Victoria – fact or fiction?

Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes are back on our screens as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which means it’s time for a return to that fine old British tradition of historical nit-picking. This is our week-by-week guide to the true history behind the ITV drama.

Was Dr Brydon really the only survivor of the retreat from Kabul?

In the Victorian era, it became a well-established myth that only one man survived the disastrous retreat from Kabul: William Brydon, an assistant surgeon in General Elphinstone’s army.

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William Brydon

The late Victorian artist Elizabeth Butler’s famous painting ‘Remains of an Army’ shows Brydon alone in a desolate landscape, and ITV’s Victoria paints a similar version of events.

But the reality of the First Anglo-Afghan War was slightly complicated. Brydon was the only British soldier to make it back to Jalalabad from Kabul without being captured, but there were also several Indian soldiers (then called sepoys) from his army who achieved the same feat.

Nor were they the only survivors of the Khyber Pass massacre; more than 100 officers, women and children were taken captive, only to be later released.

But the most extraordinary part of Brydon’s story to feature in ITV’s Victoria was completely true: Brydon’s life was saved by a frozen copy of Blackwood’s Magazine which he had tucked inside his hat. In fact, the TV retelling didn’t do justice to quite how close Brydon’s scrape was; the sword-blow that cut through the magazine also shaved off a fragment of his skull.

All joking aside, what’s up with Prince Albert’s helmet?

The first episode told us (a little unnecessarily, one might add) that Prince Albert dressed “on the left” – but we don’t mean that kind of helmet.

The helmet in question is the Albert Shako, which Tom Hughes’s prince brought up almost every time he opened his mouth, throughout episode one.

Introduced in 1844 as a more practical alternative to existing military headgear, we can’t be certain that it really was designed by Albert himself. What is certain, however, is that people hated it. Regardless of who really came up with the design, the idea that Prince Albert spent his spare time faffing about with hats was just as funny to Victorians as it is to today’s ITV viewers. In 1843, the satirical magazine Punch published a cartoon of “Prince Albert’s Studio”, in which the would-be hatter is shown proudly displaying his handiwork to a bemused Victoria.

Who on earth would eat that soup?

Lots of people. The departure of Victoria’s preferred chef, Charles Elmé Francatelli, meant guests at the royal table were forced to pick over a vile dinner of soup, made from leeks, prunes and (best of all) a whole boiled chicken’s head. Don’t pull that face – it’s actually rather popular.

TV chef James Martin would like you to know that cock-a-leekie soup is making a comeback, prunes and all. You can read his recipe for a modern take on the traditional Scottish dish at the BBC Good Food website. The Duchess of Bucchleuch certainly enjoys it.

How old was the Duchess of Bucchleuch really?

Much younger than she is on TV. Last night, viewers were introduced to Victoria’s new Mistress of the Robes, a fearsome Caledonian duchess played with aplomb by Diana Rigg. The real Charlotte, Duchess of Bucchleuch, was born in 1811. In 1844, when the show is set, she would have been 33 – just eight years older than Victoria.

Yes, that’s almost half a century younger than Rigg (79), but why not bend the truth if it allows for such a great bit of casting? It’s a certified historical fact that every TV show with Diana Rigg in it has been 35% better than the Rigg-less alternatives. So there.

Why did Francatelli really leave?

In the show, heartbroken Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley) left because he couldn’t bear to be near the newly promoted Mrs Skerrett (Nell Hudson), after she refused his offer of marriage back in series one.

In real life, however, the given reason for Francatelli’s abrupt departure from the palace was a fracas with another member of the household staff, Mr Norton the Clerk Comptroller. At the time, it was reported that Francatelli “took the opportunity of insulting Mr Norton in the presence of all the Pages and about 40 others”. After “high words ensued”, they called for a policeman to arrest him, but the hot-headed chef had done a runner by the time the police arrived.

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Did Florence kill Jack the Ripper

There have been many, many theories about Jack the Ripper but how about this one.

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Did Florence kill Jack the Ripper?

Florence Maybrick may well of killed Jack the Ripper. 1889 the 27-year-old American was found guilty of poisoning her drug-addict husband James Maybrick with arsenic.

It was a shocking crime and the Daily Mirror reported the scandal.

Apparently new evidence has put Maybrick in the dock as a Jack the Ripper suspect.

A diary has been found under his floorboards and there are claims it has been written by the Ripper. And experts have managed to authenticate it was written at the right time, this could possibly mean the diary is genuine.

 

Florence had married Maybrick in 1881. He was 23 years her senior and lived in a middle-class home in Liverpool with their children James and Gladys. They were just seven and three when their father died – and their mother became the most notorious woman in the country.

Florence and James both committed adultery and when she ended up in court the judge James Fitzjames Stephen, was enraged. He told the jury if she was admitting adultery, she was no better than a murderess anyway and a death sentence was handed down.

Home Secretary Henry Matthews agreed to reassess her case and argued that it couldn’t be proven she had killed Maybrick in their home in Aigburth, in the suburbs of Liverpool.

PROD-The-trial-of-Mrs-Maybrick-at-Liverpool-1889.jpgHis decision rescued her from the gallows, but she remained in prison for 15 years, first in Woking, Surrey at Woking Convict Prison, she endured solitary confinement, hard labour and frequent ill health. In a book she wrote after her release, she describes her experiences as “torture”, “hideous” and “tyrannous”.

And then in Aylesbury, Bucks.

Florence was finally released in 1904.

So did she kill Jack the Ripper?

I guess that question remains…but hopefully not for too much longer.

Easter

Easter was very much part of Victorian life, the Church itself was important not only as a spiritual guide and charity but also as a great reformer of the age.

20160326_104323Victorians expressed devotion with beautiful floral arrangements that decorated churches as I did yesterday. Easter is about Jesus being risen from the grave, so new life is tied up in any decoration and in any spiritual significance.

In Ladies Fancy Work from 1876  described how to make Easter crosses with myriad elaborately handmade wax flowers, as well as rustic cross pictures sprinkled with diamond dust and hand-embellished with mosses, ferns, coral, shells and bark. Based on publications of the time, floral arrangements of Easter lilies, white and yellow tulips, violets, purple pansies, lilacs and Chinese azalea adorned Victorian vases and mantels. Women also made token gift posies with white and yellow or purple flowers, such as lily of the valley with violets, of course men decorate as well nowadays.

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We had an Easter Egg hunt for our children today, a tradition in our church that probably stretches back into the Victorian Era. In Delineator’s April 1896 story “Easter in a Southern Town” described their hunt for colored eggs hidden in boxed hedges, honeysuckle arbors and among lilies. Today our children enthusiastically leap around our graveyard seeking out small brightly covered eggs which they all find at least one…

He is risen…

He is risen indeed

A happy Easter to one and all.

The execution of Sherlock Holmes

There are many, many Sherlock Holmes stories, novels, novelettes on tip of the glorious canon left by Conan-Doyle.

The execution of Sherlock Thomas is a particularly enjoyable one. We find Holmes at his best against relatives (I didn’t like that idea but it works…more or less) of arch villains he taken down and finds himself drugged and locked up in the notorious Newgate Prison.

Watson of course tells the story but it really has the feel on Conan-Doyle…it just hits the spot for me.

Have a read…it is really rather good!images

Ripper Street season 4

Ripper Street is back…

…and a good thing too!

Season 4 begins in 1897 with Queen Victoria celebrating her diamond jubilee. Edmund Reid (the great Matthew Macfadyen) has retired from the force and left Whitechapel for good. However he soon finds himself drawn back to Whitechapel when he discovers that his old friend Isaac Bloom (Justin Avoth, Merlin) is set to hang for a brutal murder; a murder of which Reid believes he is innocent.

Again the grimy streets of Victorian Whitechapel are well depicted and we even get the front of the notorious Newgate Prison.

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The actors are brilliant in this and the detail is such that is should be lauded but it is not. The second season flagged a bit but the third certainly improved and I have high hopes for this season.

It is currently on Amazon Prime…Enjoy!

Newgate Prison

Newgate Prison closed in 1902.

It had been operating for about 700 years. It was notorious and had held some surprising criminals such as:

  • Daniel Defoe (Who wrote Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe
  • William Kidd (the pirate known as Captain Kidd)
  • Lord George Gordon – UK politician whom the Gordon Riots are named after
  • Sir Thomas Malory – highwayman, possible author of Le Morte d’Arthur
  • Catherine Murphy, an English counterfeiter who became the last woman to be officially executed by burning in England and Great Britain in 1789 – Ouch!

And many, many others. Reformer Elizabeth Fry had for some time been particularly concerned at the conditions in which female prisoners and their children were held (yes children went to prison or were born in prison and stayed with their parents). She presented credible evidence to the House of Commons and improvements were made. In 1858, the interior was rebuilt with individual cells.

A big draw for Newgate were public hangings (I can’t think of anything worse!) these were crowded affairs and many people would gather to see these criminals hang. In fact one of the great events in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign was a public hanging, a bit like a royal wedding in that the number of spectators might range anywhere from 20,000 up to 100,000, the number, according to The Times, attending Kirkdale Gaol in Liverpool for the mutiple hanging of four men on 11 September 1863.

In amongst the mob one found many of the labouring classes; mill-hands, factory girls and women, bricklayer’s labourers and dock workmen, either hoping for some entertainment on their way to work or enjoying St. Monday. Women and children were frequent spectators and at the last public execution in England, The Times commented on the “blue velvet hats and huge white feathers which lined the great beams which kept the mass from crushing each other in their eagerness to see a man put to death.” At any execution one might see ragged children darting to and fro to “play their usual pranks at the foot of the gallows.”

For about 60% of offences punishable by the death sentence, the magistrates recorded that it had been carried out, then gave a less serious punishment. As the century went on, the number of people who were sentenced to be hanged decreased. Between 1801 and 1837, 13 executions took place in Bedford, but between 1838 and 1878 there were only 4. Despite this, between 1800 and 1900, of the 3524 people sentenced to hang in England and Wales, only 1353 were for murder.

From 1868, public executions were discontinued and executions were carried out on gallows inside Newgate. Michael Barrett was the last man to be hanged in public outside Newgate Prison (and the last person to be publicly executed in Great Britain) on 26 May 1868. In total (publicly or otherwise), 1,169 people were executed at the prison.

The Old Bailey now stands on the site of Newgate Prison.

 

Sherlock – a timeline

Ah Sherlock…we have been so blessed by the incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and Dr John H. Watson including William Gillette, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, Sir John Geilgud, Carelton Hobbs, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Plummer, Vasily Lavanov, Charlton Heston, Jeremy Brett, Clive Merrison, Robert Downey Jr, Matt Frewer, Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch.

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Here’s a reading time line for anyone who is a fan of Holmes…and of course Watson!

1880
July 3, Saturday — “The Gloria Scott”

1881
June 23, Thursday — “The Musgrave Ritual”
July 16, 1881, Saturday — Holmes meets Watson in Chapter One of A Study in Scarlet

1883
April 1, Sunday — “The Speckled Band”

1884
March 4, Tuesday — The investigation of A Study in Scarlet
March 29, Saturday — “The Yellow Face”

1885
January 6, Tuesday — “The Red Circle”

1886
February 26, Friday — “The Beryl Coronet”
October 2, Saturday — “The Resident Patient”

1887
April 26, Tuesday — “The Reigate Squires”
July 19, Tuesday — “The Second Stain”
July 29, Friday — “The Naval Treaty”
August 30, Tuesday — “The Crooked Man”
September 16, Friday — “The Five Orange Pips”
October 6, Thursday — “The Noble Bachelor”

1888
January 7, Saturday — The Valley of Fear
March 20, Tuesday — “A Scandal in Bohemia”
April 16, Monday — “A Case of Identity”
June 20, Wednesday — “The Greek Interpreter”
September 4, Tuesday — The Sign of the Four
October 25, Thursday — “Silver Blaze”

1889
June 1, Saturday — “The Stock-broker’s Clerk”
June 8, Saturday — “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”
June 21, Friday — “The Man with the Twisted Lip”
June 30, Sunday — “The Engineer’s Thumb”
August 30, Friday — “The Cardboard Box”
October 1, Tuesday — The Hound of the Baskervilles
December 27, Friday — “The Blue Carbuncle”

1890
March 18, Tuesday — “The Copper Beeches”
October 11, Saturday — “The Red-Headed League”

1891
January 12, Monday — “Charles Augustus Milverton”
April 23, Friday — “The Final Problem”

1892
March 24, Thursday — “Wisteria Lodge”

1893
March 15, Wednesday — “Three Gables”

1894
April 3, Tuesday — “The Empty House”
June 1, Friday — “The Mazarin Stone”
August 1, Wednesday — “The Norwood Builder”
November 23, Friday — “The Gold Pince-nez”

1895
April 20, Saturday — “The Solitary Cyclist”
May 6, Monday — “The Three Students”
July 10, Wednesday — “Black Peter”
November 21, Thursday — “The Bruce-Partington Plans”

1896
September 22, Tuesday — “The Veiled Lodger”

1897
February 6, Saturday — “The Missing Three-Quarter”
February 15, Monday — “Abbey Grange”
March 16, Tuesday — “The Devil’s Foot”

1898
July 25, Monday — “The Dancing Men”
August 20, Saturday — “The Retired Colourman”

1900
October 4, Thursday — “Thor Bridge”

1901
May 16, Thursday — “Priory School”
November 19, Tuesday — “The Sussex Vampire”

1902
June 4, Wednesday — “The Six Napoleons”
June 19, Thursday — “The Three Garridebs”
July 26, Saturday — “The Disappearance of Lady Francis Carfax”
September 3, Wednesday — “The Illustrious Client”

1903
January 21, Wednesday — “The Blanched Soldier”
May 26, Tuesday — “Shoscombe Old Place”
September 6, Sunday — “The Creeping Man”
November 8, Sunday — “The Dying Detective”

1907
July 30, Tuesday — “The Lion’s Mane”

1914
August 2, Sunday — “His Last Bow”