A few days ago we heard on the radio that there was much more violence during the Great Train Robbery of 1963 than has been reflected in the over-romanticised films about it. We also learnt that the notorious Leatherslade Farm, where the robbers held out, is no more.
Luckily, ‘The Bell’ at Aston Clinton, the pub frequented by the prosecution at the trial down the road at Aylesbury, is still around. Here’s what the Good Food Guide for 1961 – 62 had to say about this very popular inn just a year before the robbery took place:
Gerard Harris now has his own company and controls the inn; perhaps his brow will become less furrowed. The Bell is no well known to our members now that it is difficult to find anything new to say about it. Its menu is large, but not gigantic and the cuisine rises to a level of real distinction…creamy pate, 3/-; Arbroath smokies in cream,3/6; coq au vin, 9/6; beef Avignon, 8/6; sweetbreads chasseur,8/6; entrecote marchand de vin, 11/-; blackcurrant sorbet,2/-;crème brule,2/6…The menu is supported by a long and a remarkably chosen wine-list. The strongest section is probably the clarets: at one end is a Haut Medoc at 10/6, at the other ‘28’s and ‘29’s—chateau bottled wines between 32/- and 45/-, which are now not at all easy to get, even from wine merchants. Ordinaires at 9/6. Often crowded, and service sometimes overtaxed ( especially the wine service); but meals are served until quite a late hour. Open all year. Bed and breakfast, 19/6; no full board (App by too many members to list .)Continue reading →
Found in our boundless archive – this crime photo with a typed note pasted to the back: –
Police Sergeant Barrie Warner with the ornate brass lecturn (sic) which was found dumped in a quiet lane. London Colney* police are anxious to trace the owners of the object which has the inscription ‘presented to the Parish of St. Petrox by William Smith’ – Churchwarden 1884- around the base.” Echo and Post Ltd, Hemel Hempstead.
No date but most of the crime photos in our archive come from the 1970s. Possibly someone of an ecclesiastical bent was able to identify where the item came from. 40 years later using the net one can be pretty certain this is St. Petrox Dartmouth and William Smith was a local solicitor whose family were associated with the church. There is another St. Petrox in Pembrokeshire but Dartmouth is far more likely. How the lectern came to be abandoned in Colney is a mystery, possible the item was regarded as too recognisable or unsaleable in the criminal underworld…
*London Colney is a village near St Albans. It is by junction 22 of the M25 but probably at the time it had not been completed in this area.
Discovered in a box of books is this copy of It’s Fun Finding Out, putatively by Bernard Wicksteed, but actually written with Chapman Pincher, the man who was to become a true legend among spy-hunters.
Back in 1947, when the book was published by the Daily Express, Wicksteed, an RAF war hero, was an ex sub-editor who had published his first book, Father’sHeinkel in 1944. Pincher was an ex physics teacher who had recently joined the Express as a science correspondent. One day Express editor Arthur Christiansen had the bright idea of bringing the two men together to compile an exploration of weird facts something along the lines of the American Ripley Believe It Or Not books. The result was It’s Fun Finding Out.
Structured so as to reveal facts while on visits to several places, including a Zoo, the seaside, a farm, a wood at night, a river bank, the country in Autumn, a grouse moor, an art gallery and the Science Museum, the book also considers facts relating to social history, philately, the amazing physical toughness of Winston Churchill, the French view of the English and vice versa, and guppies, among many other topics. Continue reading →
Found - a curious and very rare spiritualist book The Spirit of Irene Speaks published in Bournemouth in 1923. The title refers to a notorious murder in 1922 of a young cook, Irene Wilkins, who had travelled down to Bournemouth to London in response to a potential employer from an advertisement she had placed in a local paper. She had been met at the station in a large Mercedes and her body was found in a field the next day battered to death. Eventually a chauffeur was arrested, one Thomas Henry Allaway. An astute car designer had noted the car's registration number at the station and he was also recognised by a telegram clerk… The book claims that through 'psychometrics' (in this case the psychic tracing of the murderer through clairvoyant communications from an object from the murder scene) a medium had solved the case and there is a weight of convincing evidence in the book and suggestion of police co-operation. No account of the case found online mentions this aspect of the case.
However the book is notable for other reasons. It has a long plea at the beginning by Dr Abraham Wallace for the repeal of capital punishment as being irrational and unchristian and a further article on 'The Futility of Capital Punishment.' The endpapers of the books are designed by the cult outsider artist Madge Gill. She is mentioned in the text as having produced these 'automatic drawings'. She is called Madge E. Gill from London ('this lady through her mediumship obtains gorgeous oriental designs in marvellous colour schemes, and quite unusual in conception. She also, under control, does the most beautiful embroidery and needlework…)
Madge Gill (1882- 1961) was a prolific outsider and visionary artist. She was introduced to Spiritualism by an aunt when she was in her teens in East London. Later when she was about 40 she began creating thousands of mediumistic most done with ink in black and white. She claimed to be guided by a spirit she called "Myrninerest" (my inner rest) and often signed her works in this name. Many feature a young woman in intricate dress often thought to be a representation of herself or her lost (stillborn) daughter, and female subjects dominate her work. Her drawings are characterised by geometric chequered patterns and organic ornamentation, with the blank staring eyes of female faces and their flowing clothing interweaving into the surrounding complex patterns.These endpaper drawings, different at both ends (rear endpapers pictured) do not have the female face…a book on her came out in 2013 by the musician and occultist David Tibet.
Found in the Haining collection - this article from 1936 on pickpockets. The author Louis Mansfield has much advice,most still relevant. The bit about a 'dip's' long, tapering fingers may be fanciful but certainly it is not a profession for one with fat fingers...
PEARSON'S WEEKLY, May 30, 1936
THIS IS DERBY WEEK, SO–
WATCH YOUR POCKETS!
Pickpockets will be busy among the crowds. It is their best time of the year. Louis C. S. Mansfield, detective and crime investigator, lets you into secrets of the "dip's" profession – and they have some good ones. You have been warned!
TAKE HIS ADVICE–
I have worked against pickpockets for years. Here's my advice to you if you want to return home with your notecase.
Be careful when you see men carrying, and not wearing, their overcoats, or holding newspapers which are open–not folded.
Grab your wallet quickly if a stranger starts brushing paint or dust off your coat.
If somebody hits you on the back and says "Sorry," look for a touch in front–because you won't feel it.
Found in the Haining collection - a mid 19th century pamphlet An Address to the people of Suffolk on incendiary fires. No publisher, author, date or place of publication is given. WorldCat notes that there is a copy in the Goldsmiths'-Kress Library of Economic Literature, (no. 34328) and says the author was probably Lord Thurlow - a Suffolk peer (Edward Hovell-Thurlow) and estimates a publication date of 1845. Evidently Suffolk was plagued by arson at this time. An impassioned plea, unashamedly patrician in tone, to stop this outbreak. It appears to be addressed mainly to farm workers and may have been spoken to a gathering and/or published in local newspapers. The account of the violent and seditious behaviour of people at the fires is fascinating and alarming...
The second and last part of Bill Lofts article (possibly unpublished) about London markets. This mainly deals with his search for books, comics and 'boy's books.' Loft's prose style is not exactly Nabokov but his enthusiasm and tireless research carries it along…there is much online about the dealer turned publisher Gerald Swan. Bill gives an affectionate portrait of him..
But easily the main attraction to me was the second-hand bookstall where I used to exchange my comics, and later boys papers. The proprietor was a Gerald Swan, later to become quite a famous publisher in our field of cheap paperback novels, comics, and boys papers, as well as Annuals which he named 'Albums'. These 'Swan Albums' were priced at 3/6d each - printed on the cover, but were sold at a shilling, when he probably still made a big profit on them. Mr Swan was really an extraordinary dressed man to be in charge of a wooden shabby bookstall.
From the Peter Haining papers, this typed manuscript by the great researcher and expert on British comics and periodicals W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts (1923-1997). It is from the early 1970s and is slightly politically incorrect. Autre temps etc., The second part deals with Bill's quest for second hand books at these markets and here his taste is distinctly old fashioned. A vanished world.
My Favourite London Market Places.
I should think that most collectors, or at least those as youngsters in pre-Second World War days, would remember with some affection their local market place. In all probability this was where they bought or exchanged their comics and later Old Boys papers at a second-hand bookstall. This to supplement their regular weekly favourite ordered from the newsagent.
From the Peter Haining papers, this typed manuscript by the great researcher and expert on British comics and periodicals W.O.G. ('Bill') Lofts (1923-1997). It is interesting that Fleming got even close to writing a Sexton Blake, a bit like J.K. Rowling deciding to do a new Secret Seven adventure (actually not a bad idea..)
Sexton Blake and James Bond
I must confess that I greatly enjoyed the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. Alas, there were only about sixteen of them as he died a premature death in 1964. Since then a number of other writers have penned them, but never read as well as the creator.
The first in 1955 was entitled 'Casino Royal' when the author an ex-M.I.5 man, certainly was authentic in every detail. The films that commenced in 1963 with 'Dr. No'*. I also greatly enjoyed, especially those featuring Sean Connery. Roger Moore his successor was just as good, though even more suitable to the Saint character, with his type of humour.
It’s a truism that the higher you climb in society or show biz the more you have to lose to blackmailers or stalkers. But this is not a phenomenon of modern times. In a previous Jot it was shown how C. M. Westmacott, a gutter press editor of the Regency period, used his position to extract money from high society offenders. At around the same time the Duke of Wellington—since 1815, the most Famous Living Englishman—was a victim of a determined aristocrat by the name of Lady Georgiana Fane...
Born in 1801, Fane had first met Wellington just after the battle of Waterloo, when at the age of 14, she had danced with him at a ball. In her twenties, she became friendly with Lord Palmerston, who apparently proposed marriage to her. This shedeclined and instead turned her attention once more to the hero of Waterloo. Lady Georgiana, whose beauty was captured in two portraits by Thomas Lawrence, was also highly strung, possibly to the point of neurosis. When she features in the memoirs of her cousin, Lady Arbuthnot, Wellington’s confidante, she is often described as being chronically ‘ill’ and at one point Arbuthnot suspects that her indisposition was ‘almost entirely nervous’. Nevertheless, Wellington seems to have become very fond of the young aristocrat and despite his marriage their friendship developed into romance, with the result that intimate letters were exchanged. After the death of his wife Kitty in 1830, a number of other high society ladies were eager to snare the eligible widower, and possibly because he felt uncomfortable about the increasingly persistent tone of her letters to him, Wellington decided to break off his relationship with Lady Georgiana.
Found - this cutting from the Oxford Mail - Thursday 4th February 1943 detailing an incident straight out of Foyle's War. While World War II was raging, back in England pro-Nazi 'hooligans' were getting 'uppish.' A good demonstration of fair play and free speech - but 'much to be deplored.' Tom Driberg, now the subject of several biographies, was an openly gay, Communist sympathiser and a lifetime opponent of fascism. Churchill said 'he is the sort of person who gives sodomy a bad name..' Peter Wright of Spycatcher fame said he was a double agent...
Fascists "Uppish" Again - M. P.
Mr. Driberg (Ind., Maldon) asked the Home Secretary in the Commons today if he was aware that an organisation which advocated peace by negotiation with Hilter, and distributes pro-Nazi, anti-parliamentary and anti-Semitic propaganda, was proposing to hold a public meeting at a London theatre in the near future, and whether he would take steps to prevent the holding of such a meeting as likely to provoke a breach of the peace.
Mr. Morrison said that while watch was being kept on the activities of this organisation, his present information did not suggest that this meeting was likely to attract so much public interest that serious disorder was to be apprehended, and it would be premature for him to decide at this early date whether there were ground to prohibit the meeting, under Regulation 39E.
Mr. Driberg: Will you bear in mind that only last night there was a deplorable exhibition of hooliganism at Finsbury, where a memorial of Lenin was broken up and tarred and placarded with Fascist slogans?
Will you bear in mind that these people do seem to be getting rather uppish again and require a sharp check?
Mr. Morrison: I will certainly look into that incident to which you refer. If true, it is much to be deplored.
This scrap of a letter, on paper watermarked 1824, was discovered a few years ago in a pile of autographs. It had been sent by the rather obscure W.B.MacDonagh, author of The Hermit in London to Charles Molloy Westmacott, editor of the notorious Age newspaper, and author of the London Spy, and proposed a meeting to discuss business.
Last part of this thrill-packed piece on murder, mayhem, obsession, vengeance and book collecting. Slight doubt is cast on this (incredible) event. The story has inspired a wealth of articles and books from Flaubert right up to Basbanes. However, in 1928 a book appeared in Spain written by bibliophile and author Ramon Miquel I Planas (1874-1950) seeking to rectify the story of Don Vincente and arguing that the anonymous article in La Gazette des Tribunaux (Paris 1837) which had informed the world of the murders had no basis in fact. **Planas argued that the article had been written by French occultist (Priory of Sion) author and librarian Charles Nodier, (1780-1844), most known for his influence on the French Romantics. He found that Don Vincente’s crime does not appear in any local newspapers of the time, that there was no monk by the name of Fra Vincentes at Poblet at the time of its closure, and that the local ‘colour’ does not ring true. Planas's theories have also been later disputed..but if Nodier was the original author, it should be noted that it was rumoured that he had killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain.
The account, indeed, does have a slight air of legend about it - especially the part about each victim returning with alacrity to the shop to report a missing leaf…booksellers will tell you that often a missing page is not discovered for years. What does ring true is the murderous anger of the person outbid (almost as deadly as the ire of the person who has been relentlessly bid up to way beyond the price that they had intended to pay. Pace Nodier.) The fetish / obsession about uniqueness is also familiar in rare bookselling lore..The bookseller 'unwilling to part with all but the cheapest of his stock' and who keeps every good book he ever gets (or prices them so high that only a very rich madman would buy ) is also an all too familiar type in life and legend and one who is still with us online and in the cloud…
** This part is in the debt of the ARCA Crimes against Art blog where there are more info and links/ footnotes on the case.
This is an oft told tale of book madness and murder. It has elements that ring true and also mythic elements. It inspired the young Flaubert's 1838 novella Bibliomania. This version comes from the unrecorded scholar Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It was published in a criminal law journal in 1943. Sander, a 'scholar specialising in bibliographical-iconographicaI research work' gave his address as The Huntington Hotel, Pasadena, California. See part two for an update and queries on this story...
...As a young man, Don Vincente was a monk in the Cisterciens cloister Poblet near Tarragona, and because of his passion for books he was made keeper of the cloister's valuable library. During a political disturbance of the time the cloister was pillaged, and there was good reason to believe that Don Vincente had been familiar with the plunderers. It was hinted that he had shown them the place where the cloister's gold and silver treasures were hidden, in order to secure precious books for himself. Be that as it may, he went to Barcelona and opened a bookshop with a remarkable stock of rare books, which was patronized by all collectors although he almost never sold a really important item. His frugal livelihood and small business expenses could be covered by selling cheaper stock. He was never seen reading a book; only to own them and look at them, to turn over their leaves was of interest to him. When he had a chance to buy a precious book, he was obliged to sell something more substantial from his beloved stock, but even then the buyer almost had to wrench away his acquisition before Don Vincente reluctantly parted with it.
It is a fact that many signposts were temporarily removed, especially in rural areas, during the Second World War, and that countrymen were advised to report sightings of suspicious foreign looking and foreign sounding individuals in their district. What is not generally known, I suspect, is that an artist plying his or her trade as a landscape painter could have come under the gaze of local busybodies, including members of the Home Guard, who may have reported them to the authorities.
Found - a sensationalist paperback The Christie Case (Gaywood Press, London circa 1958). A rare non-fiction pulp by Ronald Maxwell - one of the youngest journalists following the case. The book begins:
The Christie case was more than the stories below the headlines for me.It was the story behind the headlines and it took many sleepless nights and long-drawn days to unfold as I followed closely upon the greatest manhunt of modern days, culminating in the final arrest of a man named John Reginald Halliday Christie, in whose flat the partly clothed bodies of four women were found strangled. In the small garden behind the flat, there were uncovered the skeletons of more women, who were still not identified weeks after the discovery.
The story began when a coloured man named Beresford Brown decided to fix the wireless in the kitchen of the ground floor flat at number 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, London W 11. That was on Tuesday, March 24, 1953. Beresford Brown intended to share the kitchen of the flat – which had recently been vacated by John Christie – with other tenants of this dingy, two storey house. By accident, the man tapped against the wall, and there was a hollow sound. It intrigued him. He tore away a strip of wallpaper and discovered a small hole in the partition which his action had exposed. Through the hole, in the small cavity inside, he saw a woman's leg. Shaken with horror, he looked closer. There, in the dark hollow, he could see well enough to distinguish the outline of a partly clothed body. In his brief glance it up in the fact that there were two bundles behind the body.
… He ran excitedly into the street in search of the police, it was not difficult to find a constable in this part of the Royal Borough of Kensington... within minutes, the whole apparatus of Scotland Yard been set in motion in motion and the hunt had begun...