Thursday, 13 April 2017

Victorian Inventions - a Triumph of the Imagination

Queen Victoria, Public Domain

A train achieving an average speed of 55 m.p.h. and a top speed of 75 m.p.h was operating between London and Birmingham in 1847. 

The typewriter appeared in 1867, the first telephone that actually worked was produced by Graham Bell in 1876, and, in 1879 London was the first city in Europe to have a telephone exchange. The phonograph (a talking machine) appeared in 1879. (Apart from its more obvious uses, it must have been a great wonder for Victorian children from wealthier families, as it was used to produce talking books and talking dolls). 

By the end of the century, the automobile, the electric tramcar, X-rays, the cinema and the wireless were also making great changes to Victorian lives. Yet, in 1865, when the railways totalled around 100,000 miles in length worldwide, with their Pullman carriages, and great steamships carrying thousands of passengers sailed across the oceans, bicycles were still very basic contraptions.

In the late 1840s, Stringfellow built a model flying machine with a wingspan of 3 metres. Its light steam engine enabled it to fly around 15 yards. But, after that, despite meticulous research, determination and a great deal of financial outlay, little progress was made in constructing an aeroplane capable of carrying a man.  

The only inventor who made any real progress was a Frenchman called Penaud who designed a monoplane with many modern features including an automatic pilot, but sadly he committed suicide while still very young and before his efforts reached fruition. 

Dirigible airships were invented in the 1870s, but as we now know, did not achieve lasting success, as they were unreliable and dangerous.

Victorians began producing large quantities of cast steel in the 1860s, resulting in the construction of great bridges and structures, The Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn and Forth Bridges were all completed by the late 1880s. 

Electricity too, was a new excitement at that time, when Volta, in 1880 developed a source for electricity using acid and metals. Following this came electric motors, dynamos, the electro-magnetic telegraph and finally transformers, all of which came into general use by the mid to late 1880s.

There were also some rather curious inventions and these are just a few examples. Around 1870, the Pedespeed was a kind of skating apparatus, which had stirrups and foot pieces attached to wheels which operated on the outside of the leg and measured about 14 inches in diameter. Ladies had to use shields to cover the tops of the wheels to protect their dresses. 

In 1883, a tricycle for two persons appeared, with two enormous wheels at the sides and one smaller wheel in front. Two people could ride in it side-by-side and one could imagine it would be a charming spectacle to see two ladies riding in it wearing their pretty dresses. 

In 1869, people could cycle on the water in a strange boat-like contraption with a bicycle constructed at the back. But the most curious of all must be the Velocipide, a bicycle in a shallow tub attached to a shower contraption. The cycle actually worked the shower pump so Victorians could get themselves clean and have a morning workout at the same time.

The Victorian capacity for turning imagination into invention was truly an extraordinary thing.

Brighton, Murders and Misedemeanours by Janet Cameron (Amberley Publishing) 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Religion in the Fifth Century - Plots and Power

An actress, possibly Mary Anderson, in the title role
of the play 
Hypatia, circa 1900. Wikimedia
A cruel and fanatical patriarch, a founder of a great religious sect, the plotting of cunning bishops - in the fifth century, religion was power.    
The end of the Western Empire and the death of St. Augustine in 430 preceded destruction and disaster as well as set the scene for the development of Europe. Central to church issues at this time was the complicated problem of the Incarnation. 

St. Cyril was patriarch of Alexandra from 412 till his death in 444 while Nestorius was patriarch of Constantinople. The two could not agree on whether Christ was one or two persons, ie. one human and one divine. Nestorius was convinced that Christ contained both divinity and humanity - and that he had, therefore, two natures. Cyril took the opposite view, that Christ was one and one only.

Mary - Not the Mother of God? 

The clash between the two patriarchs was furious and passionate. It was claimed, as quoted in A History of Western Philosophy: 

"A secret and incurable discord was cherished between those who were most apprehensive of confounding, and those who were most fearful of separating, the divinity and the humanity of Christ."

This brought about further difficulties. Nestorius could not see how Mary the Virgin could be called the "Mother of God" when she was only the mother of the human element of Christ. As far as Nestorius could see, the divine part of Christ could have no mother.The bishops east of Alexandria agreed with Nestorius while those from the west thought that Cyril was correct. Cyril was enraged that Nestorius continued to lead Constantinople astray with his notion about the relationship between Christ's humanity and his divinity.

The Bishops Hatch a Cunning Plot 

The Council decided to meet to discuss the matter at Ephesus in 431. But the bishops from the west of Suez had a cunning plan. They arrived early, then they barred all the doors to prevent "latecomers" from entering. Having eliminated the opposition, they decided for St. Cyril, who was presiding over the proceedings, asserting that Christ had only one nature and was only one person.

Nestorius, whose sect had a large following in Syria and throughout the East, was condemned by the council as a heretic but he refused to recant. It is said his tongue was finally eaten by worms for its eloquent seduction of others. 

His religion continued to flourish in China centuries later, and adherents were discovered by missionaries in India in the sixteenth century. Sometime around 450, Ephesus began to favour the Monophysite heresy, maintaining that Christ has only one nature. In A History of Western Philosopy, Bertrand Russell says: 

"If St. Cyril had been alive, he would certainly have supported this view and have become heretical.

"Hypatia - Tragic Victim of St. Cyril

St. Cyril's claim to notoriety, apart from his clash with Nestorius, was the brutal murder of a young female Platonic philosopher, Hypatia, who was dragged from her chariot, to be butchered and lynched. She had been falsely accused of preventing a reconciliation between Cyril and his friend Orestes, by influencing Orestes against him. Cyril was also know for his pogroms against Alexandrian Jews.

·      History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell, Routledge Classics, London, 2004.
·      Feminine Singular, Roxane Arnold & Olive Chandler, Femina Boks Ltd. London, 1974.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Alfred Kinsey - Accused of Being a "Fifth Columnist" and Weakening American Morals

Alfred Kinsey, 1955. Public Domain

Reformer, Alfred Kinsey, stated that homosexuality was not a medical condition, yet gay men were still thrown into prison or labelled schizophrenic.
Alfred Kinsey, (1894-1956) was born in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1920, he was awarded a Ph.D. from Harvard University, and went on to teach zoology at Indiana University. In 1942, he founded The Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University.
Kinsey's Book - A Challenge to Freudian Beliefs
His enquiries into human sexuality led him to publish Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, "These reports, based on 18,500 personal interviews, received extraordinary publicity for their conclusions about contemporary sexual mores and behaviour." They certainly challenged Freudian beliefs that homosexuality was due to psychiatric disturbance.
For Kinsey, all individuals fitted on a continuum of sexual preferences - and might, during their lifetime, shift from one part of the scale to another. Men in category 1 had no interested in homosexual outlets, while category 6 men preferred nothing else. Men often moved between the categories during their lives. According to author, Andrew Wykholm, the book became a bestseller, while provoking controversy and dissent.
I Have a Right to my Life
Meantime, in spite of the Kinsey Report, homosexuality was still regarded as a medical condition or a disease that could, perhaps, be medically treated. A young man brought up on two indecency charges, reported in The Argus on 3 January 1952, was offered choices between becoming a voluntary patient at a mental hospital or being jailed. He had already been in custody for three weeks pending medical reports. It was claimed he needed treatment for schizophrenia. He told the magistrate that he had a right to a decent life and was sent to prison for two months. "I've got my life to live," he said.
"He never hid his sexuality. He was honest to himself in every respect," said the report.
Kinsey - Accused of Weakening American Morals
Some time later, in 1953, Kinsey's Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female appeared, and caused outrage when he said that lesbians were better at giving partners a climax than males. He also claimed that women who had premarital sex experienced more orgasms after marriage.
Andrew Wikholm adds that some congressmen suspected Alfred Kinsey of being a "fifth columnist" working to erode America's morals and weaken her against the communists.
Alfred Kinsey's research grant was withdrawn after his unpopular claims were published in Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female.
·      Kinsey, A. Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948)
·      Kinsey, A. Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (1953)
·      Wikholm, A. Social Constructionist History Link, Last Accessed 14 February 2012.
·      Staff Reporter, "Man Held on Indecency Charges," The Argus 3 January, 1952.

·      Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc. (1994-2011) For more information

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Murder in Cold Blood - A Belgian Widow Accuses England

Wandsworth Prison, Wikimedia Commons

The strange account of a felon who became the victim and centre of an intense anti-capital punishment campaign masterminded by a wealthy Belgian widow.

Leonard Brigstock was obsessed with a passion for the macabre, manifesting in horrible, blood-filled dreams that drove him crazy. Brigstock had joined the Navy at seventeen years old, and at thirty-three, on Saturday 19 January 1935, he brutally slit the throat of Chief Petty Officer Hubert Sidney Deggan, aged thirty-six. What was particularly unsavoury about this murder was that it took place while the victim was sleeping on the gunnery training ship, HMS Marshal Soult, which was then berthed in Chatham Dockyard.

Previously, Brigstock had been in the King William public house drinking and playing darts. He left at 2.15 to return to his home in Nelson Road. Then, although he was on leave, he decided to return to the ship, where he waited till Deggan had gone for a nap in the mess room.

It was a vicious attack. The head of the CPO was almost severed from his body. Afterwards, Brigstock, coolly, went to a shipmate to report what he'd done. It was almost as though he was proud of himself. "I have cut the CPO's throat," he said, handing the man the dripping razor.

Later, it emerged that the mad stoker's motive was revenge. He had been reported for three disciplinary offences by the murdered man. Apart from these issues, his record was good and he was described as "conscientious." The offences involved negligence, such as absence and drinking tea at the wrong time and place, and were said to be of a "very serious nature."

Mitigating Circumstances - Insanity and the Devil's Mate

So why did Brigstock attract the concern of the wealthy widow, Mrs. Violet Van der Elst?
The stoker had experienced a traumatic life, suffering from the death of his first wife. Insanity ran in his family, as his grandfather died in a lunatic asylum and his niece was in a mental home. His childhood was disturbed by his father's violent attacks on the family. Brigstock, too, was often violent and once tried to cut his brother's wrist with a knife.

Some of Brigstock's dreams involved his dead wife. He saw her on the side of the ship trying to get away from an enormous figure - this was the Devil's mate. When he tried to save her he was choked and beaten by the evil, black figure.

A month later at the Kent Assizes, Brigstock denied malicious and wilful murder, pleading insanity. His plea was rejected and the jury found the ship's stoker guilty. Donning his black cap, the judge pronounced the death sentence and a subsequent appeal was unsuccessful. Brigstock's last hope was a reprieve which never happened. He was tried at Maidstone on 19 February 1935 by Judge Lord Chief Justice Lord Hewart and sentenced to hang on Tuesday 2 April 1935 at Wandsworth in London.

Mrs. Van der Elst Causes a Riot 

On the day of the execution at Wandsworth, there was almost a riot outside the prison. Brigstock's case had been taken up by the widow of a Belgian shaving-cream magnate, Mrs. Violet Van der Elst. The wealthy widow waged an anti-capital punishment campaign from her Kensington home, having organised a petition totalling 65,000 signatures in favour of a reprieve. She maintained Brigstock was insane; therefore he should not hang.

Mrs. Van der Elst was unsuccessful and Brigstock was executed despite the widow's protests that an innocent man was to be hanged. There was a fairground atmosphere on the day of the execution. Planes zoomed overhead trailing banners STOP THE DEATH SENTENCE, while women prayed and men trundled around with sandwich boards saying STOP CAPITAL PUNISHMENT. Excited crowds milled outside the prison gates reading leaflets against capital punishment. Someone shouted, "England is about to commit another murder in cold blood."

The hangman was Robert Baxter assisted by Robert Watson, who ensured that the trap dropped beneath Leonard Brigstock at 9.00am that April morning. His death was reported as being instantaneous. At least, in some respects, society was beginning to become more enlightened about punishment and compassion since the darker days of Georgian and Victorian Britain.


Thursday, 2 March 2017

Poltergeist of the Butcher's Daughter in the Marlborough Hotel

Artist's Conception of a Poltergeist, 1911
Public Domain

Ghostly activity at the Marlborough Hotel in Brighton, is claimed to be so intense that it received a visit from the Paranormal Society. One of the visitors, a psychic, said she could see the apparition of a woman in a black dress and wearing jet-black beads. This was thought to be the ghost of Lucy Packham, according to a report in the Argus dated Monday 30 October 2000, which described the brutal murder of a young woman by her husband in a fit of rage.
I cannot guarantee that the ghostly apparition tale is true, although the story of Lucy Packham has a firm, historical basis.
Thomas Packham, the publican at the Marlborough Hotel, was a thug and was violent to his wife and children. On 2 March 1900, a Dr. Ross was called to the Marlborough Hotel to find Lucy Packham dead. Lucy, the daughter of a butcher, had married Packham in 1888 and the couple had three children. The cause of death was found to be serious bruising to the head and body, and, as confirmed by the post mortem, cerebral haemorrhage.
Thomas Packham was charged with murder, and witnesses gave evidence of his brutality and verbal abuse towards his wife, for example, he had once even hit her with a heavy stewpot. It was reported how he had flung her into a seven-foot-deep grave-like pit before he ended her life. The jury was composed entirely of men and, after Thomas Packham reported how "dirty and idle" his dead wife was, he was found guilty of manslaughter instead of murder. He received four years' imprisonment and reportedly served only three, a paltry punishment for his crime.
Lucy's Poltergeist Prefers Female Company
Lucy was just thirty-two (or thirty-six in some reports) and it is no wonder if the poor woman still cannot rest. Many customers claim to have felt Lucy's presence, and witnessed the activity of the poltergeist she has left behind her. The manager, Sue Kerslake, detailed these activities as playing around with lights and switching off the gas on the beer taps.
It's said that the poltergeist of Lucy also sweeps bottles off a shelf behind the bar and twirls lampshades. The landlady often has a strong feeling of being watched. "I've never seen her properly," she said, "just fleeting glimpses when I've been on my own. When I thought about it, as she was beaten to death by her husband, she probably didn't like men too much. She's more comfortable with female company. It's not scary because she isn't nasty and she's been here a lot longer than me anyway."
Sue always warns new members of staff about the haunting and, although no one has yet declined employment, most are too terrified to enter the cellar. One employee, Paula, of St. James's Street, didn't believe in ghosts until she began working at the Marlborough Hotel in 1998. "I've known Sue for a long time," she said, "and she's not the sort of person to make things up. Sometimes you do feel there's someone in the bar with you, even if you can't see anyone else in there."

Originally, the Marlborough Hotel was a coach house. It was renamed the Marlborough Hotel and Theatre in 1850 and was once owned by someone called Henry Witch, who died in 1906.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

18th Century Molly Houses: Secret Rituals, Tittle-tattle and Spies

Men Cross-Dressing. Image by John Collet, Public Domain

In the early part of the eighteenth century, spies were used to search out and close molly houses, which were ale houses used as meeting places for homosexuals, although it would be some time before the word "homosexual" came into common usage. "Molly" was a derogatory word to describe a homosexual man and is derived from the Latin word "mollis" meaning "soft".  Formerly, this word had been used for female prostitutes. The spies were organised by Societies for the Reformation of Manners.

The molly house provided a large room, where mainly working-class men could go for sex. There was cross-dressing and some of the men adopted female names, many of them highly exotic. This effeminacy was in stark contrast to the masculine rakes of the previous century. It's claimed that, during the 1700s, about twenty molly houses were closed down.

Mock Lying-In Ceremonies
In "The Mollies Club, 1709-10", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England - A Sourcebook, Editor Rictor Norton, - original source "Of the Mollies Club", Chapter XXV of Edward Ward's Satyrical Reflections on Clubs, first published in 1709 - Norton quotes Ward describing the ceremonies of the molly clubs. Norton emphasises that the mock lying-in ceremony, when a man pretended to be a woman giving birth, was merely a gay folk ritual and, much later in 1810, several men were arrested in the act of performing such a ritual. 

"The cross-dressing and lying-in rituals that Ward describes took place at specific times, called "Festival Nights".  They were almost always associated with masquerade festivals, representing some kind of survival of folk rituals." 

Although the lyings-in were only held at festivals, probably around the end of December each year, the men mimicked women at all their gatherings, dressing like women, gossiping, exchanging feminine confidences and lewd talk.
Role Play in the Brandy Shop
Edward Ward tells how nine gay men were arrested at a gay man's brandy shop, used as a regular meeting place. He describes these men "who fancied themselves to be women" and "fall into all the impertinent Tittle Tattle that a merry Society of good Wives can be subject to, when they have laid aside their modesty for the Delights of the Bottle."
The men called themselves "Sisters" and for the lying-in, one would wear a night-gown to give birth, attended by a "very officious Nurse" and when the wooden "joynted Babie" was born, the midwife would dress the baby and the men would carry out the Holy Sacrament of Baptism. 

Then, the men would relax into their roles, tattling about their children, their genius and their wit. One would be extolling the "Vertues of her Husband", and declare he was "a Man of that Affable, Kind and easie Temper, and so avers'd to Jealousie, that she believ'd were he to see another Man in Bed with her, he would be so far from thinking her an ill Woman..."  Another would be telling what a "forward Baggage Her Daughter Nancy was."  Yet another would be wishing "no Woman to Marry a Drunken Husband, for her sake, for all the Satisfaction she found in Bed with him, was to creep as close to the Wall as she could to avoid his Tobacco Breath and unsavoury Belches." And so on...
Ward concluded with his belief that this effeminate gossip was meant to extinguish the natural affection due to women. After all this, the usual activities of the molly house would resume - that is, until the Reforming Society gathered strength and managed to put an end to their "scandalous Revels".
Mother Clap's
In 1726, after a tip-off, there was a raid on Mother Clap's, a famous molly house in Holborn, London. The woman who ran it, Margaret Clap, was sentenced to the stocks.
Local people savagely assaulted the unfortunate woman while she was in the stocks and it's believed she died shortly after from her injuries, although there is no written record. What is known is that sentencing to the stocks was a most cruel punishment. People had their bare feet whipped, a practice known as bastinado, and this was excruciatingly painful due to the cluster of nerve endings in the soles of the feet. Those subjected to the stocks were often left for days in all weathers and many died from heat and exhaustion. Sometimes those who were dragged back to jail were so covered in filth as to be unrecognisable.
Men who were caught on Mother Clap's premises were hanged at Tyburn on 9 May 1726.
  • Norton, Rictor, "The Mollies Club, 1709-10", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England - A Sourcebook.
  • Cameron, Janet, LGBT Brighton & Hove, Amberley Publishing, 2009.

Copyright Janet Cameron

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Grand Shaft of Dover and the British Class System Military-Style

The Grand Shaft of Dover bears testimony to the late great British class system, military-style.

The Grand Shaft comprises part of the seaport of Dover's Napoleonic defence system. The important seaport of Dover lies fifteen miles south-east of the City of Canterbury on the east coast of Kent. The discovery of a Bronze-Age cargo boat in 1992 dating from 1550 BC indicates that Dover has been a port for at least 3,500 years, and to our knowledge, this is the most ancient sea-going vessel ever discovered. It's on show in Dover Museum.
The Misappropriation of the Grand Shaft
The Grand Shaft links the town of Dover to its barracks on Western Heights and consists of a 140 foot triple staircase, built between 1806 and 1809. The three staircases were spiral and made of red brick. They provided a shortcut for troops to the harbour in case of invasion, and also ensured a speedy retreat for troops from Dover Harbour, in case of attack. The moats, ditches and forts were mainly used during Napoleonic times when the threat of invasion was most feared.
The designated uses of the staircases appears to demonstrate the old class prejudices:
·      Officers and their Ladies
·      Sergeants and their Wives
·      Soldiers and their Women
Work on the Western Heights began in the 1770s and then, with the threat of Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon 1) it became urgent. Later, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III) gave Britain good reason for further improvements.
Although invasion never came, the shaft was put to regular use by the soldiers to reach the rowdy pubs and seedy brothels down below in Snargate Street and the pier district.
·      The Port of Dover
· accessed 12 June, 2006
·      Dover, Margate and Birchington Libraries