Some eccentrics and hermits

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( Initially from J. D. Mortimer, An Anthology of the Home Counties 1947), but including commentaries from other sources.


The Hermit of Ickenham ( lived c 1655)


Roger Crabb, an eccentric character, of whom there is a curious account in a very rare pamphlet, entitled ‘The English Hermit, or the Wonder of the Age (1655), lived  many years in a cottage at Ickenham, where he subsisted on three farthings a week, his food being bran, mallows, dock leaves, grass and the produce of a small garden; his drink water; for he esteemed it a sin to eat any living creature, or use any other beverage. Towards the latter part of his life he removed to Bethnall Green, where he died in 1680, and was buried at Stepney.


Daniel Lysons, The Environs of London


Actually, Mr Crabb seems to have lived on a rather healthy vegan diet from the age of twenty, when he was a soldier on the parliamentary side during the English Civil War. He later became a haberdasher in Chesham, Bucks and afterwards retired to Ickenham, where he became a pacifist and a proto-Anarchist. He was an anti-Sabbatarian, arguing that Sunday was not a special day. He inveighed against the evils of property, the Church and the Universities. According to one source, he ate potatoes and carrots as part of his vegan diet, but towards the end of his life subsisted mainly on bran, dock leaves (Rumex) and parsnips. Bran is full of vitamins, as are dock leaves, but the latter also contains oxalates, which can induce kidney stones if eaten to excess. All parts of the common mallow are nutritious, however. The leaves can be boiled and made into a soup, and the roots can be candied.


The Frimley Hermit ( 17th century)


At the end of this Hundred, I must not forget my noble friend, Mr Charles Howard’s Cottage of Retirement( which he called his Castle) which lay in the middle of a vast healthy country, far from any Road or Village in the hope of a healthy Mountain, where, in the troublesome times he withdrew from the wicked World, and enjoyed himself here, where he had only one Floor, his little Dining Room, a Kitchen, a Chapel, and a Laboratory. His utensils were all of Wood or Earth; near him were half a Dozen Cottages more, on whom he shew’d much compassion and charity.


John Aubrey: Perambulation of Surrey
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Lewis Hastings

In his ‘ family memoir’ Did You Really Throw it at the Television, renowned war correspondent and military historian Max Hastings has this to say of his eccentric great uncle, Major Lewis Hastings, whose swashbuckling life in South Africa in the early years of the twentieth century was in marked contrast to that of so many members of his family at that time:


‘He adopted a lifestyle so remote from those of his forebears as to deny any notion of inherited values. It was as if set out to compensate for generations of stiff collared family respectability and piety by cramming a century’s misdeeds and extravagances into a single lifetime. He was also writing verse…Lewis possessed real literary gifts, not least a talent for verse. When he exercise his brain and pen, the results were sometimes remarkable. His accomplishments were much slighter than they might have been because he always chose to please himself, to forswear discipline, to pursue whatever overhead star momentarily seized his imagination…To my father and later myself, when we read of the Hastingses of the nineteenth century, they seemed respectable, hard-working, decent Christian people…Lewis by contrast was more fun than the chaps who got made head of house at school or lived blameless lives…’


In a typewritten poem entitled ‘PLAIN PRAYER’ and inscribed in pencil ‘ by Lewis Hastings ‘ which we found in the Jot 101 Archive recently ( the provenance is unknown) , the former Rhodesian MP, South African farmer and all-purpose adventurer and maverick expresses his contempt for all those people and their values that Hastings writes about in his tribute.


Jot 101 Lewis Hastings portrait 001

PLAIN PRAYER ( To be recited only at Regimental Dinners, Old Boys Reunions and meetings of the Virgin Uplift Society). Continue reading

Visionary Speech by Earl Russell (part 2)

This small folding pamphlet illustrated by Ralph Steadman and published in London by IMG_1869Open Head Press about 1980 at 50p has the full text of Earl Russell’s 1978 maiden speech to the House of Lords. John Conrad Russell was the son of Bertrand Russell. After the speech he left the House of Lords and was prevented from re-entering it by ushers. It is said to be the only speech given  in the Lords that is not fully recorded by Hansard. His proposal to give three quarters of the nation’s wealth to teenage girls had some coverage in the papers the next day. This is the second part of 3 and we have found it  is actually in Hansard. The next part, coming soon, after the interruption by Lord Wells Psestell (who apparently only ever spoke in the Lords about model railways) has never appeared apart from in this rare pamphlet –  found by us un ths collection of Dutch poet and radical Simon Vinkenoog.

The full prospects of industrial civilisation ought to he realised: it is a boon, it should be called a boon, it should be used as a boon. The free spirit in school should be preserved, so that Sir Isaac Newton returns to us. Sweden and France have modernised themselves; all other nations in Europe, including Britain, should follow their example. A nation with industrial power should use it for benefit. There are other points in which a modernising nation modernising itself could improve its administration. For instance, lunatics could he looked after individually, and it could be found out what is missing from them, and the world which is missing from them could be 277 restored. The madness of the Cold War could also be removed by the whole human race, since it is quite evident that neither Communist not American exists, but only persons. What makes it abundantly clear is the saying of “little Audrey”, who laughed and laughed because she knew that only God could make a tree. Mr. Brezhnev and Mr. Carter are really the same person: one lunatic certifiable, or, in American terms, one nation, indivisible, with prisonment and lunacy for all.

In a word, the entire human race can banish the Cold War, with one word, by simply saying: “You don’t exist.” This fact ought to be recognised in practice, with logical recognition by the statement concerned, so that the aims of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament can be realised, and there can be disarmament throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Insight into the truth of this statement must be acknowledged, so that logic may take hold of the mind.

The CIA should be banished from Western Europe, and Euro-communism should be substituted for the present bosses of the Common Market as the prevailing social and economic system in Europe. The Portuguese Revolution should be defended and emulated throughout Western Europe. President Carter should be brought to a full halt in his “Fulton Speech” programme for Europe, in which he mentioned Paris, Rome and Lisbon by name. There should be revolutions throughout Latin America, in accordance with the wish of His Holiness the Pope; and the CIA should be driven out from every nation of Latin America. The original Indian nation should be restored to sovereignty. It goes without saying that all prisoners throughout all these areas would be released and are released from prison and are no longer whipped and tortured. Continue reading

Visionary Speech by Earl Russell (part 1)

Found – a small folding pamphlet illustrated by Ralph Steadman and published in London by IMG_1869Open Head Press about 1980 at 50p. It has the full text of Earl Russell’s 1978 maiden speech to the House of Lords. John Conrad Russell was the son of Bertrand Russell. After the speech he left the House of Lords and was prevented from re-entering it by ushers. It is said to be the only speech given  in the Lords that is not fully recorded by Hansard. His poposal to give three quarters of the nation’s wealth to teenage girls had some coverage in the papers the next day, but the speech is rather forgotten (until now). Here is the first part. More to follow.

My Lords, I rise to raise the question of penal law and lawbreakers as such and question whether a modern society is wise to speak in terms of lawbreakers at all. A modern nation looks after everybody and never punishes them. If it has a police force at all, the police force is the Salvation Army and gives hungry and thirsty people cups of tea. If a man takes diamonds from a shop in Hatton Garden, you simply give him another bag of diamonds to take with him. I am not joking. Such is the proper social order for modern Western Europe, and all prisons ought to be abolished throughout its territories. Of course the Soviet Union and the United States could include themselves in these reforms too. Kindness and helping people is better than punitiveness and punishing them, a constructive endeavour is better than a destructive spirit. If anybody is in need, you help him, you do not punish him. Putting children into care and other forms of spiritual disinheritance ought to be stopped. Borstal ought to be stopped and the workings of the Mental Health Act which empowers seizure of people by the police when they are acting in a way likely be harmful to themselves or others or to be looked into.


What are you? Soulless robots? Schoolmasters who are harsh with schoolboys who later as a result burn down the schoolhouse ought to be more human. Schoolboys in any case are present treated with indescribable severity which crushes their spirits and leaves them unnourished. The police ought to be totally prevented from ever molesting young people at all or ever putting them into jails and raping them, and putting them into brothels or sending them out to serve other people sexually against their wills.

The spirit ought to be left free, and chaining it has injured the creative power of the nation. The young unemployed are not in any way to have become separate from governmental power, but ought to have been given enough to live on out of the national wealth to look after themselves and never ask themselves even to think  of working while there is no work to be had. Continue reading

O Rare Amanda !

Amanda Ros calling card 001

In June 1973 Bevis Hillier, connoisseur of English porcelain and friend and biographer of John Betjeman, wrote a piece in The Times concerning an archive of manuscripts, published books, letters and photographs  of Larne’s best loved citizen and arguably Britain’s worst writer, Amanda McKittrick Ros, that had come onto the market. The collection, assembled over many years, mainly from members of her family, by journalist and founding member of the British Communist Party, Eric Mercer, had been sold by him to the bookseller A.F.Wallis just before he died in 1972 aged 89, and Wallis now wanted  £4,500 for it.

Forty-six years ago this was a tidy sum for a writer mainly known for her comedy value. Back in the 1920s, when smart Oxford undergraduates like Betjeman and Waugh took part in competitions to discover who could read out passages from Ros’s novels and poetry without laughing, such an archive might have fetched more. But even in 1973, years after her star had faded somewhat, £4,500 for such a unique collection seems a bargain today,  especially when we learn that the MS of Enemies of Promise by the minor writer Cyril Connolly was up for sale at the same time for a cool £2,000 !

Few would dispute that Ros has ever been truly fashionable, but her books, all of which were originally privately printed, are still collected and first editions, especially of her verse, are hard to come by, mainly because of their small print-runs. But no publisher in 2019 would dare bring out large editions of her books partly because she is still not well known enough and partly because we have become rather po-faced about ridiculing people who evidently had no talent, whether as writers or marathon runners.  Continue reading

Idleness as a part of education

Found-  a thin booklet, the text of a lecture (‘oration’) on idleness IMG_5206delivered at the London School of Economics in December 1949 by A.H. Smith, the warden of new College Oxford. A.H. Smith (Alic) has a short entry at Wikipedia, his dates are 1883 to 1958. Not one of the famous New College wardens like Maurice Bowra or  his predecessor the historian H.A.L. Fisher but known as a philosopher and also as the Vice Chancellor at Oxford. His lecture is on a subject that is still discussed, especially  in these hectic, time-poor days. However he refers to his own time as one of fast change, restlessness and impending catastrophe.

In 1932 Bertrand Russell had written In Praise of Idleness advocating a three-day week and  noting ‘.. immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous’, earlier Kierkegaard had written’..far from idleness as being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.’ In our time the industrious Tom Hodgkinson published How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto and founded (or revived) The Idler. Smith states that by idleness he does not mean being a total slacker or waster, also he does not mean playing lots of sport, joining multiple student societies and general not studying. He is an advocate of  strenuous study but of knowing when to stop, not overdoing it ‘… when you close your books, close them with a bang, and abandon yourself to the enjoyment of idleness..’ Continue reading

The Worst English Poets—number 4—Rev Edward Dalton

Jot 101 Worst poets cover 001The Rev Edward Dalton was a Victorian cleric and leading light in the Protestant Association. Here is an extract from his sublime effusion, ‘The Railway Journey’ (in The Sea, the Railway Journey and other Poems, London c1875)

The last friends part,

And off we start,

The engine pants and snorts and blows,

The carriage doorways slam and close,

The broad and ponderous wheels are rolled

By thick-set arms of iron mould,

While streaming from the sprouting side

The steam escapes in hissing tide.

Cranch, crunch, thud, rud, dubber-dub-rub.

Thudder, rubber, dub-dub-dub- a- rub-rub.


Startled at starting, for our nerves are weak,

We gasp for breath,

Grow pale as death,

As one long piercing, shrill, unearthly shriek

Rings thro’ ears, and stops the power to speak,

The cry of anguish, or vindictive yell

Of baffled imp, or vanquished fiend of hell,

The death-shriek of some monstrous beast,

We’ve smashed a million pigs at least.

Ah no! no sucking pig has lost a bristle,

The shriek was but the starting railway whistle,

Our speed increases as we rattle down

And reach the suburbs of the outer town;

And there, yes, there

On the look-our slope of the garden sward

I caught a glimpse of my darling Maude… Continue reading

Bruce Calvert—the man who cancelled Christmas

Bruce Calvert advert pic 001Found in the classified column of The New Masses for May 1927 is this advert for The Open Road, a monthly magazine described by its founding editor, Bruce Calvert, as ‘A Zinelet of High Voltage for People Not Afraid to Think’ and a cure for ‘ Mental Obstipation and Brain Fag ‘.

Calvert, who ran the operation from his home in Pequannock , New Jersey, delightfully dubbed by him ‘Pigeon-Roost-in-the Woods’, had been a hard-bitten magazine editor in Chicago and Pennsylvania before moving to the backwoods of Griffiths, near Gary, in his home state of Indiana, to take up the life of an anarchist-freethinker inspired by, among others, Walt Whitman and Thoreau. In 1908 he had brought out the first issue of The Open Road, which appeared regularly until 1915. Espousing a philosophy of ‘right thinking and right living ‘, Calvert made his magazine a fount of various heterodoxies which delighted in offending straight-laced home-loving and family-orientated Americans. In April 1911 one of the most controversial issues challenged the hijacking of Christmas by commerce—a point of view which earned him the soubriquet of ‘Indiana’s Prize Crank ‘.

By November 1911 ‘The World League for a Sane Christmas’ had established its HQ in Room 431 of the State Life Building in downtown Indianapolis. Members who paid their $10 subscription could expect their money to go towards various planned publications as well as a booklet entitled The Christmas Insanity. Moreover, each new member was obliged to sign the following agreement:

‘I will from this time forward neither give nor accept Christmas presents outside my own immediate household, and I will do all I can by distributing literature and other propaganda work to discourage the senseless practice of indiscriminate Christmas giving, to the end that true human love and brotherhood may reign in the hearts of men instead of the maudlin insanity which now disgraces the day ‘ Continue reading

I once met A.E. Coppard

icoppar001p1Found – a  handwritten  letter signed by E.V. Knox (‘Evoe’) to someone called Magniont asking for recollections of A.E. Coppard. This was almost certainly Dr Jean-Louis Magniont who translated Coppard into French. The letter is undated but mention of a recent BBC adaptation of Coppard’s stories dates it as 1969. ‘Evoe’ writes:

I will tell you all I can recollect about A.E. Coppard. But I fear that it is very little and perhaps not very helpful to you.

As you mentioned, I wrote a small episode, and he considerably longer one, for the Kidlington Pageant of 1931. Those were the days when pageants kept popping up everywhere. This one was arranged by Frank Evay, who lived at Shepton Manor where the pageant was held. He was a friend of mine and an eccentric. For instance, he collected tramps, gave them a meal and a the nights lodging in a barn and sent them on their way. He introduced me to A.E. Coppard whom he had first met, as he told me, when Coppard was collecting tickets at Oxford railway station.

I remember him as small, prosaic, and self-contained and perhaps determined not to be eccentric. Possibly that is an illusion of my own. I became at once a “fan.” Coppard, I think, was very little known at that time, for at a dinner of a literary club I told Desmond McCarthy, then perhaps our leading critic, that I thought that Coppard was our best English short story writer, and Desmond had not heard of him. He said however- ”Well we must try to read this Coppard of yours.”  Clearly he did. Continue reading

R.M. Dawkins – The most eccentric professor (ever)

Osbert Lancaster

Found in Osbert Lancaster’s With an Eye to the Future (John Murray, 1967)– this account of Oxford professor R.M. Dawkins (1871-1955):

No eccentric professor of fiction could possibly hold a candle to the reality of Professor Dawkins whose behaviour and appearance placed him, even in an Oxford far richer in striking personalities than it is today, in a class by himself. Ginger-moustached, myopic, stooping, clad in one of a succession of suits which he ordered by postcard from the general store of a village in Northern Ireland, he always betrayed his whereabouts by a cackling laugh of great carrying power. (Once when passing alongside the high wall of Exeter, startled by this extreme sound, I looked up and saw the professor happily perched in the higher branches of a large chestnut tree hooting like a demented macaw.)

Richard MacGillivray Dawkins was an archaeologist and a scholar of classical and modern Greek. After studying  engineering, a windfall enabled him at the age of twenty-six to enter Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to read classics.  After graduating he became associated with the British School at Athens, eventually becoming its director. He studied Greek dialects and was involved in excavations in Crete, at Sparta and elsewhere. From 1916 to 1919 he served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, in eastern Crete. In 1920 he was appointed to a chair of Byzantine and modern Greek at Oxford, and in 1922 he became a fellow of Exeter College (from which he retired in 1939, continuing to hold rooms there until his death) and an honorary fellow of his old college, Emmanuel. He had known Evelyn Waugh, Ronald Firbank and was very generous to his friend the difficult and impecunious genius Baron Corvo. He was also an early collector of watercolours by Edward Lear. Most of this info and a portrait by the British Vorticist William Roberts can be found at English Cubist. Lancaster illustrated his piece with a drawing of the professor perched in the tree.

The Literary Cranks of London – Omar Khayyam Club

We could find no further copies of the 1894 London journal The Sketch which in that year was running a series 'The literary cranks of London.' However the 1899 publication The Book of Omar and Rubaiyat has an essay on the Omar Khayyam Club entitled 'The literary cranks of London' by 'A Member' which is almost certainly reprinted from the series. The book shows a menu card for the society designed by the PRB artist Simeon Solomon. The other club in the series was 'The Johnson Club' - there were possibly more.
Mention is made here of 'The Ghouls' which may pay further investigation... Of the many societies that flourished then the Omar Khayyam is one of the few to have survived and still meets. There is also an American chapter.



The literary cranks of London are as the sand of the sea-shore for number, and yet they have rather diminished than increased during the last few years. The Wordsworth Society no longer collects archbishops and bishops and learned professors in the Jerusalem Chamber to solve the mystery of existence under the guidance of the great poet of Rydal, and one is rather dubious as to whether the Goethe Society has much to say for itself to-day, although in its time it has crammed the Westminster Town Hall with enthu- siastic lovers of German literature. The Shelley Society one only hears of from time to time by its ghastly bur- den of debt,a state which perhaps reflects the right kind of glory upon its great hero, whose aptitude for making paper boats out of Bank of England notes, if apocryphal, is, at any rate, a fair exemplification of his capacity for getting rid of money.And as to the Browning Society, with its blue-spectacled ladies, deep in the mysteries of Sordello, if the cash balance, which is said at Girton to have been expended in sweetmeats, had any existence, at the London centre, one knows not what confectioner at the West End has reaped the benefit. There are, however, some fairly flourishing organizations at this moment. One of them is the "Sette of Odd Volumes," another the Johnson Club, to say nothing of the "Vaga- bonds," the " Ghouls," and the latest comer, the Omar Khayyam Club.

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