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.
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.
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.
In the second week of our third Olympic Borough, Hackney, songwriter Ruairidh Anderson tells the story of Hackney South MP and early 20th Century rogue, Horatio Bottomley.
“Over the years London has played host to many gangsters and criminals but one name you’re unlikely to find sandwiched between Jack the Ripper and Mad Frankie Fraser is the less terrifyingly named, Horatio Bottomley who sounds more like a sad rejected extra from the Muppet Show than an evil genius.”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Fruit Of A Wicked Plant’.
Over the years London has played host to many gangsters and criminals. But one name that you probably won’t find sandwiched between Jack the Ripper and Mad Frankie Fraser is the less terrifyingly named Horatio Bottomley.A name that sounds more like a sad rejected extra from the Muppet show than an evil genius.
Born in 1860 Horatio was placed into an orphanage at an early age. At 14 he was turfed out and left to fend for himself but landed a job as a shorthand legal writer for a company firm. It was during this time that he developed his real education; not in how to abide by the law but in how to circumvent it.
On leaving the firm he managed to raise funds to start his own publishing business, before leaving all the investors high and dry, escaping with all the money. But Bottomley managed to avoid criminal charges because what Horatio lacked in the name department, he more than made up for with his intellectual abilities and silver tongue.
His next project was an old classic; promised unlimited wealth from an area so far away that know one would ever actually visit the place. Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Between 1893 and 1903 he set up over 50 fraudulent mining companies and generated a personal fortune of over £3 million which he spent wisely on gambling and champagne.
Horatio’s next idea was a real winner. What better way to promote your illegal schemes than by creating a paper promoting them? And so ‘The Financial Times’ was born with Mr Bottomley as its chairman.
So what’s next for a conman with the gift of the gab and absolutely no scruples? Why politics of course! And so he entered Parliament representing South Hackney, before being thrown out in 1912 due to bankruptcy.
During the war years Horatio Bottomley made a packet with enlistment speeches, some other high-end scams and another stint in parliament, before the past caught up with him and was eventually sent to prison for seven years.
On his release from the clink, and weighing in at 17 stone, Bottomley was convinced that his future lay under the bright lights of the West End theatre. It was here that he ended his days telling jokes and stories at the Windmill Theatre inbetween the performances of strippers.
Horatio Bottomley eventually suffered a heart attack on stage in 1933 and died shortly afterwards. But he wasn’t the only one that was convinced that his future lay in showbiz. On clearing out an old West End theatre in the 1970’s, and old notebook was found that once belonged to playwright Noel Coward. Inside were notes from a play he had been planning on the life of Horatio Bottomley.
And so we arrive at our third Olympic Borough, Hackney, and the story of Mrs Basil Holmes, saviour of London’s graveyards.
“Many would have considered Mrs Basil Holmes a little odd when she decided to spend her leisure time wandering around in graveyards and cemeteries. But one thing she wasn’t was blind. She noticed what everyone else had failed to see…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Quietus Relieved’.
London Cemeteries – Mrs Basil Holmes
Surely everyone in life has a part to play. A role, a special task no matter how odd or strange the individual. Think of the Hunchback of Notre Dame or the ugly guy out of the Goonies or even out own ex-Prime Minister Mr Gordon Brown, who despite having all the personality, charisma and colouring of an old school sock that’s been left out overnight in the rain, was still very good at verbally abusing old ladies in Rochdale.
Many would have considered Mrs Basil Holmes to be a little strange when she decided to spend her spare time wandering around graveyards and cemeteries. Now in the 1880’s it was considered al little odd to choose to spend your time with dead bodies, but of course that was before the advent of reality TV and if you gave me the choice of between rubbing shoulders with corpses or watching a man in a tight T-shirt make fun of the mentally ill, I know which one I would choose.
But Mrs Basil Holmes had a mission; to take careful note of every gravestone, tombstone, and boundary of every graveyard in Hackney and beyond, including St John of Jerusalem in Lauriston Road. Now maybe she was a little off-kilter, maybe she was O.C.D. but one thing she wasn’t, was blind and she had noticed what others had failed to see. Greedy land developers were building on these plots illegally. With no regard for family history or consecrated ground.
Mrs. Holmes went on to publish a book listing 500 of these churchyards and in doing so, not only protected these plots but with them, a sizeable chunk of London’s history.
In the final week of our second Olympic Borough, Greenwich, Ruairidh Anderson tells the story of Frenchman and anarchist Martial Bourdin, who exploded in Greenwich Park one winter’s morning.
‘It was a fresh February day in 1894 when young Frenchman Martial Bourdin left his house in Fitzroy Sreet central London for a jaunt across town. Catching a tram from outside the houses of Parliament, he must have enjoyed a relatively uncrowded journey, kept company only by his head full of ideals and the package under his arm.’
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Time Will Tell’.
Martial Bourdin – Anarchist
It was a fresh February day in 1894 when young Frenchman Martial Bourdin left his house in Fitzroy Street, central London for a jaunt across town. He caught a horse-drawn tram from outside the Houses of Parliament and must have enjoyed a relatively uncrowded journey, kept company only by his headful of ideals and the packet under his arm.
As he approached his destination in Greenwich he called out to the driver to confirm his whereabouts and then sprung from his seat, setting off across Greenwich Park towards the Royal Observatory.
The cool winter air, the stark cry of a bird overhead, the promise of spring time whispering through the trees huddled around him, were probably only enjoyed subconsciously before he tripped… and blew himself to smithereens.
Bourdin was discovered by two school boys and his only words were “take me home.” Strangely placing more importance on enjoying the comforts of his homestead than finding the remains of his scattered body, he died but minutes later.
But what? Why? Who? All good questions but with unfortunately very few answers. What we do know is that Martial Bourdin was an anarchist during a time when they were wreaking havoc across Europe. And we can assume that he was on his way to blow up the Observatory. Just 45 feet further and he would’ve done just that. But you won’t find any commemoratives plaques or statue around that area marking the event, and certainly not during an Olympic year.
However, apart from the blackened singed spot and lingering smell, Martial Bourdin left a mark on London’s history forever. He inspired the Hitchcock film ‘Sabotage’ and the Joseph Conrad novel ‘The Secret Agent’, which in turn inspired the Unabomber who worked under the alias ‘Conrad’. But more than that Martial Bourdin goes down as the first international terrorist attack on the UK.
This week, the tale of General James Wolfe — soldier, hero and father of 13 illegitimate kids. You may have seen his statue at the top of Greenwich Hill.
“General James Wolfe was a battle-hardened war veteran, a fearless hero in everyone’s eyes. Well almost everyone.. his work colleauges started to wonder if there was actually something wrong with him…”
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘The Cause & The Cure’.
You won’t find courage on my list of credentials. Far be it from me to rush into a burning house or throw myself into a river. I find it hard enough to muster the backbone to complain about the quality of my mochaccino, which more often than not taste like it’s been coughed up from the bottom of the River Ganges.
But General James Wolfe was a real man’s man. Standing at 6 foot two – a giant in those days- with flaming red hair, he threw himself into combat at only 14 years of age seeing action from Flanders to the Scottish Highlands.
During this time Wolfe developed a reputation, not just as capable commander but as a man of courage, a true hero. He once refused to kill an enemy claiming his ‘honour was worth more than his commission’.
In 1759 he was dispatched to Quebec to lead the British assault and his heroics continued. I say heroics but his colleagues started to question this, suspecting instead a brain disorder, claiming he was mad. The King’s response? ‘Mad is he? Well I hope he’ll bite some of my other generals!’
James Wolfe caught three bullets in the chest that same year and died in Canada, becoming a national hero superseded only by Admiral Nelson some time later.
However on his death rumours started circulating of a thwarted adolescent love affair with a Greenwich neighbour named Elizabeth Lawson. An affair much against the wishes of his parents. When James Wolfe heard of her engagement to another it sent him nuts, as well is to numerous trips to London bawdy houses and into the arms of a homosexual relationship.He cared little for life thereafter.
But don’t feel too sorry for him. He’s still got a statue in his honour on Greenwich Hill and seeded 13 kids to an Essex hooker.
In week ten of our folk tales from the five Olympic London Boroughs, Ruairidh Anderson tells the story of Anne Boleyn, former Queen and former Greenwich resident.
“Of all the residents of Greenwich perhaps the most famous is King Henry VIII. Many happy days were spent in the area with his court and whichever wife he had on his arm at the time’
Watch the video and enjoy the London song inspired by this tale, ‘Maytime Flowers’.
Of all the one-time residents of Greenwich perhaps the most famous is King Henry VIII, his palace standing in Greenwich Park. Many happy times were spent in these areas with his court and which ever wife he had on his arm at the time. And of all the fine days, what better one than May Day? To go ‘A-Maying’ was a great event. Heading off to Shooters Hill, perhaps collecting flowers on the way and squeezing in a spot of jousting. Such a pleasant day in fact that it can only just be put in the shade by the death of Henry’s first wife Catherine, which was claimed by him and wife to be Anne Boleyn, to be a ‘joyful occasion’, until she herself miscarried on the day of the funeral.
Three years later and and Boleyn is hanging on by her fingernails. Henry has got his eye on another -Jane Seymour, and is itching for a way out. But it’s May 1536 and surely these things can wait? Whilst out in the sunshine enjoying the day Anne Boleyn drops a handkerchief in front of Sir Henry Norris, and there it was. Proof. She was obviously having an affair. And so while King Henry rode off in a huff, Anne was dragged to the tower and accused of adultery. Just to prove the King’s theory correct, five other poor souls were dragged out of nowhere and accused of improper relations with the Queen.
19 days later and Anne Boleyn was beheaded with Henry VIII tactfully marrying Jane Seymour .. the next day.
So who were these sorry cretins deemed so expendable, so worthless that the King had no hesitation in executing them? Oh just a couple of court hangers-on, a toilet cleaner, the Queens own brother, and the lowest of the low… Mark Smeaton, court instrumentalist. So you tell me – where’s the Musicians Union when you really need them?