England

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The Extraordinary Life of Charles Waterton. A generation of British schoolchildren grew up fascinated by his account in Wanderings of riding a large and violently unimpressed cayman for several minutes, and awed by his description of his failure to be bitten by vampire bats in Guiana, though he left his toe deliberately exposed from his hammock for just this purpose night after night.

The Extraordinary Life of Charles Waterton. A generation of British schoolchildren grew up fascinated by his account in Wanderings of riding a large and violently unimpressed cayman for several minutes, and awed by his description of his failure to be bitten by vampire bats in Guiana, though he left his toe deliberately exposed from his hammock for just this purpose night after night.

The Gentle Art of Political Taxidermy

Charles Waterton

“Squire” Charles Waterton, 27th Lord of Walton Hall (Yorkshire, England), hated being called an eccentric, but an eccentric he was. He liked to get under the dinner table and bite the legs of his guests like a dog; he walked barefoot in the tropical forests of British Guiana; he climbed the cross of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and put his gloves on its lightning conductor. He knocked out a boa constrictor with a mighty punch; he tried to fly from the top of an outhouse (“navigate the atmosphere,” he called it), only to land on the ground with a “foul shake.”

 No one can say that Waterton was not a talented and interesting man. Instead, they said he was eccentric, which, when translated from 19th-century-aristocratic-British-scientist-speak, meant “so crazy we’re pretty sure that he removed his own brain and jammed it in again backwards.”

In the 19th century, when the rich were insane, they were simply eccentric; when the poor were insane, they were crazy. Luckily for Charles Waterton (1782-1865), he inherited a large estate and could insulate himself from legal scrutiny and indulge his whims and interests. Waterton would make a problematic biography, his life filled with front-line environmentalism, exploration, taxidermy, and natural history interests wrapped around a solid steel stake of bizarre personal behaviour. Money was his greatest curative, an elixir of great depth and more understanding than Dr. Freud could ever muster. But ultimately maybe all of this behaviour masked a terminal boredom.

He fashioned weird monstrosities out of hollow animal skins through his own preserving methods (one, the bearded “Nondescript,” made from the skin of a red howler monkey, was probably a caricature of his enemy, Treasury Secretary J.R. Lushington). He bled himself, against doctors’ advice, at least 136 times in his life (“tapping my claret”), and taking from 16 to 20 oz. of blood each time.

But he was not entirely crazy.

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Not helpful to the order of the house

A senior Russian football official and politician has praised his country’s football hooligans, claiming they were defending the nation’s honour and that it was “normal” for fans to fight at matches.

“I don’t see anything wrong with the fans fighting,” Igor Lebedev, a member of both the Russian Football Union’s executive committee and the lower house of Russia’s federal assembly.

“Quite the opposite, well done lads, keep it up!”

Mr Lebedev blamed the French authorities for the trouble that marred the Euro 2016 game between England and Russia, and criticised other team officials for speaking out against their fans.

“In nine out of 10 cases, football fans go to games to fight, and that’s normal.

“The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our Motherland.

“We should forgive and understand our fans.”

We keep assuming that people will elect sensible human beings.   Not so.  Read more »

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To get to the underwater ballroom, the guests had to walk down a damp corridor of stairs and get into a 400-foot long subway that led them to a 30-foot high glass chamber. The ballroom had an ornate tile floor, extravagant furniture, and the effect of the underwater view was not lost on most guests. When light shone through the merky green water it was a spectacular sight; guests also enjoyed watching the fish scurry by the glass pane windows. However, if one of those windows broke, it would be just five minutes before the entire dome filled with water.

To get to the underwater ballroom, the guests had to walk down a damp corridor of stairs and get into a 400-foot long subway that led them to a 30-foot high glass chamber. The ballroom had an ornate tile floor, extravagant furniture, and the effect of the underwater view was not lost on most guests. When light shone through the merky green water it was a spectacular sight; guests also enjoyed watching the fish scurry by the glass pane windows. However, if one of those windows broke, it would be just five minutes before the entire dome filled with water.

The Swindler, The Cyanide Pill and The Underwater Ballroom

The Story Behind Britain’s Most Bizarre Folly

Upon first glance, Britain’s Witley Park in Surrey is just like any other extravagant mansion, but there’s much more to this Victorian masterpiece than meets the eye. From the secret underwater ballroom to dramatic suicide deaths, the story behind the man who built the mansion is surprisingly tragic.

The story of the underwater conservatory at Witley Park begins with James Whitaker Wright (1846-1904). Wright was a former printer, Methodist minister, and a company promoter and swindler.

Wright’s family immigrated to Toronto, Canada after his father died in 1870. From there Whitaker found his way to Philadelphia, where he found a lucrative career promoting silver mines.

However in Wright deals, only the promoters appeared to be making money. Mines in Leadville, Colorado and Lake Valley, New Mexico failed to yield the promised dividends or returns to investors.

For Wright the short-term success yielded short-term pleasure. With the great gains came great losses; he was left penniless after his interest in Gunnison Iron & Coal collapsed in 1889.

Whitaker was undeterred, as performance of his American investments were simply a means to an end. His greatest desire was to make a name for himself in the vaunted English Victorian Society.

He returned to England in 1889 and continued the schemes of promoting mines, this time on the London market. To this end he formed the London and Globe Company in 1890, to float stock and bond issues for his mines in Australia and Canada. Also propped up by Wright were the British and American Corporation and the Standard Exploration Company.

Whitaker might have lacked a moral compass, but he was a consummate salesman. In 1896 he raised £250,000 ($373k) – or about £24.8M ($36.98M) in 2015 – to purchase shares of a company established to dig mines in Western Australia. Investors were lured by Wright’s sly use of the word “consol” in the name of the opportunity, thus creating the impression of a reliable investment.

[ Consol: British government security without a maturity date. The name is a shortened version of “consolidated annuities.” This form of stock originated in 1751 and was generally considered to be one of the safer investments at the time. ]

Whitaker Wright’s deception would not go unpunished. But before he would face judgement, he created Witley Park.

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Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?.

Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?

Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?

The Victim of a Brutal Murder Mystery Lives On in Graffiti Messages

Something about England seems to attract the strange and mysterious– from Sherlock Holmes to Jack the Ripper, it always seems like something spooky is going on– but few cases can top the legend of the Wychbury skull. It’s like something ripped from the pages of an Agatha Christie book… except for one little problem: there’s no ending. The case has remained unsolved for many years, but someone (or something) won’t let the town forget.

On 18th April 1943 four Stourbridge teenagers, Fred Payne, Tommy Willetts, Robert Hart and Bob Farmer discovered the remains of a woman inside a hollow Wych Elm (also known as Scots (Scotch) Elm or Ulmus glabra) in Hagley Wood. It has been suggested that ritualistic magic or even wartime espionage may have been behind this murder mystery that after seventy-three years is still a focus of interest.

Black magic was blamed when four teenagers found a woman’s skeleton in a tree in wartime Worcestershire. Many years on, her story still haunts that corner of the Midlands. But who did put Bella in the Witch Elm? And why can’t they let her rest?

In 1999, a crowd of eclipse–seekers watched the wonder from the top of Wychbury Hill in northern Worcestershire were frustrated – like many Britons – by a haze of cloud that passed over the sun at the crucial moment. A mixture of passing New Agers, local youth and a few more sedate residents of the prosperous village of Hagley, they were too excited to let this set–back ruin their morning. But there was also another shadow hanging over the occasion, whose chill was, for many, harder to ignore.

Behind them, fenced off with barbed wire, the crumbling stone obelisk of the Hagley Hall estate teetered heavenwards, as it has done for 200 years. On it, a sinister piece of fresh graffito gleamed in the half–light: “Who put Bella in the Witch Elm?”

For Hagley–dwellers – and especially for those who remember the village before the post–war expansion of Birmingham forcibly connected it to the modern world – those words have a dark significance. They refer to a story which retains an unsettling force in those parts.

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Not all Poms are big girl’s blouses

The poor wee diddumses who want to ban tackling in Rugby are getting a bit of pressure.

Campaigners seeking a ban on tackling in school rugby have been on the receiving end of a backlash which included homophobic and sexist abuse, while one supporter claims that he was told not to attend a key event this weekend.

In what he views as a punitive measure after speaking this week in support of the proposed ban, Adam White, a board member of the England Rugby Football Schools Union (ERFSU), said he had been asked not to attend a prestigious rugby schools event this weekend at the Allianz Stadium, the home of Saracens, where he was due to act as a safeguarding officer.

White told the Guardian on Wednesday that restrictions along the lines of those proposed in an open letter signed by 70 doctors, health experts and academics were the only way to keep young people safe.

He said: “I am extremely disappointed that there already is the closing down of discussion in the RFU [Rugby Football Union] of some voices. It is quite evident that they are trying to lead the narrative on this and are perhaps not happy to listen to opposition.”

The RFU said White had offered to step down from the safeguarding duties, adding: “This was not instigated by the ERFSU or the RFU. There is no action presently being taken against Adam as a result of his media interviews this week. He is free to express his opinions, although it should be emphasised that he is not speaking on behalf of the ERSFU board.”

While the campaign has sparked passionate debate, a lead signatory to the letter said some of the criticism he had received included homophobic abuse.   Read more »

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IMAGE: JAMES JARCHE/FOX PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES. The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (left, in top hat), during the siege of Sidney street in Stepney, East London, 1911.

IMAGE: JAMES JARCHE/FOX PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES.
The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill (left, in top hat), during the siege of Sidney street in Stepney, East London, 1911.

The Siege of Sidney Street

A Ferocious Urban Gun Battle, with Churchill Himself

On 16 December 1910, a resident of Sidney Street in London’s East End heard mysterious hammering noises at a house nearby and notified the Police. This was the beginning of a bizarre incident in which the Home Secretary, Winston S. Churchill, would take a direct hand – incurring no little criticism and ridicule at the time, and for years afterward. It was, like several other Churchillian escapades, only partly understood and greatly misinterpreted. Nevertheless, it makes for an exciting story.

A gang of refugees from Russian Latvia were responsible for this and other sensational crimes in London during 1909-1911. There was the “Tottenham Outrage” of 1909, the Houndsditch murders of 1910, and the famous gun battle on New Year’s Day 1911, around the Sidney Street house in which two of the gang’s members were barricaded.

The story began with the “Tottenham Outrage.” On 23 January 1909, two Latvian refugees of London’s East End assaulted a messenger carrying the wages for a local rubber factory. In the course of the struggle shots were fired and overheard at a nearby police station. A police chase ensued, the armed robbers enjoying a substantial advantage initially, as the use of firearms by police or criminals was then virtually unknown. The police hastened to arm themselves, however, and ran the criminals to earth after a six-mile pursuit in which two people were killed and 27 injured.

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Photo: Unknown Source. Susan Travers in North Africa. Travers was an Englishwoman and the only woman to serve officially with the French Foreign Legion.

Photo: Unknown Source.
Susan Travers in North Africa. Travers was an Englishwoman and the only woman to serve officially with the French Foreign Legion.

‘I Think Actually They Thought I was a Man’

She was the Mistress of a French General; she led 4,000 troops to safety; and she was the only Woman to join the Foreign Legion.

As a well-bred Englishwoman educated in the nuances of understatement, Susan Travers seemed unimpressed that she was the only woman ever to join the French Foreign Legion. She had spent World War II as a volunteer driver with Free French legionnaires who were fighting in North Africa and Europe. But in the summer of 1945, she faced demobilization and did not relish the prospect.

”I shall leave all my friends — I shall go back and live with my family, and it will be dull,” she recalled telling the legion’s recruiting officer, who happened to be a friend. He promptly invited her to sign up and passed her an application form. ”I didn’t say I was a woman,” she said, although her nickname was ”La Miss.” ”I didn’t have to pass a medical. I put down that I was a warrant officer in logistics. That was all.”

Indeed, it was pretty straightforward in comparison with her life leading up to that moment. It seemed far more unusual that a free-spirited young woman who spent the 1930’s playing tennis and partying around Europe should end up in the early 1940’s on the front line of the North African campaign carrying on a clandestine love affair with a married man who happened to be the top French military commander in the region.

For this, too, though, Ms. Travers had a simple explanation. ”My family was very dull,” she said of her reason for socializing in Europe. ”England was very dull.” As for becoming a military driver in combat zones, she said, ”I wanted adventure. I wanted more action.” And her romance with Gen. Marie-Pierre Koenig, a man who became such a war hero that a Paris square carries his name? ”It was a relationship between a man and a woman,” she said.

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Kate Webster at the Old Bailey before she was sentenced to be hanged for murder - July 1879.

Kate Webster at the Old Bailey before she was sentenced to be hanged for murder – July 1879.

The Dripping Killer

Victorian Britain was horrified by a 30-year-old Irish woman who murdered her employer, dismembered the body, threw bits of it into the river Thames, boiled the head (and other body parts) and tried to sell the fat as “dripping” in local pubs. She blamed two innocent men for the crime and when that didn’t work, she pretended to be pregnant so that the judge wouldn’t give her the death penalty.

Such was her notoriety that Madame Tussaud’s rushed to create a wax statue of her which remained on display in London for 80 years.

Dubbed the “Barnes Mystery” or the “Richmond Murder”, the case became one of the most notorious crimes in the late 19th-century Britain. Julia Martha Thomas, a widow in her 50s who lived in Richmond in southwest London, was murdered on March 2, 1879 by her maid, Kate Webster, a 30-year-old Irishwoman with a long history of criminal activities.

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Photo Of The Day

King George V presents the King's Cup to James Ryan, captain of the New Zealand Services Rugby Team, after the team's win in the Inter-Services Tournament at Twickenham rugby ground, London in 1919. Major General Charles William Melvill and another officer look on. The team some of whom have fern leaf emblems on their jerseys are standing in a line. A film cameraman appears in the background. Photograph taken April 1919 by Thomas Frederick Scales.

King George V presents the King’s Cup to James Ryan, captain of the New Zealand Services Rugby Team, after the team’s win in the Inter-Services Tournament at Twickenham rugby ground, London in 1919. Major General Charles William Melvill and another officer look on. The team some of whom have fern leaf emblems on their jerseys are standing in a line. A film cameraman appears in the background. Photograph taken April 1919 by Thomas Frederick Scales.

The Forgotten Story of

The First Ever ‘World Cup’

 In 1919, in the aftermath of WWI, a group of international rugby teams gathered in Britain for The King’s Cup, a tournament unprecedented in its time but little remembered today. Some rugby historians have dubbed The King’s Cup as the ‘First Rugby World Cup Tournament.’

On October 31, the two finalists of the 2015 Rugby World Cup will take to the hallowed turf of Twickenham for what will be the finale of, officially at least, the 8th edition of a tournament that began in 1987. But on the same pitch on April 19, 1919 – some 96 years ago – military teams representing New Zealand and Great Britain faced off in the final of what, for all intents and purposes, was a World Cup in all but name: The King’s Cup.

Along with the two finalists, military teams from Canada, Australia and South Africa took part, as well as an RAF side made up of players from various nations. It was a gathering of international rugby talent that had never been seen before.

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Pita should drink a cup of concrete

England is going full court on panty-waist sledged like their Hakarena video. It was gay, and lame…like their Rugby team but it hasn’t stopped some getting their own panties in a bunch.

I mean Matt Dawson was supposed to be intimidating but he just came across as a pansy.

Sir Pita Sharples has described as “insulting” an attempt by a British menswear chain to create its own haka ahead of the Rugby World Cup

In a video fronted by former England captain Matt Dawson, a group of rugby players clad in English colours perform a dance called ‘The Hakarena’, fusing the actions of Ka Mate with those from popular 1994 dance song Macarena.   Read more »

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