five’.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Commonplace Daughter of a Wiltshire Shepherd


My great grandmother Mary Davis was a stunningly attractive woman from the photograph that we have of her as a young mother – and I still carry a few snippets of her West Country or Wessex family culture (or memes) that were handed down through my mother.

For example, as a visitor to the houses or flats that I occupied as a young man, my mother was a compulsive and rather unwelcome seeker and interpreter of the personal letters, trinkets and photographs scattered throughout the furniture drawers.

This intrusive searching she excused lightly as simply being ‘a Poll Pry’, after the manner of her grandmother.

Mary was also the origin of the female-line mitochondrial DNA that has came down to me – with the link to ‘Katrine’ (one of Syke’s Seven Daughters of Eve) whose family would apparently have been found in Lombardy, Northern Italy some 10,000 years ago waiting out the last Ice Age.

And through whom I am related to Oetzi the Ice Man who perished hunting in the Alps some 4,000 years ago, and whose deep frozen corpse has been the subject of much study (and squabbles between the Italians and Austrians) in recent years.

Well what can we say about the Davis family?

Mary’s father Henry was a shepherd who was born in Huish, Wiltshire in 1841, as the son of an agricultural labourer. Mary’s mother Martha was born Martha Whatley in Chitterne, Wiltshire, the daughter again of an agricultural labourer. In the 1861 Census she is recorded as a 17 year old domestic servant working (with her 14 year old sister Mary) in the household of a prosperous farmer Henry Allard in the hamlet of Corton, near Chitterne.

The previous generations in both the Davis and Whatley families all seem to have been agricultural labourers / shepherds in the villages of Huish and Chitterne, though one (possibly Henry’s grandfather) Stephen Davis became the baker at Huish (a bakery that was apparently famous for its ‘lardy cakes’).

My family members appear to have lived mostly in severe poverty in a somewhat desolate landscape, though they carried a great inheritance as the community associated with Stonehenge, Old Sarum and the most wonderful of English cathedrals at Salisbury.

W.H. Hudson writing in 1910 has this to say about rural Wiltshire (and he had spent his boyhood on the Pampas in Argentina):

“There is nothing striking in Wiltshire, at all events to those who love nature first; nor mountains, nor sea, nor anything to compare with the places they are hastening to, west or north.

The Downs! Yes, the Downs are there, full in sight of your window, in their flowing forms resembling vast, pale green waves, wave beyond wave, "in fluctuation fixed"; a fine country to walk on in fine weather for all those who regard the mere exercise of walking as sufficient pleasure.

But, as to walking on the Downs, one remembers that the fine days are not so many, even in the season when they are looked for--they have certainly been few during this wet and discomfortable one of 1909. It is indeed only on the chalk hills that I ever feel disposed to quarrel with this English climate, for all weathers are good to those who love the open air, and have their special attractions.

What a pleasure (normally) it is to be out in rough weather in October when the equinoctial gales are on, "the wind Euroclydon," to listen to its roaring in the bending trees, to watch the dead leaves flying, the pestilence-stricken multitudes, yellow and black and red, whirled away in flight on flight before the volleying blast, and to hear and see and feel the tempests of rain, the big silver-grey drops that smite you like hail!

And what pleasure too, in the still grey November weather, the time of suspense and melancholy before winter, a strange quietude, like a sense of apprehension in nature!

And so on through the revolving year, in all places in all weathers, there is pleasure in the open air, except on these chalk hills because of their bleak nakedness. There the wind and driving rain are not for but against you, and may overcome you with misery’.

So a shepherd’s life must often have been a kind of hell – bleak and lonely work, trudging vast distances haunted by cold and the stupidities of sheep – constantly having to move cottages in search of work.

Though I am sure that when the larks were singing and the dogs were tail-wagging on a bright spring morning, a smile would alight and thanks would be given to the high heavens.

So let’s explore this world in its impoverishment and curiosities.


First, the catalogue of villages that were visited and within which Martha had to start over and bring to life a deserted cottage to create a home for her family:

1866 Son William born St Mary Bourne, Hampshire

1868 Mary born Shrewton (near Stonehenge), Wiltshire

1870 Son George born West Lavington, Wiltshire

1872 Son Frank born West Lavington

1874 Daughter Fanny born Shrewton, Wiltshire

1876 Son Charles born Wimborne, St Giles, Dorset
(A small village, ‘scattered about in the lush, well-wooded landscape on the edge of Cranborne Chase at the centre of the estate of the Earls of Shaftesbury’, who are remembered for the 7th Earl, 1801 – 1885, who successfully campaigned to end brutal sweated labour from children as young as 5 years old in coal mines and as chimney sweeps. He was largely responsible for the labour regulation provided by the Factory Acts of 1847 and 1853).

1879 Son Alfred born Ropley, Hampshire

1881 Frederick born Chilton Candover, Hampshire


‘Huish is the smallest parish in Pewsey Vale, in terms of both area and population, The parish, like its western neighbours, sits on the south-facing edge of the Marlborough Downs, here called Huish Hill.

Nowadays Huish is served now by a minor road running west from Oare, which replaced an earlier, more southerly approach between 1773 and 1817. The road meanders on past the village, following ‘too faithfully the angles of old fields,’ until at Draycot Fitzpayne it leaves the parish and returns to Wilcot.

The root meaning of the name Huish, which is common in Somerset (where there are 21 examples) but rare outside south-west England, seems to be ‘household’ or ‘family farm’. It has been suggested that Huishes are survivals of an older, perhaps pre-Saxon, farmstead-based settlement pattern, which was largely replaced in the English lowlands by planned open-field villages in the later Saxon period.

Between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, the village land was under the ownership of the Doygnel family and their successors. The church, probably built originally in the late-thirteenth century, lay within the village, which seems to have been defined by a rectangular ditch embracing the area of the church and the present Huish Farm and farm buildings.

The village around the church had been deserted by 1500, perhaps because of its vulnerability to flooding, and the present site was in use (possibly after an interval of neglect and depopulation) by the seventeenth century, since several of the cottages contain work of this period.

At about the same time parts of the downland in the north of the parish were enclosed, and eventually cultivated.

This expansion of the arable into an area not easily accessible from the village was probably the reason for the emergence of a secondary settlement, known as Huish Hill or Upper Huish. Today the area of this upland hamlet, which straddles the Huish – Wilcot boundary, is marked by a double-bend in the track, a stagnant pond close to overgrown building rubble, and one smart modern house masked by trees.

Upper Huish existed in 1773 and only fell into decline after 1920, as motor transport and agricultural changes rendered it unnecessary. The last house to survive was the bakery, which had enjoyed a reputation for lardy cake and fine bread baked partly from potato flour. It has been demolished since 1962.

An earlier casualty was the Methodist chapel, erected in 1863 at a cost, it was said, to each inhabitant of ten shillings. One impecunious shepherd raised his contribution by selling his smock’.


Friday, 19th November 1830

"During the night all the wheat, barley, beans and oats belonging to Mr. Fowler of Oare, near Pewsey, was destroyed by fire. Had it not been for the exertions of several respectable people of Pewsey, Mr. Pontin's house and farm buildings would have shared a similar fate. One of them placed the engine between Mr. Pontin's property and the fire. It has to be said that the labourers of Oare, instead of assisting to put out the fire appeared to take pleasure from the situation, and with the exception of a very few, were laying about enjoying the scene.

It was found necessary to place 12 Pewsey men to guard the water pipes after it was found that one of them had been cut. One of those fighting the fire has stated the belief that if it had not been for the Pewsey men there would not have been a house left standing in Oare and it is believed that the fire was the work of the labourers of the village.

As soon as the fire was put out those watching were heard to mutter threats against other farmers and one of them, Charles Kimber, told Mr. Edmonds to his face, that his property would be the next to go. This fellow was instantly taken into custody and is now in prison. He was apparently very active in endeavouring to intimidate the Pewsey men and in throwing, and encouraging his companions to throw, brickbats at the heads of those putting out the fire. He is also accused of knocking James Self off a rick into the fire. Damage to the property is put at around £400 and was partly insured.

"The distress at Oare and Wilcot is certainly very great, much more so than at Pewsey."


In 1813, Thomas Davis prepared a report on the state of agriculture in Wiltshire by revising a previous work of his father's published in 1794. He was the steward to the Marquis of Bath of Longleat, and of the labourers he states:

"It is a melancholy fact that ..... the labourers of many parts of this county ..... may be truly said to be at this time in a wretched condition. The dearness of provisions, the scarcity of fuel, and above all the failure of spinning work for the women and children have put it almost out of the power of the village poor to live by their industry.

The farmers complain, and with reason, that the labourers do less work than formerly, when in fact the labourers are not able to work as they did at the time when they lived better".

Things got worse during the years that followed. When the great radical William Cobbett visited the Pewsey Vale and the Avon Valley in August 1826, he was appalled at what he found. He prophetically recorded:

"In taking my leave of this beautiful vale I have to express my deep shame, as an Englishman, at beholding the general extreme poverty of those who cause this vale to produce such quantities of food and raiment.

This is, I verily believe it, the worst used labouring people upon the face of the earth. Dogs and hogs and horses are treated with more civility; and as to food and lodging, how gladly would the labourers change with them! This state of things never can continue many years! By some means or other there must be an end to it; and my firm belief is, that the end will be dreadful."

Four years later the working man had had enough of poverty and hunger. By this time his conditions were worse than before or during the Napoleonic Wars and they were suffering from "appallingly low wages, bad conditions and incredibly long hours of work".

The recently introduced thrashing machine would deprive him of one of his main sources of winter work and so, faced with a generally uncaring ruling class, he took matters into his own hands. The normally passive and quietly suffering labourers of Wessex had, for once, had enough. Yet despite those in Wiltshire and Dorset being the lowest paid in England (some receiving only 8/- per week compared with 10/- to 12/- elsewhere) the pressure for a living wage, which ultimately resulted in England's greatest proletarian uprisings, started elsewhere.

The first attributed outbreak in Wiltshire was on November 8th, 1830 and they continued throughout the following year although the worst was over by the end of November 1830. The government, believing that the magistrates of Kent had been too lenient towards their rioters, set up a Special Commission to deal with the worst effected counties: Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset and Wiltshire.

As a result of these trials at least 9 men or boys were hanged, 450 were transported (about 200 for life), and over 400 imprisoned. Subsequent trials in the Assize and County Courts raised these figures to 19 executed, 600 imprisoned and 500 transported to Australia for terms of either 7 years, 14 years or life.

Despite the severity of the sentences there was only one fatality recorded during the entire Swing Riots when, on Thursday, November 25th 1830 at Pythouse, the luckless rioter, John Harding, was shot dead by the Hinton Troop of the Wiltshire Yeomanry.

During their transportation to Australia, many of those convicted were given privileges not normally bestowed upon the normal "cargo". We learn from Robert Mason that when those aboard the Eleanor arrived in Sydney they "were permitted to come on shore in our own clothes, a great indulgence and considered an extraordinary thing by the people".

By 1834 public pressure in England had forced the government to consider granting pardons to the rioters and indeed, some were issued that year. In 1835 a further 264 were pardoned and by the mid 1840s most of them were free with the only exceptions being those who had committed further offences while in Australia. Despite gaining their freedom, few seemed to have returned to England.

William Cobbett was also a target but was acquitted through the skill by which he conducted his own defence. For the labourers, many saw their wages increased to 10/- per week (although in some cases it was later reduced) but the effect of their actions on society was more far reaching.

After procrastinating about the reform of the Poor Laws since 1817, the political establishment in England was finally forced to accept the important role that poverty played in civil unrest and a genuine commission of inquiry was established in 1832. It announced (for that period) far reaching (and far from popular) recommendations in March 1834.

Similarly, the Swing Riots helped ensure that Parliament finally got around to reforming the electoral system that saw, amongst other things, the demise of the "Rotten Boroughs", such as Great Bedwyn and Old Sarum (where a few hereditary voters had been easily bribed to return wealthy political hacks to sinecure constituencies).



‘It is now several years since I first met Caleb Bawcombe, a shepherd of the South Wiltshire Downs, but already old and infirm and past work. I met him at a distance from his native village, and it was only after I had known him a long time and had spent many afternoons and evenings in his company, listening to his anecdotes of his shepherding days, that I went to see his own old home for myself--the village of Winterbourne Bishop already described, to find it a place after my own heart.

One of his memories was of an old shepherd named John, whose acquaintance he made when a very young man - John being at that time seventy-eight years old - on the Winterbourne Bishop farm, where he had served for an unbroken period of close on sixty years. Though so aged he was still head shepherd, and he continued to hold that place seven years longer - until his master, who had taken over old John with the place, finally gave up the farm and farming at the same time.

He, too, was getting past work and wished to spend his declining years in his native village in an adjoining parish, where he owned some house and cottage property. And now what was to become of the old shepherd, since the new tenant had brought his own men with him?--and he, moreover, considered that John, at eighty-five, was too old to tend a flock on the hills, even of tegs.

His old master, anxious to help him, tried to get him some employment in the village where he wished to stay; and failing in this, he at last offered him a cottage rent free in the village where he was going to live himself, and, in addition, twelve shillings a week for the rest of his life.

It was in those days an exceedingly generous offer, but John refused it. "Master," he said, "I be going to stay in my own native village, and if I can't make a living the parish'll have to keep I; but keep or not keep, here I be and here I be going to stay, where I were borned."

From this position the stubborn old man refused to be moved, and there at Winterbourne Bishop his master had to leave him, although not without having first made him a sufficient provision.

The way in which my old friend, Caleb Bawcombe, told the story plainly revealed his own feeling in the matter. He understood and had the keenest sympathy with old John, dead now over half a century; or rather, let us say, resting very peacefully in that green spot under the old grey tower of Winterbourne Bishop church where as a small boy he had played among the old gravestones as far back in time as the middle of the eighteenth century.

[Caleb would have be born around 1815 and John around 1760]


Of sheep-stealing stories I will relate one more--a case which never came into court and was never discovered. It was related to me by a middle-aged man, a shepherd of Warminster, who had it from his father, a shepherd of Chitterne, one of the lonely, isolated villages on Salisbury Plain, between the Avon and the Wylye.

His father had it from the person who committed the crime and was anxious to tell it to someone, and knew that the shepherd was his true friend, a silent, safe man. He was a farm-labourer, named Shergold - one of the South Wiltshire surnames very common in the early part of last century, which now appear to be dying out - described as a very big, powerful man, full of life and energy.

He had a wife and several young children to keep, and the time was near mid-winter; Shergold was out of work, having been discharged from the farm at the end of the harvest; it was an exceptionally cold season and there was no food and no firing in the house.

One evening in late December a drover arrived at Chitterne with a flock of sheep which he was driving to Tilshead, another downland village several miles away. He was anxious to get to Tilshead that night and wanted a man to help him. Shergold was on the spot and undertook to go with him for the sum of fourpence.

They set out when it was getting dark; the sheep were put on the road, the drover going before the flock and Shergold following at the tail. It was a cold, cloudy night, threatening snow, and so dark that he could hardly distinguish the dim forms of even the hindmost sheep, and by and by the temptation to steal one assailed him.

For how easy it would be for him to do it! With his tremendous strength he could kill and hide a sheep very quickly without making any sound whatever to alarm the drover. He was very far ahead. Shergold could judge the distance by the sound of his voice when he uttered a call or shout from time to time, and by the barking of the dog, as he flew up and down, first on one side of the road, then on the other, to keep the flock well on it.

And he thought of what a sheep would be to him and to his hungry ones at home until the temptation was too strong, and suddenly lifting his big, heavy stick he brought it down with such force on the head of a sheep as to drop it with its skull crushed, dead as a stone. Hastily picking it up he ran a few yards away, and placed it among the furze-bushes, intending to take it home on his way back, and then returned to the flock.

They arrived at Tilshead in the small hours, and after receiving his fourpence he started for home, walking rapidly and then running to be in time, but when he got back to where the sheep was lying the dawn was coming, and he knew that before he could get to Chitterne with that heavy burden on his back people would be getting up in the village and he would perhaps be seen.

The only thing to do was to hide the sheep and return for it on the following night. Accordingly he carried it away a couple of hundred yards to a pit or small hollow in the down full of bramble and furze-bushes, and here he concealed it, covering it with a mass of dead bracken and herbage, and left it. That afternoon the long-threatening snow began to fall, and with snow on the ground he dared not go to recover his sheep, since his footprints would betray him; he must wait once more for the snow to melt.

But the snow fell all night, and what must his feelings have been when he looked at it still falling in the morning and knew that he could have gone for the sheep with safety, since all traces would have been quickly obliterated!

Once more there was nothing to do but wait patiently for the snow to cease falling and for the thaw. But how intolerable it was; for the weather continued bitterly cold for many days, and the whole country was white.

During those hungry days even that poor comfort of sleeping or dozing away the time was denied him, for the danger of discovery was ever present to his mind, and Shergold was not one of the callous men who had become indifferent to their fate; it was his first crime, and he loved his own life and his wife and children, crying to him for food.

And the food for them was lying there on the down, close by, and he could not get it! Roast mutton, boiled mutton--mutton in a dozen delicious forms--the thought of it was as distressing, as maddening, as that of the peril he was in.

It was a full fortnight before the wished thaw came; then with fear and trembling he went for his sheep, only to find that it had been pulled to pieces and the flesh devoured by dogs and foxes!


It was in March, bitterly cold, with an east wind which had been blowing many days, and overhead the sky was of a hard, steely grey. I was cycling along the valley of the Ebble, and finally leaving it pushed up a long steep slope and set off over the high plain by a dusty road with the wind hard against me.

A more desolate scene than the one before me it would be hard to imagine, for the land was all ploughed and stretched away before me, an endless succession of vast grey fields, divided by wire fences. On all that space there was but one living thing in sight, a human form, a boy, far away on the left side, standing in the middle of a big field with something which looked like a gun in his hand.

Immediately after I saw him he, too, appeared to have caught sight of me, for turning he set off running as fast as he could over the ploughed ground towards the road, as if intending to speak to me. The distance he would have to run was about a quarter of a mile and I doubted that he would be there in time to catch me, but he ran fast and the wind was against me, and he arrived at the road just as I got to that point.

There by the side of the fence he stood, panting from his race, his handsome face glowing with colour, a boy about twelve or thirteen, with a fine strong figure, remarkably well dressed for a bird-scarer. For that was what he was - and he carried a queer, heavy-looking old gun.

I got off my wheel and waited for him to speak, but he was silent, and continued regarding me with the smiling countenance of one well pleased with himself.

"Well?" I said, but there was no answer; he only kept on smiling.

"What did you want?" I demanded impatiently.

"I didn't want anything."

"But you started running here as fast as you could the moment you caught
sight of me."

"Yes, I did."

"Well, what did you do it for--what was your object in running here?"

"Just to see you pass," he answered.

It was a little ridiculous and vexed me at first, but by and by when I left him, after some more conversation, I felt rather pleased; for it was a new and somewhat flattering experience to have any person run a long distance over a ploughed field, burdened with a heavy gun, "just to see me pass."

But it was not strange in the circumstances; his hours in that grey, windy desolation must have seemed like days, and it was a break in the monotony, a little joyful excitement in getting to the road in time to see a passer-by more closely, and for a few moments gave him a sense of human companionship.


Before a stall in the market-place a child is standing with her mother--a commonplace-looking, little girl of about twelve, blue-eyed, light-haired, with thin arms and legs, dressed, poorly enough, for her holiday.

The mother, stoutish, in her best but much-worn black gown and a brown straw, out-of-shape hat, decorated with bits of ribbon and a few soiled and frayed artificial flowers.

Probably she is the wife of a labourer who works hard to keep himself and family on fourteen shillings a week; and she, too, shows, in her hard hands and sunburnt face, with little wrinkles appearing, that she is a hard worker; but she is very jolly, for she is in Salisbury on market-day, in fine weather, with several shillings in her purse - a shilling for the fares, and perhaps eight pence for refreshments, and the rest to be expended in necessaries for the house.

And now to increase the pleasure of the day she has unexpectedly run against a friend! There they stand, the two friends, basket on arm, right in the midst of the jostling crowd, talking in their loud, tinny voices at a tremendous rate; while the girl, with a half-eager, half-listless expression, stands by with her hand on her mother's dress, and every time there is a second's pause in the eager talk she gives a little tug at the gown and ejaculates "Mother!"

The woman impatiently shakes off the hand and says sharply, "What now, Marty! Can't 'ee let me say just a word without bothering!" and on the talk runs again; then another tug and "Mother!" and then, "You promised, mother," and by and by, "Mother, you said you'd take me to the cathedral next time."

Having heard so much I wanted to hear more, and addressing the woman I asked her why her child wanted to go.

She answered me with a good-humoured laugh, "'Tis all because she heard 'em talking about it last winter, and she'd never been, and I says to her, 'Never you mind, Marty, I'll take you there the next time I go to Salisbury.'"

"And she's never forgot it," said the other woman.

"Not she--Marty ain't one to forget."

"And you been four times, mother," put in the girl.

"Have I now! Well, 'tis too late now--half-past two, and we must be't'
Goat' at four."

"Oh, mother, you promised!"

"Well, then, come along, you worriting child, and let's have it over or
you'll give me no peace"; and away they went.’

[From ‘A Shepherd’s Life – Impressions of the South Wiltshire Downs’, by W.H. Hudson (1910)]

Friday, April 9, 2010

John Lukes


In January, earlier in the year, I suggested to Jane that we should spend the last night of our three week stay in the South Island by camping at St. Arnaud in the Nelson Lakes District.

Apart from being struck down by a stomach bug in the middle of the night, we had a great time. The area is fabulously beautiful and well-furnished with wildlife like water birds, eels and fish, and hawks.

The stay reminded me of a Buddhist 5-day retreat or ‘sesshin’ that I had attended almost exactly 14 years before in 1996, at the Department of Conservation Convention Centre that is a stone’s throw from the camping site and lakeside.

As the poem below shows, I got pretty ‘high and philosophical’ on the combination of meditation and the thought of returning to a new relationship that appeared to promise much.


“A little ‘O’ in the Bush,
A roundel of life complete,
The theatre of plant persuasions,
Careers and sad defeat.

Saplings and seedlings
Competing, seeking the light,
Gorging on litter and sunbeams,
Drunk with growing delight.

Upward and wayward waving,
Fleeing the fallers’ waste,
Seeking the budding way”.

However, I also wrote, as a corrective, after a visit to the shower block:

‘Thinking profound thoughts,
I peed on the end of my towel.
‘Mind the flow!”

My interest in Zen Buddhism went back to 1992 when I joined the small group that used to sit under the encouragement of Roz Mackintosh in Wesley Street, Thorndon.

Among the group was another Englishman John Lukes, who like me had suffered the breakdown of his marriage. Both of us had attempted to turn our trials and constrained circumstances to good account by trying to live more simple and spiritual lives.

I have to say immediately that John was much better at this than I was. He had a natural and quiet dignity – and a real sense of commitment to advancing his understanding that was calmly grounded on otherwise frightening health risks stemming from an old head injury.

As for me, my natural tendencies for exuberance and risk-taking (at that time with a periodic undertow of melancholy) led me astray. The relationship on which I had put so much store in 1996 proved to be too fragile to withstand lost hopes, misconceptions and mishaps.

It was a number of months later then (as I had stopped meditating with the sangha) that I found out that John had died quietly in his sleep in mid-1996 – he must have been around 50 years old.


Recently I have been irregularly attending the weekly meditation sessions of the same small group. I asked about John Lukes, making the point that I would like to pay my respect at his grave. Nobody knew where his ashes had been interred but there had it seems been a Buddhist ceremony in Wellington. It was suggested that I should try to contact his son in Christchurch.

Eventually, I made contact, offering to write and post an obituary.

Wonderfully, it seems that John’s ashes were scattered off the jetty on the shore of Lake Rotoiti among the indigenous long-finned eels that hovered below. These leathery, slightly translucent creatures (or ‘snigs’ as I would have called them as a boy) are very impressive: being sometimes nearly 2 metres long, living up to 100 years, and prone to silently ‘snitheing’ together at dusk (again as we would say in the Cheshire dialect).

I therefore wrote John a haiku in more conventional English:

“Opaque and shoaling
- eels under the jetty.

Now I know it’s you”.

George Rayner - A Railway Engineer in the Great Age of Steam


On 30th October 1880, one of my great grandmothers, Helen Rebecca Rayner (19), married Charles Daniel Lubbock (23) at Christ Church, Bermondsey in London. Charles was a Solicitor’s Clerk, whose father William was a Mast and Block Maker running a business that contributed to building and repairing fishing boats and small ships in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

On the other hand, Helen’s father George Rayner was described as an Engineer.

This twitched my research nostrils.

Immediate progress was possible because George was easily found in the 1881 Census living in Tower Hamlets, Shoreditch. He was 58 years old at this time and had been born in Cambridge(shire). His wife Mary Ann was 50 years old and had been born in St Lukes, Middlesex (London). Living with then were Helen’s elder brother George Hawkins Rayner (30), Wine Merchant, and her two younger sisters Alice Maud Rayner (14) and Edith Mary Rayner (12).

His occupation was stated as ‘Engineer, South Eastern Railway’.

This suggested a degree of education and that George’s family had been fairly well established – which accentuated by gaps and ambiguities in the earlier censuses, created problems.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the certificate for George’s marriage at St John the Baptist Church, Hoxton, Middlesex on 7th October 1849. George married Mary Ann Henderson. He was 26 years old and she was 18 years old. He gave his name as George Hawkins Rayner and stated that his father James Elborne Rayner was a Labourer. Mary Ann’s father was a Cutler.

George described himself as a Labourer.

It seems then that George’s father James was an Agricultural Labourer living at Eltisley / Caxton with his wife Lettie in rural Cambridgeshire, at the time of the 1841 Census. At that time George was 15 years old and there were five siblings.

By 1861, George was in London married to Mary Ann (there may well already have been related ‘Hawkins Rayners’ in London from church birth records) and had established himself as a Warehouseman. Helen was recorded in the 1861 Census as being ¼ year-old.

By 1871, George was 48 years old and Mary Ann was 40 years old. George described himself as a Railway Engineer. At that time, Helen was 10 years old - and her older brother, also called 'George Hawkins' was 20 years old, working as a Clerk to Tea Merchant. So this was a family that was on the rise materially and socially.

How on earth did George move from being a Labourer to being an Engineer?

Well, I surmise that his warehousing experience led on to him running the spare parts and maintenance ‘Engine Sheds’ for the railways and that it was quite natural for him to then adopt a new occupational description – in an era and industry when practical skill was everything and there were few qualifications to aspire to.


Another factor sadly, may have been that the South Eastern Railway was not the world’s best.

The South Eastern Railway was formed in 1836 to develop a route from London to Dover. Various other routes were opened over the years, during which time the SER absorbed several other railways, some of which were older; these included the Canterbury & Whitstable, which was purchased in 1853.

The SER also took over the working of some other railways (including the London & Greenwich) without actually absorbing them. Most of the company's routes were in Kent and eastern Sussex, with some in Surrey and a long route curving round to reach Reading, Berkshire.

One building block, the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway (known locally as the Crab and Winkle Line, from its initials and fact that Whitstable was a fishing port) opened on 3 May 1830 between Canterbury and Whitstable Harbour, a distance of 6 miles (9.7 km). It was the first regular passenger steam railway in the world.

It was built as part of a plan to improve the access of the city of Canterbury to the sea and involved much work improving Whitstable harbour, engineered by Thomas Telford. The line included the world's first passenger train tunnel, the 800-yard (731.5 m) Tyler Hill Tunnel, and both its portals are still visible. The line closed to passenger traffic on 1 January 1931, and entirely in 1953.

The SER original main line was sanctioned by Act of Parliament in 1836, running from London Bridge via Redhill, Tonbridge, Maidstone and Ashford to Folkestone and Dover. This circuitous route was the result of insistence on the part of Parliament that only one southerly route out of the capital was necessary; since the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway already had a line through Redhill.

This ignored the fact that the main London - Dover road had, since ancient times, followed a much more direct route, and the fact that the other great railway building projects took direct routes whenever feasible. A train passenger to Dover had a journey 20 miles (32 km) longer than by stagecoach.

By 1853 the SER had almost completed a network of lines encompassing mid-Kent, though much of the North Kent coast was still not served by rail. At this time, the rival East Kent Railway was formed, by various amalgamations and strategems, it gained access to the new Victoria station. Other extensions brought the railway to Dover and Ramsgate and this company changed its name to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR) in 1859.

The LCDR therefore had a much more direct access to London than the SER, and it was imperative to the SER that this competition was challenged. The SER therefore constructed the direct line via Sevenoaks to Tonbridge. It involved huge earthworks, crossing the North Downs by means of summits and long tunnels at both Knockholt and Sevenoaks. The latter was the longest tunnel in southern England at 3,451 yards (3,156 m). This cut-off line, 24 miles (39 km) long, reached Chislehurst on 1 July 1865, but took three more years to reach Orpington and Sevenoaks (2 March 1868) and Tonbridge (1 May 1868).

However, the LCDR was always in financial difficulties, and for years the amalgamation of the two Kent companies was mooted. On 1 January 1899 this was achieved when the two companies were joined under a Management Committee. On 5 August 1899 the South Eastern and London, Chatham and Dover Railway Companies Act was passed, which resulted in the formation of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway.

Another series of railway wars involved the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR). The main battle sites were in London, Redhill and Hastings, the three locations where the two railway companies met.

In London, at both London Bridge and Victoria the rivalry between the two companies came to such a head that both stations even today show the existence of two separate stations at each location, with a wall between them.

At Redhill the two companies' stations were placed at an inconvenient distance for passenger exchange; when a new station was built, the SER gave preference to its own trains through the station. This led the LBSCR to build the Quarry Line, avoiding Redhill altogether.

At Hastings, where they joined for the final section through the town, the troubles were even more direct. In their desire to secure the business, the SER was determined to keep the LBSCR out. The latter had opened its line from Brighton on 13 February 1851, connecting with the SER at Bo-peep Junction.

After preventing some Brighton trains from passing the junction, the SER blocked in at Hastings those that had and removed track at the junction, putting up barriers to stop the LBSCR coach link from operating. An LBSCR injunction eventually put matters to rights but until the 1923 amalgamation relations were still bitter.

One of the most notable SER accidents occurred on June 9 1865, when the boat train from Folkestone ran onto a partly dismantled bridge near Staplehurst. The locomotive and tender ran across the timber baulks to reach the far side, but the carriages were derailed and fell into the river Beult.

The Staplehurst rail crash killed ten passengers and Charles Dickens narrowly avoided severe injury, or even death. He was travelling with Nelly Ternan and her mother at the front of the train in a first-class carriage, which escaped complete derailment when the locomotive and tender left the track as a result of repairs to the line.

Timber baulks under the track were being replaced but the foreman mis-read the timetable, and two lengths of rail were missing on the viaduct. As the lead vehicles left the line, the impact on the remaining beams caused the cast iron girders below to fracture, and most of the following vehicles left the viaduct and ended up in the river Beult some 15 feet (4.57 m) below.

The foreman was indicted and convicted of manslaughter, and served 6 months hard labour for his crime.

Putting aside all the problems, my ancestor George Rayner would have worked with a notable Victorian railway engineer, Richard Christopher Mansell (born October 1813, Liverpool, died 1904, Westmorland).

R.C. Mansell was carriage superintendent for the South Eastern Railway at Ashford by 1851, and later works manager for the SER. In 1877 he succeeded Alfred Mellor Watkin as locomotive superintendent of the SER. When James Stirling was appointed in 1878, Mansell resumed the post of works manager until his retirement from the SER in January 1882. On leaving, he was given an annual consultancy fee/pension of fifty guineas.

Mansell was the inventor of the Mansell wheel, a composite wood and metal carriage wheel, for which he obtained patents in 1848, 1862 and 1866. As locomotive superintendent, Mansell was responsible for the design of a dozen locomotives: 9 x 0-4-4T [1878] and 3 x 0-6-0 [completed 1879, 7 others cancelled]. Three 0-6-0Ts that had been designed by Cudworth were also completed under Mansell's supervision in 1877.

Apparently though, none of Mansell’s engines had a distinguished service life. The tanks lasted about 12 years and the 0-6-0s about twice that.


Britain's basic rail network was completed very quickly during the investment manias of the later 1830s and 1840s - culminating in the boom of 1862-5. However, the main phase of railway building was over by 1870, by which time the network amounted to 15,500 miles (two-thirds of the final total of 23,400 miles).

By 1870 hundreds of individual railway companies had together raised and invested the then enormous sum of £570 million. They continued to be large consumers of materials and employers of labour throughout the 19th Century, still accounting for about 10 per cent of all investment at the end of the period.

By 1906 233 of the 351 companies existing in 1881 had lost their separate identity through competition and rationalization.

The impact of the railways on the economy and society was clearly dramatic. Even as early as the 1840s, with speeds in excess of 35mph compared with-the 10mph maximum by coach, the railways effectively shrank travel distances to between one-third and one-fifth of thei former scale.

By the 1880s it was possible to go from London to Edinburgh in about 10 hours whereas the journey had taken more than 69 hours in the coaching era. On average the cost of transportation by land was more than halved over the century.

Using 1865 as a datum, Gary Hawke (recently retired Professor in the School of Government at Victoria University, Wellington here in New Zealand) estimated that the railways led to savings on freight costs of just over 4 per cent of national income. Taking account of wider impacts, Hawke estimated that the total shortfall, in the absence of the railways, could have been as high as 11 percent of national income.

The railways expanded the hinterlands of cities, linked and fostered industries, and encouraged innovation, creating new mass markets ranging from inter-city soccer matches to seaside holidays. At the same time, they dissolved local differences, destroying village customs, handicraft industries and old marketing patterns.

As early as 1845 one local historian lamented the fact that the railway had robbed the seaside town of Scarborough of its “genteel exclusiveness and brought a new host of invaders who are the inhabitants of murky and densely populated cities seeking to restore their sickly frames to health and vigour by frequent immersions in the sea”.

And H.G. Wells, in his Experiment in Autobiography (1937), recalls how his father’s crockery shop at Bromley was undermined by the suburban railways which made it easier for customers to shop in London and for the larger London stores to compete with local traders.


Correspondence with one of my elderly Distant Cousins who lives in Toronto - ‘Lofty’ Grimshaw - has provided some lovely vignettes of Rebecca and her life.

Lofty describes the Lubbock family that included his mother ‘Bobbie’ (Phyllis Grace) and my grandmother Constance Maud Lubbock in the following terms (around 1895):

“I believe the father’s name was Charles. He was a CITY GENTLEMAN who worked in a Solicitor’s office in the City. When he came home from work in the evening, all his children had to line up and greet him, each saying “Good evening Papa” – with emphasis on the final ‘a’. My mother Bobbie seldom spoke of him.

After Charles died, Helen always dressed in black. On the day that she got her old age pension of ten shillings, she would go out to a pub and have one glass of Wincarnis Wine which cost about a shilling. Then she would go to Glassberg’s the confectioners and buy herself four ounces of Polar Mints. After that she would take herself off to the Tower Cinema to watch a film – this probably cost her sixpence. That was her weekly day out – and we always heard about it on her next visit.

We loved her and she loved us”.

So it is nice to have a lovely old lady (and her practical and enterprising father George) back in the family fold. And fun to have a link to the Great Age of Steam, particularly as all five of us boys (myself, Matt, Pete, Sam and Theo) have gone through obsessive Thomas the Tank Engine phases.

My youngest sons Sam and Theo have now sadly also moved though this transition and on to Ben 10, Battlegons and Pokemon. But there is still a poem in Sam’s Baby Book that commemorates those good old days – and one that I am sure Helen and her father George would have enjoyed:


In the TV room
Trains on the floor
Down in the hallway
Trains by the door

Up on the bench
Engines galore
Pile on the table
More than before

Thomas is tugging
Troublesome trucks
Bill’s in the siding
And Douglas is stuck

Spencer needs water
But Gordon’s in luck
Salty loves fishing
And Percy hates muck

Daisy is smiling
And purring around
Settebello is cruising
With scarcely a sound

While Diesel is plotting
Tram Toby is found
And Harold is whizzing
Way off the ground

Steam in the funnel
Down at the zoo
Trains in the tunnel
Got to come through

Monday, April 5, 2010

Brothers Reunited

Well finally, we can reunite the two sides of a family that was divided in the period 1903-1905, with the descendants of the elder brother using the Johnson surname while those of the younger brother retain the old family name of Shorrocks.

The photographs above show my grandfather's brother Robert Mallinson Shorrocks (centre), flanked by own father 'Jay' Johnson (top), and Robert's elder brother Harry Shorrocks / Johnson (pictured below with Harry's youngest son - and Jay's brother, Eric Johnson).

The photographs are roughly contemporary (1934 to 1940).

The link-up has resulted from around 8 years of research that involved cross-matching male-line ydna data with census, birth, marriage and death records.

My Distant Cousin Norma Crossley (nee Norma Shorrocks) writes:

'Your original email helped explain a mystery in my research as I had found reference to granddad having an older brother Harry from the census records but it was complete news to my Dad.

We had a fun day though when we when to see Mum & Dad earlier this month with all your information & Dad has amended his family tree to include Harry, so the evidence must be enough to convince a solicitor!

As we talked Dad said he has some vague recollection in conversations between his mother & aunts of references to a relative who was 'a bad lot' who disappeared to London - but as he put it “it's over 40 years ago”.

We will probably ever know why Harry left but I have some sympathy with changing his name, Crossley is a vast improvement. I certainly found Shorrocks a difficult name when I lived in South East England for a spell'.

I had written to Norma as follows, after our initial contact:

Thanks so much for replying - it so good to be in touch (if only 105 years or so down the track!)

I was hoping that your family would be able to help explain Harry's disappearance but I am not altogether surprised that there is largely a blank. Whatever happened, it seems the rupture was pretty final'.

Robert it seems was a steady family man who looked after his mother when his father Robert Edwin Shorrocks died, and who then helped to look after a sister who was widowed in WWI.

Harry is seems was a bit of a gambler, a bit of a ladies' man, and a finally a heavy drinker - though I am sure he was good company in any hostelry.

Ironically, both sets of descendants identify with North West England (living not so far from the place of origin of the Shorrocks surname in Central Lancashire) and some members of the contemporary Shorrocks family live within 20 miles of some of their formerly lost 'Johnson' relatives in Cheshire.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter in Martinborough

Life has been very hectic recently with Jane facing more then enough challenges at work in her position as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Mental Health

- and with me furiously multi-tasking: ferrying Sam and Theo here, there, everywhere and beyond - and undertaking a fairly complex consulting assignment for a local NZ client.

Anyhow, we took off on Thursday night and had four days away in the beautiful little town of Martinborough in the Wairarapa District, among the ripening vines, plumping olives and good friends. Great stuff!