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  • Secret Loughton by Michael Foley

    An old view of the High Road showing the original ornate fountain that was destroyed in a road accident. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    The Loughton Poisoner

    The nineteenth century was a time of rapid development in the use of drugs to treat illness. Unfortunately not all of the new discoveries were well tested or were even abused for profit. I came across a shocking example while writing Secret Loughton.

    Between October 1877 and March 1878 there were thirteen infant deaths in the Loughton area, as well as sixteen other non-fatal illnesses in young infants, due to skin disease or poisoning. This attracted the attention of The Medical Officer of Health.

    At the Epping Petty Sessions May 1878 Henry George King, wholesale chemist of Kingsland Road London was charged with the unlawful killing of Elizabeth Sears in February 1877. He was charged with unlawfully and fraudulently selling Violet Powders with arsenic which was used on the bodies of those of tender years to endanger their health. It was claimed that the powder contained between 28 and 51 % of arsenic which was cheaper than the starch that the powder also contained. King was told to stop selling the powder by the treasury but did not reply until visited by Sargent Roots from Scotland Yard.

    John Nottage a grocer of Loughton had bought a gross of the powders from King for one shilling and nine pence and had thought that it was the purest of powders for use in the nursery. Nottage sold the powders for one penny a packet. He had also sold the powders from other sources in the past with no complaints. When a Mr Deacon complained about the powder he stopped selling them and contacted Mr King. He asked for a warranty as to the powder’s safety and King took some of the packets for testing. Nottage heard no more until someone from the treasury arrived and took all the rest of the powders.

    Emma Grout a grocer of Baldwins Hill Loughton had known King as a chemist for some years; she bought three dozen packets of the powder from him. Mr Bell, the inspectors of nuisances, called on Mrs Grout after complaints from Mrs Martin, Mrs Scars and Mrs Mead. She wrote to King who again took some of the packets for testing.

    Another old view of the High Road with houses on the right where shops now line the street. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    Sarah Mead of Benjamin’s Mead Loughton had a child in January 1877 named William. She had bought the Violet powder at Grout’s shop which had King’s Name and address on it. She used it until March with no ill effects. She then purchased some more which made the child very red and sore where it was used. This then turned into blisters. She called Doctor Fowler and stopped using the powder and the child got better. She then gave the remaining powder to Mr Bell.

    Isabella Martin of Ash Green Loughton had a baby on 21 November 1877. She bought some Violet Powder from Grouts shop and after using it for nine days the baby died. Where she had applied the powder there were a number of black blisters, again Mr Bell took the powder away. Hannah Reid also of Ash Green had been Mrs Martin’s midwife and said that the baby had been healthy when born.

    Elizabeth Sears of Baldwin’s Hill Loughton had one child early in 1877. She used King’s Powder from Grouts and the baby died after a week. She had another baby in February 1878 and bought more of the powder and the second child died at a week old. The baby had been healthy at birth but had died in agony.

    The defendant King said that he was well known in Loughton and that his mother in law lived next door to one of the witnesses. He very much regretted that the powder may have been the cause of the deaths and said that he would have stopped selling it if he had known. The case was adjourned on a number of occasions and during the various hearings expert witnesses were called. Leadenhall Street examined some of King’s Violet Powders and found 25% of the powder consisted of arsenic.

    An old view of Church Hill, which runs between the High Road and the Goldings Hill. (Secret Loughton, Amberley Publishing)

    It seemed that arsenic was sold for ten shillings a ton which was much cheaper than the starch normally used in the powders. Doctor Du Pre from Westminster Hospital also examined the powders and found that some contained up to 51% of arsenic. It was also said that it was very easy to see the difference between arsenic and the normal starch used in the powder. It was also evident from press reports that the adulterated Violet Powder was on sale all over London, not just in Loughton. Some of this was due to King but not all. There were also cases of adulterated powder being sold in Manchester where two chemists were fined but in this case it was Sulphate of lime not arsenic that was used.

    King claimed during the trial that he bought the powder to make the Violet Powders from other chemists and that once he knew that they may be dangerous he tried to stop the sale of them. The trial was moved from Epping Assizes to Essex Assizes and eventually to the Old Bailey and King was placed on bail of £200. The trial eventually ended with King being found not guilty as it was found that the inclusion of arsenic was accidental.

    There were reports of further deaths due to adulterated Violet Powder as late as 1881. This was again due though to Sulphate of lime rather than arsenic. It does seem though that the problems caused by this practice may have caused isolated cases of harm and even death of infants in other areas. In Loughton however the effects were immense with so many cases of death and illness. The publicity over the Loughton cases did however alert other mothers who had lost children to the effects of the powder in other parts of London.

    Michael Foley's new book Secret Loughton is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Kendal by Andrew Graham Stables

    Secret Kendal 1 Brigsteer Road with Kendal sign and racecourse in background. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    As I wrote this blog I became aware it was exactly 196 years since the first horse race was held on Kendal Racecourse on 7th August 1821 and I further recognized in my previous book about Penrith, and my future book looking at Teesdale, they all feature redundant racecourses. To the west of Kendal, off Brigsteer Road and below Scout Scar, are the remnants of Kendal Racecourse. The site, originally called Fishers Plain was built by raising a subscription from wealthy locals and after that first race meeting in August, there followed a three day meeting every June.

    The stand out race was the Kendal Gold Cup with a substantial first prize of £50 and the first ever winner was called Miss Syntax, owned by Lord Queensberry.  The last meeting of this first spell was held in 1834 with further meetings held from 1879–82 and offered both ‘flat’ and ‘hurdle’ races over 2 miles. It was also used for different events like the Kendal Steeple Chase, and some racing was held during the First World War, but it was generally abandoned thereafter.

    Secret Kendal 2 Kendal racecourse. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Other uses have included practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry and even the establishment of a small golf course for a short time. Still clearly visible as a raised flat platform, the site can be accessed from a public footpath and other remnants include entrance gates, raised banks for racegoers to stand and rubble from old buildings.

    Penrith racecourse was located off Salkeld Road to the north of the town and was in use from the 1770’s until 1847. The principle races were the Penrith Town Plate, the Cavalry Cup and the Inglewood Hunt 5 Guineas Sweepstake until it was used as practice ground for the Kendal/Westmorland Yeomanry. Eventually in 1890 the course was converted into a golf course with the old stand converted to a clubhouse.

     

     

    Secret Kendal 3 The racecourse and public access. (Secret Kendal, Amberley Publishing)

    Finally, the racecourse celebrated as the greatest course in the north of England was located at Gatherley Moor, just off the A66 and was regarded as the Newmarket of the north with royalty buying horses and racing in this famous field. Races were held here from at least the 15th century and the area was well renowned for breeding from the local stud farms. George III is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, 'Oh for a gasp of Gatherley air!' with the moor being on his usual route to or from Scotland. Gatherley Moor remained a renowned hunting ground and race course until the 1816 enclosure act. The area is now cultivated land with little evidence of its illustrious past.

    9781445668048

    Andrew Graham Stables' book Secret Kendal is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Barry Island by Mark and Jonathan Lambert

    Secret Barry Island 1 Late medieval pilgram's ampulla found near Barry. (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    Barry Island - a renowned holiday destination for generations of working class tourists from the late nineteenth century until the present day; they not only came down from the South Wales coalfields but from further away places such as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester as well as beyond. With the notion of a holiday becoming the norm for the masses, we see Barry Island’s sweeping sandy beach, Whitmore Bay, in times-gone-by with not an inch of sand visible for the sheer number of people present during the summer months. During the 1960s, a Butlin’s holiday camp was constructed on Nell’s Point, further adding to Barry Island’s fame and popularity as a tourist destination. Despite Barry Island being renowned as a place of leisure, its history from its tourism era is very well known. Secret Barry Island offers something a bit different and answers a need for a book with more substance, one which is concerned with a more distant and elusive history.

    The authors of Secret Barry Island both graduated from Cardiff University after studying archaeology, and have been present on many interesting excavations throughout South Wales. During the course of many years research into our locality, to our surprise, we noticed that there was not one single publication dedicated alone to the history of Barry Island, although there was certainly scope for such a work – a vision was formed. Secret Barry Island, which was originally going to be called ‘Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story’, is the first history book to have been written which deals exclusively with Barry Island and began life as a series of articles that were later adapted for a book format.

    Secret Barry Island 2 Roman key handle found in the Barry area. (c. Portable Antiquities Scheme Wales, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    The choice of Barry Island for a first book was a mixture of a personal connection to the place and also a need for such a book considering how popular this location still is as a place of leisure. It may come as a surprise for some, but we have both been asked on more than one occasion by residents of Barry and beyond…. “Did it [Barry Island] used to be an island then?”

    Previous to our book, one could gain snippets of information about the history of Barry Island in various old and out of print publications, but nothing particularly detailed or anything which formed anything close to a cohesive whole. They all seemed to lack something whether it be detail, periods from Barry Island’s past which were omitted, or were written in a dated style.

    We are also fortunate that during the formative years of the island’s development during the late nineteenth century, antiquarian archaeologists such as John Storrie and John Romilly Allen (not related to Barry Island’s late nineteenth century owner Lord John Romilly) took an active interest in the extant remains and recorded what they could for posterity. A good deal of the nineteenth century archaeological material we used was hidden away in various old and musty Victorian journals, and a part of the way in which we approached the book was to soften the primary archaeological material and ‘humanise’ it for a general audience. If anyone has ever read their way through a typical dry archaeological site report, they will understand the need to do this. We wanted to form a narrative which flowed, was free from jargon but most importantly, told a story.

    Secret Barry Island 3 The remains of the old port of Barry (c. Author's collection, Secret Barry Island, Amberley Publishing)

    With the clear aim of writing the book in a manner which is accessible yet informative, we take the reader deep into the long distant past of Barry Island to elucidate elements to Barry Island’s history that are genuinely not very well known. Secret Barry Island covers a wide range of periods and has something for everyone, from its enigmatic Bronze Age cemetery, its renowned status as a place of medieval pilgrimage through to its post - medieval lonely isolation. It also has its place in Welsh history as a part of the South Wales coast smuggler’s network. The book finally explores Barry Island’s successful reinvention as a place of recreation; one way or another, whether it was in the high medieval period of pilgrimage or the twentieth century, Barry Island has always attracted crowds of people!

    Overall we are very pleased with the end product, a work that we feel is very well balanced and takes into account all of the major themes of the past – times of this popular resort.  We hope that the people who buy the book enjoy reading about and discovering the history of Barry Island as much as the authors have enjoyed writing this book.

    9781445671918

    Mark and Jonathan Lambert's new book Secret Barry Island is available for purchase now.

  • Secret High Wycombe by Eddie Brazil

    One of the pleasures of writing local history is, of course, the research. Yet, even the hardest bitten historian who thinks he has uncovered all that his local area can conceal will sometimes unearth gems and nuggets of the past which will pleasantly raise the eyebrows and bring about a little surprised shake of the head. Such as it was for myself during the writing of my latest book for Amberley Secret High Wycombe.

    Anglophile American writer, Bill Bryson, once observed that it was impossible to go no more than a mile in Britain without coming across something interesting, fascinating and worthy of losing an hour for. He could well have been describing my own home turf of south Buckinghamshire.

    LE MAJOR DE HAVILLAND VERS 1925 Geoffrey de Haviland, designer of the Mosquito. (Secret High Wycombe, Amberley Publishing)

    For example, within a five mile radius of where I am writing there can be found:- The site of a Roman villa, three Iron Age hill forts, the Hell fire caves, the ruins of an 11th century Leper hospital, a 12th century castle which was besieged during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda. The Village which gave its name to the American state of Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the military academy which was later moved to Sandhurst, the former home of Victorian statesman, Benjamin Disralli. The home of Geoffrey de Haviland, designer of the Mosquito fighter bomber, the headquarters of Bomber command, where the plan to destroy the Ruhr dams was conceived. And the private school where American band leader, Glen Miller performed his last concert.

    If one expanded the area by another ten miles it would include the house where Mary Shelly wrote part of her novel, Frankenstein. The Quaker meeting house which was constructed from timbers taken from the Pilgrims Fathers ship, Mayflower. And the stately home where the exiled Bourbon King Louis XV111, accepted the crown of the restored throne of France.

    Yet, it is perhaps those seemingly insignificant people, places and historical associations which we probably pass by everyday without giving a second thought which prove to be the most poignant and arresting. Sadly, many of these forgotten secret pieces of local history are to be found in churchyards dotted across the country. And it would seem appropriate that the peace and tranquillity of a remote graveyard bathed in summer sunshine and lulled by the sound of birdsong, is the most fitting backdrop to such history.

    Just a mile from my home in the churchyard of St Margaret’s, in the village of Tyler’s Green, there is the last resting place of Arthur Whitten Brown. In June, 1919, together with his co- pilot, John Alcock, he made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. They also carried some mail which made it the first transatlantic air mail flight. Both were knighted by King George V.

    Secret High Wycombe 2 Sir William Penn, founder of the state of Pennsylvania and city of Philadelphia. (Secret High Wycombe, Amberley Publishing)

    A short distance from Tyler’s Green, in the churchyard of All Saints, Penn one can find, not only, the graves of the family of William Penn; he of Pennsylvania fame, but also the last resting place of 1950s, Soviet spy, Donald MacLean, and the grave of David Blakeley. He was murdered outside a London pub in 1953 by Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Ellis lies in an unmarked grave at nearby Amersham.

    Perhaps the most poignant churchyard grave relates to a story which is the most heartfelt.

    Lady Georgiana Curzon, was the eldest daughter of the 5th Earl Howe, who lived at Penn House in the village of Penn Street just outside High Wycombe. In 1934, just 24, she met Roger Bushell, a dashing RAF pilot who’s Spitfire was shot down in France in 1940. He escaped from three prisoner of war camps before being recaptured and, while in hiding sent vital information back to Britain through coded letters, including information about the development of V-bomb rockets.

    They fell deeply in love. However, her father, unimpressed by Bushell's social standing did not approve. Consequently, Georgiana was forced to marry the son of a motor racing friend of Earl Howe.

    Despite losing her, Roger Bushell told other prisoners that "Georgie" was his true love whom he would one day marry. Sadly, they were never to meet again. Bushell was the mastermind behind the daring, Tom, Dick and Harry Tunnels escape from the POW camp, Sagan, in Poland. Tragically he was captured, and along with 50 other escapees, murdered by the Gestapo in 1944. The story was told in the film, The Great Escape, in which Richard Attenborough played the part of Bushell.

    Secret High Wycombe 3 Penn parish church. (Secret High Wycombe, Amberley Publishing)

    Lady Georgina could never accept that Bushell was dead. Every year for years she placed an, In Memoriam, in The Times on his birthday ending with the words "Love is Immortal" and signed "Georgie". She ended her days in a home for the mentally ill and on her gravestone in Holy Trinity, Penn Street are two lines of poetry by Tennyson:

    "Oh for the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still."

    Stories and histories such as these are the strength of Amberley’s Secret series. It is a strength which is ironic. For it is secret history for those who wouldn’t necessary have the time or inclination to delve in to an area’s past, let alone the wider national picture.

    It is history in easily digested bite size chunks. They are books which give the reader a new perspective on their communities, opening eyes and minds to the triumphs, achievements and calamities of their home turf. Perhaps it also instils in one a sense of civic pride.

    “I come from the town where this happened”, could be the cry.

    And yet, stories, events and histories such as these abound throughout our country. What we need is a new series, The secret county guides. There are thousands of readers waiting to discover their shire.

    9781445665306

    Eddie Brazil's new book Secret High Wycombe is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Portsmouth by Steve Wallis

    I like Portsmouth. I find it a very varied city with lots of character and places to find out about. I admit that I have never lived there, but when I wrote a book on Portsmouth before, I enjoyed the exploring most of all.

    Portsmouth Naval Memorial The Portsmouth Naval Memorial (c.Secret Portsmouth, Amberley Publishing)

    So when Amberley asked if I would like to write a book on ‘Secret Portsmouth’ it seemed a good opportunity to find out more about the city and its history. And indeed that’s how it turned out – let me give you some examples of what caught my attention.

    First of all, something that most people from outside the area find surprising is that Portsmouth is actually an island city. This is only thanks to a narrow channel that separates Portsea Island on which it sits from the mainland – a channel that you can easily travel across without noticing it. But before the modern rail and road bridges, the separation was more obvious. This heightened the way that Portsmouth naturally looked to the sea, and a great deal of its history is bound up with naval and other maritime matters.

    For instance, this was the place from which Admiral Nelson left Britain on the voyage that led to his death at the Battle of Trafalgar, while on the Esplanade there is a collection of memorials set up by returning ships’ crews in the 19th century to commemorate their oversea activities and their lost comrades.

    Southsea Castle Southsea Castle (c.Secret Portsmouth, Amberley Publishing)

    As the home port of the British navy, the place is full of fortifications that defended the town and its dockyards. And it wasn’t just attacks from the sea that was a problem – a series of 19th redbrick forts on the hill above the island were often mocked because their guns pointed away from the sea, but there was a real danger that an enemy force might land elsewhere along the coast and then attack the port from inland.

    Different areas of the city have vastly different characters: - there is the historic town that is now called Old Portsmouth, Spice Island that was outside the town’s walls and whose many pubs illustrate the freedom it had from the regulations of the town, the holiday resort of Southsea with lots of open spaces and the villages and hamlets engulfed by the expanding city where you can sometimes get a glimpse of what they were like when set in open countryside.

     

    Portsmouth Point The viewing area at Portsmouth Point (c.Secret Portsmouth, Amberley Publishing)

    Then there are the unusual places dotted around the city. Places like the road out to the Hayling Island ferry, looking like a small and isolated coastal village but down a road lined with concrete blocks left over from the Second World War. Or the little church at Wymering, hidden among the mainland suburbs, where relatives of Jane Austen are buried.

    I was also fascinated by how Portsmouth had expanded across Portsea and onto the mainland. Marshes were drained and made into parks and there was proper planning that made sure the new suburbs had the facilities they needed – pubs, shops, sports pitches and cemeteries. Among the many rows of 19th and early 20th century terraced houses there are lots of interesting features. Birthplaces of famous people, a church with the font in which Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Charles Dickens were both christened and a ‘Station Road’ that never had a railway station to lead to. And always the military connections – those famous people often had a father in the navy!

    And the stories of peoples’ lives really make a place. Like the riot caused when the locals were denied their rights to walk for free along one of the piers and part of the Esplanade that became known as the ‘Battle of Southsea’, or the doctor, one Arthur Conan Doyle, who didn’t have too many patients so used his spare time to write stories, leading to the creation of Sherlock Holmes.

    In fact, I enjoyed writing this book on Portsmouth so much, I think I might write another!

    9781445655161

    Steve Wallis' new book Secret Portsmouth is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Aberdeen by Lorna Corall Dey

    Secret Aberdeen 1 Suffragette Helen Fraser campaigning in the 1908 Kincardineshire by-election (courtesy of Aberdeenshire Libraries)

    Secret Aberdeen belongs to Amberley Publishing's series on UK towns and cities which tantalises readers with some rare historical delicacies.

    I did not compile the information for this book under any misconception I was revealing actual secrets but with the intention of bringing to the forefront of public attention people and incidents long forgotten which deserve a higher profile in the story of this city.

    The story of Aberdeen could be told in innumerable ways for its history stretches back so far and episodes from its past are so many and varied that interpreting them is surely infinite. It is the oldest corporation in Scotland; its Royal Charter was bestowed by King William the Lion in the twelfth century and it became a thriving trading port with the Continent but what you will find in Secret Aberdeen are snapshots of more recent chapters of the city's life which reflect something of the character of its people and the influence it has had on the wider world since the 18th century.

    There are no intentional links between the sections of the book but more observant readers will detect them for in a small city there are inevitable confluences of occurrences and personalities.

    Secret Aberdeen 3 Jopp, wine and spirit merchants. James Jopp was the Lord Provost who presented Dr Johnson with the freedom of the town in August 1773. (Secret Aberdeen)

    William Cadenhead's The Book of Bon-Accord is a wonderful resource for all sorts of nuggets that are available for anyone interested in history but for today's reader his language can be a barrier and so all the better for translation into a more familiar idiom. What he has to say about something as simple as supplying a city with water became the starting point in our story before it veered into howffs and bars, long gone and faded from public memory, that were once lively and raucous escapes from gruelling work and bleak, pitiful homes for a few short hours – where fortunes were made and lost and drinking tastes changed by century from French wines to whisky, the juice o' the barley. Hard drinking and dry humour; the timberman who drowned while negotiating his dangerous cargo down river from the forests of Deeside to the consternation of the local publican who claimed he'd never known him pass that way without dropping in for a drink.

    We find out that the oil and gas capital of Europe enjoyed an earlier gas boom (not always terribly safe), in the nineteenth century, which began privately in a small way before being bought by the council and finally nationalised as part of British Gas. Then there was Stinky Miller's, notorious in Aberdeen, it was a very successful off-shoot of Aberdeen's town gas.

    There is a chapter which picks out some of the many industries in Aberdeen which contributed specialist machinery and expertise to the British Empire including ones involved in the development of processing chocolate and coffee, which you might think about while you nibble on that chocolate bar and sip on your latte. If Aberdeen does not strike you as having been an industrial town then think again, its influence has been immense. 'Most dams start in Aberdeen' claimed an advertisement for the engineering company J. M. Henderson and that sentiment might have applied to so much more.

    Secret Aberdeen 4 Little-known lithograph of a demostration on the Boradhill in 1832 (courtesy of Aberdeen City Libraries)

    Of all the 100 illustrations in the book, selected for their rarity, that which excited me most was one I had never come across before, a coloured lithograph of a pro-reform demonstration on the eve of the Great Reform Act of 1832, on the Broad Hill at Aberdeen beach. It is not only a fine illustration but an important record of an event little-known and I am glad to have managed to include it in a section on popular agitation which takes in Chartism, the Suffragette movement as well as featuring the first publication of documents relating to the Aberdeen Parliament.

    Dr Mary Esslemont, Professor Dugald Baird and Lord John Boyd Orr lived, worked and contributed enormously to health in Aberdeen, Scotland, Britain and across the world. Aberdeen was at the forefront of women's and children's health provision and in the expansion of family planning services offering free contraception and advice and it was in Aberdeen that life-saving cervical smear tests began. Aberdeen was also where experiments were carried out providing free school milk to young impoverished children before being taken up by the rest of the UK – one of the earliest influences of John Boyd Orr whose input into the wartime diet resulted in a population healthier at the end of the war than at the start. He went on to become the first Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and a major figure in the battle to alleviate world hunger.

    There is no space to write about the heroes who risked their lives to save the ancient Mither Kirk with its largest carillon of bells in Europe when fire broke out in 1874 – but it's all in Secret Aberdeen.

    9781445649146

    Lorna Corall Dey's new book Secret Aberdeen is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Ipswich: Three Remarkable Women by Susan Gardiner

    Writing a book with the title Secret Ipswich meant that I had to avoid the inclusion of too many famous people from the town so that I could concentrate on the more obscure people and places that are also part of its history. Ipswich's connections with Thomas Wolsey, Lord Nelson and two England football managers, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson, are very well known, for example. Similarly, the Cobbold family, brewers, employers, local politicians and members of Parliament, are all too familiar as figures of local history to be included in a book about Ipswich's hidden history.

    There are a few figures in the history of the Cobbold family, however, who are not as widely known as they should be. They were all women who married into the Cobbold family, and they were all in their own way remarkable. The first, Elizabeth Knipe Cobbold (1767-1824) has become better known in recent years but is still not widely appreciated. Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1867-1963) was a traveller, who was the first British-born woman to convert to Islam and Lady Blanche Cobbold (1898-1987) was the first woman president of a league football club.

    ipswich pic 1 Memorial to Elizabeth Cobbold in St Mary-le-Tower

    I have been a little unfair to Elizabeth Cobbold in Secret Ipswich, comparing her to the fictional Mrs. Leo Hunter in Dickens' Pickwick Papers. Although Charles Dickens could not have known Elizabeth, I'm convinced that this hilarious character was, at least in part, based on her. Elizabeth was a polymath, and genuinely talented but was perhaps not the greatest poet of her age and Mrs. Leo Hunter's execrable Ode to an Expiring Frog, as well as her role as a political wife, holding fête champetres in the extensive grounds of her mansion are all too reminiscent of Cobbold. There was a great deal more to Elizabeth Cobbold than this, however. John Cobbold was her second husband, her first having died only six months after they had married. Cobbold was also widowed with 14 children from his first marriage. Elizabeth bore him seven more. Despite all her other duties, she found time to write novels and poetry, and whatever their quality, they were well regarded in her time. She was also a knowledgeable natural historian and a species of shellfish, Acila Cobboldiae, was named after her.

    In fact, Elizabeth's name keeps cropping up in my book, despite my wish to exclude better known Ipswich residents, because as well as producing her own literary works, she was a patron of the arts and attempted to help several writers, particularly those from labouring-class backgrounds. In 1803, she edited and assisted in the publication of poems by Ann Candler, who lived in the Tattingstone workhouse, enabling her to end her days in her own home with some dignity. Cobbold also encouraged Mary Ann Goward, the daughter of a brazier and maker of tin goods in Ipswich, to go on to the stage. Goward, who married fellow actor, Robert Keeley, went on to be one of the most important figures in nineteenth-century theatrical life.

    Lady Evelyn Cobbold was the daughter of the 7th Earl of Dunmore, and in many ways led the traditional life of a Scottish aristocrat, with the notable exception that she followed the Islamic faith from an early age. She was born in Edinburgh but spent much of her childhood in Egypt, where she began a lifelong passion for the Arabic language and the Islamic faith. She married John Dupuis Cobbold in Cairo in 1891, but found it difficult to settle at his home in Holywells Park, Ipswich and they formally separated in 1922. A wealthy woman in her own right, she continued to live in Scotland, where her interests included stag hunting, but also travelled in the Middle East. Her adoption of Islam and, no doubt, the fact that she was a woman, gave her access to many things that other travellers were denied, and she was able to write about the hidden lives of women in Islamic culture with first-hand knowledge. She was the first British woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Haj, and published a book about this experience, Pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1934. An intrepid individual she was canoeing - and apparently coming to the rescue of other canoeists - in her eighties.

    Lady Evelyn Murray Zainab Cobbold died in 1963 and was buried on her estate at Glencarron in Wester Ross. At her funeral, a piper played MacCrimmon's Lament and verses from the Qu'ran were recited by the Imam of Woking mosque.

    A third formidable woman to marry into the Cobbold family was Lady Blanche Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and sister-in-law to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. She married John Cobbold, of the brewing family, who was known as Captain Ivan Cobbold. His great achievement, as far as many Ipswich people are concerned was to be a driving force behind the success of Ipswich Town Football Club in the late 1930s, enabling the club to become professional and join the football league. He was killed in an air raid in 1944 but had passed his enthusiasm for football on to Lady Blanche who became honorary president of the club in 1964. Her enthusiasm saw her fly to the away leg of the UEFA Cup Final against AZ Alkmaar at the Olympisch Stadion, Amsterdam, in 1981, where she reportedly stood on the terraces to watch her team win the trophy.

    There are two particularly well known stories about Lady Blanche Cobbold. One is that when she met Adolf Hitler in the 1930s - probably through her relations by marriage the notorious, Nazi-supporting Mitford sisters - she was distinctly unimpressed. Much later, at the 1978 FA Cup final, when Ipswich beat Arsenal, she turned down the offer of meeting Margaret Thatcher saying "Good God, I'd much rather have another gin and tonic." This was no rebuttal of Thatcher's politics, however, but - as with Hitler - a manifestation of the snobbery of her aristocratic background directed towards a grocer's daughter.

    It could be argued that Thatcher was thoroughly revenged on the Cobbolds though. It was her government that brought through legislation to end breweries' monopolies on tied public houses, of which the Tolly Cobbold brewery had many, thus arguably starting the decline that ended with the sale of the firm and its eventual closure.

    9781445644943

    Susan Gardiner's new book Secret Ipswich is available for purchase now.

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