Sunday, October 23, 2016

What lies underneath Bernards Heath, St Albans

The area of the Fontmell Close as it was in about 1900
I gave my talk "Brick Pits and other old holes" to the St Albans & District Local History Network Annual Conference yesterday, discribing the reasons people had duh holes in Bernards Heath  and the talk is now online at "HOLES"

Some of the slides have details supplementary notes and I had planned to add more today - but have picked up a cold which has gone to my chest (I have asthma) so I decided that plenty of fresh air was better for me than spending hours at the computer. I hope to add the missing notes over the next week or so.

Following a note from Roger I have looked at my records of William Bennett, who made bricks on the site now occupied by Fontmell Close. William also had brickworks at Harpenden and Hemel Hempstead - and there appears to have been a chalk mine on site at Harpenden and a deep well on site at Hemel Hempstead. As he had lime kilns on Bernards Heath je almost certainly had a similar chalk mine and/or deep well. Failure of the capping of a shaft into a significant chalk mine could easily explain the rather large hole in the road. I have added details to the relevant page of the online text of the talk.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Watford Poisoning Case

Watford Poisoning Case. 
 The Servant Confesses that She Put Belladonna in the Rice Pudding. 
The medical practitioners who were called by the police to attend to Mr. Henry Crawley, a Watford tradesman, and his family, who were poisoned on Friday last whilst having dinner, have decided that the poison used was belladonna. 
From inquiries made, it appears that this poison had been placed in a rice padding which had been prepared for dinner that day Mrs. Crawley. Just before it was placed on the table one of the children tasted it, and called the attention his mother to an extreme bitterness in the custard. Thinking that bitterness was due to absence of sugar, Mrs. Crawley went into the shop, to get some, and subsequently mixed it in the pudding. The family, all partook of the pudding, and were soon afterwards seized with violent pains, and showed symptoms of poisoning. Owing to the exertions of the doctors the family were soon oat of danger, but are still very weak. 
On Sunday the servant girl confessed to having put some belladonna, which was used by Mr. Crawley for his eyes, into the rice pudding. She was arrested at once and taken the Watford Police Station.
The bottle of belladonna was kept on a high shelf in Mr. Crawley’s bedroom. Only he and Mrs. Crawley and the servant knew where it was. The doctor had warned his patient as to the dangerous nature of the contents, and it is said that the servant was present at the time. After Friday’s dinner Mr. Crawley noticed that the contents of the bottle were materially reduced. 
The servant, whose name Leonora Ann Melinda Florence Robinson, and who is only fifteen, was charged at Watford Court on Monday. Formal evidence of ### having been given, accused was remanded.

Whenever the British Newspaper Archive announces that it has digitized an unusual newspaper I dive in to see what Hertfordshire news it contains. The above story comes from the Illustrated Police Budget of 18th February, 1899.

The 1899 Kelly's directory lists a Henry Crawley, furniture dealer, of 139 Queen Street, Watford.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

On Saturday I will be talking about a hole in the road !

The St Albans & District Local History Network Annual Conference is to be held in the Verulamium Museum next Saturday (22nd October) and and for your information the programme contains the following presentations:
Kate Harwood - Historic Town GardensRosemary Ross & Alison Macfarlane - Marianne Sherman's dance manuscripts: a glimpse into gentry life in Harpenden at the time of Jane AustenChris Reynolds - Brick Pits & Other Old Holes on Bernards HeathKate Morris - St Peter’s Grange or the Grange in St Peter’sSarah Keeling - How to Care For Small ArchivesJon Mein - 'St Albans: Life on the Home Front 1914 to 1918'Hertfordshire’s Hidden Heroines
If you haven't already booked a place I gather you are too late as all places are taken - but in case you are interested I will be posting my talk on the main web site on Sunday. However if you feel the County roads are in a bad condition, and want to know why a hole in the road is of particular interest look below the fold.

Who was "F S" and did he work in St Albans with "Karaktus"?

Sometimes when you are doing research you get carried away with a side issue - and my recent investigation into the identity of a post card artist signing himself  "F S" is a good example.

Card by Karaktus
Some years ago I discovered some unusual comic cards published around 1908  by the short-lived Crown Publishing Company of St Albans and drawn by "Karaktus." As a result I have so far identified almost all his designs (I have details and in most cases copies, of 28 out of 30 different cards) However I made no progress in discovering the identity of "Karaktus."

Card by "F S"
In my research I discovered that the Crown Publishing Company also produced cards in the "Crown Series" some of which were signed "F S" and it seemed likely "F S" and "Karaktus" knew each other (unless they  were the same artist using two different pen names,) Perhaps, I thought that if I could identify "F S" (who I now realized has some links with the St Albans company) it would lead me to "Karaktus".

"FS" card from USA
My first online searches showed that the majority of post card sellers made no attempt to identity "F S," while those who did came up with either "F Stone" (who signed a small number of cards published in about 1906) or "Fred Spurgin." (a very well known post card artist whose cards started to appear in about 1910, including many produced in the First World War). However the work of these two artists were stylistically quite different to that of "F S."  In addition "F S" cards involved many different named publishers (or none), and were not always signed - although in some cases the same card was issued, with  or without signature, by a different publisher. In many cases the cards were not used (so no postal date), and often the publisher information on the back was not immediately available.

What was going on? I started a comprehensive search over a number of months and have now identified well over 100 different images - and I am still no wiser as to who he is - except that based on style of artwork and subject treatment I think "F S" is unlikely to be "Fred Spurgin".

Unsigned card probably by "F S"
What I guess happened is the "F S" was a freelance artist, who started to produce comic postcards for the London View Company in 1906 - shortly before the company closed down. Following the closure of LVC he was probably involved in setting up the short lived Crown Publishing Company in St Albans in 1908-9. By about 1910 some of his cards were being published in the USA and the same images also turned up in the UK at about the same time - often with no publisher name..
For more Information see
A summary of "F S" post cards. (link from above)
Unsigned - by F S ?
If you have any information which would help me identify "F S" or "Karaktus" or the subjects, publishers and earliest postal dates of their cards I will be grateful. If there is sufficient interest when I have time I will add a catalogue of card series, individual card titles, publishers and dates, for the benefit of other collectors.

Note on images: Many of the images come directly from the web (particularly auction sites) and I have deliberately reduced the image size to thumbs 250 pixels wide. (If I already own a copy clicking a blue edged image will give a much larger image). For cards currently on sale you could start by searching ebay collectibles using:
postcard ("F S", "F Stone", "Fred Stone") (comic, artist, social) 
At the time of posting this search identified 22 "F S" cards with a typical price of about £4.00

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Work is about to start on the New Town Centre Museum at St Albans

It is just over a year since I posted pictures of the closure of the Victorian museum building in Hatfield Road (which had been made of bricks from my Great Grandfather's works on Bernards Heath. I am therefore delighted to see that St Albans Council have just posted information to say that the building work to prepare the museum's new home in the former Town Hall building will start in November.

The Alcoholic English Origins of "Tom and Jerry"

How did Tom and Jerry come to get their names?

When I give talks on the history of Hertfordshire newspapers I usually include a few snippets of old news which I hope will amuse the audience. I often use the following 1829 news item from just over the Buckinghamshire border which refers to the activities of a couple of drunks as a "Tom and Jerry" freak"

Francis Fisher and Thomas Collins appeared before the Aylesbury Magistrates court and the "Tom and Jerry freak" involved breaking windows  and forgetting "that the aforesaid breakage, which they undoubtedly thought sport, was likely to be regarded very differently by the party aggrieved."

Life in London
A quick investigation revealed that the book Life in London; or the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq, and his elegant Friend, Corinthian Tom, in their rambles through the Metropolis was written by Pierce Egan and was first published in parts starting in October 1820. It became very popular nationwide and within a year there was a Tom and Jerry play on the stage in London. 

But could there really be some link between the activities of  two 1820s fictional London toffs and antics of the cartoon cat and mouse duo created in America in 1940?  It was nice to speculate but I left the question unanswered until it surprisingly came up in conversation last week.
A "Tom & Jerry"

At a family gathering in a restaurant in London the bartender came especially over to the table to speak to my Canadian daughter-in-law. He had prepared her cocktail and wanted to say that in ten years this was the first time anyone had ordered a "Tom and Jerry." The ensuing conversation - and a subsequent check on the internet provided the missing link.

The key link would seen to be the fact that to publicize the book and play Egan introduced a "Tom and Jerry" drink which was an eggnog with a dash of brandy. Undoubtedly this helped to keep the memory of "Tom and Jerry" alive in the United States. The drink was recorded by famous American bartender "Professor" Jerry Thomas who wrote one of the earliest guides entitled How to Mix Drinks in 1862 and is reputed to have kept a pair of mice named Tom and Jerry. From then on a "Tom and Jerry" became a regular feature of the American Christmas celebrations - although the original Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn were less well remembered in England.

Between 1931 a series of short cartoons were made by Van Beuren of a pair of men, one big and the other small, which may in some way related back the original pair. However in 1940 there was the first release of a cartoon, by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera of the cat and mouse figures we all know today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

First World War: The Home Front at St Albans

Members of the St Albans Arc & Arc Society's Home Front Project Group have arranged for a pop up stall to be set up in St Albans Central Library on Wednesday 19 October. The aim is to give members of the public the opportunity to chat with the group about our new book, St Albans: Life on the Home Front, 1914-1918.

Herts at War - Salonika - Talk 19th October

The next "Herts at War" talk about the involvement of the Herts Regiment in the Fisrt World War is on "Salonika" on 19th October It is being given by Alan Wakefield who co-authored the book Under the Devil’s Eye: Britain’s Forgotten Army at Salonika 1915-1918 for Sutton Publishing. He is currently working with photographs at the Imperial War Museum.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

How "Genealogy in Hertordshire" is raising money for the mentally ill of Hertfordshire

Lucy (1964-1985)
The Genealogy in Hertfordshire web site is a very popular one which provides a free online service and raises money for the mentally ill in Hertfordshire in memory of my daughters Lucy and Belinda. The software and computer that support the site is showing its age. In planning the site's future it is appropriate to ask how effective it has been in raising money for charity and so I have been looking at the relevant statistics.
Belinda (1966-2001)
In the first nine month of 2016 the site had just over 1 million visits but 90% are the typical quick in/out visits, suggested by search engines like google, where many visitors sees the page and decides to move on in less than a minute.

I have decided that only serious visitors matter - and to be serious a visit needs to trigger at least 6 page requests and/or stay connected for more than 5 minutes. Over nine months nearly 27,000 visitors have made more than 6 page requests (about 100 a day) and about 4 visitors a day are sufficiently interested in exploring the site to make more than 100 page requests. In total over 100,000 visitors spent more than 5 minutes on the site and nearly 10,000 have spent more than a hour exploring the site. In addition (using a different statistical package) over 50,000 accesses to this Newletter blog average out at about 200 a day.
The Hertfordshire Mind Network
So with all this activity how successful has the site been at raising money for charity. In fact donations this year are far lower than previously and the total to date is only £111. Spread over the 100,000 serious visitors this works out at the very ungenerous 0.1 penny per visit. If one widens the calculation every £1 donation "costs" about 10 hours of my time (including support activities where the answer does not appear directly online) and at least £10 expenditure (from my pension) goes on computer resources, subscriptions, and ebay purchases to support the library of pictures and books that support the web site. With this level of collective dis-interest I wonder if it is worth continuing the effort.

Donate Here
If you have found this site and my help and advice useful please say thank you, and cheer me up,  by making an online donation to the Herts Mind Network to help the mentally ill of Hertfordshire in time for Christmas.