Saturday, November 18, 2017

From Jack the Ripper to a lost Leicester cricket ground

I could not sleep the other night, so in the small hours I found myself looking at a discussion forum about the Jack the Ripper murders.

Someone had posted a link to my post about Robert Lees, and that led me to the website devoted to him. (Lees was a Leicestershire spiritualist whose name crops up in some of the more creative conspiracy theories about the Ripper murders.)

There I found this paragraph:
Wharf Street, Leicester is a street with a rich history. This curious building (27a and 27b) served as the area's pawn shop under proprietor Harry Leif, and for some time as a brothel, and most recently as the base for a removal business where a number of Lees family documents and scrapbooks were discovered. The left-hand section of the building was built across the entrance to the original Leicester Cricket Club pitch, hence it's numbering as 27a and b.
First the pawn shop. In my post on Lees I wrote that Lees papers could be bought at “a vanished Leicester shop called Curiotique”.

Could Leif’s shop in Wharf Street be Cutiotique? No, a 1992 guide book to be found on Google Books says it was on the Narborough Road.

More importantly, is there really a lost cricket ground in the centre of Leicester?

There is, and it has an entry on Wikipedia as Barker’s Ground:
Barker's Ground was a cricket ground in Leicester, Leicestershire. The first recorded match on the ground was in 1825, when Leicester played Sheffield. The first first-class match came in 1836, when the North played the South; the South won by 218 runs … 
The North used the ground for 4 further first-class matches up to 1846, including the ground's final first-class match between the North and the Marylebone Cricket Club.  
Midland Counties played a single first-class match at Barker's Ground against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1843. The final recorded match on the ground saw Leicestershire play an All-England Eleven in 1860. 
The ground stood to the east of Wharf Street and immediately to the north of the properties on Humberstone Road.

There is more about it in the local history book Wharf Street Revisited which tells us the ground was also the site of brass band concerts, hot air balloon ascents and a public dinner to celebrate the election of two Liberals for the city at the 1831 general election.

I found 27a and 27b Wharf Street today – you can see them in the photograph above. They have been converted into flats, but you can see what they looked like as a shop on the Robert Lees site.

It's not clear they are old enough to be connected with the cricket ground, but old maps do mark an isolated building beside the cricket ground at more or less this point.

At the end of 1860 the ground was sold as housing land and was to become part of Leicester’s most notorious slum district, which was cleared after the second world war.

Below are some photographs of what you will find where Barker’s Ground was today. The Musician claims to be the Midlands’ “premier independent music venue” and it stands in a sort of inner-city edgeland.

Having cleared the slums decades ago, Leicester has found nothing to do with the area since.

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Saints, Little Stretton - an Edwardian flat-pack church

Taken, I would estimate, in the first half of the 1990s, this photograph of mine shows the Edwardian wooden church at Little Stretton in Shropshire.

It appears to be a high class version of the corrugated iron mission churches that were sent around the Empire (and to darkest England) in kit form to be assembled.

Indeed its roof was originally made from corrugated iron, but the church was later thatched to give it its current picturesque appearance.

Scenes from the Grantham girlhood of Margaret Thatcher

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The other day I was chatting to someone who grew up in Grantham. He told me two tales he heard from older relatives:

  • When Alfred Roberts, Margaret Thatcher's father, was in charge of the post office counter he would throw the money on the floor if customers came in to cash unemployment cheques.
  • The young Margaret once attended a children's party and illicitly helped herself to a second piece of cake, which she concealed in her knickers.

And then there was Rotten Borough, the 1937 novel about corruption in local government in Grantham, that was withdrawn after threats of legal action.

In those days Alfred Roberts was chairman of the town council's finance committee.

Alan Shearer: Football, Dementia and Me

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He is a bit awkward, doesn’t have Gary Lineker’s ease and wit. But he’s serious, engaged and engaging, and proves he can make the step up from Match of the Day punditry and go it alone.
Sam Wollaston gives a fair verdict on Alan Shearer's presentation of the documentary Dementia, Football and Me.

The dangers of brain damage posed by boxing have long been known, and in recent years more attention has been paid to football, rugby and American football.

These have been highlighted by the news that several members of England's 1966 World Cup team are suffering from form of dementia.

More research is needed - more research is always needed - but the pattern emerging in football is deeply worrying.

And if Shearer's documentary had a weakness it was that he rather backed away from the conclusions to which his investigations were leading him.

One of the saddest things in the programme was Shearer's meeting with Chris Nicholl, the former Northern Ireland centre back. Nicholl is clearly having serious memory problems.

When I lived in Sutton Coldfield for a year after university, I played for the town's chess club in the Birmingham league.

I was always being told how Nicholl had done the same when he played for Aston Villa between 1972 and 1977. In those days all the Villa players lived in Four Oaks, which is the expensive end of Sutton.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Should Jeremy Corbyn be doing better?

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If the Conservatives were trying to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, it is hard to see what they would have done differently since he became leader of the opposition.

Yet the Conservatives remain neck-and-neck with Labour in the opinion polls. The question “Should Jeremy Corbyn be doing better?” is beginning to be heard.

Some of his supporters will laugh at this. Weren’t they told that Corbyn would be a disaster? And didn’t he surprise everyone at this year’s general election?

They were and he did. In part this was because some of the factors that were supposed to make Corbyn unelectable – such as his proximity to Irish Republican terrorism – turned out to have happened too long ago to concern many voters.

But largely it was because his economic plans went unchallenged because of the unique incompetence of the Conservatives.

Can Labour really discard austerity and pay for all the extra spending without increasing tax for the average voter? It sounds unlikely, but thanks to the Tories we never found out.

Jeremy Corbyn cannot rely on such kind treatment if he fights another election. Nor will he face a Conservative leader so lacking in any of the qualities of leadership.

These are not the only reasons for suspecting that it may all be downhill from here.

There are the Remainers who will have had more years to contemplate Corbyn doing nothing to oppose Brexit.

There are the idealists who will have noticed that Labour is proposing to do more for the middle classes than the poor.

 And there are the voters who have grasped that winning a place in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet says more about your political loyalty than your ability – call it the Burgon Effect.

All of which suggests that it may all be downhill from here. And that means Labour should be worried that they are not in a clear lead in the opinion polls.

Coal Clough with Deerplay wins Ward of the Week

Clowbridge Reservoir is in Coal Clough and Deeplay ward - photo © Pete Chapman
The only high point of the resignation from the party of four Burnley Liberal Democrat councillors is that it has revealed the name of the ward represented by the group's leader.

Gordon Birtwistle, who is also the town's former Lib Dem MP, sits for Coal Clough with Deerplay.

And Coal Clough with Deerplay is our Ward of the Week.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Badgers stop play at Dudley Town FC

Spare a thought for Dudley Town FC: there last two home games have been called off because badgers have damaged the pitch.

The Express & Star quotes the leader of the local council's explanation of what has been going on:
"We are having problems with badgers, who are digging into the surface of the pitch at the Dell to get at earthworms and other insect larvae and causing damage."
While the club's chairman says:
"We have never experienced anything like this before. We have had problems with Canadian Geese and Foxes but we have lost our last games as a result of the damage it has caused."
Despite what Owen Patterson once claimed, there is no evidence that the badgers have moved the goalposts.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson

A short clip from the 1979 film Murder by Decree, which sees Sherlock Holmes taking on Jack the Ripper.

Christopher Plummer and James Mason make a fine Holmes and Watson, and belong in a better film..

Murder by Decree uses the masonic and royal family conspiracy version of the Ripper murders, which was first glimpsed in this interview with Joseph Sickert.

Six of the Best 743

The Liberal Democrats should nurture their young candidates, says Sophie Thornton.

Joe Bourke welcomes the launch of the all-party parliamentary group on land value capture.

"The Today Programme is undeniably an institution - 60 years after Radio 4 broadcast the first edition, over one in ten people in the UK still tune in every morning. Unfortunately, I am no longer one of them." Neither am I, and for just the reasons that Ed Jefferson gives.

"I write, because in doing so, I learn how to articulate my thoughts; indeed, I learn what my thoughts are. I learn to comprehend the world, and to shape my view. I write because writing changes me." jfefleming explains why he blogs.

Garry Kasparpov on Bobby Fischer: "There is no moral at the end of the tragic fable, nothing contagious in need of quarantine. Bobby Fischer was one of a kind, his failings as banal as his chess was brilliant."

Backwatersman reconsiders the cricket writing of Neville Cardus.

The ghost trains from Sheffield to Cleethorpes

The Brigg Line Group, its website says, exists to promote services on the Sheffield - Worksop - Retford - Gainsborough - Lincoln line and on the branch line from Gainsborough via Brigg and Grimsby to Cleethorpes.

Northern Rail operates a daily serviceon the Sheffield - Lincoln route, but the Sheffield to Cleethorpes trains run on Saturdays only.

The Brigg Line Group argues that the Lincoln service needs to be improved and the Cleethorpes service should operate six days a week.

And I find that on Saturday I photographed a departure board showing one of these Cleethorpes ghost trains.

I travelled on this line a couple of times before it lost its daily service in 1993. If it were in the South East of England it would enjoy daily services and probably be electrified too.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sid James sings and dances

Sid James was a linchpin of the Carry On films. He appeared in every British picture for 20 years after the war. But have your ever seen him as a song and dance man?

He was in the 1960s film musical Three Hats for Lisa. Note the presence here of Una Stubbs and, trying hard to be an "all round family entertainer" - an ambition that ruined more than one British pop career - Joe Brown.

The pleasingly acerbic lyrics are by Leslie Bricusse, who wrote all the words and music for the songs in the film.

Mind you, it's not very good.

Goodbye to Phil Reilly - and a note on Liberal Democrat history

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Phil Reilly has announced his decision to step down as the Liberal Democrats' director of communications in a post on Lib Dem Voice.

I wish him well for the future. If nothing else, the remarkably spirited reaction of the party press office to the straitened circumstances of the past couple of years has helped keep members cheerful.

However, in the post Phil repeats a version of party history that has long been popular in Nick Clegg's inner circle.

Writing of the first leaders' debate in the 2010 general election, he says:
That night changed the course of our party’s fortunes, but it also changed my life. I had joined the press office of a party that hadn’t been in national government for decades, with no expectation that would be changing any time soon. A few short years later I would be working in 10 Downing Street.
It is true that the Lib Dem vote did rise a little at the 2010 election - no doubt Nick's performance in the debates had a lot to do with that.

But we emerged from that election with a place in government because of the way the Labour and Tory votes divided and what that meant in terms of seats.

That outcome was a fluke, as evidenced by the fact that we went into that election with 62 MPs and emerged with 57.

But I am more worried that this account give the wrong impression of the Liberal Party and Liberal Democrats in the years before Nick Clegg became leader.

I was sure I had answered it before, and indeed I had.

That post led me to a post on Liberator's blog by Simon Titley. And Simon led me to one on Lib Dem Voice from 2013 by Nigel Lindsay.

Nigel points out, rightly, that David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy all faced the electorate with serious and detailed plans for government.

And he goes on to say:
Liberal Democrats were arguably more effective as a party of government before Nick Clegg became leader.  the decade from 2000 to 2010, Liberal Democrats were coalition partners in the governments of both Scotland and Wales.   The achievements of Liberal Democrat Ministers in those governments were far-reaching and radical. Significantly, they punched above their electoral weight and delivered effectively on their manifesto pledges. Fair voting in local elections, free personal care for the elderly, and no university tuition fees are just some of the party’s achievements in government in Scotland. 
Liberal Democrats also controlled major local authorities in most parts of Britain during those years. 
Finally, though Phil does not use this argument, I am always a little surprised by those who insist that Nick Clegg brought a new professionalism to the Liberal Democrats.

To me, a large part of Nick's appeal was that he had a quality of ingenuousness that is rare in leading politicians.

Six of the Best 742

Caron Lindsay writes on the motion in favour of gender-neutral school uniform passed by the Scottish Liberal Democrats yesterday, She reproduces the speech proposing it by 15-year-old Jess Insall.

Caroline Criado-Perez explains why women need to be seen and heard in public spaces.

"There is a certain type of woman popping up on the media all gung ho style and jolly hockey stick japes to tout a version of female machismo which, apparently, all women ought to have adopted or should adopt to fend off male harassment." Jane Chelliah says that adopting such an attitude to male harrassment is akin to being an apologist for it.

Ryan Holiday on the life-changing magic of taking long walks.

Get Carter, the great Newcastle film, was based on a novel set in Hull. Nick Triplow remembers its author: "Ted Lewis may well be one of the most influential writers you’ve never heard of. His best work centred on places he knew well: Scunthorpe; Barton; Hull; and the bleak Lincolnshire coast."

"If you don't go in with the wrong expectations, The Hellfire Club is an enjoyable enough swashbuckler. If you're in search of chills, look elsewhere." Richard Phillips-Jones has some notes on a 1961 British film - just the sort BBC1 used to show in the evening when I was a boy.

Phoebe Bridgers: Chelsea

This is about the New York hotel not the London football club.

It comes from Phoebe Bridgers first album Strangers in the Alps. NME says the album
is a less a collection of songs and more a collection of feelings, a luscious but deeply sad debut that sees the 23-year-old singer putting her heart on the line and calling for you to do the same.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Eric Ravilious & Co. in Sheffield

This morning I caught a train to Sheffield to see the exhibition Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship at the city's Millennium Gallery.

This is a major touring exhibition. First seen at the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne (Eric Ravilious's home town), it will be in Sheffield for the rest of 2017 and at Compton Verney, Warwickshire, in the spring of next year.

The Towner Gallery website describes it well:
Based on new research and telling a story that has never been told before, this exhibition of the artist and designer Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), coincides with the 75th anniversary of his death. It explores the significant relationships and working collaborations between Ravilious and an important group of friends and affiliates, including Paul and John Nash, Enid Marx, Barnett Freedman, Tirzah Garwood, Edward Bawden, Thomas Hennell, Douglas Percy Bliss, Peggy Angus, Helen Binyon, and Diana Low. 
The exhibition includes many of Ravilious’ key works shown alongside both well-known and less seen works by his contemporaries, including work by each artist that has never before been exhibited publicly, and focuses chronologically on key moments when the work and careers of these artists coincided, overlapped or was particularly pertinent to the others, such as their time at the Royal College of Art, the 1927 St George’s exhibition, their time spent at Furlongs and Newhaven in Sussex, and their various roles in the Second World War. 
The exhibition represents the wide range of media in which the artists worked, from watercolours to woodcuts, lithographic prints, book jackets and illustrations, patterned papers, and wallpaper and fabric design.
I find Ravilious and the other artists represented here immensely appealing. They offer a version of English pastoral that has been chastened by the war and is also interested in industry. Two of the best things in the exhibition are Ravilious's paintings of a Sussex cement works.

Ravilious's reputation, helped by an immediately recognisable style, has been growing and growing in recent years. But he  had an influence in his own era - he died on a reconnaissance flight off Iceland in 1942.

His ceramic designs, not represented in this exhibition, now have a distinct 1950s feel to them. This is not because he was "ahead of his time", which is about the silliest thing you can say about any artist, but because the next generation of designers knew and admired his work.

Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend Ravilious & Co to any lover of 20th century British art.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

The North Devon coast in 1954

Another film from the BFI's Britain in Film collection. Click on the still above to view it on their website.

That still is of particular interest, because it shows Lynmouth still suffering from the 1952 flood disaster there.

Otherwise the footage, which takes in a lot of the tourist spots along the North Devon coast and even ventures a little way inland, has a gentle Fifties feel to it.

Six of the Best 741

It's not clear that the government's 58 Brexit impact studies even exist. But if they do, would it be right for someone to leak them? Maria Farrell concludes that it would.

Mary Bousted says "teachers will only have real autonomy when the government allows them to say no to the latest stupid fad".

"My latest work has focused on the stories of the female heroes of World War I. They weren’t fighting on the battlefield but their contributions at home and abroad were nothing short of incredible." Lauren O'Hagan uses the inscriptions people left in books as a way into history.

Mike Allen talks to Sean Parker, the found president of Facebook, about how social networks exploit human psychology.

Digital Forensic Research Lab offers us 12 ways of spotting a fake Twitter account.

Fragement of Fear, a really good paranoid thriller has appeared on Blu-ray. Kultguy's Keep approves: "It does hold your gaze and interest throughout – thanks to Ossie Morris’ noirish cinematography - that makes atmospheric use of the Pompeii and London locations, and [David] Hemmings’ genuinely convincing performance as the former-junkie battling to hold his own."

Lib Dem shortlist for Cheltenham announced

Before 2015 being a Liberal Democrat blogger was easy. If you were short of a story about the party, you just googled "Lib Dems" or the name of a random Lib Dem MP and something new was bound to come up.

It's not like that now, but a search tonight does reveal the Lib Dem shortlist for the Cheltenham constituency.

As the seat was held by the party between 1992 and 2015, and as the Conservative majority earlier this year was only 2569, if any seat can be said to be promising for the party then this is it.

Anyway, Gloucestershire Live has the shortlist:
  • Elizabeth Adams (twice parliamentary candidate for Stratford-upon-Avon)
  • Chris Coleman (Gloucestershire county councillor and former parliamentary candidate for Devizes and the Forest of Dean)
  • Adam Hanrahan (councillor and organiser from Sheffield Hallam)
  • Sally Symington (former parliamentary for Hemel Hempstead)
  • Max Wilkinson (Cheltenham borough councillor and former parliamentary candidate for Stroud),
Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceGloucestershire Live says a hustings will be held on 25 November, followed by a vote of local members.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Guest blogger is Mentioned in Dispatches

In August Nigel Atter wrote me a guest post about his new book In the Shadow of Bois Hugo, which is a history of the incredible bravery of the 8th Lincolns at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

You can now hear him talking about the book in the latest edition of the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The historic factories of Leicester

A good slideshow showing some Leicester industrial history that now lies derelict and vulnerable to arsonists.

Six of the Best 740

"The solution in Catalonia seems obvious to me: both sides should engage in negotiations without preconditions and consider amendments to the Spanish constitution as proposed by the Socialist Party, which is supporting Rajoy against Catalan secession." Jonathan Powell on how to solve the current crisis in Spain.

Peter Franklin puts forward some ideas you might not expect to find on Conservative Home: "The Chancellor should announce a comprehensive review of land taxation. Rents extracted from the productive economy by property speculators and land monopolists are a drag on growth not a contributor to it. They should be taxed accordingly."

Politicians did not respond to a shift in public opinion on welfare benefits: they created it. Tom O'Grady has the figures.

Tom King says individual citizens should give money to homeless people without strings.

Adam Scovell reviews the exhibition of art inspired by W.G. Sebald  at Somerset House.

"I nearly lost one ghostwriting job because the subject ... saw I had written a book about fairies, and they weren’t his cup of tea. I never brought it up when I was working in the Cabinet Office. Perhaps that was just as well." David Boyle is away with the fairies.

Does Sarah Olney's departure mean the Lib Dems expect an early election?

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Yesterday the Richmond & Twickenham Times quoted Sarah Olney's explanation of her resignation as Vince Cable's chief of staff after only eight weeks:
"Commuting from the constituency to Westminster every morning, and talking to so many local people on that daily journey, convinced me there remains much to do in the constituency. Having lost by just 45 votes at the last election, I believe I can win the seat back and I am determined to fight for local people against a Conservative Brexit and Heathrow expansion. 
"I have only done the job for a short period but now Vince has so successfully established himself as leader of the party with a great team around him in his office and in Liberal Democrat HQ, I feel able to step aside."
Maybe that is spin to cover up an appointment that was not working out on one side or the other.

But it may be that it is true. In which case it means the Lib Dems want someone working full time in what is their second most promising target. (Only North East Fife has a smaller majority to overturn than the 45 votes Sarah lost by in June.)

And if they wants that, it suggests the Lib Dems think an early general election is a serious possibility.

Later. Guido Fawkes reminds us that Sarah has not yet been reselected as candiate for Richmond Park

Monday, November 06, 2017

Vince Cable was naughtier than Theresa May

The Boar, a student newspaper from the University of Warwick, has an interview with Vince Cable.

It ends as follows:
Finally, I asked the party leader about the naughtiest thing he had done as a student, to which he replied: “Well, I did quite a lot of naughty things, unlike Theresa May. 
"I wrote a personal biography called Free Radical in which I described an episode in my youth where I discovered an air rifle in the wardrobe and started playing Second World War snipers with my friend, aiming the air rifles at the windows of all our neighbours. We caused quite a lot of damage and eventually I was holed up in a police station and given a bit of a rollicking. So I think that was one of several escapades in my teens.”

Lib Dems Too set up

A new Tumblr site, Lib Dems Too, has been set up to share accounts of sexism and worse within the Liberal Democrats and useful links for taking action.

It describes its purpose as follows:
Sexism in UK politics is nothing new to those of us involved in it. Following the #metoo discussion and the Westminster allegations, we created this website inspired by the Everyday Sexism Project to detail some of the instances of sexism within our party and to help people find the support they may need. 
Too many brilliant people are driven out of politics through no fault of their own, and we are poorer for it. We must put an end to it now. 
This website is run by volunteers who are members of the party.

Happy Birthday Richard Jefferies

Richard Jefferies - nature writer, novelist and an a huge influence on later writing for children - was born at Coate Farm, Swindon, on 6 November 1848.

Today Coate Farm is home to the newly thriving Richard Jefferies Museum and the Richard Jefferies Society has been running since 1950.

I wrote my Masters dissertation on Jefferies in the 1990s and also gave the Richard Jefferies Society's Birthday Lecture in those days.

There are lots of posts on this blog's Richard Jefferies label.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Basil Brush and Mr Derek play Shakespeare

Fifteen precious minutes of Basil Brush and Derek Fowlds have appeared on YouTube, though I am sure they would have been broadcast in colour.

The clip here shows them tackling Romeo and Juliet. Things like this cracked us up in 1973 (if there wasn't a power cut).

Jason Zadrozny was on Sunday Politics today

On Tuesay I blogged about the dropping of all charges of child sex abuse against Jason Zadrozny, who almost won Ashfield for the Liberal Democrats at the 2010 general election.

Jason was featured on the East Midlands section of Sunday Politics today. There was a short news report starting at 44:15, followed by a studio discussion.

The other participants were Lee Rowley, the new Conservative MP for North East Derbyshire, and Alan Simpson, a former Labour MP who is now an adviser to John McDonnell. The presenter is Marie Ashby.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds: Holy Mountain

I was never a great Oasis fan. I took the side of Blur in the Great Britpop battle and Pulp were arguably better than either of them.

But I do like this, the current single from Noel Gallagher's new band.

Being Noel Gallagher it is derivative. I sense Ricky Martin and Plastique Bertrand in there, and the recorder comes straight from the 1960s - the Rolling Stones, say, or Manfred Mann.

In his defence, though, rock has been going so long that it is now almost always derivative.

And if you are going to have a recorder player it is entirely admirable that he should dress like that and have that haircut.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Good Liberals were up in arms when the police raided Damian Green's Commons office in 2008

It seems tomorrow's Sunday Times is reporting that police found "extreme pornography" on Damian Green's computer when they raided his Commons office and impounded it in 2008.

When we have finished giggling, it might be a good idea to recall that at the time all good Liberals were up in arms over that raid.

Here is the House Points column I wrote for Liberal Democrat News that week...

MPs Collared

Michael Jabez Foster said just one constituent had raised the search of Damian Green’s office with him. It was "self-indulgence", he argued, for MPs to debate it.

But the people of Hastings and Rye should be more concerned with the health of parliamentary democracy. So this column is devoted to some of Monday’s more enlightened contributions.

Theresa May: "Constituents do not give information to their Member of Parliament on the basis that one day it might be pored over by police officers. Parliamentary privilege is not our privilege; it is the people’s privilege."

Elfyn Llwyd: "It seems rather strange that we should be discussing the whole idea of prejudicing the inquiry, given that the Government tried to force through the 42-day measure on the premise that we were all going to discuss issues to do with individuals."

Simon Hughes: "If the police knocked on the door of one of my constituents in Southwark or Bermondsey, everybody inside would know … they do not have to let the police in unless they have a warrant."

Dominic Grieve: "Since the passage of the Official Secrets Act 1989, the leaking of material not concerning national security has ceased to be a criminal offence. On what basis, therefore, is a civil servant arrested for that, and on what conceivable basis is my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford [Damian Green] arrested?"

Menzies Campbell: "Our responsibilities involve both the scrutiny of Government and the redress of grievance. If we cannot be confident that our communications with our constituents are confidential, there is necessarily an inhibition in our ability to fulfil those responsibilities."

Andrew Mackinlay: "Leaks are food and drink to me as a backbench Member of Parliament, and I do not want to stop them coming to me."

Kenneth Clarke: "I first met the Leader of the House [Harriet Harman] when she was the legal adviser to the National Council for Civil Liberties. She was a pretty feisty, radical lawyer in those days, and … she would not conceivably have made the speech then that she made an hour or two ago. She would have been leading demonstrations outside about the behaviour of the Government."

I am not sure what Simon’s claim tells us about South London, but it was a good debate.

Sutton Bridge and the relics of a Lincolnshire potato railway

I have mentioned several times that I was in Sutton Bridge in Lincolnshire on the day that England won back the Ashes in 2009.

Here are some of the photographs I took on that visit. They show Sutton Bridge, the Nene and the ornamental lighthouses at its mouth. The blue plaque on one of the lighthouses records that Sir Peter Scott used to live there.

I looked through them because of a book I bought years ago largely for its title: The Lincolnshire Potato Railways.

It turns out there was a little narrow gauge system at Lighthouse Farm, which is beside the Nene below Sutton Bridge. And the book has photographs of old rails being used for fencing there.

And I think I photographed some of those rails, quite unwittingly, in the photograph above.

Noel Gallagher-lookalike spotted 'licking windows' in Swindon

Our Headline of the Day Award goes to the Swindon Advertiser.

Yorkshire Post columnist says Labour will avoid a Sheffield Hallam by-election at all costs

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In a discursive political column for the Yorkshire Post, Tom Richmond touches upon Jared O'Mara and Sheffield Hallam.

After noting how little O'Mara has done at Westminster, Richmond writes:
I’m still to be convinced that Labour will do the right thing and fire O’Mara. There’s nothing to stop him claiming an MP’s salary for the rest of the Parliament as an independent. 
For, if there was a by-election, the key issue would not be O’Mara’s record or Brexit in this pro-EU area, but Labour-controlled Sheffield Council’s mismanagement of a key contract that has led to the mass felling of trees in the so-called ‘outdoor city’.
Later. If there is a Sheffield Hallam by-election the Liberal Democrat candidate will be Laura Gordon, who was selected by the constituency party yesterday evening.

Latest news on David Mackintosh and Northampton Town

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You may recall that the sitting MP for Northampton South, David Mackintosh, was obliged to stand down as Conservative candidate shortly after this year's general election was called.

This was because of disquiet in his constituency party over reports about a loan made to Northampton Town F.C. while Mackintosh was leader of the borough council.

BBC East journalists have continued to investigate this affair and their latest story appeared yesterday:
A Conservative MP's general election fund took hidden payments from a developer as a multimillion-pound loan he personally oversaw paid out. 
More than £37,000 was channelled to David Mackintosh's 2015 campaign from 1st Land Ltd, while he was leader of Northampton Borough Council. 
Most of a £10.25m loan he signed off to redevelop Northampton Town FC has vanished and police are investigating. 
After emphasising that Howard Grossman of 1st Land Ltd and David Mackintosh deny any wrongdoing, the report goes on:.
Documents obtained by the BBC show eight people linked to the developer made donations to the Northampton South Conservative Association between April and September 2014. 
During this time Mr Mackintosh was the Conservatives' candidate to contest Northampton South at the 2015 general election - a seat he went on to win. 
At least four of the donors received money from 1st Land Ltd shortly before making their payments.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Did the Jacobites reach Anstey? and other strange matters

How far south did Bonnie Prince Charlie get?

The history books will telly that he turned back at Derby, and the really good books will mention that he sent men to sieze the bridge over the Trent at Swarkestone before he made that decision.

But did some of his troops venture further south?

Maybe. There is a tradition at Anstey that a Jacobite foraging party reached the village. (I am sure there used to be more about this on the web - its disappearance is surely suspicious.)

Then there is the story that the last wolf in England was killed near the village.

Finally, there is this strange incident mentioned in the Fortean Times forums:
Man with No Face ... 
Location: Anstey (Leicestershire) - Fields along Anstey Road, leading to Leicester 
Type: UFO 
Date / Time: Late 1920s 
Further Comments: Thought to be an early alien encounter (though it can also be interpreted as ghostly in nature), a woman playing in the fields came across a figure without a face dressed in black. Behind him, she could see a circular 'hut'. By the time she had awoken her father, who was sleeping in a nearby field, both hut and man had gone.
I know from experience that the best way of finding traces of such strange occurences is to print your photographs in black-and-white and study them closely.

Call it pareidolia if that comforts you.

Patrick Stewart in Joby (1975)

Sensitive studies of working-class grammar school boys growing up in the North of England used to be everywhere.

I read what must have been one of the last of them, Saville by David Storey (which won the Booker Prize in 1976), when I was in the sixth form.

Another work of that school was Joby by Stan Barstow, which was published in 1964.

Eleven years later it was filmed by Yorkshire Television in and around Horbury, the village near Wakefield where Barstow himself grew up. We lost a lot with the demise of the regional ITV companies.

Joby's chief interest today is that the young hero's father was played by Patrick Stewart. You can see him in the clip above.

And you can see Patrick Stewart as long ago as 1969 in another post on this blog.

Jane Dodds is the new leader of the Welsh Lib Dems

Welsh Liberal Democrats have elected Jane Dodds as their new leader.

She beat the Ceredigion councillor Elizabeth Evans in what can only be described as a two-horse race.

The Brecon & Radnor Express says Jane Dodds won  53.1 per cent of the vote on a turnout of 35.2 per cent of the party’s membership of over 3000.

That paper quotes her as saying:
"It is an honour to have been elected as the next leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats - to focus my energy on bringing like minded people together to rebuild our party and to re-establish the Welsh Liberal Democrats as the radical, progressive force of Welsh politics."
Jane Dodds was the party's unsuccessful candidate in Montgomeryshire at the 2015 and 2017 general elections as well in the Welsh Assembly elections of 2016.

Mike Brearley on Joe Root, Ben Stokes and being On Form

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As you may have noticed, one of this blog's heroes is the former England cricket captain Mike Brearley.

If you want to know why, listen to the latest The Analyst podcast.

In it he talks to his former Middlesex teammate Simon Hughes about his recent book On Form, England's prospects in Australia and much else.

As ever, he is wise, humane and teaches you something about cricket and life.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Damian Green's friends try to save his career by claiming woman 'may have mistaken his hand for a table cloth'

The Daily Telegraph wins our Headline of the Day Award by a distance.

Disused railway stations in Gwynedd

It's a long time since I have posted one of these videos, but I don't think Gwynedd has appeared here before.

Six of the Best 739

Jonathan Cooper celebrates the 50th anniversary of David Steel's Abortion Act: "1967 was the year that changed so much. Before then the state criminalized desire. If you were a woman or teenage girl and had sex the chances of pregnancy were high. Once pregnant your real options were non-existent."

"Since the crisis household debt in Britain has been bumping along at about 140% of income, and it has been trending up in the last two years. But people’s capacity to repay debt is weakening." Matthew Green believes household debt is "the slowly developing crisis of capitalism".

Richard Kemp says it is time to end the Coca-Cola van's Christmas tour.

"But there’s so much to love in Zappaland, not least because he wrote complex and experimental music with a pop ear. Anyone can create bad avant garde noise, but he managed to create avant garde noise which was catchy." Mike Scott has been listening to the complete works of Frank Zappa.

Bobby Seal on Terence Davies's Liverpool trilogy.

Great news from The World of Ivor Wood: the original puppets from The Herbs television series have been found.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

An Anstey ghost sign

This rudimentary Marstons ghost sign - and there is an older ghost behind it if you look carefully - can be found in Anstey.

Not only is the building behind it no longer a shop, it is now derelict as a private house.

Across the road is a modern housing development. I suspect this is on the site of a factory that once provided the shop with its customers.

Rum, sodomy and the lash and Michael Fallon

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Michael Fallon has resigned as defence secretary. As far as one can tell, it is because he fears further allegations of sexual impropriety will surface.

But that is not what he said in his resignation statement:
"I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces that I have the honour to represent."
That is nonsense and for two reasons.

First, we are not a Central American republic. The defence minister is not a member of the Armed Forces bound by their code: he or she is a civilian.

Second, the defence minister does not "represent" the Armed Forces. He or she is over the Armed Forces and may well have to impose spending cuts or reforms they do not care for.

As proof, I give you Winston Churchill who, as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1913, was
having trouble with some of his admirals at a strategy meeting. One of them accused him of having impugned the traditions of the Royal Navy, provoking the reply: "And what are they? They are rum, sodomy and the lash."
To return to the first point, Fallon did not resign because he has fallen below the standards we require of the Armed Services.

Fallon resigned because he has fallen below the standards we require of our politicians.

He should have admitted this in his statement tonight.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Bromford Bridge: A railway poster for a lost racecourse

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Bromford Bridge racecourse was opened in 1894 and closed in 1965. Part of Castle Bromwich was then built on it.

This poster was issued by the  London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1938.

The evidence in the Rochdale child abuse inquiry is online

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One of the 13 individual strands that form the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse concerns Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale.

These are matters in which the former Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP Cyril Smith is implicated.

The Rochdale strand finished hearing evidence last week and you can find transcripts of all the evidence on the inquiry website.

For a good summary of the evidence, see the article by Daniel De Simone and Jonathan Ali on BBC News.

Six of the Best 738

"Thirteen years ago two boys died after being restrained by staff in English prisons run by G4S and Serco. Both boys had been in care and lived in children’s homes."  Carolyne Willow campaigns for transparency on the use of restraint on children in custody.

Ian Martin says Yorkshire and the North of England suffer because of the hegemony of power and influence concentrated in London.

Urban trees are vital to our wellbeing, argues Eillie Anzilotti.

"The presenters of Front Row, the only arts magazine programme on the whole of BBC television, began their new assignments by announcing they could not be bothered with theatre." Nick Cohen on the BBC's apologetic arts coverage.

John Harris takes us back to Frestonia, a small corner of West London that declared its independence in 1977 - The Clash recorded much of Combat Rock there.

The first terrorist attack on the London Underground took place in 1883. Londonist has the story.

Jason Zadrozny cleared of all chages

At the 2010 general election the Liberal Democrat candidate Jason Zadrozny came within 192 votes of gaining the Ashfield constituency from Labour.

In the run up to the 2015 election he was arrested on child abuse charges.

Yesterday, 950 days later, he was cleared of all charges when the Crown Prosecution Service said no evidence would be presented against him.

Jason told BBC News:
"Justice has been done, I've said for two and a half years that I was absolutely not guilty. 
"It's the most horrible thing that anybody can be accused of."
And his solicitor, Matt Hayes, said:
"There was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. 
"That's the crown's view, our case is there's never been any evidence."
The BBC says that Jason has previously said he believes the allegations were politically motivated.

And he told the Nottingham Post that he will take legal action against Nottinghamshire Police.

Jason and the Lib Dem councillors in Ashfield have rebranded themselves as the Ashfield Independents since his arrest in 2015. They made an impressive gain in a local by-election only a couple of weeks ago.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Ned Ludd was an Anstey lad

We've all heard of the Luddites, but who was Ned Ludd after whom they were named?

Wikipedia says:
Supposedly, Ludd was a weaver from Anstey, near Leicester, England. In 1779, either after being whipped for idleness, or after being taunted by local youths, he smashed two knitting frames in what was described as a "fit of passion". This story is traceable to an article in The Nottingham Review on 20 December 1811, but there is no independent evidence of its truth.
Whatever the truth of it, there is now a road named after him in the centre of Anstey.

Today "Luddite" is used as a pejorative term for anyone who questions the introduction of new technology.

But an article by Richard Conniff for the Smithsonian Magazine suggests this is a libel:
As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. But the Luddites themselves "were totally fine with machines," says Kevin Binfield, editor of the 2004 collection Writings of the Luddites. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called "a fraudulent and deceitful manner" to get around standard labor practices. 
"They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods," says Binfield, "and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns."
He also says Ned Ludd never existed - try telling them that in Anstey.

It is interesting that those who are most dismissive of the Luddites are the same people who reject any notion that tyranny in Communist states can be excused because the regime was modernising the economy and society.

I reject it too, but then I have always had a sneaking regard for the Luddites.

Environmental protection from HS2 being stripped out in the North

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The proponents of HS2 have been assiduous in protecting the environment in the South of England - 29 per cent of the 140 mile-line from London to Birmingham will run through tunnels.

How is this being paid for? By stripping out environmental further north.

An article by Frances Perraudin, North of England reporter for the Guardian, quotes Jonathan Pile from Yorkshire against HS2:
"We’re getting this double standard, where they’re spending all the money down south, no problem, but when it’s the north they just expect us to lump it." ... 
He said the government was going back on its initial commitment to “minimise the local environmental impact of the new railway wherever possible by using tunnels, deep cuttings and existing transport corridors”.
It also quotes Jon Trickett, Labour MP for Hemsworth, as saying the figures would confirm a feeling in Yorkshire that there was "one rule for the Tory marginals in the south and a completely different rule for the north":
He said the train line would be wider than two motorways and, in some cases, would be placed on a platform 12 meters in the air. 
He said the fact that HS2 would not pay for parts of the route in Yorkshire to be in tunnels reinforced "the idea that the north is a place where they can save money, make cuts and leave communities damaged to the benefit of the south".
Back to Jonathan Pile:
"I think they have a view that we might be willing to put up with more and that the home counties are going to scream blue murder and, to some extend, there is something to that.
"We are post-industrial communities which have been used to industrial landscapes that the home counties wouldn’t be happy with. But this area has been restored to green belt now. It’s got a burgeoning leisure industry and it’s definitely as beautiful as the Chilterns."

Former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate forces the resignation of Australia's deputy prime minister

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Barnaby Joyce is the leader of National Party, the junior party in Australia's ruling coalition. But his election to the Australian parliament has been ruled invalid because he also holds New Zealand citizenship.

Under Australian law, those holding dual nationality are not eligible to stand for parliament.

Joyce is one of four Australian politicians whose election to parliament has been declared invalid on these grounds.

He can stand in the resultant by-election in his sear as he has now renounced his New Zealand citizenship. But in the mean time the coalition government, which has a majority of one, faces a difficult time.

The fact that Joyce had broken electoral law was a Melbourne-based blogger by the name of William Summers.

His blog seems to be down, but you can find him on Twitter.

He told BBC News:
"I was never out to get the deputy prime minister. I've always said he shouldn't lose his seat. But, if you are going to have this rule, you have got to treat everyone the same."
In earlier life Summers was the Liberal Democrat candidate for Norfolk North West at the 2010 general election, when he beat Labour into third place. Between 2005 and 2008 he worked in Norman Lamb's parliamentary office.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Barlow and Watt investigate Jack the Ripper

Charlie Barlow, played by Stratford Johns, was television's most famous policeman in the Sixties and early Seventies.

He appeared in Z Cars, Softly Softly and Softly Softly: Task Force, and a number of spin-off series.

The most imaginative of those spin-offs involved Barlow and his long-term sidekick John Watt, played by Frank Windsor, investigating the Jack the Ripper murders. (Harry Hawkins must have been busy elsewhere.)

It was broadcast in colour even though this was 1973, but the version available online is in black and white.

This clip gave wide exposure to the theory that the murders were the result of a Masonic conspiracy to cover up a scandal in the Royal Family.

Joseph Sickert was really Joseph Gorman and almost certainly not the painter Walter Sickert's illegitimate or adopted son. He certainly was a fantasist.

Yet the idea of a Masonic conspiracy caught the public imagination. It was fully developed by Stephen Knight in his Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution and inspired the film Murder by Decree.

Should the Lib Dems have exposed Jared O'Mara?

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez revealed on Peston this morning that her husband Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats knew about the allegations against Jared O'Mara before June's general election.

Mark Pack suggests that we should have made use of this knowledge during the campaign in Sheffield Hallam:
Taking care over when to criticise the personality of an opponent is wise. But when you have evidence about issues as serious as sexism and homophobia and the person in question is bidding to become an MP, then – if you have solid evidence – raising them I would even go so far as to say is necessary. Democracy requires the cases for and against candidates, parties and policies to be put before the public.
Liberals tend to fight shy of this sort of campaigning - "When they go low, we go high" - but Mark is right. It can be your duty to reveal your opponents deficiencies if they are sufficiently serious.

I do not trust the idea that it is only what Tony Benn used to call the "ishoos" that matter. So many political questions arrive out of clear blue sky that the character of the people you elect to tackle them is immensely important.

And if you know your opponent has a bad character, you should say so.