A Quick Reminder

Times change. They just do. But so should we. Or at the very least, learn and adapt. Consider some of the words spoken during a ceremony by both the bride and groom at a Church of England marriage service and which are a part of the sacred vows they speak, which are: ‘For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. I am sure that in many other cultures and ceremonies, similar words are uttered. They should all perhaps remind us that change is constant, they should tell us that despite whatever any of us may encounter in our lives we should all try our best to live a good, honest life. Those words were heard by me so many times, along with others as I sang in various choirs for quite a number of years, but I didn’t really realise their full meaning or significance at the time due to my young age. Only later did I begin to understand, especially as I met more and more people of different races and cultures as well as seeing how some people treated this lovely world. To my mind it was yet more to learn from. Over the many years that I was employed, technology changed and I learned to use new things, new skills. As I grew older and became a teacher of certain skills, as part of my training I learned that we do not all learn in the same way, some comprehend or become more skilful far more quickly than others. After a while, things that we do routinely we manage at a much faster rate, we become more adept. Likewise with our senses we see and hear a great many things but more often than not we learn to ignore the sounds that we are used to hearing and the sights that do not seem to change. I know I do. People I see on a regular basis hardly change, but I have been back to see folk who haven’t seen me for a number of years and they do not recognise me, nor I them. Time passes, my life is very different from what it was just two years ago, when I was living on my own in a flat. I had a routine which I had been following for many years, but that was all changing. To be fair though, it needed to. When I was a lad way back in the 1950s and 1960s, children went to either a secondary modern or over to a grammar school, dependent on whether you passed an ‘Eleven Plus’ exam. I didn’t, neither did my two elder brothers, so for us it was the good old secondary modern route. We lived in Whittlesey, a small town some seven miles east of Peterborough. Things were different then, we had a doctor who went out on his rounds, it seemed like we all knew each other and people like me just couldn’t get up to mischief because my dad was a teacher. Or if we did, everyone knew about it! The father of another of my schoolmates was the bank manager, the police lived locally and many of the families were often related. We didn’t have mobile phones, we could be out quite late at night but we did have a help system which came in the form of carrying around four old pennies to use in a telephone box to phone home. That was our “In Case of Emergency’ (ICE) system! Folk moving from other areas weren’t always welcomed, even from other parts of the British Isles. Fun was made of people over some of the accents used by certain folk, or not even understood. At my school there was one person who had poor eyesight so needed glasses which clearly had very thick lenses and that did make the person look odd. In my case, I learned to minimise my own physical disability as far as possible but I learned much later that it was the equivalent of having had a stroke, where my right side was much weaker than my left. Others have had to cope with disability and in years gone by, sadly they were somewhat ‘looked down on’ by some, but happily not all. Moreover, much more is accepted now than in years past. As I say, times change. I have detailed in previous blogs that we were on the edge of the flat Fen country. Many of the folk stayed living in Whittlesey and got jobs in the town, they often met and married the folk they were at school with then settled down in the town. My eldest brother joined the army and when he left them he was sent to a training place in Leicester, I think to acclimatise to civilian life and work. Whilst there he met and married, settled down and moved around as jobs required. My other brother met, married, divorced and when work required it he moved away. Since then he has remarried, they had twins who themselves married and have children. I know of people I used to work with who for many and various reasons have left the Peterborough area, some reside in Canada, some in the U.S.A. whilst others have gone further afield to Australia and New Zealand. As for me, after my initial upbringing in Whittlesey and subsequent move with parents to Peterborough I spent the first nineteen years of my working life there. It may have only been seven miles, moving from Whittlesey to Peterborough, but we thought it was worth it and my parents had heard of then seen a lovely bungalow which had a superb large garden. Though it did mean that I lost contact with just about all of the people I knew back in Whittlesey and only now, through the Internet, am I having some contact with a few of them again. It is easy to look back at that and wonder quite how different life for us all might have been, but changes and chances in this transitory life do occur!

During my early years of work I learned much, not just about the jobs there in British Telecom but about people in general. There are some good, lovely folk around but equally there some very unkind, even spiteful people. Selfish ones, too. I still smile at the old attitudes and behaviours back then because in 1969 when I joined, it was still a part of the Civil Service. Three months later it was changed to a Corporation, but was largely still run in the civil service manner. Managers were called ’sir’, never by their first names. It was all hierarchical. On my grade of job I was only allowed to use a chair without arms, as chairs with arms were for higher grades! In Peterborough we had people from different countries living there as I saw quite a number of Polish people, probably due to World War II. We also had an Italian community, but not a great deal from anywhere else. One lady was clearly African, her skin was indeed black and I found her to be a quiet, friendly, helpful person. Until then I had never seen anyone from another country with such dark skin. In school I had learned to minimise my own disabilities as far as possible as by then I had more than accepted how and who I was. Some tasks proved to be difficult, in fact the change of duty from one department to another meant having to use a date stamp repeatedly using my weak right hand. That aggravated the epilepsy and resulted in my first epileptic fit whilst on holiday a short while later. Thankfully I was given appropriate medication following several checks and tests at different hospitals, whilst at work I was eventually moved to a different job which did not require use of that date stamp! Promotion moved me to another duty, management had already asked me if I planned to make the company my career and after a few more years I was moved into the Sales department. I have said before about my time there and it was all good experience, but when the opportunity came for me to move on further promotion I took it. Almost every cloud has that proverbial silver lining and so I moved to Leicester and beyond. My thirst for knowledge has remained throughout my life, the only thing I have had to do is to learn the skill of not being ’side-tracked’, spending my time more on things which would be of value to me and which I could perhaps then help others to do. There are those whose culinary skills I find utterly amazing, as I know of people who seem to throw items into a pan then mix, stir or whatever, cook for however long it seems necessary without a glance at a timepiece and the food is cooked perfectly! Still, we cannot all be the first violin in the orchestra. It took me a while to get used to ‘work’, so very, very different from school. I learned to plan and to look forward to holidays! Almost all our family holidays were to Devon and Cornwall as we liked the area and had relatives living in Plymouth. But time passed, my parents retired, I was then living in a flat on my own and after a while was able to to spend time in Jersey and Guernsey. Some of the local alcoholic beverages there were quite strong. Mum and dad had a few good holidays together but sadly dad’s health failed and he passed away because of cancer. I am sure it wasn’t just him smoking, that it was the poor air in London. We know how it affected my mother, who also smoked a little but gave that up. Secondary smoke inhalation from sitting on the back seat of the car as we travelled wouldn’t have helped my asthma, although I was doing a great deal of singing and that probably minimised the effects of the smoke to a degree at least. So it has meant that whenever I see a new doctor or need to give details of my medical condition, they are always pleased to learn that I haven’t actually smoked directly. I am residing in a Care Home now, time will tell for how long but I have a good routine here which seems to work. I send greetings every morning to a few friends, something I started a while ago when I realised that this pandemic had isolated so many of us. Quite a few have families it is true, but it isn’t like it was when our parents and perhaps grandparents were alive. Back then they often lived either together or maybe in the same street, certainly in the same town. So they had regular contact. With there being large factories involving manual labour, many worked together and consequently met and married. It is why when we perhaps look at details of those who lost their lives in the two World Wars of the last century, so many had complete families wiped out. I do think that we can all too easily forget the numbers of human lives lost and whilst in this century there have been no worldwide wars, the loss of life attributed to the pandemic has been similar. I am also concerned that some appear to give the reason for someone passing away as being simply due to the pandemic, when other health conditions could have been contributory but no mention is made of those. The ‘bottom line’ though is that it is still a loss of a human life. I know some who seemingly turn a blind eye to the fact that whilst prevention may not be completely achieved it may be at the very least minimised by simple, basic rules. At one time car drivers never wore seat belts, whilst cyclists never wore helmets. Nowadays we take far more care. Times change and we do change with them. At the beginning of the twentieth century there was the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, also known as the Spanish flu, which lasted between one and two years.

Emergency Hospital, Kansas Camp, Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas 1918.
Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, D.C.

That pandemic occurred in three waves, though not simultaneously around the globe. In the Northern Hemisphere, the first wave originated in the spring of 1918, during World War I. Although it remains uncertain where exactly the virus first emerged, the earliest cases in the United States were detected in March among military personnel stationed at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas. Movement of troops probably helped spread the virus throughout the U.S. and Europe during the late spring. By summer the virus had reached parts of Russia, Africa, Asia, and New Zealand. This first wave was comparatively mild and had begun to die down in some areas, but a second, more lethal wave began about August or September 1918. During this wave, pneumonia often developed quickly, with patients usually dying just two days after experiencing the first symptoms of the flu. As social distancing measures were enforced, the second wave began to die down toward the end of November. But once those measures were relaxed, a third wave began in the winter and early spring of 1919. Though not as deadly as the second wave, the third wave still claimed a large number of lives. By the summer the virus had run its course in many parts of the world, but some historians suggest that there was a fourth wave in the winter of 1920, though it was far less virulent. The Spanish flu was the most severe pandemic of the 20th century and, in terms of total numbers of deaths, among the most devastating in human history. Outbreaks occurred in every inhabited part of the world, including islands in the South Pacific. The second and third waves claimed the most lives, with about half the deaths occurring among 20- to 40-year-olds, an unusual mortality age pattern for influenza. India is believed to have suffered at least 12.5 million deaths during the pandemic, and in the United States about 550,000 people died. Some scholars think the total number could have been even higher. Sadly there are always going to be loss of lives, from natural causes. Earthquakes and similar disasters, like Aberfan. Then there are disagreements, wars and folk just not following what some see as simple precautions. Technology has enabled us to do much more than in the past but we are human, we still make mistakes. We try to cope with events, with disasters, adjusting and adapting as necessary. After the major events when routines are disrupted it can be difficult for a time. As a simple example after World War II it took quite a while for food stocks to be back to normal so rationing with some items continued for several years. In our family our meals were organised, with things like fish on Fridays and a roast dinner on Sundays. Certain foods were available only at certain times of the year and were looked forward to. I wonder if we may find ourselves going back to those ways at times in the future. I do believe that one thing is certain though, which is that times will change and will always continue to do so.

This week, Language.
There are times when just a few words put together can express a thought very easily, when a statement is very clear in its meaning, but more often than not the opposite is true – especially without a little bit of thought on phraseology!
As an example, I give you the following:
“Don’t let worries kill you – let the church help”

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Our World And Beyond

I do believe there are times when we simply forget the scale of this, our amazing planet and how much it has changed in just the last twenty, the last two hundred, the last two thousand years and beyond. At times it may seem to be such a big place and yet at others so small and it does make me wonder when I learn of those who show signs of narcissism, which is a personality disorder characterised by a sense of grandiosity, the need for attention and admiration, superficial interpersonal relationships and a lack of empathy. I try to keep an open mind on how people behave, but even I have seen how some folk always focus on themselves, some who never seem to accept reality and seem to almost live in an ‘artificial’ world of their own. Where I am right now, living and recovering in a Care Home after my heart problems and Covid-19, I see others who have dementia in varying stages but they are not encouraging others to behave as they are doing, believing in things which cannot be. Sadly however there are some who are trying to do just that, trying to persuade folk that what they are saying is the truth. But perhaps they forget how the technology of today enables us to record and recall scenes that at one time would have been simply spoken about. It is a truism that no two people can stand side by side, see exactly the same event and then describe that event to others in precisely the same manner as the other. One may embellish the scene, another may focus more on one aspect than the other. I remember the tale of two men, Fred and George, who were standing near to a church, just after a wedding. The church bells were ringing and the following conversation ensued:

Fred: “The bells sound nice, don’t they.”
George: “What?”
Fred (shouting): “I said, THE BELLS SOUND NICE!”
I am sure they both enjoyed the wedding…

In earlier posts I have written about communication of information. As we humans explored this lovely Earth and began to share its treasures, many of the races we encountered were fearful of the ‘strangers’ that they met. To illustrate this I found one very good episode of Star Trek TNG which had the captain, Jean-Luc Picard, seen by the inhabitants of a world which they encountered as some sort of god. They expected him to bring people who had died back to life and it wasn’t until Picard himself was injured that these inhabitants realised just how mortal they really all were. Picard also got one inhabitant to consider their life and how they lived. He got them to realise how their lives had changed over a period of time and how they might be treated if they were to meet their ancestors of long ago. Right now in the 21st century on Earth we have changed so much from our ancestors. Were we capable of going back in time a couple of thousand years, we could use just basic skills to heal, to create, to manufacture items, all of which might be seen as ‘magic’, certainly beyond belief to the people of that time. But in time we explored, we learned of new materials, developed and enhanced crops, improved growing techniques, created dams, irrigation along with many things medical. Sadly much came about as a result of wars, improving weapons and many lives were lost. As I did some research into my family’s history I learned that not all that long ago it was quite usual to have many children born to a family, this was because of what one might call ’natural’ wastage, because it was expected that some offspring would die from tuberculosis, cholera, polio etc. But when knowledge was passed on from one generation to another and once reading and writing was taught and shared, more and more was known. At one time it could take some time to share messages and information, but gradually postal services emerged, telegraph then telephone and here we are now with the Internet, which so many of us now access for information. What distresses me though is how so many people will simply accept what they are told, even when with just a little bit of research, information may be either proved or disproved. It is a fact that some countries are ruled by dictators, whilst others are governed in a more democratic fashion but even now there are those who will not accept what simply ‘is’. We know that humans live and die. My ‘family tree’ is quite interesting and with help I have researched much of it. There are now many other people who have researched their families and yes, the Internet is extremely useful in that regard.

R.M.S. Ortona.

As an example, one person whose details I wish to share is of my maternal grandfather, George. I never met him personally, as sadly he passed away a good few years before I was born but I have learned much about him, thanks to the Internet! George was born in Truro in 1884 and he was christened there early the following year. Then in 1889 a brother named Samuel was born. Truro was quite a prosperous mining area, but at the time of the Census in 1891, the family had moved over to Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, most likely for the chalk mining. At some point things changed though, as in June 1900 George was registered as a ship’s boy aged 15 on board the R.M.S. Ortona (image above) in Tilbury Docks, London. I found his contract ended less than four months later. Over the next twelve months or so he was crewed on other ships, these being the Orizaba and the Wakanui, doing trips between England and Australia/New Zealand. Then in July 1902 he joined the London and South Western Railway, I don’t know in what job though. But a year later he left them without giving any notice and three days later George signed on with the Royal Navy. He was now aged 18 and a Stoker on HMS Nelson and at that time his character was marked as ‘very good’. Around eighteen months later he transferred to HMS Mars at the same rank and character, however some six months later there must have been something occur as he spent ten days in the cells! But his character was still marked as ‘good’. A few days after his release and return to HMS Mars, he was transferred as a Stoker to HMS Victory II. Two months later he was transferred to HMS Fox, but nine months later George was promoted to Stoker 1st class, a grade which he retained over the next four years. But from what I can find out, his weight increased and as a result his term of duty ended but his character was still marked as very good. 1910 then found him in Cardiff, where he married Gertrude and they settled there. A census the following year showed him, his wife and a son, Charles. George was still a stoker, but at an iron works and in the next few years they had two more children, John and Harry, who were both born in Pontypridd. When World War One came, George was back in the royal navy as a stoker 1st class, first on the HMS Victory II and then HMS Tipperary. However, on 31 May 1916 George was one of the very few survivors of the HMS Tipperary which was torpedoed and sunk at the Battle of Jutland. Rescued, he joined the HMS Victory II as a stoker 1st class with his character marked as ‘VG Super’. Three months later he transferred as stoker 1st class to HMS Renown with his character down as ‘VG Sat’, but ten months later showed him as an acting leading stoker on HMS Renown, character ‘VG Super’. In January 1918 he was a leading stoker on HMS Renown, character still ‘VG Super’ and he remained in that position and character until his term of duty was ended in April 1919, again due to obesity. George, Gertrude and family settled in London where, two years later, my mother (also named Gertrude) was born. A further son, Ronald, was born seven years later. If we consider that George would have been away from home for months on end, with little contact from the family, to me there must have been a great deal to catch up on when he returned and he would have had to cope with life after the war once his time in the Royal Navy ended. So far I have not been able to determine what work he did, but my dear mother, who herself sadly passed away a few years ago aged ninety-five, often said how her father would stand at the kitchen sink, staring wistfully into the distance. She knew that he missed the sea. George passed away in 1938, aged 54. I myself was fortunate enough to do a ‘round the world’ cruise a few years ago which I thoroughly enjoyed and that has given me at least some idea why George was so happy at sea, as I certainly was.

Royal Navy Archives – George T.A. Parkyn, Battle of Jutland, 1916.

That world cruise proved to me that this planet, with its diverse people and places, has been through many changes and has a fascinating history in it. I once made the real mistake in school of asking the history teacher why we needed to know about the Tudors. I was simply told to be quiet, which was a shame as I was genuinely wanting to know. But as I mentioned in an earlier blog of this year, I asked a similar question to my maths teacher and was told then ‘one day you will need this’ and he was correct, as I did! I am also finding how history is far more interesting now than it was back then. So it proves to me that the more we learn, the more we find that there is to learn! Obviously I have not been to school for many years and I do know what my dear dad meant shortly before he retired from teaching. His was at an infant/junior school and he was deputy head, but he was beginning to find that the Education Authority were putting constraints on what he had to teach. I think that at my old school in Whittlesey they were teaching to quite a strict curriculum in order for the students to achieve excellent grades. One of the television programmes I presently watch is the Richard Osman’s House of Games on BBC2 each weekday evening. I find it fascinating as they have a mixture of games, one game is where each of the four contestants have to write down an answer on a tablet computer and the person with the numerical value closest to the actual answer then gets a point. If they get the value very close or exactly right, they get two points! They might be having to estimate a particular year, for example when Julius Caesar died, or how far it is from our Earth to the Sun. Quite a few do know, but others do not. Another game is ‘Put Your Finger On It’, where all of the contestants are asked to mark on a map where a place is located. So often the results are wildly inaccurate, but a few are really quite good. So I think we can and do forget how relatively large our Earth is and where we might find places or recall when certain events occurred. Some we know quite easily, like the Battle of Hastings (1066), the Great Plague (1665) and the Great Fire of London (1666) as these are often ‘standard’ questions in school exams. But others, like ‘what year did India gain its independence from Britain’ (1947). It shows that no matter what age we may be, we are never too old to learn. I am also reminded of how I was taught to pass a driving test, which I did at the second attempt and only then did I actually begin to learn to drive motor vehicles. I have said before that as a young child I made the mistake of telling my parents that I was bored and so they soon found work for me to do in the form of washing a drainpipe. That taught me a valuable lesson. But back then I had no concept of time, of my existence and the existence as well as interaction with other things, with other people. I remember reading the tale of the child who went to his first day at school and was exhausted at the end of it. The following morning his father woke him to get him up and ready for school and the child told his father “but I did that yesterday!”. It took some convincing for the child to understand that he would be doing this for many more years yet as he had much to learn! The truth is that we, like so many living things here, have at least the capacity to learn so much in our lives. Some invent completely new things, learn existing things whilst others learn and then develop anew from what others have made, thus developing in ways never previously considered. A prime example of this may be seen in the ‘Back To The Future’ film series, where the two main characters find themselves a hundred years in the past after using a time machine. They attempt to return to their ‘present’ time, but the time machine uses a fuel which has yet to be invented. So they have to adapt to an existing one of the earlier time period. But things change. It really is the one constant in our glorious universe. Let’s face it, once upon a time our ancestors thought the Earth was flat. Imagine going back in time some 2,000 years and strapping a blood pressure cuff to the upper arm of a human of that time. Consider how computer games have developed over the last forty years. My very first was ping-pong, where the machine was first plugged in to a black & white television and tuned to the appropriate channel. We can think back how, over many centuries, explorers went out and discovered other countries, some places were conquered whilst in others the natives, fearful of people with a different colour skin, would kill them. Some even used them as food. In fact when one group learned that what we called ‘civilisation’ included war, where we simply killed thousands of others for no apparent reason, this group considered that we were in fact the barbarians! But we can also take a far, far broader view of our existence. I watched a short clip of film recently where a scientist tries to answer the question ‘how many galaxies of stars are there?’. She does this very well in my view, far better than I could, so I ask you to watch this short YouTube video. It is safe.


It gives us at least an idea just how massive our whole Universe is. I also then consider how relatively short a time it is that we humans have existed and I wonder what will occur for us in the next few thousand years. Time enough I am sure to hopefully learn more as we sit back and drink tea!

A reminder…
This Sunday, 21st November is known informally by many as Stir-Up Sunday and has become associated with the custom of making Christmas puddings on that day. It gets its name from the beginning of the collect for the day in Anglican churches for the last Sunday before the season of Advent in their Book of Common Prayer, which begins with the words, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded…”. Once the cake mix was made, each member of the family would stir the mixture in turn and say a prayer as they did so. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas traditions and is said to have been introduced to Britain by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria (though apparently the meat-less version was introduced from Germany by George I in 1714). Most recipes for Christmas pudding require it to be cooked well in advance of Christmas and then reheated on Christmas Day, so the collect of the day served as a useful reminder.

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The Isle Of Ely

Back in January of this year I wrote a blog post entitled Transport History in which I mentioned that one of the cars my Dad owned during his life was a Ford Anglia. That car had a on it a stick-on panel displaying the ‘Isle of Ely’ badge, of which we were proud. The Isle of Ely is a historic region which is around that cathedral city in Cambridgeshire and between 1889 and 1965 it formed an administrative county of England. It is so called because it was only accessible by boat until the waterlogged Fens were drained in the 17th century, something which I have detailed in my Whittlesey And The Fens blog. Still susceptible to flooding today, it was these watery surrounds that gave Ely its original name the ‘Isle of Eels’, a translation of the Anglo Saxon word ‘Eilig’ and this is a reference to the creatures that were often caught in the local rivers for food. This etymology was first recorded by the Venerable Bede.

The Isle of Ely 1648 by J Blaeu

Until the 17th century, the area was an island surrounded by a large area of fenland, a type of swamp. It was coveted as an area easy to defend, and was controlled in the very early medieval period by the Gyrwas, an Anglo-Saxon tribe. Upon their marriage in 652, Tondbert, a prince of the Gyrwas, presented Æthelthryth (who became St. Æthelthryth), the daughter of King Anna of the East Angles, with the Isle of Ely. She afterwards founded a monastery at Ely, which was destroyed by Viking raiders in 870, but which was rebuilt and became a famous abbey and shrine. Beginning in 1626 and using a network of canals designed by Dutch experts, the Fens were then drained but many Fenlanders were opposed to the draining as it deprived some of them of their traditional livelihood. Acts of vandalism on dykes, ditches, and sluices were common, but the draining was complete by the end of the century. The area’s natural defences led to it playing a role in the military history of England. Following the Norman Conquest, the Isle became a refuge for Anglo-Saxon forces under Earl Morcar, Bishop Aethelwine of Durham and Hereward the Wake in 1071. The area was taken by William the Conqueror, but only after a prolonged struggle. In 1139 civil war broke out between the forces of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda. Bishop Nigel of Ely, a supporter of Matilda, unsuccessfully tried to hold the Isle and then in 1143 Geoffrey de Mandeville rebelled against Stephen and made his base in the Isle. Geoffrey was mortally wounded at Burwell in 1144. Then in 1216, during the First Barons War, the Isle was unsuccessfully defended against the army of King John. Ely took part in the Peasants Revolt of 1381. During the English Civil War the Isle of Ely was held for the parliamentarians and troops from the garrison at Wisbech Castle were used in the siege of Crowland, also parts of the Fens were flooded to prevent Royalist forces entering Norfolk from Lincolnshire. The Horseshoe sluice on the river at Wisbech and the nearby castle and town defences were upgraded and cannon brought from Ely.

Chatteris Plaque on Leonard Childs Bridge

From 1109 until 1837, the Isle was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ely, who appointed a Chief Justice of Ely and exercised temporal powers within the Liberty of Ely. This temporal jurisdiction originated in a charter granted by King Edgar in 970 and confirmed by Edward the Confessor and Henry I to the abbot of Ely. The latter monarch established Ely as the seat of a bishop in 1109, creating the Isle of Ely a county palatine. In England, Wales and Ireland a county palatine or palatinate was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom. The name derives from the Latin adjective palātīnus, “relating to the palace”, from the noun palātium, “palace“. It thus implies the exercise of a quasi-royal prerogative within a county, that is to say a jurisdiction ruled by an earl, the English equivalent of a count. A duchy palatine is similar but is ruled over by a duke, a nobleman of higher precedence than an earl or count. The nobleman swore allegiance to the king yet had the power to rule the county largely independently of the king. It should therefore be distinguished from the feudal barony, held from the king, which possessed no such independent authority. Rulers of counties palatine created their own feudal baronies, to be held directly from them ‘in capite’, such as the Barony of Halton. This was in old English law where a capite (from Latin caput, or head) was a tenure, abolished by the Tenures Abolition Act 1660 by which either person or land was held immediately of the king, or of his crown by knight-service. So a holder of a capite is termed a tenant in chief. County palatine jurisdictions were created in England under the rule of the Norman dynasty but in continental Europe they have an earlier date. In general, when a palatine-type autonomy was granted to a lord by the sovereign, it was in a district on the periphery of the kingdom, at a time when the district was at risk from disloyal armed insurgents who could retreat beyond the borders and re-enter. For the English sovereign in Norman times this applied to northern England, Wales and Ireland. As the authority granted was hereditary, some counties palatine legally survived well past the end of the feudal period. It was an act of parliament in 1535/6 which ended the palatine status of the Isle, with all justices of the peace to be appointed by ‘letters patent’, issued under the great seal and warrants to be issued in the king’s name. However, the bishop retained exclusive jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. A chief bailiff was appointed for life by the bishop and they performed the functions of high sheriff within the liberty, also heading the government of the city of Ely. Interestingly I learned about letters patent, a type of legal instrument in the form of a published written order issued by a monarch, president or other head of state, generally granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or corporation. They can be used for the creation of government offices, or for granting city status or a coat of arms. They are also issued for the appointment of representatives of the Crown, such as governors and governors-general of Commonwealth realms, as well as appointing a Royal Commission. In the United Kingdom they are also issued for the creation of peers of the realm. In addition to all this, a particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern intellectual property patent (referred to as a utility patent or design patent in United States patent law, granting exclusive rights in an invention (or a design in the case of a design patent). In this case it is essential that the written grant should be in the form of a public document so other inventors can consult it both to avoid infringement and understand how to put it into practical use. In the Holy Roman Empire, Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary, an imperial patent was also the highest form of generally binding legal regulations, for example a Patent of Toleration. I did a bit of research, finding that the more I learn, then the more there is to learn! For example, I read that the Patent of Toleration (in German ’Toleranzpatent’ was an edict of toleration issued on 13 October 1781 by the Habsburg emperor Joseph II. Part of the Josephinist reforms, the Patent extended religious freedoms to non-Catholic Christians living in the crown lands of the Habsburg monarchy, including Lutherans, Calvinists and the Eastern Orthodox. More specifically, these members of minority faiths were now legally permitted to hold “private religious exercises” in clandestine churches. The Patent guaranteed the practice of religion by the Evangelical Lutheran and the Reformed Church in Austria. Nevertheless, worship was heavily regulated, wedding ceremonies remained reserved for the Catholic Church, and the Unity of the Brethren was still suppressed. Similar to the articular churches admitted 100 years before, Protestants were only allowed to erect ‘houses of prayer’ which should not in any way resemble church buildings. In many Habsburg areas, especially in the hereditary lands of Upper Austria, Styria and Carinthia, Protestant parishes quickly developed, strongly relying on traditions. The Patent also regulated mixed faith marriages, foreshadowing the Marriage Patent that was to be released in 1783 seeking to bring marriages under civil rather than canon law. In allowing marriages between religions, if the father was Catholic all children were required to be raised as Catholics whilst if the mother was Catholic only the daughters had to be raised as such. The Patent was followed by the Edict of Tolerance for Jews in 1782. The edict extended to Jews the freedom to pursue all branches of commerce, but also imposed new requirements. Jews were required to create German-language primary schools or send their children to Christian schools (Jewish schools had previously taught children to read and write Hebrew in addition to mathematics.) The Patent also permitted Jews to attend state secondary schools. A series of laws issued soon after the Edict of Toleration abolished the autonomy of the Jewish communities, which had previously run their own court, charity, internal taxation and school systems. It required Jews to acquire family names, made Jews subject to military conscription and required candidates for the rabbinate to have secular education. The 1781 Patent was originally called the “Divine Send of Equal Liberties” but was further put down by the monarch’s advisor. Constraints on the construction of churches were abolished after the revolutions of 1848. The Protestant Church did not receive an equivalent legal status until Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria issued the Protestant patent in 1861.

But back to Ely. In July 1643, Oliver Cromwell was made governor of the Isle. The Liberty of Ely Act 1837 ended the bishop’s secular powers in the Isle and the area was declared a division of Cambridgeshire, with the right to appoint justices revested in the crown. Following the 1837 Act the Isle maintained separate Quarter Sessions and formed its own constabulary. Under the Local Government Bill of 1888, which proposed the introduction of elected county councils, the Isle was to form part of Cambridgeshire. Following the intervention of the local member of parliament, Charles Selwyn, the Isle of Ely was constituted a separate administrative county in 1889. In 1894 the county was divided into county districts, with the rural districts being Ely, North Witchford, Thorney, Whittlesey and Wisbech. The urban districts were Ely, March and Whittlesey, with Wisbech being the only municipal borough. Whittlesey Rural district consisted of only one parish and this was added to Whittlesey urban district in 1926. However, the county was small in terms of both area and population and its abolition was proposed by the Local Government Boundary Commission in 1947, but its report was not acted upon and the administrative county survived until 1965. Then, following the recommendations of the Local Government Commission for England, on 1 April 1965 the bulk of the area was merged to form Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely, with the Thorney Rural District going to Huntingdon and Peterborough. From a parliamentary standpoint the Isle of Ely parliamentary constituency was created as a two-member seat in the First and Second Protectorate Parliaments from 1654 to 1659. The constituency was then re-created with a single seat in 1918 but in the boundary changes of 1983 it was replaced by the new constituency of North East Cambridgeshire. Original historical documents relating to the Isle of Ely are held by Cambridgeshire Archives and Local Studies at the County Record Office in Ely. On 1 May 1931, the Isle of Ely County Council was granted a coat of arms. Previous to this, the council had been using the arms of the Diocese of Ely, this being ‘Gules, three ducal coronets, two and one or’. Then in the new grant, silver and blue waves were added to the episcopal arms to suggest that the county was an “isle”. The crest above the shield was a human hand grasping a trident around which an eel was entwined, referring to the popular derivation of “Ely”. On the wrist of the hand was a ‘Wake knot’, representing Hereward the Wake. This Wake knot or ‘Ormond knot’ is an English heraldic knot used historically as an heraldic badge by the Wake family, the lords of the manor of Bourne, Lincolnshire and also by the Butler family, Earls of Ormond of Irish heritage. There is one fascinating item relating to the Wake name that I have learned and which in fact relates to knots. When I was a lad, I was taught how to tie just a few different knots, one of which was the Reef Knot, which is used to join two lines of the same diameter together. Then there is the Sheet Bend, which is used to tie lines of unequal thickness together. But for a stronger join there is the Carrick Bend, also known as the Sailor’s Breastplate and is a knot for joining two lines of very heavy rope or cable that are too large and stiff to be easily formed into other common bends. It will not jam even after carrying a significant load or being soaked with water. As with many other members of the basket weave family, the aesthetically pleasing interwoven and symmetrical shape of the Carrick Bend has also made it popular for decorative purposes. The Wake knot however may be used to join a rope and a strap.

A Wake knot.

In addition to all this, I have learned the following relating to the Isle of Ely in that it became a marquessate, the territorial lordship or possessions of a marquess. The title Marquess of the Isle of Ely was created in the Peerage of Great Britain for Prince Frederick. The title of Duke of Edinburgh was first created on 26 July 1726 by King George I, who bestowed it on his grandson Prince Frederick, who became Prince of Wales the following year. The subsidiary titles of the dukedom were Baron of Snowdon, in the County of Caernarvon, Viscount of Launceston, in the County of Cornwall, Earl of Eltham, in the County of Kent and Marquess of the Isle of Ely. The marquessate was apparently erroneously gazetted as Marquess of the Isle of Wight, although Marquess of the Isle of Ely was the intended title. In later editions of the London Gazette the Duke is referred to as the Marquess of the Isle of Ely. Upon Frederick’s death, the titles were inherited by his son Prince George. When he became George III in 1760, the titles merged into the Crown and ceased to exist. To me, the Isle of Ely is a lovely part of East Anglia, with a fascinating history.

This week…
I am told that in Croatia there is a Museum Of Broken Relationships, at present located in Zagreb. But I think at least part of it should be in Split…

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Guy Fawkes

It seems only right that I should write about this today!
Guy Fawkes (13 April 1570 – 31 January 1606), also known as Guido Fawkes whilst he was fighting for the Spanish, was a member of a group of provincial English catholics and who was involved in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He was born and educated in York and when he was just eight years old his father died, after which his mother married a recusant catholic, the term meaning a person who refuses to submit to an authority or to comply with a regulation but which may also be used to describe the state of those who refused attendance of any Anglican services during the history of England, Wales and Scotland. The term was first used to refer to people who remained loyal to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church and who did not attend any Church of England services and ‘recusancy’ comes from the Latin recusare, to refuse or make an objection. Fawkes converted to Catholicism and left for mainland Europe, where he fought for Catholic Spain in the Eighty Years War against Protestant Dutch reformers in the Low Countries. He travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England without success and later met Thomas Wintour, with whom he returned to England. Wintour then introduced him to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. Beneath the House of Lords in London the plotters leased an undercroft, which is traditionally a cellar or storage room often brick-lined and vaulted and used for storage in buildings since medieval times. In modern usage, an undercroft is generally a ground (street-level) area which is relatively open to the sides, but covered by the building above. Whilst some were used as simple storerooms, others were rented out as shops. For example, the undercroft rooms at Myres Castle in Fife, Scotland around 1,300 were used as the medieval kitchen and a range of stores. Many of these early medieval undercrofts were vaulted, such as the vaulted chamber at Beaverton Castle in Gloucestershire. The term is also sometimes used to describe a crypt beneath a church, used for burial purposes. For example, there is a 14th-century undercroft or crypt extant at Muchalls Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, even though the original chapel above it was destroyed in an act of war in 1746. Undercrofts were commonly built in England and Scotland throughout the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. They occur in cities such as London, Chester, Coventry and Southampton. Anyway, back to the plot! Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled in the undercroft, however the the authorities were then prompted by an anonymous letter to search the Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5 November, and they found Fawkes guarding the explosives. He was questioned and tortured over the next few days and confessed to wanting to blow up the House of Lords. Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Fawkes fell from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of being hung, drawn and quartered. He became synonymous with the Gunpowder Plot, the failure of which has been commemorated here in the UK as Guy Fawkes Night since 5 November 1605, when his effigy is traditionally burned on a bonfire, commonly accompanied by fireworks.

St Michael le Belfrey,York, next to York Minster.

But to me, there had to be more to this basic story so I have delved deeper and found the following. Guy Fawkes was born in 1570 in Stonegate, York and was the second of four children born to Edward Fawkes, a proctor (a variant of procurator, a person who takes charge of, or acts for, another) and which has somewhat different meanings in law, religion and education. In this case Edward was an advocate of the consistory court at York. His wife was Edith. Guy’s parents were regular communicants of the Church of England, as were his paternal grandparents. His grandmother, born Ellen Harrington, was the daughter of a prominent merchant, who served as Lord Mayor of York in 1536. Guy’s mother’s family though were recusant catholics and his cousin, Richard Cowling, became a Jesuit priest. The name ‘Guy’ was an uncommon one in England, but may have been popular in York on account of a local notable, Sir Guy Fairfax of Steeton. The exact date of Fawkes’s birth is unknown, but he was baptised in the church of St Michael le Belfrey, York on 16 April, so as the customary gap between birth and baptism was three days, he was probably born about 13 April. In 1568, Edith had given birth to a daughter named Anne, but the child died aged about seven weeks, in November that year. She bore two more children after Guy, these being Anne in 1572 and Elizabeth in 1575. Both were married, in 1599 and 1594 respectively. In 1579, when Guy was eight years old, his father died and his mother then remarried several years later to the Catholic Dionis Baynbrigge (or Denis Bainbridge) of Scotton, Harrogate. Fawkes may have become a Catholic through the Baynbrigge family’s recusant tendencies, and also the Catholic branches of the Pulleyn and Percy families of Scotton, but also from his time at St Peter’s school in York. A governor of the school had spent about twenty years in prison for recusancy, and its headmaster, John Pulleyn, came from a family of noted Yorkshire recusants, the Pulleyns of Blubberhouses. In her 1915 work ‘The Pulleynes of Yorkshire’, author Catharine Pullein suggested that Fawkes’s Catholic education came from his Harrington relatives, who were known for harbouring priests, one of whom later accompanied Fawkes to Flanders in 1592–1593. Fawkes’s fellow students included John Wright and his brother Christopher, both later involved with Fawkes in the Gunpowder Plot along with Oswald Tesimond, Edward Oldcorne and Robert Middleton, who became priests. The latter was executed in 1601. After leaving school, Fawkes entered the service of Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu who took a dislike to Fawkes and after a short time dismissed him. Fawkes was subsequently employed by Anthony-Maria Browne, 2nd Viscount Montagu, who succeeded his grandfather at the age of eighteen. At least one source claims that Fawkes married and had a son, but no known contemporary accounts confirm this. In October 1591 Fawkes sold the estate in Clifton in York that he had inherited from his father. He then travelled to the continent to fight in the Eighty Years War for Catholic Spain against the new Dutch Republic and in France from 1595 until 1598 and the Peace of Vervins. Although England was not by then engaged in land operations against Spain, the two countries were still at war and the Spanish Armada of 1588 was still in recent memory. He joined Sir William Stanley, an English Catholic and veteran commander in his mid-fifties who had raised an army in Ireland to fight in Leicester’s expedition to the Netherlands. Stanley had been held in high regard by Elizabeth I, but following his surrender of Deventeer to the Spanish in 1587 he, and most of his troops, had switched sides to serve Spain. Fawkes became an ‘alférez’ or 2nd lieutenant, fought well at the siege of Calais in 1596 and by 1603 had been recommended for a captaincy. That year he travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England and he used the occasion to adopt the Italian version of his name, Guido. In his memorandum he described James I, who became king of England that year, as “a heretic”, who intended “to have all of the Papist sect driven out of England.” He denounced Scotland, and the King’s favourites among the Scottish nobles, writing “it will not be possible to reconcile these two nations as they are, for very long”. Although he was received politely, the court of Philip III was unwilling to offer him any support.

A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispin van de Passe.

In 1604 Fawkes became involved with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James I and replace him with his daughter, third in the line of succession who was Princess Elizabeth. Fawkes was described by the Jesuit priest and former school friend Oswald Tesimond as “pleasant of approach and cheerful of manner, opposed to quarrels and strife, loyal to his friends”. Tesimond also claimed Fawkes was “a man highly skilled in matters of war”, and that it was this mixture of piety and professionalism that endeared him to his fellow conspirators. The author Antonia Fraser describes Fawkes as “a tall, powerfully built man, with thick reddish-brown hair, a flowing moustache in the tradition of the time, and a bushy reddish-brown beard”, and that he was “a man of action, capable of intelligent argument as well as physical endurance, somewhat to the surprise of his enemies”. The first meeting of the five central conspirators took place on Sunday 20 May 1604, at an inn called the Duck and Drake, in the fashionable Strand district of London. Catesby had already proposed at an earlier meeting with Thomas Wintour and John Wright to kill the King and his government by blowing up “the Parliament House with gunpowder”. Wintour, who at first objected to the plan, was convinced by Catesby to travel to the continent to seek help. Wintour met with the Constable of Castile, the exiled Welsh spy Hugh Owen and Sir William Stanley, who said that Catesby would receive no support from Spain. Owen did, however, introduce Wintour to Fawkes, who had by then been away from England for many years, and thus was largely unknown in the country. Wintour and Fawkes were contemporaries, each was militant and had first-hand experience of the unwillingness of the Spaniards to help. Wintour told Fawkes of their plan to “doe some whatt in Ingland if the pece with Spaine healped us nott” and thus in April 1604 the two men returned to England. Wintour’s news did not surprise Catesby as despite positive noises from the Spanish authorities, he feared that “the deeds would nott answere”. One of the conspirators, Thomas Percy, was promoted in June 1604, thus gaining access to a house in London that belonged to John Whynniard, Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe. Fawkes was installed as a caretaker and began using the pseudonym John Johnson, servant to Percy. The contemporaneous account of the prosecution, taken from Thomas Wintour’s confession, claimed that the conspirators made an attempt to dig a tunnel from beneath Whynniard’s house to Parliament, although this story may have been a government fabrication. No evidence for the existence of a tunnel was presented by the prosecution and no trace of one has ever been found. Fawkes himself did not admit the existence of such a scheme until his fifth interrogation, but even then he could not locate the tunnel. If the story is true however, by December 1604 the conspirators were busy tunnelling from their rented house to the House of Lords. They ceased their efforts when, during tunnelling, they heard a noise from above. Fawkes was sent out to investigate, and returned with the news that the tenant’s widow was clearing out a nearby undercroft located right beneath the House of Lords. The plotters purchased the lease to the room, which also belonged to John Whynniard. Both unused and filthy, it was considered an ideal hiding place for the gunpowder the plotters planned to store. According to Fawkes, twenty barrels of gunpowder were brought in at first, followed by sixteen more on 20 July. On 28 July however, the ever-present threat of the plague delayed the opening of Parliament until Tuesday, 5 November. In an attempt to gain foreign support, in May 1605 Fawkes travelled overseas and informed Hugh Owen of the plotters’ plan. At some point during this trip his name made its way into the files of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who employed a network of spies right across Europe. One of these spies, Captain William Turner, may have actually been responsible. Although the information he provided to Salisbury usually amounted to no more than a vague pattern of invasion reports and included nothing which regarded the Gunpowder Plot, on 21 April he told how Fawkes was to be brought by Tesimond to England. Fawkes was a well-known Flemish mercenary and would be introduced to “Mr Catesby” and “honourable friends of the nobility and others who would have arms and horses in readiness”. Turner’s report did not, however, mention Fawkes’s pseudonym in England, John Johnson, and did not reach Cecil until late in November, well after the plot had been discovered. It is uncertain when Fawkes returned to England, but he was back in London by late August 1605, when he and Wintour discovered that the gunpowder stored in the undercroft had decayed. More gunpowder was brought into the room, along with firewood to conceal it. Fawkes’s final role in the plot was settled during a series of meetings in October as he was to light the fuse and then escape across the Thames. Simultaneously, a revolt in the Midlands would help to ensure the capture of Princess Elizabeth. Acts of regicide, the purposeful killing of a monarch or sovereign were frowned upon, and Fawkes would therefore head to the continent, where he would explain to the Catholic powers his holy duty to kill the King and his retinue.

‘Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot’ (c.1823) by Henry Perronet Briggs.

A few of the conspirators were concerned about fellow Catholics who would be present at Parliament during the opening. On the evening of 26 October, Lord Monteagle received an anonymous letter warning him to stay away, and to “retyre youre self into yowre contee whence yow maye expect the event in safti for they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament”. Despite quickly becoming aware of the letter, informed by one of Monteagle’s servants, the conspirators resolved to continue with their plans, as it appeared that it “was clearly thought to be a hoax”. Fawkes checked the undercroft on 30 October and reported that nothing had been disturbed. Monteagle’s suspicions had been aroused however, and the letter was shown to King James. The King ordered Sir Thomas Knyvet to conduct a search of the cellars underneath Parliament, which he did in the early hours of 5 November. Fawkes had taken up his station late on the previous night, armed with a slow match and a watch given to him by Percy “becaus he should knowe howe the time went away”. He was found leaving the cellar, shortly after midnight, and arrested. Inside, the barrels of gunpowder were discovered hidden under piles of firewood and coal. Fawkes gave his name as John Johnson and was first interrogated by members of the King’s Privy chamber, where he remained defiant. When asked by one of the lords what he was doing in possession of so much gunpowder, Fawkes answered that his intention was “to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains”. He identified himself as a 36-year-old Catholic from Netherdale in Yorkshire, and gave his father’s name as Thomas and his mother’s as Edith Jackson. Wounds on his body noted by his questioners he explained as the effects of pleurisy. Fawkes admitted his intention to blow up the House of Lords, and expressed regret at his failure to do so and his steadfast manner earned him the initial admiration of King James, who described Fawkes as possessing “a Roman resolution”. James’s admiration did not, however, prevent him from ordering on 6 November that “John Johnson” be tortured, to reveal the names of his co-conspirators. He directed that torture be light at first, referring to the use of manacles, but more severe if necessary, authorising the use of the rack as “the gentler Tortures are to be first used unto him ‘et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur’ (and so by degrees proceeding to the worst)”. Fawkes was transferred to the Tower of London. The King composed a list of questions to be put to “Johnson”, such as “as to what he is, for I can never yet hear of any man that knows him”, “When and where he learned to speak French?”, and “If he was a Papist, who brought him up in it?”. Afterwards the room in which Fawkes was interrogated became known as the Guy Fawkes Room. Sir William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower, supervised the torture and also obtained Fawkes’s confession. He searched his prisoner, and found a letter addressed to Guy Fawkes. To Waad’s surprise, “Johnson” remained silent, revealing nothing about the plot or its authors. Then on the night of 6 November he spoke with Waad, who reported to Salisbury “He (Johnson) told us that since he undertook this action he did every day pray to God he might perform that which might be for the advancement of the Catholic Faith and saving his own soul”. According to Waad, Fawkes managed to rest through the night, despite his being warned that he would be interrogated until “I had gotton the inwards secret of his thoughts and all his complices”. His composure was broken at some point during the following day and the observer Sir Edward Hoby remarked “Since Johnson’s being in the Tower, he beginneth to speak English”. Fawkes revealed his true identity on 7 November, and told his interrogators that there were five people involved in the plot to kill the King. He began to reveal their names on 8 November, and told how they intended to place Princess Elizabeth on the throne. His third confession, on 9 November, implicated Francis Tresham. Following the Ridolfi plot of 1571, prisoners were made to dictate their confessions, before copying and signing them, if they still could. Although it is uncertain if he was tortured on the rack, Fawkes’s scrawled signature suggests the suffering he endured at the hands of his interrogators.

The trial of eight of the plotters began on Monday 27 January 1606. Fawkes shared the barge from the Tower to Westminster Hall with seven of his co-conspirators. They were kept in the Star Chamber before being taken to Westminster Hall, where they were displayed on a purpose-built scaffold. The King and his close family, watching in secret, were among the spectators as the Lords Commissioners read out the list of charges. Fawkes was identified as Guido Fawkes, “otherwise called Guido Johnson”. He pleaded not guilty, despite his apparent acceptance of guilt from the moment he was captured. The jury found all the defendants guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice, Sir [John Popham, pronounced them guilty of high treason. The Attorney General, Sir Edward Coke, gave the court details of how each of the condemned would be executed, saying that they were to be “put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both”. Fawkes’s and Tresham’s testimony regarding the Spanish treason was read aloud, as well as confessions related specifically to the Gunpowder Plot. The last piece of evidence offered was a conversation between Fawkes and Wintour, as they had been kept in adjacent cells. The two men apparently thought they had been speaking in private, but their conversation was intercepted by a government spy. When the prisoners were allowed to speak, Fawkes explained his not guilty plea as ignorance of certain aspects of the indictment. On 31 January 1606, Fawkes and three others, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rockwood and Robert Keyes, were dragged from the Tower on wattled hurdles to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, opposite the building they had attempted to destroy. His fellow plotters were then hanged and quartered. Fawkes was the last to stand on the scaffold, where he asked for forgiveness of the King and state, whilst still keeping up his “crosses and idle ceremonies” (Catholic practices). Weakened by torture and aided by the hangman, Fawkes began to climb the ladder to the noose, but either through jumping to his death or climbing too high so the rope was incorrectly set, he managed to avoid the agony of the latter part of his execution by breaking his neck. His lifeless body was nevertheless quartered and, as was the custom, his body parts were then distributed to “the four corners of the kingdom”, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.

On 5 November 1605, Londoners were encouraged to celebrate the King’s escape from assassination by lighting bonfires, provided that “this testemonye of joy be carefull done without any danger or disorder”. After that an Act of Parliament designated each 5 November to be held as a day of thanksgiving for “the joyful day of deliverance”, and remained in force until 1859. Fawkes was one of thirteen conspirators, but he is the individual most associated with the plot. Here in Britain, 5 November has variously been called Guy Fawkes Night, Guy Fawkes Day, Plot Night and Bonfire Night and this is of course traced directly back to the original celebration of 5 November 1605. Bonfires were usually accompanied by fireworks from the 1650s onwards, and it became the custom after 1673 to burn an effigy (usually of the pope) after James, Duke of York, converted to Catholicism. Effigies of other notable figures have found their way onto the bonfires, although most modern effigies are of Fawkes. The “guy” is normally created by children from old clothes, newspapers, and a mask. During the 19th century, “guy” came to mean an oddly dressed person, while in many places it has lost any pejorative connotation and instead refers to any male person and the plural form can refer to people of any gender. James Sharpe, professor of history at the University of York, has described how Guy Fawkes came to be toasted as “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”, whilst William Harrison Ainsworth’s 1841 historical romance ‘Guy Fawkes; or, The Gunpowder Treason’ portrays Fawkes in a generally sympathetic light and his novel transformed Fawkes in the public perception into an “acceptable fictional character”. Fawkes subsequently appeared as “essentially an action hero” in children’s books and the ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as The Boyhood Days of Guy Fawkes; or, The Conspirators of Old London, were published around 1905. Now I know why as children we would say ‘a penny for the guy’. The historian Lewis Call considered that “Fawkes is now a major icon in modern political culture” whose face has become a potentially powerful instrument for the articulation of post-modern anarchism” in the late 20th century. His point of view. There seems to be a far more ‘Health and Safety’ culture around nowadays though, with greatly more organised gatherings. I recall as a child liking the firework displays in our back garden in Whittlesey, with dad firmly in charge. We had Catherine wheels, rockets, Roman candles, sparklers, all different sorts, but sadly my grandfather used to annoy us by letting off bangers near our feet! That I’m glad to say was soon stopped. Nowadays the events seem to be a far more commercial event, so I thought that I would add some history to the day, to remind us quite why we do remember this every year. But do remember to keep all pets safe please.

This week, especially if you know of the ‘Harry Potter’ books or films…
(This next bit contains spoilers – you have been warned!)

In the Harry Potter’ series, Fawkes was a highly intelligent male phoenix and Albus Dumbledore’s animal companion and defender. It is unknown quite how long Fawkes had been in Dumbledore’s service. He had been loyal to him for many years prior to the Headmaster’s death though. Fawkes was instrumental in helping Harry Potter defeat Salazar Slytherin’s basilisk as the tears of the phoenix, which possessed healing properties, saved Harry’s life after his arm was punctured by the basilisk’s fang and injected its venom. In a later event, Fawkes came to Dumbledore’s aid in fighting Lord Voldemort during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. Following Dumbledore’s death, Fawkes sang his Lament over the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry but it then left and flew away, never to be seen again. Its tail feathers were the cores of the wands which were held by Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter.

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