In this, the final instalment of this 10-month Olympic Borough Folk Olympics tour, Ruairidh Anderson visits Newham to explore the tale of the Stratford Martyrs.
“Today, speaking out against the church can bring the reward of a bestselling book and a series on the BBC, but in the 1500s the work of Richard Dawkins would have been met with more than just a warm reception”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘For Sweetest Lord’.
The Stratford Martyrs
On the 27th of July 2012, thousands descended upon the Borough of Newham to watch a flame ignite the hopes and dreams of Olympic athletes from all over the globe. But it wasn’t that long ago that thousands of people also came to this very Borough to watch a flame have a very different kind of affect.
In June 1556, eleven men and two women had their summer plans rather rudely interrupted by being burnt to death in Stratford. Had they plotted treason? Committed mass murder or had a kind word to say about the Scottish? No. Their crimes were much worse. Failure to attend church, despising the Catholic ceremony and speaking out against the Catholic Mass. Of course today you’d get a best selling book and a series on the BBC, but in those days the work of Richard Dawkins would have been given much more than just a warm reception.
Bloody Mary was on the throne and on top of her to do list was the execution of anyone found guilty of heresy. These Stratford martyrs was split into two groups and offered the chance to recant. Each being lied to that the others had already given in. But it was no use. Not only did these Stratford Martyrs face their fate courageously, they kissed the stake and embraced it heartily, before being trust up and ignited. But Mary wasn’t completely without compassion. One of the women was pregnant so she was generously allowed to walk into the flames unbound.
Today the Stratford martyrs are best remembered, thanks to the monument found at St John’s Church in Stratford. But despite their lives melting away in a fiery furnace, their names; Adlington, Bowyer, Derifall, still stick to the streets of Newham literally. You can find them on a many road names today.
As the final week of our Olympic Borough Folk Olympics tour approaches, may I present the third instalment for the Borough of Newham, the life of Elizabeth Fry.
‘The idea of waking up in our own filth and in very close proximity to someone of questionable looks and an equally low level level of personal hygiene is for many of us simply a fond memory of university days, but for many Londoners it was a very grim reality. That was before the arrival of a shy girl forever linked to the borough of Newham.’
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Into The Dark’.
The idea of waking up in our own vomit, and in very close proximity to an individual of questionable looks and and an equally low level of personal hygiene is for most of us, simply a fond memory of university days. But for many Londoners it was a very grim daily reality. That was before the arrival of a very shy girl forever linked to the borough of Newham.
Elizabeth Fry was born in 1780 to a wealthy family of bankers. In fact her mother was part of the Barclays family. But a chance encounter with a visiting quaker not only set Elizabeth on a path to adopting the strict disciplines of the religion, but also created the a heart for London’s most down and out citizens.
After her marriage, Elizabeth Fry moved to East Ham to a house named Plashet House with the husband. One day she was invited to visit one of London’s most depressing sights, (worse than the over 30s singles night at Beckton Working Men’s club) Newgate prison. Now in those days Newgate prison wasn’t that bad if you had money. You could pay for your own room complete with bar and visiting prostitute. But if you had nothing, as was more more often the case, it was one of the worst experiences you can imagine.
Food wasn’t free, you had to pay for any scrap you received, and the filth was unimaginable. Only a quarter of inmates survived to see their execution date or release. The smell was so bad that shops in the surrounding areas had to close during the summer months. But Elizabeth Fry was not put off. She threw herself into helping those incarcerated in London.
Fry gained supporters and admirers, from Queen Victoria to Sir Robert Peel and would often invite noble folk to spend the night inside a prison to experience the conditions first-hand, an invitation the King of Prussia once took her up on.
In 1818 Elizabeth Fry became the first woman to present evidence inside the Houses of Parliament and all this while still squeezing in (or out) 11 kids.
Upon her death in 1845 Elizabeth Fry had become the chief campaigner for inmates right across Europe, as well as instrumental in bringing in improvements for homelessness and conditions within mental health hospitals. Today there are numerous buildings and monuments in her honour and of course she’s found on the face of a £5 note.
As if all that wasn’t enough, a nurses training programme she helped to set up, went on to inspire a distant relative of hers, Florence Nightingale.
Continuing to chronicle the history of the Olympic borough of Newham in song, this week, I explore the underbelly of the Royal Docks.
“Employment was largely concentrated on the docks, the largest of which was Newham’s Royal Docks. Not just the greatest in Britain but the largest enclosed docks in the world. And of the employees that worked on the docks an estimated 30% were criminals…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘The Thames’.
The Royal Docks
Central to life in London over the centuries and indeed the very reason of its very existence, lies in that great body of water known as the Thames. Over the years the river has supplied the city’s population with food; oysters, fish, salmon right into the 1800’s when strangely enough, this food group seemed to disappear around the same time that the Thames was being utilised as one giant toilet.
Its currents have brought with it, trade; exotic goods, treasures, spices and with it, employment. Employment that was largely concentrated on the docks, the largest of which is found in the Borough of Newham and named The Royal Docks. An area that isn’t just the greatest in the United Kingdom, but is recognised as the largest enclosed docks in the entire world.
As trade boomed in the 18th Century the demand being placed upon the Thames riverside was enormous. Ships and boats could be laid up for months on end waiting to get unloaded, and of course this presented too much of a temptation for some members of the London community.
Of the estimated 30,000 docks employees 11,000 of them were recognised to be engaged in criminal activity. There were ‘Scuffle Hunters’ – men who would organise mass brawls on crowded and badly managed quays. In a madness that followed, these rogues would make their escape, stealing goods and hopping from boat to boat across to the other side of the Thames.
‘Mudlarks’ would hang around the base of stationary vessels collecting anything that fell off. ‘Monkey Suckers’ were teenage boys who hadn’t yet developed a taste of alcohol. These youngsters were employed to siphon off gallons of wine, brandy or whatever they could find. It was a great job for a junior unless they suffered what was common to many, and allow the fumes to overcome them, waking up in jail.
There was even a tale of three dockers leaving the site one evening. When apprehended, they were found to be only two men. The third a pig carcass dressed up in a shabby suit and hat.
So whilst you may be doing the right thing in keeping the clientele of Battersea dogs and Cats home to a minimum whilst also employing a universal rule of survival of the fittest. Just remember that you are only one in a long line of many who see the Thames as an opportunity to think outside the box.
This week, I start on the final leg of this 10-month project to chronicle the history of the Olympic boroughs in song. In the first tale from Newham, the worst London disaster of the industrial age: the sinking of the SS Princess Alice.
“It was a beautiful autumn evening in September 1878 when James Read Bilton left his house in West Ham, Newham with his family, for a relaxing moonlit cruise aboard the SS Princess Alice…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Three Words.’
SS Princess Alice Disaster
I was never a big enough Tom Jones fan to warrant wasting an hour of my life watching a part-time entertainer from Cheltenham, attempt to recreate the great man whilst i’m being served food that make Kerry Katona’s Iceland buffets look like something I would feed to my dog.
I’m talking of course about pleasure cruises. Now some people rather like the idea of being sandwiched between Dutch retirees and Scouse hen parties for six weeks at a time, but the very idea of it makes my stomach turn.
It was a lovely autumn evening in September 1878 when Mr James Reed left his home in West Ham with his family, for a moonlit cruise up the Thames, aboard a paddle steamer named the S.S. Princess Alice.
They boarded the vessel and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the band before disembarking for a jaunt around Rosherville Gardens in Gravesend.A landmarked which has sadly failed in recent years to live up to its then advertising slogan of ‘a great place to spend the day’.
During the journey back towards the city, the S.S. Princess Alice approached another vessel travelling in the opposite direction.
This boat was named the Bywell Castle and was commanded by a Captain Harrison. Now unfortunately Harrison had forgotten the recent changes to maritime law and proceeded to pass the paddle steamer on the wrong side.
The crew of the SS Princess Alice tried frantically to readjust their course but it was too late. They were cut in half an sank within four minutes. On that day over 600 people died. Bodies were piled up by the saloon doors, many others managed to escape only to drown weighed down by the weight of their Sunday best clothing.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. At that exact point of the river Thames, 75 million tons of raw sewage had been dumped just one hour earlier. Not only was this the worst Maritime disaster in the history of the Thames river, it is also the only recorded account I can find, of a great body of people literally drowning to death in shit.
This week, the final tale from the borough of Waltham Forest & that of the mighty Walthamstow Avenue FC.
“In a few short weeks many will join together to enjoy watching others groan, grunt and sweat for their viewing pleasure. I’m not talking about the annual meet of the Rotherham Swingers Alliance; of course, I’m referring to the London 2012 Olympics. But one Borough who won’t be getting too carried away is Waltham Forest. Because they’ve seen it all before…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Blue.’
Walthamstow Avenue History
In June 2012 short weeks many joined together and enjoy the sight of others groan, grunt and sweat, solely for viewing pleasure. I’m not talking about the annual meeting of the Rotherham swingers alliance, of course I’m talking about the London 2012 Olympics. What better way to deal with the economic crisis rising unemployment and riots and the collapse of the euro and by throwing a party to the tune of billions of pounds? But one London Borough that won’t to be getting too carried away in the celebrations, is Waltham Forest, as they’ve seen it all before.
In Green Pond road, once stood the famous Walthamstow Avenue Football Club founded in 1900. Unlike their neighbours Thames Ironworks (West Ham United FC), their history is not one littered with silverware . A flea bitten mongrel running onto the pitch halftime is probably the closest they’ve ever come to wags, and the smell of fish wafting in from the terraces is probably more down to a lack of hygiene amongst the home support than a taste for prawns sandwiches.
Nevertheless the history of Walthamstow Ave F.C. is a proud one right up until their last game in 1988. Not just because Walthamstow Avenue are the first team to bring 100,000 people to Wembley Stadium for the 1952 FA Amateur Cup final, or because one of their games was the first ever televised. But because their ground in 1948 hosted Turkey versus China as part of the original London Olympics, and therefore make Waltham Forest the only East London Borough to host the Olympics twice.
This week, the tale of Epping Forest’s mysterious suicide pool .
“Scandinavia, famous the world over for beautiful blondes, the Northern lights and suicide. No one knows why but I’m sure Ikea has something to do with it. But this area doesn’t hold the monopoly on self-extermination. There’s also a place deep in the heart of Waltham Forest.”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘The Call Of Her Song.’
Epping Forest Suicide Pool
Scandinavia. Famous the world over for the Northern Lights, beautiful blondes and suicide. No one really knows exactly why this proclivity, but I can certainly confirm that after spending more than 15 minutes in IKEA I’m rather close to the edge. And that’s before I catch a glimpse of their sweating meatballs. Add to this experience a soundtrack by ABBA and well, you get the general point. But there’s also a hidden spot in deep in the London Borough of Waltham Forest closely connected with suicide.
300 years ago a young couple began a dangerous and passionate affair. Then cared little for the opinions of those around them who forbade the relationship, and used to meet up in Epping Forest by a beautiful forest pool.
One day the girl’s father followed his daughter and on discovering her intentions, beat her to death in an uncontrollable rage. Her lover on discovering her lifeless body was so torn, so distraught, that he killed himself on the very same spot.
From that moment onwards there were no birds, no wildlife, no fish and the pool turned dank, evil, malignant. It became the scene of mysterious tragedies as a course of which it was named The Suicide Pool. People known to have no inclination towards self-harm have been discovered lifeless at the unsettling spot and even held beneath its waters. These ‘accidents’ include a woman in 1887 and a servant girl Emma Morgan, discovered with her infant child.
In 1959 in an effort to quash all silly superstition, Essex countryside magazine ran a campaign to try and locate the evil pool, but its exact location has been long forgotten. It remains to this day, deep within the heart of Epping Forest.
This week, another Waltham Forest tale. That of Frederick Bremer, the original boy racer.
“London is one one of the richest cities in the world and with that wealth comes the power of the status symbol; the house we own, the clothes we wear and of course the car we drive. But for some a motor is more than an interest but an obsession.”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘The Breaking Dawn’.
Frederick Bremer – Car Inventor
London is one of the richest cities in the world. And with that wealth comes the power of the status symbol. Whether it’s the clothes you wear, the house you live in or the car you drive. I for one, am not that bothered with boys toys. Far be for me to lust after a probe or hot rod, lowered or otherwise. But for some, the motor vehicle fuels much more than just a passing interest. It can power an obsession.
16-year-old Fred moved into a house in Connaught Road Walthamstow, with his family and took great delight in discovering his garden included a shed, because Fred loved tinkering about. On occasion his friend Tom would pop over and between the two of them, they would wile the hours with whatever they found, from scrap metal to spare bicycle parts, setting about engineering various projects.
One day in 1896 Fred wheeled out his greatest project to date. And despite having no gearbox, no gears, no reverse and a top speed of 6 miles an hour, took it for a spin around Walthamstow Marshes. In doing so Frederick Bremer became the first person to build and drive a petrol car in Great Britain.
In this latest ‘Folk Olympics’ instalment, Ruairidh Anderson pens the song ‘Shed Leaves & Fading Steps’ as he begins the journey through the Borough of Waltham Forest with a trip to a forgotten plague pit.
“Many would like to claim they live in the city’s worst areas, but only the residents of Walthamstow can truly state that they reside in London’s original dumping ground.”
Plague Pits History
Londoners can be a pretty miserable, stand-offish bunch. Yes I know about the Blitz, digging each other out after yet another enemy onslaught. But trying to drag out discussion during your daily commute is like trying to wrestle the buffet table off John Prescott. Pretty damn near impossible. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hasty. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge. Perhaps over the centuries Londoners have had to share more than just polite discourse.
The great plague that arrive via the docks in 1664, killed off around 20% of London’s population. And despite following medical advice for staving off the disease by dangling a toad on a leather string, or balancing mercury in a walnut shell, graves was soon in short supply.
The official Government solution was to drive 6 miles north-east of Charing Cross and dump these decomposing corpses into a spot that no one really cared about about, thus creating a mass plague pit.
Today this area is one of London’s major centres. Its original relevance to the city itself is long forgotten but hints can still be found. A common alleyway leads to a graveyard of St Mary’s Church, part of the area that originally took in these bodies. Its name is ‘Vinegar Alley’. It received this title as vinegar was used by the survivors to dab around the graves in order to ward off the disease.
Whilst many can say they live in the city’s worst areas, only the residents of Walthamstow can lay claim to living in London’s original dumping ground.
This week, the final Hackney tale, that of William Lyttle — Hackney resident, retiree and notorious tunneller.
“Do you have issues with neighbours? Not that proven stepping stone between Australia obscurity and the dizzying heights of a pantomime in Woking. Your physical neighbours. The residents of Mortimor Street in Hackney certainly did. Though their complaints had a little more depth to them.”
Watch the video and enjoy the inspired song ‘Always The Same’.
The Hackney Moleman
Do you have an issue with neighbours? I’m not talking about that stepping stone between Australian obscurity and the dizzying heights of a pantomime in Woking. I’m talking about your physical neighbours. It seems that wherever I go I’m plagued with inconsiderate residents, shouting, screaming, banging away at all hours of the night telling me to keep my music down. But for the residents of Mortimer Road, their complaints had a little more… depth to them.
William Lyttle seemed like just another ordinary Hackney citizen. Living out there as a retired electrical engineer, just getting on with things. He was always digging or banging away on his property. All home improvements he would claim. Except his roof nearly fell in several times and his house was actually pretty shabby.
The neighbours just left him to get on with it, that was until the local bus nearly disappeared into a hole in 2001. You see Mr Lyttle had a little secret. He was digging tunnels in all directions; up to 60 feet long and 20 feet deep in parts.
Of course the council had a major problem with this and ordered him to stop. Which he did. Until 2006 when he decided to start up again. By this time Hackney council had had enough. They evicted him and dragged out 30 tons of debris including two cars and a boat.
But you see know one really knows why or where William Lyttle was digging. He would about it. “Oh I was aiming for local bank but by the time I got there they had changed it to a wine bar.”
Nicknamed the Hackney Moleman, William Lyttle was the inspiration behind a character in Robert Rankin’s ‘Brentford Trilogy’ and has influenced works by Iain Sinclair. But in one final mysterious twist and an effort to curtail his activities Hackney Council housed the Moleman in a flat located in the De Beauvoir estate. With nowhere left to dig, William Lyttle died within the year.
This week, the tale of Deerfoot — native American, athlete and holder of the 10 mile world record, set at a Hackney Racecourse.
“Lewis Bennet was born on a reservation in Buffalo, USA under the name Hutgosedoneh which literally means ‘he who peeks through doors’. Now it’s unclear as to whether or not he was a sex pest, but we do know that he was a full-blooded Seneca who could run really fast.”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘The Distance Between Us’.
Deerfoot – The Runner
Londoners have a long held a fascination for the extremes, the boundaries and limits of the human bodies abilities. Whether it’s a freakshow, strongman contests or the ever increasing dimensions of the chest of Katie Price chest, the Londoners eye is captured.
Over the years we’ve seen bare knuckle boxing, tugs of war, and the rise of a sport we are all familiar with; pedestrianism.
In 1857 man named James Baum owned a pub in on Wick street in Hackney, and behind he built a running track which went on to become one of the most important in the land.
Now in those days races were less about sports appreciation and more of an opportunity to have a bet. Someone might claim to be able to run 10 miles in two seconds with their pants on their head and another individual would challenge him to it. But as the years went on competition got stiffer. And the bar was raised considerably with the arrival of a man from way out of town.
Lewis Bennett was born hundreds of miles away on a reservation in Buffalo USA under the name Hut-goh-so-do-neh. A name that literally means ‘he who peeks through doors’. Now it’s unclear whether or not he was a sex pest but what we do know is that he was a full-blooded Seneca Indian, and he could run really fast. He competed all across the USA before arriving in Hackney at James Baum’s race course for his debut UK event, completing in a 6 mile race.
Now he wouldn’t do this in in the conventional way instead he competed in full Native American dress whooping and screaming in the Native American way, both fascinating and terrifying onlookers. He drew thousand people and his name ‘Deerfoot’ spread throughout the country.
King Edward the seventh came to watch as well as tens of thousands of people, including gentlemen and ladies for the very first time. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. As well as hero worship he attracted racial abuse and violence, sometimes getting involved in fights whilst competing.
Deerfoot set a world record at 10 miles at the very same Hackney racecourse his UK debut took him to, before dying of alcoholism in 1897.