‘The Morons’ Dining Club

moron-advert-001Found in the ‘Eating Places’ column in the May 1927 issue of the highly regarded American left-wing literary magazine, The New Masses, is this advert for a club called ‘The Morons’. According to the SOED (1965) the term moron comes from the Greek for foolish and was coined in 1913, presumably by a psychologist, to describe a person whose ‘intellectual development’ had been arrested.

In medical textbooks the term, along with ‘cretin’ and ‘idiot’, was still applied to a category of the mentally deficient up to the 1960s, after which time such nomenclature became otiose. It is difficult to say when exactly the word moron was freed from its scientific meaning to become the slang term so familiar to us today. It may have already been assigned slang status by 1927, when hostess Winnifred Harper Cooley, placed her advert. It is possible that the dining club borrowed the word from a derogatory reference to suffragists as ‘morons’.

The Net has nothing to tell us regarding the foundation of The Morons, but from the advert we can perhaps guess that the fortnightly meetings of this ‘ most brilliant dining club ‘ took place using a rota system in the homes of members, or even permanently at Cooley’s own New York City home. It is unlikely that any restaurant would have tolerated the raised voices and table-banging that might accompany the airing of ‘radical subjects’. Continue reading

From the classified ads in T.P.’s Weekly, July 11th 1914

t-s-eliotBachelor, in digs.,wishers to meet gentlemanly fellow of refined tastes, bank clerk for instance, who wants chum. Walks, cycle rides, physical exercises, theatres etc. Friendship desired. Confidences exchanged. (X2, 372)

Although T.S. Eliot was studying philosophy at Oxford in July 1914, he was probably lonely in his ‘digs ‘ and may have met a bank clerk who persuaded him that such fellows were sensitive and highly cultured. This could explain why, in 1917, he himself decided to join Lloyds Bank in London. However, it’s hard to visualize Prufrock taking up cycling and other physical exercise.

The Summer School of Patriotism—–An endeavour to organise the forces working for the renascence of patriotism in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, to be held at Bexhill-on-Sea, August 1st to September 12th. Stamp for full particulars, Organising Secretary, 6, Melbourne Road, Merton Park, London, S.W. (X2, 315).

A bit worrying, this. A call for patriotism in mid July 1914! Two weeks later Britain was at war with Germany. What were these armchair warriors planning to do in sunny Bexhill for six weeks? And why did the Secretary not volunteer his or her name? Still, never mind, the event was probably cancelled due to you know what. Continue reading

Hidden treasure in Epping Forest

Discovered in the Haining archive, this letter from someone called Lame Jack treasure letter 001D.L.Rolton of Ambleside, Cumbria, a fan of Haining’s The Fortune Hunter’s Guide. In ‘ gratefulness ‘ to the author for his ‘ useful and interesting ‘ book Rolton offers the following nugget of information regarding ‘ Lame Jack’s Fortune’.

I suggest you obtain ( borrow, beg or hire for one day ) a metal detector. On that fine day, try alongside the left side of the road, as one goes from Woodford to Epping —but only in the region of the fork that leads to Loughton ( diagram inserted ).

No! I am not being funny at all—I am most serious, and I don’t think you need to stray far from the side of the road. Try it !

Yours Sincerely,

D.L Rolton

It is not known where Rolton found the reference to Lame Jack’s treasure. It may be part of local folklore, although Lame Jack is not to be found using Google. It does not follow that because Rolton addressed his letter from Ambleside that he wasn’t acquainted with the site, which on the map is occupied by woodland named ‘ Reed’s Forest ‘. If any metal detectorist wishes to investigate the site, some research in the local history section of Loughton Library may yield clues. A study of W.R.Fisher’s The Forest of Essex (1887) could be also be useful. But be warned –it is over 40 years since Rolton sent the letter, and a huge amount of metal detecting has been done in this time. [R.M.Healey ]

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Action list from John Osborne

Found in Christoper Herold’s Mistress to an Age. A Life of Madame de Stael (Hamish Hamilton, London 1959) a list scribbled on the front endpaper. The book came from the library of the playwright John Osborne (1929 – 1994). It has a posthumous book label reading ‘From The Library  of the Hurst. The John Osborne Arvon Centre Shropshire.’ The Hurst was his final residence – a large country house, now a cultural centre owned by the Arvon foundation. The writings are Osborne’s notes to himself about changes possibly needed (or not) in his life.

Handwritten  notes-to-self are not uncommon in second hand books, although they tend to be in self-improvement or psychological/ spiritual works. In a jot from 2013 we show a copy of  48 Laws of Power with notes by King of Pop Michael Jackson. The connection with Osborne and Madame de Stael is obscure. Osborne appears never to have referred to her in a play.. He has a few notes about her on the rear endpaper: ’How that girl plays at sensibility writing letters from room to room..’ He notes a quotation from Voltaire about Diderot: ‘No one has ever written more amusingly on famine.’

He also highlights something that Madame de Stael wrote to her husband -‘What I love about noise is that it camouflages life..’ His biographer writes that Osborne had a life-long hatred of noise, often writing complaining letters about it. This action list /cri de coeur probably comes from a period in the 1980s when he was at a low ebb, especially as his film production company (Woodfall) which had (1970s) made a fortune from the worldwide success of Tom Jones (he wrote the script) appeared to be in a serious financial mess. The endpaper notes read:

1. Sex

2. Desire to work

3. No desire to work

4. Whether to give up work altogether. 

5. Desire to do something else altogether. Pure leisure e.g.

6. Decision to give up drink

7. Decision to go on drinking and resign to an early grave.

8. Decision to change way of life and live sober/ industrious (illegible) life  dedicated to self-improvement and tough grappling with all problems mostly   (illegible)

9. Give up Woodfall

10. Not give up Woodfall for reasons of sentiment, cowardice and expenditure

11. Seek new place in which to lead better, less wasteful life

12. Stay put

13. Go on holiday.

14. Stay put.

15. No. More (illegible – cats?)

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1846 Diary of J.W.Penfold—inventor of the octagonal pillar box

Any Jotters who in their childhood tuned into Danger Mouse, which is about to be revived, must know that his sidekick was called Penfold. It would seem that this character was named after the Victorian architect John Wornham Penfold (1828 - 1909), who is perhaps best known today as the inventor of the octagonal pillar box, several examples of which can still be found in Cheltenham.

But here we have a copy of the Punch Pocket Book for 1846 (discovered many years ago in an antique shop) that once belonged to the future architect and designer, then aged just eighteen, while he was working as a lowly assistant draughtsman in the London office of the renowned architect and illustrator Thomas Talbot Bury (1809 -1877) and his partner Charles Lee (1803 – 1880). At this time Penfold’s duties were various, and included surveying at proposed sites, researching legal documents, studying plans, often of proposed railways, and copying and preparing plans and delivering them with other related material to clients and lawyers. The Diary, also records Penfold’s churchgoing, social life, including visits of friends and relations, dining out, trips to the theatre and concerts, excursions to art galleries and museums, and visits home to his home town of Haslemere. Here  then  is a rare glimpse into the world of a trainee architect in early Victorian London at a time when  the ‘Railway Mania ‘ was raging across England and the metropolis was rapidly expanding.  Not surprisingly, most of the more interesting entries in the Diary illustrate the way in which these developments relate to Penfold’s work. Here are some examples:

January:
Wednesday 14th.Took letter to B. Williams, Waterloo Place & to Humby, Carlton Chambers. Copying Plan of Sewer under Richmond Railway on Mr Leader’s land & Beck’s Bill to W. Clay.

Monday 26th. …went with Sydney to measure across Westminster Bridge road where the south east extension is to cross by Miss Carr’s property. Inking in tracing of South Eastern Extension Ry.

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A charitable action from Richard Arkwright—the richest shareholder in Britain

Every schoolboy knows about Sir Richard Arkwright, the pioneer factory owner from Derbyshire whose invention of the water frame contributed hugely to the Industrial Revolution. Well here’s a scrawl from his son, Richard Arkwright junior (1755 – 1843), who took over the business and proved to be an even greater industrialist than his father had been. On the latter’s death he sold some the factories he had inherited and ploughed back the capital into property, shares and a bank. At his death his fortune was estimated at £3m, making him the richest man in Britain outside the landowning classes.

The letter, which is dated 20 February 1837 and is addressed from the family home of Willersley Castle,
just down the road from Arkwright senior’s Cromford Mill, asks an unidentified correspondent to attend to a cripple, Eliza Freer, who is related to someone known to him.  Let Richard himself explain:

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“GOING! Going! Gone!”

Found – an obscure work by Robert Power, a forgotten journalist. In the 1920s and up to the early 1950s his short ‘thought pieces’ were syndicated in the UK and as far as Australia. This tradition of coffee break columns is still with us – now it’s Robert Crampton rather than Robert Power but it may not continue much longer…There is no real equivalent online. This is from his Two-minute talks (Vol 2)  S. W. Partridge (London,1925) and still has some relevance in the time of eBay. Other ‘talks’ have titles such as ‘Poppy Friendships’, ‘Blistering Tongues’, ‘In the W.P.B.’, ‘Rich Poverty’, ‘Are you Popular?’, ‘Poachers’ and ‘Rubbernecks.’

"GOING! GOING!"

"GOING! Going! Gone!" cries the auctioneer and brings down his mallet with a sharp rap to declare that opportunity to purchase has passed for all save the highest bidder.

The auctioneer emphasises the desirability of the goods he offers. In seductive language he paints the picture of a bargain that must be seized at once. Prudence struggles with desire in the mind of the keen bargain hunter, but time is limited, and if he lingers in indecision too long, the descending hammer puts a period to his vacillation.

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A voyage to Russia in 1908 & 1965 (2)

Nevsky Prospect Leningrad 1960s
(thanks Transpress N.Z.)
This is the second part of an anonymous diary found in our archives (see part one.) It was written first by a young woman of about 20 in 1908. Here she returns in her mid 70s (by plane.) Leningrad has since become St. Petersburg and the Astoria has become very expensive...

Sunday 12th September, 1965

 Perfect flight from London taking less than seven hours including half-an-hour at Copenhagen. Wonderful cloud effects. We spent ages waiting at the Leningrad customs. On reaching the hotel Astoria unpacked and changed. We had an excellent luncheon at 1 o'clock; sprats, not unlike sardines, Chicken Kiev. Separate course of peas, (not very good) grapes. A white wine and a red wine. The latter good, the white not interesting.

 In the afternoon we went to St.lsaac's Cathedral, a monster of vulgarity - everything gilt or malachite, except two elegant columns of lapis and a wooden model of the cathedral; these were the only things that pleased me.
We had a good dinner, but oh, the slowness of the service! We went to bed early.

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A voyage to Russia in 1908 & 1965 (1)

Found- an anonymous account of a a trip to Russia on The Salsette in 1908 written by a young woman of an artistic bent. There is a certain amount about the ship, mostly at Shona's Wrecks (many thanks) which mention this voyage to Northern European cities, the Salsette's first major outing. In 1915 the ship was hit by a torpedo and lies 600 feet down off Portland Bill, now a favourite wreck for divers to explore.In 1965, probably by then in her mid 70's, our diarist flew back to Russia and remarks on the changes (to follow).

ON BOARD “THE SALSETTE”

20th August, 1908

  It has been rather rough and cold all day but for all that I have greatly enjoyed it. I was so tired after last night that I slept on till past 9 o'clock this morning, and then had breakfast in bed. All the competitions have started again, and out of the two I have played to-day I have again won one. It has been very nice and restful having another whole day at sea - one gets so frightfully tired sightseeing. Every town we have been to see so far has been paved with cobble stones, roads and pavements alike, and this, especially when one has thin soles to one's shoes, very quickly makes one's feet ache.

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Young England – the worst play ever?

Found - a 1935 theatre programme for Young England, a play by Walter Reynolds often cited as the worst play ever. Nevertheless it was a great success and some people saw it 20 times. We covered it pretty thoroughly at a posting at bibliophile site Bookride. We had found a copy of the book and catalogued it thus:

Young England is a now uncommon book  and of interest to theatre collectors and connoisseurs of the odd and the zany. Reynolds appears to have been a sort of Amanda Ros of the theatre--so very bad that he is good. Young England (Walter Reynolds) Gollancz, London 1935.  8vo. pp 288. Frontis portrait, 5 plates. A play in two periods. This play had an unlikely success in the 1930s rather similar to the fictitious 'Springtime for Hitler.' It was so appallingly bad that audiences came along in their droves for over 300 nights to shout amusing remarks and generally revel in its ghastliness. The frontis portrait of the Reverend Walter Reynolds shows a stern Scottish type who apparently would walk up and down the aisles of the theatre during performances telling people to be quiet. Quite scarce.'

What emerges from contemporary reviews is that the actors in this terrible play co-operated with the audience and adapted lines and action according to shouts from the audience, some of whom were fuelled by cocktails which were so popular in the 1930s…In one performance the villain, when led away by the police, pauses to say "Foiled!" He was almost licked one night when the crowd shouted not only "Foiled!" but "Baffled!" "Beaten!" "Frustrated!" "Outwitted!" "Trapped!" "Flummoxed!" He waited until the wits were through, then hissed: "Stymied!"

The programme includes "…a short letter from the author of Young England to his old friends, the theatre-going public."

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A begging letter from a debtor’s prison

Begging letters from debtors don’t usually survive, although there are at least three reasons why they might. Perhaps the writer was a well known person who at the time was down on his luck and counted on a friend or person of means to help him out. Alternatively, the writer could later have become famous or even notorious and the letter would be regarded as a souvenir or talking point. Of course, the writer could have been neither famous nor notorious, and the retention of a begging letter was a means of recording a favour that one man owed to another.

This particular letter is from someone who signs himself M. Eurius Beaubrier, and is addressed to a Henry Clarke. Although preliminary research has revealed nothing of the writer, who may have been French, the handwriting is that of an educated man and the tone is rather pathetic. The letter suggests that both he and Clarke, who is also hard to identify, had dealings before.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki seventy years on–a naval officer’s visit to Japan in 1946/1947

To mark the terrible events of seventy years ago in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, here are some postcards bought by my late father while visiting Japan, late in 1946 or early in 1947, as a commander in the Royal Navy. They were found interleaved in the first volume of a two volume guide book entitled We Japanese, first published in December 1934 and June 1937,by H.S.K Yamaguchi, the managing director of the exclusive Fujiya Hotel at Miyanoshita, situated in the mountainous region of Hakone, eighty miles SW of Tokyo.

The first and second volumes of this four hundred page guide to ‘many of the customs, manners, ceremonies, festivals, arts and crafts of the Japanese’ were reprinted in October and December respectively. A third and final volume appeared in 1949. My father probably bought his copies while staying at the hotel, which was established in 1878 by a member of the Yamaguchi family, and today advertises itself as the oldest ‘Western-style’ hotel in Japan. He wouldn’t have met the guide’s author, who had made great improvements to his hotel in the thirties, because he had died in 1944, but he might have rubbed shoulders with some of its famous guests. During the war one of these was the loathsome ‘Butcher of Warsaw’, Joseph Meisinger, but he had been captured by the Allies in September 1945. At other times celebrities staying at this exclusive hotel included Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Charlie Chaplin, and the Emperor of Japan himself. In 1978 Yoko Ono took John Lennon here.

Today, at £133 pp per night, the Fujiya Hotel no doubt trades on its exclusive reputation, but it is still cheaper than a less famous rival nearby. If you do decide to visit it, the receptionist may let you consult the final issue (1950) of the guide to Japan that my father bought nearly seventy years ago. [RMH]

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Maurice Baring quotations – “Good things”

Maurice Baring with his
pet budgerigar 'Dempsey.'

Found in Paul Horgan's Maurice Baring Restored (Heinemann, London 1970) a collection of quotations - snippets from the work of the great (and somewhat neglected) writer. Horgan calls these pages 'Good Things.' Maurice Baring was very good on music and art, his Beethoven story has probably been told by others but is still poignant.

We have selected a few of the very best... There are many quotation sites on the web, most have just one 'quote' from him: 'Memory is the greatest of artists, and effaces from your mind what is unnecessary.' The following are from Paul Horgan's selection.

There is no amount of praise which a man and an author cannot bear with equanimity. Some authors can even stand flattery. (From the dedicatory letter of Dead Letters)

Whoever one is, and wherever one is, one is always in the wrong if one is rude.

Art was Flaubert's religion; he served it with all his might; and, although he wrote but little, he died of overwork. (French Literature)

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Edwin Chadwick on sewage farms

Today, it is Joseph Bazalgette, father of the revolutionary sewage system for London that gets most attention from the press. But Bazalgette was really building on the earlier pioneering work done by the lawyer Edwin Chadwick (1800 -90), who pushed for sanitary reform from the 1840s, not just in London, where perhaps it was needed most, but in the non-metropolitan centres, and continued to work for the principle of clean water up to and beyond the 1880s, long after he had retired.

Here we have a letter from Chadwick, dated August 21st 1884, to a James Blackburn, who turns out to be the man who in the 1870s was dealing with the sewage coming from Aldershot Army Camp. Blackburn, who was then Ranger of Windsor Forest, had used the effluvia on 100 acres of mainly heather-strewn land, and so successful was he in growing crops on it that in 1879 he entered the Camp Farm for the Agricultural Society’s £100 prize for the best sewage farm in the United Kingdom. He didn’t win it, but Chadwick, evidently impressed by Blackburn’s methods, wrote to him from his home in East Sheen asking if he could visit him to discuss the latest thinking on metropolitan sewage disposal.

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Afternoon Tea with Sherlock Holmes – Peter Cushing interviewed

Found among the papers of Peter Haining this account by him of a meeting with the Hammer Horror film star Peter Cushing. Haining worked with Cushing on several books including Peter Cushing's Monster Movies  (9 macabre short stories  all linked to Cushing's film career) and The Sherlock Holmes Scrapbook both with forewords by Cushing. These contributions were written by Haining and then approved by Cushing (after much correspondence, some slightly  rancorous- he appears to have been a perfectionist although all his communications end "God bless you, Peter Cushing")

Afternoon Tea with Sherlock Holmes
By Peter Haining

It was the perfect place to meet Sherlock Holmes: 'The English Tea Room' in Brown's Hotel, Albermarle Street in the heart of London's fashionable Mayfair district. Long associated with the great English tradition of taking afternoon tea - served with the hotel's own blend, home-made jams and clotted cream and tasty cakes and pastries the Nineteenth Century establishment is also steeped in literary tradition and has been patronised by among others Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and Agatha Christie who actually based her novel, At Bertram’s Hotel, on Brown's. Founded in 1837 by James Brown, a former valet to Lord Byron who referred to him as the 'gentleman's gentleman,' the hotel has become an oasis of elegance, comfort and fine cuisine in the heart of the bustling metropolis. Indeed, such is the timeless style of Brown's that it is not hard to imagine the great detective paying a visit and no surprise to me that Peter Cushing, associated with Holmes for much & his acting career and a man dedicated to his afternoon cup of tea, should have chosen it as his own haven whenever he was working in the vicinity of London on stage or in films and television.
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John Elliotson—friend of Dickens, champion of mesmerism and vegetarianism

Dr John Elliotson (1791 - 1868 ), though attacked in his own time for his unconventional practices, would have thrived today as a go-to TV doctor on all things to do with alternative medicine. He was conventional enough as a medical student, but then went on to study phrenology, and afterwards introduced his friend Dickens to mesmerism, on which he became an acknowledged expert. Thackeray dedicated Pendennis to him and based his character Dr Goodenough in his last novel, The Adventures of Philip, on Elliotson. He was a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Physicians and the Royal Society, and was one of the first doctors to advocate the use of the stethoscope. Wilkie Collins called him ‘one of the greatest English physiologists’.  He was also, though the biographical sources don’t mention it, a firm fan of vegetarianism, which in mid Victorian England was still frowned on. In this undated letter, which was found in a collection of autographed material, Elliotson recommends to an unknown correspondent that his brother continue with his non-meat diet:

'He need not take fish--milk & all sorts of vegetable productions, offer dishes without end. Tell him to read the account of the meeting of the Vegetarian Society in the Daily News of this morning. I know members who eat no meat (excluding fish also) & drink neither wine … & are in the finest health. I would not wish him to eat fish if it disquiets him –but tell them one thousand good dishes (are) made from milk & vegetable matter…Bread & milk, custards, use arrowroot, sago, tapioca pudding, sweet omelettes, fruits of all kinds, in all ways.'

Despite being censured by many members of the medical community—and in particular Thomas Wakley, editor of The Lancet-- for his interest in mesmerism Elliotson persisted in championing the subject and even edited a magazine, The Zoist, which promoted the topic. He also founded a mesmeric hospital. [RR]

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A Dealer’s Tale

In a recent posting Quinney's we reprinted Thomas Rohan's advice to antique collectors. In this short work Don't: some concise and useful hints for the collector. Thomas Rohan Bournemouth, [1933] he also finds space to include the following dealer's tale. Dealers are fond of anecdotes, mostly of amazing finds and amazing bargains and mark ups ( '..found it in a junk shop for £5, Sothebys later sold it for £45000..' etc.,) but this a little different from the usual 'I had it away' story and even has elements of myth and legend...

Extracts from a Talk I gave to the Alton Society 

Many incidents I can tell from the niches of my memory relating to beautiful things. One extraordinary tale I will tell relating to a bureau bookcase. This happened some years before I became a dealer. I was in the habit of visiting various towns in Kent and Surrey during the week-ends. I always was on the look out to see beautiful things, and if I stayed in a town I always enquired of any place where antique furniture was housed - this, you must remember was nearly fifty years ago, before the country was scoured for the voracious American. While staying at a cathedral town in Kent, I was told of a farmhouse about two miles out, stocked with, as it was called, "old stuff". The place was called Priestly's Farm, an old Georgian white house on the main road, with barns and out houses: I could not miss it. I was further told that Joe Priestly was a very genial man. I certainly did find him that: he was a typical yeoman farmer of florid face and sandy whiskers and hair. He gave me a cordial welcome to look at his old furniture: some of it had been there for four generations. I certainly was struck with a set of fine Chippendale chairs, six, and two carving chairs, and a fine bureau bookcase. All the furniture was in its original state, the old mellow colour. I was admiring the bureau bookcase, and saying how I should like to possess it. the farmer smiled and shook his head. "Not all the money you could mention could buy that piece from me. The reason I will tell you, sir, if you will sit down. Have a glass of my cider?" He went out and brought in a jug of cider and two glasses, and we say down. This is his story: -

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Lady Georgiana Fane—High Society Stalker

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.

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Scarecrow Verse

From the extensive archive of Peter Haining, this doggerel by an unknown writer and a snapshot of scarecrow with brolly... These are from a file of research material for his 1988 book The Scarecrow: Fact and Fable. The book has this sympathetic review at Amazon: 'Haining really did a great job with this under researched topic. He examines the Scarecrow from its beginnings to the modern day counterparts. What I liked the most was the strong attention given to the figure of the Scarecrow in Literature and Films. If Scarecrows interest you, then you will love this book.' It was an insubstantial file bulked out with a few copyright movie and television stills (Worzel Gummidge etc.,)

A farmer sat in his chair
When the day's work was done
Birds are taking my peas - said he
I'll scare them with my gun

His wife said "John your time you'll save
If you a scarecrow make
Your old brown coat with odds and ends
Will cause those birds to quake

Upstairs there is an old top hat
Gloves in the parlour drawer
Bean poles will make its arms and legs
For stuffing we'll use straw

A turnip from the old barn floor
Will make a splendid head
If stones are used for eyes and nose
We'll paint its mouth" she said

They set to work to make it up
It was a fearsome sight
It gave the birds for miles around
A very dreadful fright.

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Stephen Graham—a prince among Soho tramps

Just a few minutes walk from Leoni’s Quo Vadis is Frith Street, now famous as the home of Private Eye, but for a century or more  the haunt of Soho journalists, writers and other near- do- wells, including Stephen Graham, who from 1912 to his death in 1975, lived in a flat at no 60, a handsome Georgian town house. In the days before adventurers in dangerous lands were accompanied by a TV crew, Stephen Graham, who described himself as ‘tramp’ before that word had gained unsavoury associations, explored a number of exotic lands, including Russia, on which he became an expert, recording his impressions in books and articles, until he could no longer finance his expeditions.

The letter, which was discovered among a batch of other unrelated correspondence, belongs to his most productive period, is written from Frith Street and is dated 4th December 1926. In it he invites a Miss Morley to an after-dinner ‘mixed party of various acquaintances who will sit around the fire & talk.’ He also invites her to bring along her copy of his recently published London Nights for him to sign.

In his latter years Graham’s reputation fell into decline, and there is a depressing description of him in poverty and disarray in his flat. He died at an advanced age in comparative obscurity in 1975, but today, however, thanks possibly to the popularity of TV travelogues and cheap holidays to exotic lands, there is renewed interested in his work. Two major online sites are devoted to him, and Abebooks shows that his books are beginning to be collected once again. A biography by Michael Hughes has just been published Beyond Holy Russia: The Life and Times of Stephen Graham. [RMH]