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A Bit Raunchy

Having travelled Britain a fair bit and with an interest in both world wars, this has to be the raunchiest memorial to the heroes lost I’ve seen. It is unexpectedly sensual but when has Wales conformed within the realms of tradition?


View of Aberystwyth War Memorial through an arched window of 

the remains of the Norman Castle

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Embedded in the grounds of what was once a Norman castle—its remains available to wander around—this buxom naked beauty in bronze has ample thigh and full pert breasts. She emerges from a thicket, facing the sea front at Aberystwyth and endures every westerly gale. She is the lower ornament of the memorial.

Rising from her octagonal plinth is a tapered shaft of stone and topping this is a pretty angel adorning a billowing dress and elegant wings who is appearing to throw a laurel wreath onto the head of her companion below.

The angel is the Winged Victory and the nude below her Humanity emerging from the Horrors of War. The memorial is the work of Italian sculptor Mario Rutelli, and was erected fairly long after the close of war, in 1923. The names of both WWI and WWII dead appear on the tablets below.

Lest We Forget. 


By Donna Siggers





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Operation Black Buck

Before celebrating the end of the Falklands War, and its anniversary, and also sharing our experience this weekend of one of the epic machines of war that partook in operations I’d like to share a brief background of why the war occurred.

The Argentines built a Fort on East Falkland that was destroyed by the USS Lexington in 1832 in relation for the seizure of US seal ships in the area. In 1833, a British force expelled the remaining Argentine officials and began a military occupation. Tension intensified on 19th March 1982 when a group of Argentine scrap metal merchants (infiltrated by Argentine Marines) raises the Argentine flag at South Georgia Island. This act would later be identified as the first offensive action in the war. Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister at this time wasn’t having any of this and raised her army in defence.

Ships and aircraft were sent out to defend the Falklands.

During the 1982 Falklands War, Operations Black Buck one through to seven were a series of extremely long-range ground attack missions by Royal Air Force (RAF) Vulcan bombers of the RAF Waddington Wing of which only five missions were completed. The objective of these missions was to attack Port Stanley Airport and its associated defences. These raids, at almost 6,600 nautical miles were the longest-ranged bombing raids in history at that time. Staged from Ascension Island close to the Equator, the Vulcan wasn’t designed for pinpoint accuracy bombing. Instead it was designed for the cold war (and for that it was ahead of its time in technology terms). The crew of five relied on a series of eleven refuelling planes in order for theme to reach their destination and to open the bomb hatch, a series of ropes and bicycle chains to unload their bombs. It was pot-luck if they hit their target—or not.

The photos below are of one of the remaining Vulcans. They are no longer allowed to take to the skies but this one can still taxi at Southend-on-Sea Airport where it is kept and maintained. The photograph of the man between Dave and I is of air electronics officer Flt Lt Hugh Prior who was on the first and seventh Black Buck mission. It was a pleasure to both meet and listen to Flt Lt Prior speak about the first Black Buck mission, the complexities involved in why their plane went rather than the selected one initially and indeed the decisions that had to be made along the way. They were spotted on enemy radar and shot at. They hit the target—the runway—with just one bomb. Releasing them just twenty seconds later and their efforts would have been a failed mission. Brave men. The crew on that mission with Ft Lt Hugh Prior were: pilot Flt Lt Martin Withers, co-pilot Flt Lt Peter Taylor, navigator radar Flt Lt Bob Wright and navigator plotter Ft Lt Gordon Graham.

My respect to all heroes of the Falklands War 19th March - 14 June 1982.


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by Donna Siggers

London’s Gritty Extortion

London is littered with prisons past, reminders of which remain if you know where to seek them among today’s modern city.

Just off Borough High Street, along Angel Place there’s an alleyway with a large brick wall on your right, the last remaining vestige of Marshalsea prison.

Open between 1373 and 1842 in Southwark, south of the River Thames. Marshalsea housed med accused of crimes at sea, political figures charged with sedition (speech inciting people to rebel against authority of a state or monarch) and the poorest of London’s debtors.

England’s prisons were private at this time and operated at a profit. This one looked like an Oxbridge college that functioned as an extortion racket. Debtors affording the 18th century prison fees enjoyed access to a shop, restaurant and a bar and crucially were allowed out during the daytime, allowing time to earn money for their creditors.

Those not affording privileges were crammed into one of nine small rooms with dozens of others, for many years, usually for modest debts which accumulated as prison fees went unpaid.

The poor faced starvation. Those that crossed their jailers were tortured.

Charles Dickens’ father was sent to Marshalsea when the future author was just twelve years old for his debt to a Baker. This is portrayed in his works, through various characters. An example is Amy Dorrit, whose father was sent to Marshalsea with such complex debt they couldn’t work out how to get him free.

A library now stands on the site, all that remains is a long brick wall that marked it southern boundary.


By Donna Siggers

Having "My Say" to help save "The Final Say"

After reading Carlton’s book “The Final Say” I wasn’t left feeling he’d threatened national security, territorial integrity, or public safety. Instead he spoke of his life and perspectives on matters that affected it. With regards to health matters, he spoke of his own family for all of this is his right. It’s also the right of a man to convey a story—his version of events—the way they unfolded for him and for this to happen with the help of a co-author.

This right, the right to tell your story through your co-author—and in this case it’s Jason Allday—is ruffling some feathers. Let’s face facts, books like this often do. Freedom of speech coming at a price when someone doesn’t want you to have a voice. Protection of health or morals, and the protection of the reputation of others are the final aspects of the Human Rights Act 1998 that allow us freedom of speech—the same act that allows others their say on the same subject in question.

Whatever your views on how anyone has lived out their past, this is my view… books such as Carlton’s are a valuable source of social history without which a large chunk of society is lost if events are not recorded. Within the pages we learn of social change, injustice, triumph, grief, and all manner of concepts that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the foresight it takes in putting pen to page. That takes courage.

An event that took place in 1995 is of course at the epicentre of yet more controversy, something that surely needs placing to rest or investing by an independent police force team if the first haven’t done the investigation justice. Not an investigation that’s needed to be carried by an author I’ll not name here—nor should he be silencing anyone who voices differing perceptions to his own. Perceptions that differ to the official investigations and to his original views I might add.

I’m of course talking about the Rettendon murders—also branded the Range Rover killings and the Essex Boy murders or however else it may have been phrased over the years. Carlton, my apologies for dragging this up but some of my readers will not know the history of this case:

Three friends, Tony Tucker, Patrick Tate and Craig Rolfe were shot, execution style in a gateway along Workhouse Lane in Rettendon in Essex on 6th December 1995. This had followed the death of a young girl from Latchingdon (also in Essex and not far from this scene) after taking ecstasy. Leah Betts fell into a coma, her ex-police officer father shared photographs of her across the news and other media which touched the hearts of the nation. At the first inquest for Leah’s death it was found that due to the amount of water she had consumed she’d slipped into a coma. Subsequently, at a further inquest it was concluded that Leah would have survived either the water consumption or the ecstasy alone but not the combination. She died on 17th November, less than a month before the three friends were found dead in the Range Rover.

Rumours soured through the press and it wasn’t long before these two events were linked. It was at this time (and not before) that the “Essex Boys” gained their notorious name for this wasn’t how they were known when they were alive.

 What we must ask is why should silence be an option? What could possibly have been said in “The Final Say” that’s so upsetting to one person to elicit legal action against Jason Allday—not the person who was friends with one of the murdered men, but the man to whom Carlton entrusted his story and who put that pen to the page. That makes no sense to me.

Desperate times indeed. Why the need to silence this book? That gets me asking some serious questions.

Carlton has begun action to save his book "CARLTON: The Final Say"
You are able to help him at the link below
Go Fund Me

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by Donna Siggers

The Price of Kindness

During my trip to USA back in twenty-eighteen there was an online raffle going on here in the UK. This was on Twitter. Not many of you will remember who won the book I was busy speaking about. Why would you, I didn’t know him either. We did have a couple of mutual friends over on Twitter but that was it. If you knew me back in twenty-eighteen and were behind me voting and cheering me on you will of course know that book would have been BROKEN. He didn’t even keep it.

Unbeknown to me there was a price I’d pay for the kindness of giving. A price I still pay today. 

That doesn’t change me—I still keep giving.

The man who won my book while I was away in America received his congratulations from me, for I was bought up to have good manners. I took time out of my busy schedule while away to do this. As an author he sought some help with a letter or two from me also. That was no issue as I was happy to help.

Resulting from all this I ended up blocking over thirty social media accounts in his name on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. When that didn’t work, he joined LinkedIn. He pretended to die then came back to life via e-mail a few times.  Not sure what he thought that would achieve... the bloke has had more lives than a cat! 

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Again, I’m not sure what the family (or he) wants but as a behaviourist I have this underlying feeling that it will end in blackmail. He/they now email pretending to be/or is the son. So here it is out here in the open, what he put me though on social media. Sometimes openly “trolling” me that I deleted before blocking him.

Father or son (or indeed his wife). They must be proud...and folk wonder why I keep my children private.

I don’t stand for this. Nobody gets to pull me down again.

So here is "that book" detailing my trauma. Moreover its the book that can help others overcome theirs. For me that's far bigger.



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by Donna Siggers

Camden's own 'Ocean's Eleven' Background and Tour

Terry Ellis is the first to be featured twice on my Soul2Ink blog, not only am I an avid supporter of his writing but am also proud of the man he’s become. Stuck within a negative cycle Terry had found himself in trouble from an early age, nurtured into believing that to thieve and earn a living from crime was perfectly fine as long as you didn’t get caught. At a young age a brick missile split open his head, giving him concussion which changed his personality (and that’s most definitely a reality I can relate to). Such physical trauma can change us, for Terry he no longer felt pain and had no filter on certain emotions, such anger. This was catalyst to how a young boy’s life would manifest alongside the behaviour he had already learnt. Terry’s own mother took him shop lifting and ordered him through factory windows to pass out to her what she required from within in order to sell their loot at bingo—this concept worked for her as long as Terry didn’t get caught. Money, he managed to earn on his own criminal activities with mates wasn’t turned away back home either. Terry was under the care of a social worker and when he became too difficult to handle and had run out of chances with them his mother abandoned her son and left him at a children’s home where he’d get regular beatings from the offset.

All this happened before Terry was twelve years old.

Moving from one children’s institution to the next became a way of life—as did standing before a judge. Eventually Terry was forced into the countryside far from his beloved Camden. Ironically, among the country bumkins as he calls them (and I qualify as one of those) he settled down—but not until they accepted school wasn’t going to be a part of his routine. Unfortunately, it fell apart when Terry’s young girlfriend became pregnant and he had no choice but to move back to London, where he lived in a flat with lads much older than himself.

Its here he discovered dole money wasn’t enough and the glory of armed robbery was both encouraged and gave Terry an adrenaline lift. A lift he became addicted to, it seems. I know from my own experiences that you can never quite fulfil that first adrenaline hit for the trouble with that naturally produced chemical is that the first can never be repeated and you’re left forever chasing it. The risks need to be higher in order to reach you needs—its no different to other addictions and Terry has beaten those too.

I’ll not detail the criminality leading up the Verizon “job” or the various holidays at Her Majesty’s pleasure that Terry talks you through in his book, for I’d actually like you to read his book! Instead, I want to share a personal experience that will embed this story into my memory forever.


David Last, Donna Siggers and Terry Ellis outside the Verizon Building
(photo credits to Anna)
Buy Verizon here

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Between Christmas 2021 and the New Year Dave and I spent time in London. At short notice we met up with Terry and his lovely partner, Anna for a cuppa. They whisked us of separately for slightly different tours before we met back up outside the Verizon building in Camden. Terry walked us around the vast building, sharing with us detailed explanations of how they planned and executed what became branded Camden’s own ‘Oceans Eleven’ robbery. This brazen act saw them walking away with an incredible £5m worth of data chips and £100m in data.

There were no guns involved. Just men in [fake] blue and their dogs.

One of the many things I like about Terry is that he doesn’t hide from his past—he owns it in a way that helps others find the right path. He found that for himself through a programme at Grendon Prison, his book on that was the first ever feature on the Soul2ink blog that you can read right here.


by Donna Siggers


Happy Easter

Recently we ventured North for work and on our way home called in on Whitby. This wasn’t without some research, of course for both Dave and I love a photo opportunity or two and our trip certainly provided it. Luckily it also provided a well-timed blog post.

Whitby Abbey was abandoned following Danish raids in 1078 but the Benedictine monk Reinfrid established a new community on the site in 1078. The structure that stands today are all that remain after Henry VIII destroyed religious buildings in his plight to destroy all that stood against his belief in divorce—Whitby was destroyed in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries between 1536 and 1545, when all possessions were confiscated by the crown and the building destroyed.

More lies beneath the surface of this place, however for it is one of our most important religious places. The Synod of Whitby was called here by King Oswiu of Northumberland—this was a massive debate that decided once and for all when Easter would be celebrated. This debate was attended by representatives from both sides—Roman and Celtic—Abbess Hilde hosted the meeting. The Roman Catholics won the debate and the English Church still follow their ruling to this day, as to Christians all over the world—so Happy Easter!


Whitby Abbey from across the pond

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And as a little bit of fun, according to legend, you can follow the route taken by Dracula as he flees the wreckage of his ship up the cobbled pathway and into the churchyard where his grave is, and beyond into the abbey ruins.

I’ll leave it there for your imagination to run wild.


by Donna Siggers


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Red Box Obsession

I’m a woman obsessed—not with Sir Giles

Gilbert Scott but certainly with his creation. The Red telephone box. I believe they are adorable, quintessentially British, traditional and one of our most recognised symbols remaining.

Established as a designer, Scott has a number of achievements to his belt that include Liverpool Cathedral and repair work to the Houses of Parliament (resultant from WWII). But his little telephone boxes are special in my book.

Introduced to London streets in 1926 they were only erected elsewhere under special circumstances. Only 1500 original K2 kiosks were made and only a scarce few remain today. They bore the Royal crest of King George V formed from a series of holes to provide ventilation. This style of kiosk are older and larger than the more widely used K6 telephone box and are very rare these days.

The Post Office was once responsible for public telephone boxes and in 1935 commissioned Scott to design a new kiosk to celebrate the Jubilee of King George V. The K6 Jubilee Kiosk, similar to the K2, in that’s its produced from cast iron and painted red was 25% lighter than the original  that hah weighed a ton.

By the 1930s there were 20k K6 kiosks.

Vandalism hit in the 70s and 80s and in conjunction with the aging process and a failure to repair the decline of this classic sight commenced.

2000 red boxes remain listed buildings.

We know where many ended up. Loved and repurposed for film and other such exciting happenings.

Re-purposed uses of these amazing spaces include mini community libraries, and houses for defibrillators. Two cool, modern concepts that keep these adorable spaces going and preserved.

By Donna Siggers
 

 

 

Underground Chiller

Combating depression and other mental illness is important. I’ve spent the past few weeks discussing a few subjects close to my heart. This week it gives me great pleasure to share one of our amazing experiences from last week with you—and it comes with a little history too.

In overcoming claustrophobia after brain trauma I’m able to use London’s underground which is useful but the other side of that provides leisure opportunities such as this.

Margate has been a holiday destination for many years now. Del, Rodney and Uncle Albert take their mates from the Nag's Head on a disastrous day trip there in the now classic “Only Fools and Horses” comedy. But when you begin to scratch beneath the surface  of this seaside resort destination there’s hidden history.

Margate caves, originally dug as a chalk quarry in the 17th and 18th centuries are an impressive sight. Consisting of a long tunnel leading to a series of chiselled archways, where you can view the original entry shaft, still showing where the ropes wore through the chalk.

Speaking with curators, who share stories with you, the mine was forgotten about until a gardener of the wealthy Margate gentleman, Francis Forster who had built his property above the site, fell through the ground and into the chalk mine below.

Forster, having moved from Northumberland, now held esteem in his new homestead for he had cold storage—for in 1807 refrigeration was rare—he could chill his wines in the ice Wells he had fashioned and created space to entertain the good and great of Margate.

Forster also commissioned artwork to be painted on the walls of his Caves. Many are still visible as they’ve been restored over the years. There have also been new paintings commissioned. These paintings weave the extraordinary history of Margate onto the walls of the cave and include drunken giants, ancient Kings and shameless smugglers... and much more.

The Manor that had once stood above, Northumberland House, has long gone. In its place stands the visitor centre, cafe and shop.

www.margatecaves.co.uk/visit

Go Purple for Epilepsy

Epilepsy awareness day is upon us.

Seizures remain a taboo subject, not many know what should be done if they come across someone having convulsions—in point of fact it scares the living daylights out of the uninformed to the point I believe its easier to have them than to watch them occur.

After the severe attack I sustained in April twenty-fourteen, when a mental health patient punched me in the head six times and slammed the back of my skull against a wall, I was left facing them—my family were left to watch them occur. It took two years for sight loss, absent moments, and arm jerks to gradually worsen to the point I’d collapse and convulse or do so in my sleep. It took a special diet and medication over several years to gain control and to be seizure free.

Despite my hard work and medical intervention, when my physical health tumbles as does the control of my seizures. Ironically the anti-convulsant medication I take has caused kidney stones which in turn causes kidney infections—its at the point of infection that my seizures manifest themselves after years of control. Added to this I have been diagnosed with pernicious anaemia. This is when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your stomach preventing the body absorbing vitamin B12 from food being absorbed—this has been caused by the same medication as my kidney stones. When, at the end of last year I received my routine B12 injection (that I have every ten weeks instead of the usual twelve) and it failed to have the usual twenty-four volt of energy to every cell in my body effect, I knew something was very wrong. Fatigue, insomnia, and depression was setting in—and my seizures continued.

Blood tests commenced for diabetes, thyroid, and multiple sclerosis among other sinister life-threatening diseases. My doctor also tested for other anaemias, thankfully. It turned out that as well as B12 anaemia I am now blessed with Folate deficient anaemia. Both anaemias cause depression, fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath and tinnitus (which I was left with from my head trauma anyhow).

I’d managed my depression before—it’s a side effect of both the medications I take for my seizures and the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder I have—but plunging back into the abyss of darkness was now being explained. For me, the combination of infection and lack of oxygen getting to my brain was also explaining my seizures returning. Never had I had so many daytime seizures so close together as I’d been getting (in public) and they’d been under control for three years.

Still my neurologist refused to see me.

My doctor however has been a blessing, always going above and beyond to help me regain control and sanity. Ultimately, my dignity.

If you ever see someone convulsing please don’t assume they’re drunk. Ensure they’re safe and not in harm’s way and not going to hurt themselves. If possible, place them in the recovery position, placing something soft underneath their head. Do not place your fingers inside their mouth. It is a myth that we'll swallow our tongue--but not that we'd bite your fingers in our unconsciousness state. Be aware we might urinate or defecate.

If a seizure lasts five minutes or longer it’s a medical emergency and you should call an ambulance. Once the ‘patient’ is conscious try and establish if it has been their first seizure, if so, this is also a medical emergency—but they might not be talking sense (I talk more gibberish than usual after a seizure). Don’t over crowd but comfort them until they are feeling better and no longer confused, which might take some time.

If in doubt call 999.

Stress

Each of us know what being stressed feels like, those times when we’re placed under pressure when we’ve far too much to do and think about, or situations during which too many demands are placed upon us that we find it difficult to cope. Being in the thick fog of stress can become overwhelming.

Although there is no medical definition of stress, and that health professionals often disagree over if it might be the cause or the result of problems, this just makes it more difficult for us to work out our own feeling towards the issue—and how to deal with it. Whatever your personal definition of stress might be, stress can become out of control or indeed manageable—and that achievable through managing external pressures so that stressful situations don’t occur as frequently as they might. Another way is in developing your emotional resilience in order to better your coping with tough situations when they do happen, and granted this takes a little time.

A certain amount of pressure in life is healthy, enabling you to take action, feel energised and to get results. Allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by stress as a result of this process will become problematic—that said stress isn’t a psychiatric diagnosis but is linked to your mental health in two important ways as it can cause existing problems to worsen. It can worsen anxiety or depression. In turn, existing mental health problems can cause stress—coping with the day-to-day symptoms of your mental health problem can be challenging and time consuming and you might struggle to see where stress ends and your mental health problem begins.

Stress can have a physical reaction to our body too, making us feel tired, give us a headache or an upset stomach. Feeling stressed can often mean loss of sleep, and a poor diet which will have a long-term affect on our physical health—which can also make us feel more stressed emotionally.

Stress and anxiety result in the body releasing hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and if stress is a constant factor in your life you are likely to be producing high levels of these hormones, which can make you feel physically unwell and could have a detrimental affect to your health longer term.

Stress can result in feelings of irritability, aggression, feeling ‘wound up’ or impatient. Your head might feel ‘tight’ with far too many thoughts fleeting through and around it at once. You will feel overwhelmed or overburdened, anxious, nervous, or afraid. There will be an inability to enjoy yourself, with a sense of dread often taking over. Depression may accompany stress in which case you may feel uninterested in life, neglected or lonely.

Severe stress can bring out behaviours in people, including suicidal feelings. It can change how you might behave, make decision making difficult and cause constant worrying to the point you avoid situations that trouble you. Your fuse might become far too short, that you snap at folk. Nail biting or skin picking is common. Concentration is out of the question as is a healthy diet as we embark on too little or too much food (and perhaps no two days are the same). Some of us turn to smoking or drinking. As for sitting still, that might become as impossible as attempting not to cry.

With the behaviour side of things covered, lets turn to the physical stuff. You know, because the list above isn’t enough, right? Your breathing might become shallow, or perhaps you may hyperventilate or have a panic attack. Muscles might become tense, and your eyesight might blur, or your eyes may become sore. There may be sleeping issues such as falling or staying asleep (or having nightmares). Sexual problems can manifest too, perhaps a loss of interest or not being able to enjoy sex might become an issue. Becoming tired all the time, teeth grinding or clenching your jaw, headaches and chest pains. This list continues I’m sorry to share with high blood pressure, indigestion or heartburn, constipation or diarrhoea, feeling sick, feeling dizzy or fainting.

The world feels like it might close in on you, you can’t breathe and are running out of time. It is closing in on you, you can't breathe and are running out of time.

Stress is, generally, caused by perception of a situation. It could be connected to your past experiences, self-esteem, how your thought processes work (optimist or pessimist), how experienced you might be at dealing with pressure and your emotional resilience to stressful situations. It also depends upon the quantity of pressures that are upon you at any given time and the amount of support you are receiving.

Situations that cause one person stress, might not have the same detrimental effect on someone else and each of us take a differing perspective on life and cope differently in each situation we are faced with.

Stalking

Living a full life is important to me as trauma has touched my psyche too many times to count, and has done so on deep and personal levels. Approaching the launch of my new book I’m going to be addressing some subjects over the next few weeks that are, shockingly, a part of many people’s lives. I do so with the intention to uplift the spirit of anyone going through the torment of each given subject and hope that it gives them strength. 

Unfortunately, being stalked has formed a part of my past. Unwanted attention curtailing the freedom of another person to the point they are left feeling in a constant need of being careful is a good description of stalking. Although each individual, isolated incident might seem innocent enough to onlookers, these repeated behaviours mount up. In doing so they amount to a course of conduct causing significant alarm, harassment or distress that is unwanted attention.

This behaviour is, therefore unacceptable.

Stalking is a form of mental assault, which at times can also become physical. There are laws in place to protect against it but unless you are under direct threat of violence its often difficult to get anyone to take you seriously (especially the police) and you have to provide written, photographic or video evidence that you are under direct threat of violence to be taken immediately seriously. 

Stalking is a dangerous game to be on the receiving end of. It leaves you in a position of choice—crumbling under the pressure or in becoming stronger. Personally, I was left having to decide on tactic changes, on having to leave the house at differing times and living behind closed curtains in order for peace.

I knew my stalker, which is often the case. Ironically they are the most dangerous kind. It started with a letter and some flowers, with the letters turning to emails and phone calls. My ordeal lasted six years.

Now with a platform to speak out about the torment that some endure, I believe it important to speak out, for silence solves nothing. Some might think I’m holding onto my past—to those I say I share to help others have the strength to make this stop.

I struggled in silence for too long. I relied on those who said they couldn’t help. Help is out there if you know where to seek it.

I would like to add that the person on the receiving end isn't always a woman and that in some cases it is the woman doing the stalking. 

Help is out there... here are the websites etc,

If you are in immediate danger always call 999 and ask for the police.

The National Stalking Helpline through the British government will take you to three links: 

First: The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which was set up after estate agent, Suzy Lamplugh went missing on 28th July 1986 9in Fulham. She was officially declared dead, presumed murdered in 1983. The trust was set up "because what happened to Suzy must not happen to anyone else". The website is filled with useful information.



Second: Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service, who assist high risk victims of stalking throughout England and Wales. You would be put into contact with Paladin through the police. Their website address is down right now but is normally available if you google "stalking government UK"


Third: Protection Against Stalking, which was set up after Clare was murdered at work by her ex boyfriend by Clare's mother, Tricia. Committed to raising awareness of stalking and supporting victims and their families they can be contacted via the link below,




Additionally, Solace Women's Aid is specifically located in London for women and children. It gives free advice and support on how to build safe, strong lives enabling futures free from abuse and violence.

https://www.solacewomensaid.org/get-help/other-support-services/paladin-national-stalking-advocacy-service




Salford Lads Club

Stumbling upon grand buildings seems to be a habit of Dave’s and mine, and this one is no exception. With a little research I established that Salford Lads Club was founded in 1903 by two brothers, James and William Groves, who were from a family of local brewers partnered with Arthur William Whitnall (Groves and Whitnall Brewery). The building itself was designed by Henry Lord, who also designed the former Salford Royal Hospital and Salford Museum and Art Gallery. Now, the club wasn’t opened until a year after it was founded but it was opened by a man whose name you might recognise—Robert Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell would later become the founder of the Scout movement.

Salford Lads Club housed recreational activities and still stands today on the corner of St Ingatius Walk and Coronation Street within the Ordsall area of Salford, Greater Manchester. Change has occurred since these early days, as now both sexes are welcome through the doors. Isn’t it shocking to think, in our day and age, that they weren’t originally! (And I await the comments on my social media lol).

Through time footballers and singers graced the building with their presence, the club kept them off the streets, away from gangs and out of trouble. It was the purpose of such clubs to kept young lads off the streets, encouraging them to become good, God-fearing citizens. Local philanthropic businessmen running these institutions soon realised that in order to beat the outside attractions of gambling, street fights and other such misadventures, were in need of supplying more than simple games.

Draughts and billiards were not enough!

Excitement was in order and thus a boxing ring was installed as well as a snooker room and a gymnasium with a balcony—all features remaining at Salford to this day, which aided the building gaining its listed status in 2003 along with the original tiling that add to the beauty of the place.

Added notoriety has blessed the club—it appeared on the sleeve of The Smiths album ‘The Queen is Dead’ (sorry for the blasphemy but I’m quoting a fact here) as well as being placed third in a competition in finding Britain’s most iconic building.

Popularity seems to have been a driving force to keep the place going and during the winter months membership grew to one-thousand members, with the doors opening from 7pm until 10pm. The club help annual camp holidays from 1904, predating the first Scout camps set up by Lord Baden Powell—how cool is that!

The Hardy Tree

At last—it may be, Death took spite

Or jesting only meant to fright—

He sought fo Jack night after night

The churchyards round;

And soon they met, the man and spike

In Pancras’ ground.

From Jack Hall, by Thomas Hood (1799—1845)

 

Old St Pancras Church Yard was, traditionally, remote and thus any self-respecting Londoner wouldn’t linger long within its grounds. Of course, this made an irresistible location for bodysnatching so lingering there in the afterlife wasn't likely to to give peace for too long either as a result!

Along with the many other lurid places and subject matters this appealed to Charles Dickens and its where his character, Jerry Cruncher took his son, Jerry Junior ‘fishing’ (that’s bodysnatching to you and me) in 'A Tale of Two Cities'.

Within the churchyard today stands The Hardy Tree. An eery sight to bestow, it exists due to the expansion of London's rail service (which saw the need of moving graves). The Tree itself is an Ash tree, planted at the time with the now unused headstones circled around it. As the tree has grown over the years, some have become embedded in its trunk in—life and death merging into a macabre beauty in some kind of gothic and gruesome monument.


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This bazaar sight came about when Covent Garden architect, Arthur Broomfield (1829—1899) was asked to oversee the dismantling of tombs and graves at St Pancras Old Church to make room for the railway expansion. The master of delegation, his assistant was placed in charge of this and re-internment of the bodies into a mass pit. Thomas Hardy (1840—1928) who went on to write many literary masterpieces (including Under Greenwood Tree and Far From Madding Crowd) was this assistant and its believed this is how the tree attained the name.


By Donna Siggers
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A Violent Man

Firstly, congratulations to all the crew and cast of this gritty independent film. As an avid supporter of British independent film, I can honestly say “A Violent Man” is by far the best I’ve seen in both creative written content and also in the way it’s been put across using the camera.

Ross McCall, I want to personally thank you for portraying claustrophobia, and taking us, as an audience, ‘in on the action’ the way you have. Isolation—however it occurs in life—feels this way despite how many people surround you or however much space you might have. Well executed.

Craig Fairbrass is a seasoned actor and one that both Dave and I have followed since the beginning of his career. It was, then, an honour to finally meet him this week at the Genesis Cinema, Mile End in London’s East End for the screening of this film and the Q&A session afterwards. He does of course play violent roles particularly well, hard to fathom meeting him in the flesh which is further evidence of his fabulous acting ability.

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Ross McCall, as I’ve already shared is the writer of this screenplay, he directed too. His gritty film portrays the story of prison life for Craig’s hardened character, Stevie and of his young cell mate Marcus who is played by Stephen Odubola—incarcerated for the first time.

Notwithstanding, the normal prison hierarchy that exists is present as it should be. What stands out is that Stevie takes his young cell mate under his wing, protecting him without understanding the reasons why. Throughout, we gradually glean understanding of the depth of the crime that Stevie is serving time for, the gravity of how his mind works and what angered him initially. We have understanding of the bond he’s forming with Marcus given the deeper story plot as we learn about the devastating effects his actions had on those left behind, the twisted fate and despair of blood connections.

Fear is touched upon in ways you’ll not expect and for me personally I have to commend Zoë Tapper for her portrayal of a prison psychologist. Looking into the soul of such damaged individuals (my past job) and not giving them an opportunity to claw their way into your own psyche is tough going and she carries this off perfectly—despite her obvious temptation at one point to let him in, her professionalism shines through.

One of my favourite scenes, however was between Craig and Ross. Loved the intensity of that—the unpredictable and uncomfortable scenes that unfold before you, certainly hit the spot.

Filmed during lockdown, in just one room, “A Violent Man” is a bold movie filled with terror, and superb acting all around. I’ve left one actor out—she was superb too—and this is done as to not spoil the underlying storyline that holds the plot together. A film that deserves success and leaves scope for a sequel but does so without leaving you in suspense. As a writer of the same genre my mind spent time (no pun intended) last night thinking of possibilities of where Ross could take the story—where I want him to explore—and came up with several avenues...  So, it’s up to the public—over to you to support this wonderful production. It’s on AppleTV, Sky and PrimeVideo from today. Go along, watch and promote and give your support to this fabulous and creative piece of British art!


by Donna Siggers

The Naughty Bus

Dave and I are often asked how we met and its through one of our multiple interests that happened. Both of us are historians with the subject matter crossing over through several areas. One of these is true crime and although our focus might differ, we are knowledgeable on each other’s subject areas. Cutting a long story short, we met on “The Naughty Bus”. Yes, those who aren’t in the know look a bit googly eyed at us when we share this nougat of information—and we have to explain!

First a little background on how Micky and I became acquainted, and that was through Twitter. Like many people I’ve come to know through writing, that’s often the case. He was the only person to get away with calling me “Sweets” (or any such name) and not get blocked because I sensed a genuine, loyal person and I was correct. It wasn’t long until we were both part of London Crime, a website run by Jim Fletcher. I look up to both Jim and Micky—a family outside of blood.


Colin Siggers (my dad), Micky and Myself
(my dad loves going on The Naughty Bus and meeting up with Micky)

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Micky is big-hearted, always taking on charity work. He’s often seen campaigning online for individuals or groups, raising awareness and especially at Christmas, collecting gifts then stopping the bus and to hand them out to the homeless. Timing is perfect for me to blog about about Micky as this week has seen on-line auctions for the Teens Unite Cancer charity, and humanity coming to light at the generosity of those bidding, with an independent treasurer (separate from those involved raising the money) banking the funds. All monies raised get donated and a big fat cheque will be presented on a special afternoon tea bus tour on 20th February. 

Our good friend, then (my bruva from another muva) Micky Goldtooth is one in a million and The Naughty Bus belongs to him. It’s this bus you’ll need to embark if you fancy a tour of London’s East End underground naughty goings-on. Yes, that’s right, Micky and his unique team take you to hot-spot locations as they wind their way from London Liverpool Street train station towards The Blind Beggar public house.


For more information and to order tour tickets you can click the link below

Buy your tickets here

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Not only do Micky and Ian McKenzie (who is the on-board historian) share their local knowledge of the Kray twins and their associates and enemies but they share their escapades—their personal experiences of London tourism. The duo will have you in stitches. Your memories will be captured by Karen, my lovely friend, but ultimately Micky’s wife.

Stopping off at The Blind Beggar, you’ll be in for more stories and a swift drink if that pleases you—it’s not forced—before heading off again towards Borough Market where the tour finishes.

Often there are on-board guests too, so that’s most definitely worth looking out for. Two that spring to mind are singer and performer Gary Driscoll, who often performs live on the bus and also Frank Portinari (who I featured on the blog a couple of week’s ago) who speaks, sharing his own stories.

Adorned with film posters and images portraying London life from the era of the Krays—and images of the brothers themselves, Micky’s tour is most certainly an attraction not to be missed. TripAdvisor reviews match my own, so next time you’re in the city, why not book up, hop on board and let Eric The Red drive you through the streets of the East End while Micky and his elite team treat you to some special stories of how the Krays and their associates operated.



by Donna Siggers

From Drama to Soup

Stage plays are a guilty pleasure of mine and to have watched one in such a surreal setting, a complete honour. ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ by Elizabeth Gaskell is a gothic ghost story set in the Northumberland moors, which first appeared in the Christmas edition of the Charles Dickens’ Magazine ‘Household Words’ in 1852. The adaptation we saw, a play based on best-selling author Piers Torday, entitled ‘The Child in the Snow’ has a more modern setting—with the boundaries of class and gender remaining from the original story the characters are thrown into the turmoil of the aftershock of both the First World War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic. With just two women on stage, we are thrust into the past (in similar style to The Woman in Black). The nurse plays both herself as a young child and her present age and the older actress plays a medium and all other characters. It’s clever, spooky and all you’d expect of a professional performance.

The Child In The Snow newspaper style flyer, Dave and I below the neon lights inside Wilton's
Grace's Alley and the stage

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Wilton’s itself extends back to the 1690's, when it opened to entertain East End's working people with West End glamour. Over the years it’s served as a music hall, Methodist’s mission and now presents a programme of plays and music entertainment all year, such as I’ve described above.

Wilton’s also have a colourful history and begun life as a row of individual houses along Grace’s Alley, the largest of which being an ale house serving Scandinavian sea captains. A mahogany bar was installed in 1826 which gave call for it to be named “The Mahogany Bar” and a concert hall was installed in 1839. For a short period during 1843 the ale house ran full-length plays (legally) and was known at The Albian Saloon.

Fire would destroy the majority of the music hall in 1877, leaving only the four walls and ten barley twist columns that still support the balcony to this day. Rebuilding commenced without too much change to the original design but in in 1881 Wilton’s closed its doors—this was perhaps due to the new build not conforming to fire regulations that had been bought in that same year.

The iconic barley twist columns holding up the balcony

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London’s East End became notorious for poverty, something religious organisations helped with. By 1888 Wilton’s was purchased by London’s Methodist Mission, who renamed it ‘The Mahogany Bar Mission’. Setting up a soup kitchen during the Great Dock Strike of 1889 they served a thousand meals each day to starving dockers’ families. As a Mission, the building remained open seventy years through testing times and those that served within its walls witnessed events such as The 1936 Mosley March (Battle of Cable Street) and the London Blitz. Throughout, the Methodists welcomed all without discrimination and campaigned against social abuses. They supported the community, especially those in need—and in particular children. The Mission closed in 1956.

After the war, Wilton’s was functional as a rag sorting warehouse and plans were made to demolish what buildings had been left standing in the area from all the bombing. A campaign begun, and the music hall was saved but it wasn’t until 1982 that the first repairs commenced. Although the doors didn’t open to the public until 1999, various filming took place in the meantime. What will interest a lot of my blog readers is that part of the 1990 film ‘The Krays’ staring Martin and Gary Kemp was filmed inside this incredible building. “This place used to be so great” they are of course referring to the snooker hall. If you watch that scene, the barley twists I mention above that survived the fire are clearly visible on screen. Additionally, with its walls painted red, Wilton’s became the Kray’s Regency Club ready for the cameras to capture the action.

Even Jim Henson’s Muppets have performed at Wilton's!

If you’re ever in the East End and fancy something a little different, up close and personal, then don’t forget about Wilton's Music Hall!


by Donna Siggers


Donna's psychological crime thrillers are available from Amazon
by clicking here

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Rise Of An Extremist

Frank Portinari is one of life’s gentlemen. A devoted family man who has been with the same lady since the year dot. A father and grandfather, a grafter, and a man passionate about his beliefs. Now a published author, public speaker, and podcaster it is through writing I came to know of Frank and became acquainted with him. We’ve not met, as yet, but Frank when we do, I’m keeping it in mind not to debate with you if you’ve a cuppa in your hand! (For all that have read Frank’s book, that was my favourite part). Wars have been won on the strength of tea when food was scarce, and Frank was heading for war.

I brushed on the importance of social history being recorded in last week’s blog post and Franks story most certainly falls into this bracket. I’ve discussed this with him before, but I believe the political aspect of his life should be used for higher educational study. I don’t say this lightly or to flatter. Instead, as someone who was there and risked their life for someone else’s fight, and who had the gumption to place the facts into a book then not only do they deserve that recognition, but students deserve to have this knowledge available to them.

Reading Frank’s book is a fascinating insight into two aspects of his life. There was one side of him that went to football, firstly in peace and then as the football hooligan era took hold, not—a public show of bravado of men drinking and having a punch up at the weekend.

‘Left-Right Loyalist: From One Extreme To Another’ is the name of the book I have—with a new editor (Shaun Attwood) there’s been a name change and re-launch since. ‘Loyalist Paramilitary Gunrunner: From Extremism to Prison’ might give a little insight into where Frank’s political alliance finally landed after some deliberation, it’s what made sense to him. Its this alliance that’s the main focus of Frank’s book, and the second side of a complex mind. After becoming frustrated with Britain being bombed by the IRA he’d wanted to make a difference and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) entered his life at the correct time to make this happen for him—it’s an alliance he took to the extreme. Unlike most Frank was prepared to act and as with anything he puts his mind to, his heart doubles that passion. It wasn’t long until he’d gained trust and hierarchy as he became caught up in ‘the troubles’ of Northern Ireland. Frank was running guns over the border.


Frank's book, now called 'Loyalist Parliamentary Gunrunner: From Extremism to Prison
is available via this link

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The UDA used a cover name in order that they wouldn’t become outlawed and were better known as the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) which prevented them becoming a terrorist group. It wasn’t until 1992 this occurred.

Making you feel part of his story as you read, you are spied on, friends are shot, and that circle of friends to be trusted becomes increasingly small. Gunrunning is a dangerous business and Frank is in the midst of it. He makes you feel you are too as his reality seeps into your psyche.

We lived these times through news stories—I have relatives who were in the army who served in Northern Ireland and a friend who lost his father who was shot by the IRA. Frank was there, he lived the experience and I urge you to read his book, without prejudice in order to gain understanding of why and how people got caught up in the troubles.

Frank served time for his participation and is still welcomed in Ireland today.

Currently writing his second book (which I’m looking forward too immensely) I’m very much interested in how, when—and of course why—Frank changed, as the man he is today certainly is reflective of the one he’s written about in his debut book.

There are two more links I'd like to share with you, the first is for 'Frankly Speaking With Frank Portinari' which is, of course, Frank's podcast (I'm honoured to have been a guest so my personal thanks to Frank and Mat The Hat Media). There have been many inspirational guests appearing—
including some featured right here on my Soul2Ink blog—so pop along, press subscribe and have a listen!

Frankly Speaking with Frank Portinari—Frank's all-inspiring podcast
You can subscribe and listen right here

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Finally, I'd like to both congratulate and wish Frank and the team involved on the upcoming documentary on his life, which I know is in association with Johnny Kinch. As a first for my blog I'm sharing a funding page but its certainly not a first for me to get behind film making. It will be [quote] "A documentary of social and historical importance."

'From One Extreme To Another With Frank Portinari'
Documentary Funding Link


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Meeting Carlton

Many years we’ve Tweeted, and for many years more I’ve followed the story of Carlton Leach. It was of course “that case” that highlighted his existence to me (for I wasn’t within that world).

At the time of Leah Betts’ death I lived not so far from Latchingdon and have just move away from Southminster within the last month. Before that my location was much more rural. I'd like to point out Carlton didn't have involvement in Leah's death.

My readings of course begun with the tabloids all those years ago, and some years later what became known as ‘The Essex Boys’ were a focus for my studies along with another Essex case. It became apparent that everyone had differing opinions on what might have happened leading up to the key events and indeed events themselves. Over the years stories and official statements of truth seem to have altered.

When Carlton published ‘Muscle’ I finally had a grasp—a behind the scenes look if you like—into a life of loyalty and respect. It was also a life of steroids and a few misdemeanours. Moreover, it was an insight into the rise of what would be known as the Inter City Firm (or ICF) which later transpired into what has become the film franchise Rise of The Foot Soldier.

Carlton’s second book was indeed entitled Rise of The Foot Soldier, in line with that first film for he was involved during the beginning—he's not now. The scenes of that first film reflected reasonably accurately what I'd learnt historically.

Several years passed before Carlton put pen to paper again but I’m thankful he did. His latest book ‘Carlton: The Final Say’ is a true insight into his life. The forward is a fitting introduction by Jason Allday, before Carlton takes you from his early childhood through to the humble man he is today—and he is a humble man. It’s a tear-jerker at times, especially when talking about his father. Carlton allows you into his home and heart throughout his ‘final say’. Muscle was about bravado but this one is about humanity as he chats his way through life from being a young boy growing up with his sister within a loving home to the present day, reflecting along the way. Don’t get me wrong, he soon lets you know if something doesn’t sit right and two names that come to mind are Bernard O’Mahoney and Nipper Ellis—in all honesty they don’t sit right with me either.

The Final Say evaporates myth and mystery because of a willingness to speak out. As with Muscle, what I like about this latest book is the brutal honesty. By sharing both books Carlton has contributed to recording his part in the making of social history and I believe that’s important. Stories like this are lost in time if they're not recorded for future generations. They become distorted, exaggerated and altered through differing perceptions but when they are written by those who were there such as in Muscle or who knew those involved in other matters and their truth hasn't faltered over the years, then speaking out matters.

Carlton's latest book, 'Carlton: The Final Say is available from Amazon
by clicking on the link here

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We had the great pleasure of meeting Carlton (and his family) at the end of last year at one of his book signings. It was an opportunity for Carlton to be on stage having a chat with the host before opening the questions to the audience. Again, his candid approach showed me that all he wants is for what is now branded ‘The Essex Boy case’ to rest now—for everyone involved to be allowed to grieve in peace and move forward. He shared publicly his opinions on sensitive subjects which matched my own.

Carlton, thank you for allowing me to blog about your books and for your support over the years.

My respect, always.

by Donna Siggers


Reflections on 2021

Reflecting on the past year isn’t necessarily straightforward with Covid-19 still looming. A year to the day after my son, my youngest daughter tested positive—her grandmother joking that as competitive as she might be with her brother, this was perhaps taking matters somewhat too far. Thankfully she has been one of the lucky ones, enduring her isolation symptom free.

Remaining on the subject of Covid, discussions of it has ultimately divided communities. That my children (who are all adults with the capacity to make their own decisions) took their vaccinations branded me in support of child murder on my social media earlier this year. This was by someone I’d considered a friend. They trolled my Facebook account several times and now find themselves blocked because of our differing opinion. Personally, I’d accepted theirs but as I was unwilling to conform to their way of thinking which meant they perceived I wasn’t entitled to my capacity. How has a virus—plus the added media hype and political propaganda—allowed such division to emerge among ourselves?

It’s been a year of personal battle but that makes my writing more authentic. I’d planned to release a book on living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder this year, but as I worked through beating it into submission again, decided to dig deeper and make it something a little more special. Writing through this time of crisis has now formed the second ‘SOUL’ book which mixes both lived experience and science to form what I hope will be a detailed explanation on why and how PTSD can have such a profound effect on life—not just your own but for your family too. There’s nothing better than celebrating, and as odd as it might seem I do celebrate the date of my assault and in April it will be eight years survived. Soul Searching: To Hell and Back Twice will be released on my eight years survived anniversary!

My youngest and I hid away in strict isolation during the first lockdown (for we are both considered vulnerable) and much to everyone’s dismay we didn’t come the second. She returned to visiting her father and I went to work. Dave and I are lucky in that what both of us do allows us to travel throughout the UK and with the country free of traffic we captured sunrises and sunsets that were more spectacular that we’d ever seen. Wildlife seemed to take over our verges and multiply through these quiet times—the motorways a sudden haven for species not usually seen in these locations. Our cameras came with us and at every opportunity we captured images (for me that was often while Dave was driving).

Many of our images have been shared online but there’s a secret stash we’ve kept back for our project. Although this will take a lot more researching and photographing, we’re really excited about what we started and the idea we stumbled upon quite by accident really. As a couple we’re so lucky to share a variety of unusual and quirky interests—and in all honesty it is how we met.

As this year progressed, and places reopened, we ventured out out. It saw us putting on some posh clobber and attending a film premier—Dave was even in it! I’ve lost count how many there are (I think five) and Dave has been in two. It was lovely to catch up with a few of our friends at The Rise of The Foot Soldier film showing. It’s a franchise that’s done well for itself—I’ll be talking about the first film in my first blog of 2022 as part of my “Meeting Carlton” feature. We went clubbing in Leicester Square afterwards as that’s what the ‘Essex Boys’ (as they became known as) were partly about. I’d already said to Dave that we were getting a bit old for all that (and I was most definitely right)! Watch films (2 to end) with the knowledge they're not historically factual for screenwriters and novelists twist stories--its known as literary licence.

We’ve met up with some amazing people this year, I’m not going to name everyone as I’ll miss folk out. To all at Linda Calvey’s book signing, Eddie Richardson, Carlton Leach and family, Steve Wraith and all at your documentary premier (Robbie Clear it was great to meet you) and especially to Maureen Flanagan Cox--it’s been an honour to spend time in your company.

To author friends I’ve bumped into again, and met for the first time at Levi Perry’s private gig, David P Perlmutter and Chris Dolan, Jane and Daisy, it truly was a great evening. As for you, Levi, meeting you was the most special moment for I’m truly blessed to have you in my life.

Covid still impacts all our lives. For me I’m missing my trips to Scotland, where I stay with my cousin, Emma. I’ve not been since 2019. There’s a lot of wiring to be done up there one way or another and I’m missing her and the rest of the family tremendously. Here’s hoping next year brings better news for us all. With my children now living in four different counties, the time we all spend together is minimal. Hopefully Christmas brings us all together (its only four days away but as we all know nothing is guaranteed these days). It would be such a blessing to have all of us in one room, with my parents--that would be a memory to treasure.

Despite the fact that being an Essex country lass will always be a large part of who I am, Essex is no longer my home. I’ve become a bit of a townie and, arguably, Emma would say that happened a little while ago. For those that don’t know, back in 2007 when my children and I first settled down in what would become our home for fourteen years, we knew that once my youngest moved away to university I would be moving. We thought that would be alone and up North somewhere. Instead, I met Dave. I have to be careful how I word this bit—life has moved me South instead (life hasn’t gone south). Rather than hours away, I’m just fifty miles from where I was—or fifty shades south (but that would make the kids cringe).

Thank you for supporting my writing and the blog. From our home to yours, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Stay safe and see you in 2022.


by Donna Siggers

Killer Fashion

Fashion has been hugely important for centuries and by the 19th century, when a women wanted to be at their most elegant it was at to communicate her grace, beauty and status. What the women of this time didn’t realise was the outfits that had become the fashion trend were most likely going to contribute to an untimely death. Under the outer fabrics, they wore crinolines—stiff petticoats that gave dresses a bell-like shape and alleviated the weight of the heavy fabrics of the outer layer of the outfit. Other materials, such as cotton and horsehair were used for dresses too. Each of the materials mentioned are highly flammable and given that lighting and heat came from open flame women were quite literally going up in them!

Poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, watched his wife, Fanny, burn alive due to her dress catching alight and Oscar Wild’s half-sisters dresses caught fire while they were dancing at a party.

Thousands of women were dying because of the clothes they wore—because of fashion. A plentiful supply of oxygen got trapped between the multiple layers of fabric deeming it impossible to extinguish the flames by a simple ‘stop, drop and roll’. Unable to undo the laces or buttons in time was another issue.

If the flammable fabrics weren’t enough, there was another danger. Green was the colour to be seen wearing and arsenic was the method of dying fabric this preferred and fashionable colour. Little did they know at the time that the chemical was poisonous but adding to the mix was the fact that when arsenic catches light, it burns toxic fumes. So, if the flames didn’t kill the woman who were alight, the fumes certainly had a chance of doing that.

Artificial flowers also became popular during this time, again arsenic was used as a colourant to make them look more authentic. Daily exposure to arsenic causes poisoning and a premature demise. Convulsions, vomiting and the whites of your eyes turning green are some symptoms, before death ensues.

There was a choice in life for working Victorian women of the time but death by fire seems pretty certain. Housekeepers were, it seems, susceptible to death by burning dresses because Victorian homes were filled with open-flames and were build from flammable materials. If servants caught fire there was a risk the whole house would burn to the ground. On the other end of the pay scale, ballerinas had to wear massive hooped dresses and perform on stages lit by naked flames. Their dresses were made from bobbinet, cotton, muslin, gauze and tarlatan (all of which are flammable). Dancers were lighting up the stage, literally, but unfortunately they were dying too!

Fashion changes over time and late in the 19th century skirt styles became slimmer. This kept dresses out the reach of naked flames and death rates reduced.


by Donna Siggers

Ghosts of Arras

In memory of

Private Harold Stanley Glynn

(1895-1917)


Glory to thee, as you march to Arras

Towards foreseen doom, into the unknown.

A battle too far, man to the slaughter

Bodies falling, sprits rising. Cannons blown.

 

Glory to thee, as you try to advance

Clouds made of smoke, the thunder of guns.

The rain that falls, not of water but blood

The women back home, losing husbands and sons.

 

Glory to thee, as you lay down to die

Your bodies giving up, so we might live.

Battlefields bathed in your blood

The ultimate sacrifice you could give.

 

Glory to thee, your spirt lives on

To the ghosts of Arras, and all of WWI

For the sacrifice you gave in that fateful battle

The lives you gave, can never be undone.

 

Glory to thee, as we all look back

Remembering your brave acts

For all the ghosts of Arras

And all the fallen, a poppy we bring.




by Donna Siggers

(© Donna Siggers)

Pyrotechnics

Fireworks are either loved or detested but what they do have is a fascinating history

The origins of fireworks can be traced back to 7th century China, where gunpowder was first used. Their pyrotechnic experts were of huge value to Chinese rulers who became the best war generals.

Gunpowder didn’t reach England until the 13th century after the Arabs gained knowledge of its existence and traded it throughout Europe. Its thought, through documentation that a monk named Roger Bacon was the first English man to use gunpowder, writing “you will get thunder and lightning if you know the trick”.

Fireworks didn’t become popular in the UK until much later, they are documented as being used at King Henry VII’s wedding in 1486 but it wasn’t until the reign of Elizabeth I that they became fashionable. The Queen herself loved them so much she appointed a ‘Fire Master’ who would oversee the Royal displays.

Shakespeare, who drew on life experiences for many of his plays, mentions fireworks in many of them which is indicative they were widely used throughout his lifetime—Shakespeare also gained a mention in last years blog regarding the gunpowder plot of 1605, and, of course, we celebrate Guy Fawkes these days with fireworks displays.

The significance of using fireworks for November 5th is that gunpowder was used in the failed plot to blow up parliament. Fireworks were not part of the celebrations until the 1659’s.

Please stay safe.

By Donna Siggers
 

Life Changing Decisions: My Writing Journey

Three years ago I was making life changing decisions that resulted in my mental health improving. Twenty-eighteen had consciously been the year for me to make new, positive memories after learning how to retain them. It also become the year that, ultimately (and under bizarre circumstances) the bulk of my knowledge returned. I’d lost my memory as a result of brain trauma in twenty-fourteen due to being assaulted—those who follow my social media or who’ve read LOST SOUL will be fully aware of my journey of recovery and my entry into writing. Its that journey, and where it led me that will be my focus for this week’s blog post for October’s campaign for mental health awareness month.

I’d written chapter one of Broken long ago, just one friend knew it existed. Two years post my own head trauma, that friend—Tracey—was then fighting for her own life due to a brain tumour. She didn’t make it, her loss was devastating to many, including myself. During one of my many hospital visits with Tracey, she reminded me of this first chapter and where I’d find it. I’d forgotten it existed even. My struggle to write begun, my eldest daughters struggle to decipher what I’d put onto paper was enormous and she took me on as her student. Our lives had been a role reversal in every way, and relearning to read and write was a large part of that process too. Eventually Broken was finished, and ready to publish. That was, quite possibly one of the most difficult decisions of my recovery but I took the plunge. I’m grateful for that process as I’ve not looked back since!

It wasn’t long until Kary Oberbrunner popped onto my screen, and I took part in a free online course he was running. From there I entered a book competition and, ultimately forgot I’d done so. It was a friend who alerted me that my work had been selected—while I slept Broken had become a finalist and I had a sudden decision to make. The wonderful people of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all got behind me for the final round of voting. I trended on Twitter as I took the biggest risk of my life—what I tweeted would eventually become a tweaked version of a book title: ‘Broken soul to soul on fire’ but before that it was shown on the screen at the conference!

Flying to the USA alone, negotiating connecting flights and walking into a three-day conference of 400 people to deliver a speech was the most daunting task of my life, a life in which I couldn’t remember what I was there to say about a book I couldn’t remember physically writing at the time! Because of this, I was given permission to read from a card. Situations—disability—should never hold you back and I was most certainly not allowing it to any longer. At this time I was still having seven seizures per week and unfortunately, my head was still in severe pain. Although there was still one more therapy session, I was now free of PTSD. Most other competitors started their speech by thanking God… but this Essex girl begun “Carl Ashbeck is a psychopath”. I was dreading this opening given the company I was obvious in, and the fact I went one from last, but it obviously paid off!

I left America holding an award for writing and publishing excellence but more importantly, through the amazing friendships made during this trip. Moreover, I left having verified who I’d become and that the changes incurred because of the adversity forced upon me was actually okay. Being among this wonderful crowd—in the presence of such a family atmosphere and of faith too—despite having never met any of these people before was humbling. Leaving richer because of the human quality en-mass and the knowledge I’d gained far outweighed the award for me, yes holding that trophy in my hand was perfectly sweet, of course it was, but in terms of my well-being and for my healing process that trip pushed my boundaries and goals to a new level.

My risk reignited my faith not only in humanity but in the kindness of strangers. It showed me how to trust once more and that my own intuition was still intact. While there, having shared my story, I was convinced it should be a book. I’d already written a journal that I’d shared with a couple of trusted writing friends and knew something needed to happen with it. LOST SOUL: Broken Soul to Soul on Fire was born and it took just one month to pour out my heart. The second edition is much more revealing. I must say its sequel, SOUL SEARCHING: To Hell and Back Twice is too, which will be published on my eighth anniversary of the attack.

Upon reflection, the four and a half years leading up to this trip were filled with turmoil. There were small victories, showing signs that recovery was possible but more often than not there was always one hurdle or another that slowed that process. My youngest always said it would take seven years for me to recover—one year for each blow on the head. She was about right, for I can live a fulfilled life now. There will always be activities that won’t be possible, I’ve still got limitations—but I’m here.

Push through your boundaries to live your best life.


by Donna Siggers

Reflection on Mental Health and the Importance of Connections

Mental health awareness is hugely underrepresented. This blog either shares Britain’s history that sparks an interest for both Dave and, I or its about creatives that have gained my personal interest in one way or another and I’ve given them promotion in this space because I believe in the good they are doing—that they have broken through adversity (whatever and wherever that begun).

The bottom line is, wherever our paths lead us, whichever direction we choose—and it is a choice—its possible to make changes. Some of the stories I’ve shared show that however close to death we get, the consequences of survival mean there's a tough journey ahead before that survival means a worthwhile life again. Another harsh choice was for someone to live among the worst kind of folk inside a prison in order to come to terms with their own mind. This allowed them to move forward, to redeem their past and ultimately to break the cycle that would have meant returning to prison. This has given them opportunities to serve the community today, in their life going straight, to strive and to enjoy a crime free life. Adversity affects us differently and the healing process from it takes on differing forms. In order to fully understand each of these journeys, you would need to fully understand each person and their personal story, which I urge you to do.

My story is relatable to both these gents. Like the first, I was attacked but under different circumstances. I too could have died and now live with the consequences of having survived. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder affected both of us, and I’m sure each of those journeys have differed—that just human nature. With regard to the second gent, who lived and had therapy with the worse the prison system could offer, I worked with similar individuals. I understand how difficult this process would have been for him, listening to them legitimise their actions—its horrific. I am talking of Darren Barden who survived a brutal knife attack in his home that he shares in his book, Let’s Skip to the Good Bits and of Terry Ellis whose book Living Amongst the Beasts conveys his time at Grendon Prison. Through our writing we have connected and shared our experiences of survival, mental health, adversity and triumph.

I’d not have met these two inspiring people had it not have been for my own adversity and fight for survival or my own journey into writing and publication. Nor would I have met singer and songwriter Levi Perry. Levi is, perhaps, the most inspiring lady with gutsy determination I’ve met. She too is a survivor and if I may quote a song title of hers, a ‘warrior’. I’ve blogged about her struggles but mainly about her rise towards success—which she is now enjoying. In Levi I’ve discovered a friend worth her weight in gold, one that carries me when my health declines and who I love for her generous heart.

I have some thanks to dish out, as its easy to gloss over those… so in general groups where I can, my family, Levi Perry, that fab group filled with folk like me with brain injuries, Stephen Rhoades Sheridan Thomas, London Crime, Bobbie Barker... thank you for checking up on me, making me laugh—keeping my head above water. You all rock—especially Levi who physically rocks it out!

I've one more post in this Mental Health series for October. I hope this one shows how connections can be made from different paths in life, how important those connections are and that mental health affects men and women alike. Take care and look after each other.

by Donna Siggers

Mental Health Month: Tough Men Talk

Sporting hero of the month has to go to Tyson Fury, the Gypsy King. There’s no doubt as to why he’s got such a huge following or that he’s a modern day legend within the boxing world, and I guess beyond it. Tyson has followed in the path of his father (who I’ve met) and also his grandfather. Fighting is in their blood, one way or another.

John Fury—Tyson’s father—was a boxer who went professional in bare knuckle fighting, where in Galloway it was traditional to enter the ring. He fought on the street too and, unfortunately inflicted serious damage to someone’s eye for which he served four years in prison. Upon his release, John reformed and has been promoter and spokesman for his son. He’s campaigned on Tyson’s behalf for each fight which has uplifted media presence. He is a force to be reckoned with as an advocate for his son which I commend him for. It was, however, how he spoke on other matters that captured my attention and made this man memorable for me.


John Fury (center) with David Last (left) and Donna Siggers (right)
at a Q&A Event organised by Steve Wraith

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Given October is mental health month, I’d like that to be my focus. Tyson is bipolar, a subject he’s discussed with Frank Bruno who also suffers from the same disorder. Boxing has, according to both men, kept a certain balance within their lives through structure and stability. Tyson claims he’s felt unwell all his life, that he didn’t want to live and that he considered his anxiety normal and that it was just part of life. It wasn’t until his bipolar diagnosis in 2017 that acceptance of his condition and the reasons behind his symptoms could be explained.

Embracing his mental health has gained Tyson a huge following, and his dad is right there to support him.

I met John at a speaking event, organised by our friend Steve Wraith, where he talked with frankness of another side to family life other than boxing—that of mental health. To hear a father with John's background speak of his son's troubles and relate to his experiences was humbling--that Tyson's health dipped so low before help was sought, heartbreaking. 

Mental health knows no boundaries. In learning some very personal facts about Tyson, to know this fighting machine drunk himself to sleep in bars and overate on burgers because he couldn't help himself was eyeopening when he was entering the ring to fight a few days later. That he has now turned his life around, with the help of professionals and, ultimately his family, is a story worth sharing.

Openness is vital in the educational process and I believe that when the hard men of the boxing world and other such sports, industries etc start opening up to discuss their mental health it truly starts to make a huge difference.

If you get the chance to hear John Fury speak, please take it!

by Donna Siggers

Welterweight Champion: John H Stracey

John H Stracey is a former boxer who trained at the notorious Recton Boxing Club in London. A World Champion, he’s won the British, European and World Welterweight Championships. I'm an avid supporter of boxing and the positives it provides with regards to attitude, aptitude and discipline but also fully aware of how drastically wrong things can go in the sport—and in any sport. I met John last week where I enjoyed listening to his stories of victory, of his youth and how he got into boxing. Unbeknown to John, my attack in twenty-fourteen (by someone I worked with [a client/patient]) acted out Muhammad Alli’s ‘moves’ on me and those actions changed my life.


Donna Siggers with John H Stracey

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John won five championships by the age of eighteen and he accomplished an unbeaten run of twenty-eight fights in three years before turning professional. Becoming the undisputed Welterweight Champion of the World in Mexico City in 1975 (I don't recall this as I would have been three) was the highlight of John’s career. You can visibly see the pride on his face  when he shows you his belt, despite the years that have passed. Boxing is in John’s blood.

At just eleven (I believe) his father was frustrated at the amount of fights his young son was getting into, so took him to the famous club, which was local to their East End home. Recton has produced more than its share of champions, John included—and he’d brush shoulders with the Kray twins while he was training here. That’s a story I will leave for you to hear from the man himself! Growing up, John was friends with the Kray’s nephew, so has plenty of East End stories from his teens that will captivate anyone interested in the history of that era.

Despite having hung up his gloves John continues his association with boxing through charity work. For those of you who’ve seen the original film “The Krays”, John trained the Kemp brothers to box and choreographed those scenes. He was also in the ring for the film—the one to get ‘knocked out’ on the big screen... [in John’s words] “by Spandau Ballet”. He certainly added authenticity to these scenes and listening to him speak answered many questions I’d had as to how they’d pulled this off so well.

John is a fantastic after dinner speaker, tours with various boxing names and the occasional ex villain. It was the latter—with Eddie Richardson—that I heard him speak and enjoyed the stories he shared. The man can sing too and entertained us for a time with a few songs.


by Donna Siggers

Operation Neptune--Lest We Forget

Operation Neptune was the largest seaborne invasion in history. Better known as D-Day, the Normandy landings and associated airborne operations occurred on 6th June, 1944. The Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overload during WWII begun the liberation of France and, later, the rest of Europe. It laid the foundations for the Allied victory on the Western Front.

Planning for operations commenced the previous year. Leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted substantial military deception they codenamed Operation Bodyguard, which mislead Germany with regards to the date and location of the main Allied landings.

Operations were delayed 24hrs due to non-ideal weather conditions. The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault. Allied infantry a d armoured fivisions begun landing on the French coast at 06:30. The men, swwpt by heavy winds landed off course and were met with heavy fire from gun placements overlooking the beaches and shores—which were also obstructed with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, barbed wire and mines.

Clearing the beaches was difficult and dangerous.

Casualties were high on both sides, it’s documented the Allies' casualties were at least 10,000 with 4,000 deaths.

Lest We Forget.


By Donna Siggers and David Last 
(Picture credit: Google)

Seven Million Bricks Laid by Hand!

Seven million bricks, made from clay excavated from the nearby village of Bures, were used in the

construction of Chappel Viaduct in Essex. Built to carry a double-track railway, just one was laid. Peter Bruff built this amazing viaduct between 1847 and 1849 for the Colchester, Stour Valley, Sudbury & Halstead Railway and, later, part of the Great Eastern Railway.

Historic Britain state the construction cost of building this elaborate bridge to have been £32,000 although there are differing sources who claim lesser costs were involved.

Initial plans were to build this structure from laminated timber but after debating cost benefits of brick with the Great Western Railway’s chief engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel after a lecture at the Institution of Civil Engineers (Brunel being strongly in favour of using timber).

Each pier of the viaduct is numbered—pier 21 contains a foundation stone laid by the railway company’s chairman and deputy chairman at the commencement of works in September 1847. Newly minted coins were placed inside as a souvenir. The stone and coins disappeared within a few hours of being placed and a bricklayer was later arrested after trying to pay with new half sovereigns at a bar. He wasn’t convicted due to lack of evidence.


The viaduct at Chappel, Essex showing the arches, looking through the centre of the shafts
and bottom left, a phone box library (you can just make out the arches in the distance

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Consisting of 32, 30 foot (9.1m) semi-circular spans with tapered piers Chappel Viaduct is 1,060 feet (or 320m) long. Rising to a maximum height of 75 feet (23m). Each pier consists of two shafts that are separated by a 6 foot (2m) opening, joined at the top and bottom by arches. Each shaft contains a hollow void of up to 4 feet (1.2m) by 3 feet (1m) which is partially filled with concrete to the level of the bottom arch. The running level of the viaduct gradient of 1 in 120.

The viaduct was designated a Grade II listed structure on 27 November 1967 and is the longest bridge in East Anglia.

There is a great community feel about Chappel, a small part shown in the image above. the phone box library was packed out with books to share! One of the best we'd seen on our travels.



by Donna Siggers and David Last

A Little Thames History

Londinium  was established along the river Thames by the Romans around 50AD, it later became a major trading and ship building area for the Saxons, Normans and Tudors. It wasn’t until the 16th century that it became the centre of shipbuilding and repair. In 1558 a commission was set up to select legal quays for imports and by 1576 London was the world’s first trading port.

Within two centuries London was unable to cope with the trade entering and Parliament authorised the building of two new docks and warehousing on the Isle of Dogs that opened in August 1802. Approval of more docks followed, which saw the East India Dock, Millwall Dock and the Royal Albert Docks.

Trade flourished but by the end of the 19th century improvement works was required and without a clear way forward a Royal Commission conducted a governing review. A report issued in June 1902 recommended creating a central body—the Port of London Authority—who begun duties on 31st March 1909, they have been obliged to provide quays, wharfs and warehousing since.

The Thames and London’s Docks suffered heavily during WWII, with bombs falling on the heavily targeted river from 1919 until late 1941. Almost 900 missiles, as well thousands of incendiary bombs fell on PLA property.

Post-war reconstruction was competed and in 1964 trade topped 61m tonnes but the introduction of container shipping had a drastic effect and subsequently the docks fell into economic decline.

Today the PLA is responsible for maintaining river channels for navigation, moorings, lights and buoys and in providing a wide range of services for shipping including pilotage services.


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If you’ve ever wondered what this network of fifteen radars are about, they belong the PLA and oversee the river and estuary. They transmit microwave links to the PLA’s Vessel Traffic Centres at Gravesend and the Thames Barrier and provide a full picture of all shipping movements to and from the river and the outer estuary.

by Donna Siggers and David Last

Free Speech & A Police Box

Trafalgar Square, in London, opened to the public in 1844 in remembrance of Admiral Horatio Nelson's victory over the French Fleet of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Celebrations of this momentous victory were muted when news of Nelson’s death reached England—he was shot by a French sniper in the back during the battle. It was from this point in our history that it was decreed English citizens would have the right of free speech. Trafalgar Square became the location to demonstrate that right—freeborn English men and women gathered in order to protest in ever increasing numbers throughout the second half of the 19th century. This hadn’t been the establishment's intention, the right they gave for free speech wasn’t an intention to declare the right to protest.

After events such as The Bloody Sunday Riots (1887) there was careful consideration on how The Metropolitan Police could uphold the law and keep a better eye on unfolding situations when ‘revolting peasants’ (as they were known at the time) gathered on Trafalgar Square to make their displeasure known against the inequalities of the age.

Many methods were discussed and tested at the end of the 19th century  to aide the authorities to control of the masses. Ultimately what was required was a watchful eye on the situation before it unfolded. A temporary police box was erected before the outbreak of WWI but during the General Strike of 1926 it was decided a permanent fixture should be instated which, as you might imagine, was met with public uproar.

Sir Lionel Edwards had a light bulb and innovative idea in 1927 and work commenced to hollow out the south-east corner concrete plinth on the square. From within the cavity a police officer could watch the activity of Trafalgar Square.


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The box was operational by the 1930s and equipped with a telephone line direct to Cannon Row police station, nearby. The officer inside could phone through as soon as trouble brewed. Just imagine the public response as its said as soon as the receiver was picked up the light above the box flashed to inform passing officers help was required! Who would want to be on duty and have that responsibility?

So, over to you. London's smallest police station, a police box or is it an observation box? This structure has been described as each.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Where Time Stands Still

Francis Crittall was known as ‘The Guv’nor by his workforce. Not only did he have a vision in business as an industrial pioneer but one to provide for those who worked for him in his window factory. Building commenced in 1926 and within six years Silver End Village had been built. There was also a department store that opened in 1928, within it there were twenty-six varying departments under one roof. Unfortunately, the original building burned down in 1951. The building that stands in its place is where the Co-op and adjacent shops now serve the community.


Francis Crittall's House, park gates and one of the designs at the far end of Silver End village

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Community was the centre of Crittall’s priority when planning his village. The village hall boasted a dance floor, cinema, library, snooker room and also a health clinic and is the largest village hall in the UK. He employed modernist architects to design the buildings, which still stand out as striking in design today. The houses on Francis Way and Silver Street were, for example, designed by Thomas S Tait who was an influential Scottish architect—a leading designer of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings in the 20th Century. He is also credited with designing the concrete pylons on Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Major production of the original Crittall site ceased in 2006 when the factory was closed down. However window frames are still manufactured at a Crittall factory in Witham.

Little employment exists in Silver End rendering it essentially a dormitory village. Any new dwellings are subject to the Article Four Direction (Town and Country Planning Act 1990) which was served in 1983. This has removed ‘Permitted Development’ rights for replacement windows, doors etc on the dwelling houses inside the Conservation Area which prevents further inappropriate alterations.

Silver End is a village that stands still in time.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Gravesend Princess

Mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) Gravesend in Kent has been on the map for quite sometime. Back then it was in the hands of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, the half brother of William The Conquer. Gravesend is located near the route of the old Roman road of Watling Street, linking London and south eastern Kent. One theory behind the name ‘Gravesend’ is its likely to have originated from ‘grafs-ham’—the home of the reeve of the bailiff of the Lord of the Manor. Another, that ‘graf-ham’ means ‘at the end of the grave’ and derives from the Saxon ‘Gerevesent, the end of the authority of the Portreeve (which was the Chief Town Administrator).

Although this is all interesting, what drew us into Gravesend? That’s simple.

Pocahontas.


Princess Pocahontas Statue, St George's Church, Gravesend

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Yes, you read correctly. A statue Princess Pocahontas stands proud at St George’s Church in Gravesend, erected to mark the four-hundred-year anniversary of her death. But why the Gravesend connection to Jamestown princess?

Pocahontas had saved the life of her colony leader, Capt John Smith by pleading with the people to spare his life. Converting to Christianity and marrying another settler she changed her name to Rebecca Rolfe. During a propaganda tour to England designed to raise much required monies for their struggling colony Pocahontas fell ill. It’s believed she had either tuberculosis or flu and when the ship she was travelling on docked at Gravesend she was taken ashore. Such diseases were unknown to the colony and thus their people had no immunity to them. Pocahontas, it’s believed, was only around 23 when she died.

Buried at St George’s Church in Gravesend, Pocahontas’ grave was lost during the fire that destroyed the site in the 18th century. The statue that stands in the grounds of the new church echoes the one in honour of her in Jamestown and was built in 1975.

A second memorial to the settlers, in the form of a brass plaque, was on the dockmaster’s house at Blackwall Quay. It commemorates the 105 settlers who left for Virginia in three small ships: The Susan Constant, The Godspeed and Discovery, 1606. Struck with famine and disease along with battles with the native Americans. Just sixty remained after three years. James Rolfe, with seeds of the tobacco plant arrived in 1610, which would become Virginia’s most famous crop. Rolf became Pocahontas’ husband.

Destroyed in the blitz, the plaque is now fixed to a stone monument.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Slaying the Dragon

Private Harold Stanley Glynn

(1895-1917)

 

Alfred the Great, in his will, refers to a stone over the door of a Dorset Church (Fordinton) where there is a stone above the south door recording St George leading crusaders into battle.  Church attendance became mandatory (and work prohibited) on this day during the rule of Edward III (1327-1377) when the Order of the Garter (founded c.1348) under the banner of St George, that is still the foremost order of knighthood in England and St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle that was built by Edward IV and Henry VII in honour of the order.

The badge of the Order shows St George on horseback slaying the dragon. St George became the battle cry until the union between England and Scotland at the end of the 18th century but is, again building popularity.

Anniversaries often hold deeper meaning within families.

Born in Edmonton, Middlesex Harold Stanley Glynn moved, with his parents and younger brother to Wickham Bishops, Essex and at sixteen was working in the family restaurant as an Assistant in Business. Later in life his brother would become Donna’s great grandfather.

Military records reveal that Private Harold Stanley Glynn of the London Regiment 10th Battalion (formerly 94, Royal Fusiliers) died in action at France and Flanders in the Western European Theatre during the Battle of Arras (also known as the Second Battle of Arras) on 23rd April 2017 (St George’s Day). Lasting from 9th April – 16th May 1917 this was a costly offensive, resulting in a loss of 100,000 British men.


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Private Harold Stanley Glynn, Donna’s second great-uncle rests at Arras, Department du Pas-deCalais, France.

 

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.


Donna Siggers and David Last


Southend-on-Sea Pier

Used for pleasure and as the RNLI lifeboat station, Southend Pier is the longest in the world. Designed by James Brunlees, this 2,2158m construction consists of hardwood decking upon iron piles and was opened in 1830. The original construction, however, was first opened in 1830 after receiving Royal Assent the previous year and was of complete wooden structure. Southend was the first pier to operate a railway in Britain, which opened in the early 1890’s.


West Beach and Pier Pavilion, Southend on Sea (1900s)

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Southend Pier played a part in both World Wars. During WWI three ships were moored off the pierhead, one held German soldiers captured in France and the other two held civilians. Remarkedly, the pier remained open for recreation.

During WWII the pier was taken over by the Navy, renamed HMS Leigh and was closed to the public. In November 1939 a ninety-minute air raid was deferred by the pier’s defenders. 84,000 ships passed Southend in total, with only one casualty—SS Richard Montgomery and we have blogged about this ship already [here].

Post war, the pier flourished for several years but in 1959 a fire destroyed the pavilion which was located at the shore end. Five-hundred people were trapped and in need of rescue, which happened by boat. The pavilion was replaced by a ten-pin bowling alley and holidaying to Southend reached was reaching its heyday.

As holidaymakers turned to package holidays abroad, Southend like many other British seaside towns begun to decline and the pier run into disrepair. Several fires later and by 1980, the council announced its plans to close the pier. Protesters battled to keep it open.

Fire has destroyed parts of the pier several times, and in October 2005 it caused significant damage to the old pierhead and surrounding structures. By 1st December of the same year, it had reopened to the public once again and by 2007 had won pier of the year.

Southend seafront has seen considerable investment and regeneration over the past few years, and in our opinion is worthy of a visit!


by Donna Siggers and David Last
Postcard image credit, Elizabeth Ponder

LondonCrime (DotCoDotUK)

LondonCrime is a fantastic website owned and managed by Jim Fletcher. Operating in its third year and dedicated to Jim’s love of our city and of its criminal history he set up the promotional site in honour of his late father.

Upon the site you have access to “the best London gangster books, movies, history and more” you can “explore the history of London's crime” and “watch the best London movies”. If that’s not enough, you are also able to “read fiction and true crime books and explore the history

of London's criminal underworld”. At least if you cannot do that on the site (of which some you can) you can access the films and books through it.

If you love everything London, you will absolutely love LondonCrime! Working tirelessly into the night, reading or watching new material that Jim feels would benefit from being added (what an excuse) every book or film is scrutinised before its added. Each has to fit Jim’s criteria that the storyline is based in London—there is just once exception to this rule and its Donna that Jim has broken it for “because he can”, as the man himself says.

Who is Jim, who is the man behind LondonCrime? An engineer, Jim balances family life and work (as well as working on the website). Many might not know but as an essential worker, Jim has continued to work throughout the pandemic as his company produce essential components. He works extremely hard and he works long hours. Once home he, of course, has family responsibilities to take care of before embarking on his website duties. That might be adding new material, creating metadata and yes Donna and Jim have conversations about that) or spending time with his essential product research!

This passion spills out into all he puts his heart into and LondonCrime is included in that. Engineering (see what I did there) a team to help with promotions, Jim is our driving force, our enthusiasm and momentum.


Please visit Jim's site once you've finished reading all about the man himself!

www.londoncrime.co.uk

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Striving for the success of others is just one outstanding quality that Jim as. As one of the team members of LondonCrime, Donna knows how much dedication goes on behind the scenes and also that he is no stranger of putting his hand in his pocket to help others strive. All the promotions Jim does for others are done for the love of what he’s read or watched and that’s humbling—all is cost free for us authors and film makers.

 Given what Jim does, what might motivate him? We’ve already shared that the website was set up in memory of Jim’s father, Jim shares that he was “ a larger-than-life figure, he was a man with a heart of gold and well respected”. Jim has shared some stories that, perhaps, can be told another day but one he has mentioned recently is that “he was once cut up in town as a long-distance lorry driver, and known for having a short fuse at times he lost his patience with this caravan driver and proceeded to put a crowbar through the caravan roof!”

Poignant, was his friendship with Michael Luvaglio. Jim shares with us that his father “worked and was friends with Michael in the early 1960s.” “Luvaglio and Dennis Stafford were both convicted of murdering Angus Sibbet in January 1967.”  “Being bought up with my father firmly stating that there was no way that either Michael or Dennis would have committed this crime, and after losing my father in 2014, I persevered with trying to find out as much as possible about it, the people involved and tried to help Michaels case in proving his innocence.” Jim has worked extremely hard, on this case, including sending letters to MP’s and the CCRC which were met with repeated resistance. Jim still feels, to this day, there was a massive cover-up during the whole case. Pleased to have been able to contact Neil Jackson, another expert on this case, who was able to relay messages to Michael on his behalf, Jim hopes that his innocence will one day be proven. Unfortunately, Michael has now passed away and won’t see this day for himself.

Jim loves music and at the tender age of seven saw Bill Haley and the Comets in concert at Hammersmith Palais, which he has revealed was in 1974 (so you can do the math on that). He was also taken to see the musical stage show of ‘Grease’ long before it became a film. Having been bought up on a diet of rock and roll, he has assured us his music taste is a lot more varied now! Fascinated by the various subcultures of times past, mods, rockers, teddy boys, skinheads, punks, casuals, etc, Jim feels it's a shame these lifestyles have mostly disappeared.

Jim also promotes other causes when time permits. Beside his passion to see others succeed he hates knife crime and often runs campaigns against it—he strongly believes people can change, given the correct chances. Jim also has dreams for the future, that include LondonCrime becoming a brand and perhaps for that to included publishing true crime and fiction books (and you never know even expanding into LondonCrime films)!


by Donna Siggers and David Last

 


Coalhouse Jetty, Fort & A Queen's Speech

One of the places we like to take a walk is Tilbury as it en-route between our two homes. The history of the place is truly  and every time we visit, there are new discoveries to be made and we thought you’d like a taster of what we found out from our last visit.

Interestingly, the first defences in Tilbury were built during the late Middle Ages to defend against a French attack and there has been a timber jetty at this location since this time, often being destroyed and then rebuilt. The defences consisted of towers and earthworks. Under the reign of Henry VIII, a blockhouse was built which formed part of our costal defence scheme. This stood near the site of a radar tower that served our coast during WWII—incidentally, the radar tower still stands and was marked on maps of the time as a ‘water tower’ to distract the purpose of its use. Built in 1540, the blockhouse would have held fifteen cannons, which were updated to twenty-seven guns just seven years and had guns a range of one mile.

During the Victorian Era, a jetty was built on the same site, allowing barges to unload supplies and armaments. As you can see from the images we took, some of the wooden structures still stand from what was the railway link.


Remains of the jetty at Coalhouse

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Tilbury has an interesting history—once an important gateway to the capital for temporary visitors on liners it also received one of its most important ones back on 9th August 1588. Queen Elizabeth I sailed from London to review her forces who were in preparation to repel the Spanish Armada. Stepping ashore at Tilbury Fort, a short distance from this site, the original building of which her father—Henry VIII—had built as a defence against the French and Spanish, and that had been extended during her reign, our monarch (due to the marshy terrain) travelled up the hill to what is now the modern village of West Tilbury. Local historians have identified the location of Queen Elizabeth’s speech as having taken place in a field next door to the parish church of Chadwell St Mary.

Famously, the speech she made at this location included these words, “…I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king…”

Tilbury Fort bears little resemblance now to the structure Elizabeth I would have seen. Aware of the threat of a Dutch invasion of the capital, Charles II ordered a review of the coastal defences, and the fort was remodeled into its present pentagonal shape, with a double moat. Ironically, given the threat from the Netherlands, the architect was a Dutchman. Other forts were constructed on this vital stretch of the Thames, where the river makes two 90-degree turns. If the artillery from one failed to deter an invader, there were other opportunities to repel the attack.

Four miles along the riverbank, still on the Essex side and near the village of East Tilbury, the Victorians built Coalhouse Fort. Although by the time it was completed the threat of invasion was over, its construction was overseen by a Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon, a job he found less to his taste than his later role in Khartoum. Coalhouse Fort was extended during the First World War, and again in the Second. Extra layers were added to the structure, and large searchlights were installed upon the roof.


Coalhouse Fort WWII Tower


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After years of economic decline there are signs of regeneration, and a growing pride in the area and its heritage. A path, part historical and part wildlife trail is also being developed. When this is finalised the ‘Two Forts Way’ will provide a four-mile walk between the forts: or for those less interested in history, between the pubs next to each.

Coalhouse Fort holds open days, and if a lottery bid succeeds, there will be major renovations. There are no plans as yet to open the grand old Tilbury cruise terminal to the public, but the restaurant is being refurbished and will soon reopen as Tilbury Riverside, a local arts activity center, so there is a lot happening for the future regeneration of this wonderful place.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

St Cedd: A Look Back into Saxon Essex

Thirteen-hundred years ago the Christian faith was being spread throughout Ireland and Scotland. Patrick, in Ireland, had established many monasteries and from there Columba had come to Iona (a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland) where a monastery and other Christian centres were established. From this first Scottish monastery, a man called Aidan was sent, by invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria to set up a monastery at Lindisfarne on the north-east coast. This monastery would also become a school where Anglo-Saxon boys could be trained to become priests and missionaries. It was here that Cedd and his and his brothers Caelin, Cynebil and Chad learnt to read and write in Latin and learnt to teach the Christian faith.

Cedd, after being ordained as a priest later became a bishop. His first mission was to travel to Mercia (the midlands) by request of his ruler, King Paeda, which was a successful mission. After hearing of this success, King Sigbert of the Essex Saxons asked for a similar mission—for Cedd to travel to Essex and teach the Christian faith.

In 653, Cedd sailed down the east coast of England from Lindisfarne to Bradwell, where he found ruins of an old deserted Roman fort. It’s believed he built a small wooden church which was soon replaced by the plentiful stone from the fort, providing a much more permanent building.

The chapel still stands today.

Greatly influenced by the architecture of the churches in Egypt and Syria, Cedd modelled this church in this style. Build on what was called the River Pant (now the River Blackwater) we know that St Anthony of Egypt had built his church from the ruins of a fort on the banks of a river in the same way as Cedd.

Due to the success of Cedd’s mission to the East Saxons he was recalled to Lindisfarne and made Bishop of the East Saxons the same year. His monastery at Bradwell, although simple, would also have been a church. A community of both men and women, a hospital, a library, a school, an arts centre, a farm, a guest house and a mission base. From this base he established other Christian centres at Mersea, Tilbury, Prittlewell and Upminster.

Cedd often travelled north to visit his childhood home and in 659 was introduced to King Ethelwald, who asked him to establish a monastery in Northumbria. While at this site in 664 he caught the plague as he lay dying thirty of his monks from Bradwell came to be with him. They too caught it, with only one boy surviving who returned to Bradwell.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

The Flying Dutchman

Stepping aboard a large houseboat, as an ex-sailor, my eyebrows are raised as Dave announces, "welcome aboard the Flying Dutchman". Glancing through the windows, there's no glimmering golden mirage emerging in the distance of a ghostly ship unable to reach its harbour, nor is there a brewing storm. Instead, we’ve stepped aboard an impressive German vessel of magnificent proportions and decor. Given the history of this ship's name, we asked the owner and his daughter, Mr Smith and Michelle if we could feature The Flying Dutchman on our blog. With huge gratitude, and our utmost respect, we cannot thank them enough for agreeing.

Upon researching it became apparent there have been several boats blessed with the same name, one an international sailing champion, no less. Even a champion race and stud horse, back in the eighteen-hundreds was blessed with this name. The Flying Dutchman has featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and even in the children’s TV series, SpongeBob SquarePants. Notoriously, it’s also an opera by Wagner (1843) adapted from an episode in Heinrich Heine's satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski) (1833), in which a character attends a theatrical performance of The Flying Dutchman in Amsterdam.

This particular boat however was built back in 1957 at the German Naval shipyard, in Suellberg, along the Elbe River in Hamberg. A steel motor yacht, the Flying Dutchman was used by German customs as a patrol vessel during the Cold War, a time that nuclear threats dominated international affairs and that tension remained between East and West Germany after WWII.

The East German border was guarded by the Border Troops, (Pogranichnyie Voiska) of the Soviet NKVD (later the KGB). In 1946, the Soviets established a locally recruited paramilitary force, the German Border Police (Deutsche Grenzpolizei or DGP), under the administration of the Interior Ministry for Security of the State Frontier (Innenministerium zum Schutz der Staatsgrenze). Both the Soviet troops and the DGP shared responsibility for patrolling the border and crossing points. By 1956, the Soviets had handed border control over to the East Germans.

West German state organisations were responsible for policing the western side of the border, they included the Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS, Federal Border Protection), the Bayerische Grenzpolizei (Bavarian Border Police) and the Bundeszollverwaltung (Federal Customs Administration). Additionally, the British Army, the British Frontier Service, the United States Constabulary, and the United States Army carried out patrols and provided backup in their respective sectors of the border. The vessel we’d stepped upon was a German customs patrol boat and given the time she had been built would have been a part of this, securing West German coast. 

At some point, possibly after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, she became a house boat and no cost was spared when she was converted. Still splendid today, it has been our great pleasure to have been aboard The Flying Dutchman and to have discovered her history. Thank you.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Viking Invasion

Hythe Quay in Maldon, Essex has already been mentioned within our blog, but it deserves a feature of its own. Home of the sailing barge that has become part of Maldon’s living heritage, many of the lovingly restored barges are still used commercially as charter vessels today. The Hythe—as the port is known—was once a separate hamlet, its skyline dominated by the town of Maldon and the prominent tower of St Mary’s Church, which was first built by Saxon settlers and then rebuilt in the twelfth century.

Maldon is special for many more reasons and is often referred to by TV chefs because if its famous salt but its also famed for much more. It hosts the infamous mud race each year, attracting many entrants, including celebrities and raises charitable funds for varying causes.

On 11th August 991, Anglo-Saxon Men of Maldon once stood their ground. Led by Eldorman Britnorth, they formed a militia force at the causeway end of Northey Island. Vikings had settled on the island, where they’d established a temporary base having already pillaged Folkestone, Sandwich and Ipswich. They were ready to attack Maldon.

Britnorth, refusing to pay the Viking invaders to turn their ships and men around to leave instead challenged them to a battle—he even allowed them to cross the causeway between Northey Island and the mainland to do so, while they formed a human shield wall. Awaiting Viking advance, Britnorth and his militia force were pounded with arrows and, when closer, spears into their masses. Close, hand to hand bloody battle combat followed where loss on both sides was heavy. It wasn’t until the death of Britnorth himself that the battle turned in the Viking’s favour.

Why, then, has the Battle of Maldon been etched into our history when the Vikings raided England so many times? The battle itself seems insignificant in that it wasn’t the first time the Anglo-Saxons fought and lost against the Vikings. This battle, however, is referred to within medieval sources countless times, which includes an epic poem with a clear message for the Anglo-Saxon leadership. Thus, it became part of collective memory, and was the first full-scale battle during King Æthelred’s reign. It was also a signal of a troubled and complex time period.

Æthelred, although proving himself to be pro-active in foreign policy with great success after the Maldon battle, his own retainers undermined his every action to keep the Vikings out of England. They betrayed him to the Vikings or began fighting among themselves. On two occasions Æthelred lost a newly built navy due to his own men (992 and 1009) which caused his Viking enemies, especially Sweyn to persecute him, even sending him into exile until Sweyn’s death in 1014. It wasn’t until Æthelred’s own death, in 1016 that Anglo-Saxon England finally comes under the rule of a Scandinavian (Vi)king, Cnut the Great.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Mistaken Identity, Near Death and True Love

Savage knife attacks happen far too often and the death rate from such events is far too high. When you hear that someone has survived it gives you a lift—a victory over crime—something to celebrate!

Then you read just how long it can take to recover, that perhaps after twenty years recovery is still on going and you begin to realise the extreme effects of survival. This is Darren Barden’s reality. This is Darren’s story—its two years since Darren published his book, so in reality we’re talking twenty-four years since this near fatal attack.

Let's Skip To The Good Bits, Darren's book is available on Amazon
CLICK HERE

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Delving a little deeper, you come to realise it’s a story of mistaken identity. A senseless attack on someone uninvolved in whatever might have been going on in whatever world he suddenly became mixed up within, when all he actually wanted was to continue with his quiet family life.

That’s unfathomable when you think about it—so we suggest you don’t try to analyse it too much.

Left for dead with his wife and baby boy (who was teething) upstairs, Darren bleeds out in the family home. Somehow, rather than calling out for his wife, Darren manages to phone the police and for an ambulance and then his parents—an act which he duly regretted.

Surviving his wounds turned out to be the easy part!

The battle that commenced against depression and PTSD would grip Darren for the years that followed—they took him to the darkest corners of his psyche and from reading his book his paranoia must have pushed his wife Wendy to her limits, but she turned out to be Darren’s rock.

Their story is also one of love and each time Darren tried to test boundaries Wendy was there to pull him in closer to her. They stood the test of time, they endured what most couples wouldn’t have handled—their love survived. Mercifully.

 

 Darren and Wendy Barden

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Imagine, if you would for a moment (and this is something Donna can relate with all too well) that you experience trauma. There is a lot of action happening around you that perhaps you’re unaware of at the time. Your loved ones are very aware of what is happening, and they witness events you don’t. Darren has, by all accounts, [eventually] recovered well from what he physically went through but still struggles with what his family have experienced. Reading his account in “Lets Skip To The Good Bits” is brutal enough but to listen to him speaking, with a broken voice, during a recent podcast (Conversation with Criminals) talking about Wendy treading through his blood that was seeping through her toes is still too much for him to comprehend; that he phoned his parents and they were there unknowing if he’d survived, still to this day, too much for him—even after twenty-four years.

The moment someone picks up a knife there is intent to cause this much devastation, or death, and the consequences that leaves behind. Donna is glad to know Darren, that he both survived and had the courage to share his story and is now venturing into helping others. January (Covid-19 dependent) sees the beginning of a new venture and the start of filming of his own podcast, The Barber Chair, where Darren will interview inspirational people, also with a story to share.


Darren sitting in The Barber's Chair, the setting for his Podcast
YouTube LINK HERE

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All that is left to say, on behalf of us both, is to wish Darren all the best for the future of his podcast and his continuing success inspiring others with his story and the shared stories of his guests.

By Donna Siggers and David Last

Cut Throat Lane

Given our enjoyment of walking and in uncovering the unusual, last weekend’s walk just had to begin an investigation into the past. Coming across a road sign, Cut-A-Thwart-Lane, had the cogs in our minds working. The obvious thought was that this might mean ‘Cut Throat Lane’ and indeed there are references to this.

Donna had heard the word thwart before and it wasn’t until she had looked it up that her canoeing days bought forward a boating link to the word. Indeed, its used to describe the wooden seat that reaches from one side of a boat to another.  A thwart cut is a fencing maneuver with swords too but deeper research revealed that an old English meaning of the phrase had been used on the River Blackwater, which is just a short distance away from this lane. When crossing the line of a ship’s path—cut-a-thwart in 15th century England meant to cross from side to side. Cut-throat, similarly, meant a short cut or to cut across, and in this case the lane was an alternative to the milestone-lined London Road that was the main route into Maldon.

Maldon had been granted a Royal Charter by Henry II in 1171 and is an ancient Anglo-Saxon burgh. From the Iron Age it has been settled in by Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans--and a blog for another day is that it’s the famous site of the famous Battle of Maldon fought between Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons in 991AD. It was, then, a high-profile town back in the day.

Interestingly, Cut-A-Thwart Lane shows geographic evidence suggesting it was once a hola-weg. The road, in places is much lower than the banks that flank its side, an indication of years of pounding by humans and animals long before modern road surfaces existed. Suggestive that this lane formed the boundary of the estates of Beeleigh Abbey and Fitzwalter’s Park the sunken result still floods to this day. Oliver Rackham (1939-2015) cited thirty-eight mentions of such hola-wegs in Anglo-Saxon charters, and this lane is one of those. Beeleigh (the meaning of which is a clearing in the trees where bee hives are kept) still has a magnificent dwelling very close to the entrance of the lane.

Fascinatingly, during the summer of 1550 Princess Mary (Mary Tudor, later Queen Mary I) was under house arrest at nearby Woodham Walter Hall. Her agents hatched a plan to smuggle her onto an imperial war ship that was moored at Maldon’s Hythe in order that she could escape to the Netherlands—it was believed she would have been somewhat safer there due to her religious beliefs. Sophisticated plans were made that would have avoided the main road into Maldon. Some kind of ‘secret passage’ was planned. Mary developed cold feet, possibly realising that if she gave up and fled, as a true daughter of Henry VIII, she would find her abdications of her royal prerogative hard to accept. Jehan Dubois, Secretary to the Ambassador met with Mary and liaised with her trusted officer Robert Rochester, who begged the imperial secretary for more time. Firm in his message to her, Dubois conveyed that now was the time to escape and that they had to leave immediately. She attempted to stall for more time but Dubois slipped away and the rowing boats left without her as he feared their plot was close to being discovered.

Three years later Mary ruled England, but was Cut-A-Thwart Lane their possible route?

We’d like to think so!


Donna Siggers and David Last

Pigs At Rochester Castle

Rochester Castle stands proudly, overlooking the River Medway, above the bridge that became an important factor in a six week siege that not only resulted in the collapse of an entire corner of the castle but one that still effects our lives today.

A castle has stood at Rochester since the Norman Conquest of 1066. However, the great tower that stands there today dates from 1127 and was built for the Archbishop of Canterbury—William of Corbeil—who shared ownership with the crown. Standing at 125 feet (30 metres) it’s the tallest keep in the British Isles, boasting two floors above the main level and basement, which is an unusual feature. Given the latrines and comfortable chambers it was a place to entertain royalty or an Archbishop but given the situation of 1215, décor was unimportant!

Civil war had broken out between King John (1199-1216)—the one portrayed in the Robin Hood story—and the barons who forced him to seal Magna Carta in June of 1215. Forcing the Pope to decline this null, King John who was based in the South and the barons who were based in London gathered soldiers.

Unwavering to King John’s demands to hand the castle over, Archbishop Stephen Langton allowed rebel Baron William de Albini and sixty to eighty knights, their retinues, archers and crossbowmen to take possession. The aforementioned bridge across the River Medway became important ground, as taking control here gave the upper hand and this became John’s priority.

Using fire-stone throwing siege engines and master miners from the Forest of Dean, King John undermined the wall of the Bailey first, before tunnelling under the great tower. The techniques they used were rather sinister! The grease from forty slaughters pigs ‘of the kind not fit for eating’ was used as an accelerant to burn the props holding the masonry in place that had been exposed by the minors. The inferno created by the fire caused the great tower to come tumbling down and those defending Rochester Castle—the barons—to retreat. Running out of food, they had no choice but to surrender to King John who wanted each of them hung. This act of carnage was dissuaded by his own captain who wished to avoid the same fate should the tables turn.


Rochester Castle
One of our favourite places to visit and photograph

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The Importance of Magna Carta: The Magna Carta Liberation or “Great Charter of Freedoms” that’s commonly known as Magna Carta is a Royal Charter of rights agreed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor on 15th June, 1215 and was first drafted by Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, in order to make peace between the unpopular King John and a group of rebel Barons. It promised the protection of church rights, protection against illegal imprisonment for the barons, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the crown to be implemented through a conduct of twenty-five barons. Although a lot of history has passed since 1215 and now, the Magna Carta still forms an important symbol of liberty today.


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Drug Den

Research takes us to remote locations, many of which are dependent upon tide times to enable access to, time to explore and indeed time to return safely back to the car. Given the dangers of rising tides and the risk of being caught off guard—of being swept out by the tidal flow of the river that takes you out into the North Sea—often we enter a space cut off from civilization twice each day.

Remoteness and privacy are two obvious attractions beside one particular location we’ve investigated. What we considered, initially to be an additional gem to the place we’d wanted to visit for a while turned into something else.

In order that we don’t expose what we are investigating, or indeed uncover this space for those that use it for their privacy (and our safety) we need to keep the location and type of building to ourselves. We will state, however that being able to enter this type of building is rare these days, so we were excited to find the entrance passable. It was both a slight climb and crouch to enable us to heave ourselves through the gap. Squeezing through the small doorway into the dark space, it was soon apparent we might not be alone but were committed to what we might discover as we dropped into the unknown. For all we knew this space could have been occupied, what we were unaware of was the state of awareness they might have been in. All was silent as we listened beyond the wall that was in front of us. Our next thought was there might have been an overdose.

We’d entered a drug den.

For those who require support the NHS offer that here 

Lining the floor at one end of the tilted building were bottles of liquid—we suspected the contents to be urine but didn’t inspect them. Discarded among these were several nitrous oxide canisters, along with tin cans blackened with soot and slightly crushed. We expected these had been used for taking crack cocaine. In a small clearing was a small cooker, covered in worn foil—we didn’t see any sign of used needles but at the same time we didn’t exactly search too hard!

Turning the phone torchlight to the ceiling and external walls, we noted the graffiti. The walls had blackened from the smoke and soot created from the drug taking activities. Etched into this were names and painted in darker black were images only those who had created them would be able to decipher for they had been created in a drug induced state.


A few images from our find

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Thankfully, it was only the two of us present and we expected this was due to our early morning exploration. Had we called after dark, matters may well have been different!

By Donna Siggers and David Last

Tony Turner

Introducing you to Tony Turner is our great pleasure. An amazing friend, Tony gives incredible support to a great deal of people. Running a Facebook group called Famous Gangsters and Villains From Around The World, that he started with Eileen Smith, he shares historic stories of utmost interest. Tony puts a lot of research into his posts, all of which are fascinating. Heading towards 16.5K members, this private group has strict rules and is well executed by Tony and his team of admins.

 

To join Famous Gangsters and Villains From Around The World, click this link

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Charity is close to a lot of people’s hearts and Tony Turner is one of those big-hearted people who raise a lot of money for others. Noting that Facebook had become a good placed to raise money by selling items, Tony states that he “was a member of a few groups and saw they were selling books and gangland memorabilia”. Well connected, in both author and gangland circles, Tony thought he could do the same. Instead of keeping the money he donates it to charity. Stating it’s the same with boxing too, Tony says, “I knew dealers in boxing memorabilia so I would buy stuff off them and re-auction on the group. This money came out my own pocket, but it was a way for me to give back to people who needed it.”

The Ley Community is a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center who help break the cycle of addiction and offending. Tony says, “most of the money I have raised has been for the residential drug and alcohol rehab centre called the Ley,” and you can see him pictured below, with Chris Lambrianou, handing over a cheque for some of that money.


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Other fundraising campaigns have included money for St Michael’s Hospice, with a Charles Salvador lookalike (pictured left) and for the Change Your Life, Put Down Your Knife group (pictured right) who we featured right here on Soul2Ink on 22nd October.


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Incredibly, to date, Tony has shared with us that he has “raised over £10,000 for charity” which is a figure to be hugely proud of!

 by Donna Siggers and David Last

(Feature main image by PS Express

Lest We Forget

Within a world that appears disjointed, something as simple as the symbol of a poppy can bring us together again. Its concept, born as the result of Col John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, in which he wrote about the barren countryside of the Western Front and of the ‘flanders’ poppy he witnessed growing among the mud that remained amid the turmoil of war.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

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American academic, Mona Michael, inspired by the poem made and sold the original silk poppies to commemorate those who had died in WWI. This concept was taken on by the British Legion after they formed in 1921, when they ordered nine million poppies to sell on 11th November in support of veteran’s causes. Over £106,000 was raised and it was decided a factory should open, employing disabled ex-servicemen in order to produce poppies—which were put into full production.

Remaining our symbol of remembrance, the British Legion’s poppy appeal continues to raise millions each year for current servicemen and women across the UK.

Variations do now exist, however. For example, a purple poppy represents animals that have served during conflict. The charity, Animal Aid created the purple poppy in 2006 with the view that animals lost to war were forgotten victims—an estimated eight million horses and donkeys died during WWI which was portrayed through Michael Morpurgo’s book ‘War Horse’ (now both a movie and stage play).

Similar to our story, the French also wear a flower. The bleuet de France (or cornflower) is the symbol for, and solidarity with veterans, victims of war, widows, and orphans. They are sold both on 11th November and 8th May. Proceeds are used to finance charitable causes.

On the barren fields of the Western Front, much like the poppy, the cornflower also flourished and were often the only visible sign of life among the mud and trenches.

With war arrives propaganda and the ‘Bluets’ as they were known (very young soldiers arriving at the front line for the first time) would do so in uniforms ‘the colour of the sky’ which was symbolised embellished with cornflowers, giving war a glamorous image.

The French Bleuet de France badge itself dates back to 1916 and was created by Suzanne Lenhardt (head nurse) and Charlotte Malleterre (widow of a Col Infantry killed in 1915). Both women had been moved by the suffering endured by the war wounded and provided them with an activity by arranging workshops where cornflower badges were made from tissue paper. The money collected provided the men with a small income and the badges gradually became a symbol of rehabilitation of soldiers through labour.

Lest we forget.

by Donna Siggers and David Last

Remember, Remember

High treason was on the agenda back in 1605 when a small group of angry Catholics hatched a plan to blow King James I and his parliament to pieces. Representing the majority of English subjects, their conspiracy was detected. Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellar ready to ignite barrels of gunpowder—and we still celebrate him today, on 5th November, as we light bonfires and send fireworks up into the sky. As we all know this story, Dave and I would like to share a little twist on events, and given our love of words, its highly appropriate.

William Shakespeare would have been familiar with the conspirators, who had deep connections with both him and his family. Shakespeare’s father, John and William Catesby (the father of head conspirator Robert Catesby) shared illegal Catholic writings that were found in John’s Stratford home.

Furthermore, Shakespeare himself frequented the Mermaid Tavern in London that was owned by his closest friend and confident. This was the meeting place of the turncoats and where they schemed to obliterate Protestants ‘once and for all’.

While the conspirators awaited their fate and duly suffered the ultimate punishment of being dismembered and beheaded in front of cheering masses, Shakespeare begun piecing together a new masterpiece that would bring together tales of different Scottish kings as he penned a propaganda machine that appeared to clear his name.

Macbeth, his mythical take on history which not only captured the character of James I but also his enjoyment at watching it worked a treat. As with all of Shakespeare’s work, Macbeth was a masterpiece—woven directly into his plot was indeed references to the gunpowder plot itself. Commemorating its discovery, King James I had a medal created picturing a snake hiding among flowers and of course Shakespeare includes this within his play too, Lady Macbeth tells her husband to look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under it. Also, naming a Jesuit priest, Father Henry Garnet, who later confessed and was hanged to perjury, Shakespeare included political ‘spin’ within his work.

Politics doesn’t really change, although the way it’s delivered has—the powerful message within Shakespeare’s work does have a timeless edge to it.

By Donna Siggers and David Last

Pyramid in the Park

Situated in parkland that contains Cobham Woods, Darnley Mausoleum is a striking surprise when you’ve never seen it before. Now owned by the National Trust, this building was designed by James Wyatt for the Forth Earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall in Kent, as detailed in precise instructions of his predecessor, the Third Earl of Darnley. Surprisingly, this structure has never been used for its intended purpose of interments.

Using the architectural style of a grand classical temple of Roman Doric Order, most recognisable by the simple circular capitals at the top of the columns, this isn’t what struck me when Dave took me here recently.


Darnley Mausleum (pictured looking out from woodland)

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Symbolism emits from every part of this incredible building that stands in the middle of the countryside, and anyone that's read my novels might know that I understand it . Most notable is the pyramid (a symbol for strength a duration) atop of it which then made me look for other signs: nine steps lead up to the entrance; nine vents in the form of flowers, each with eight petals, that allow air flow through three windows.

Let’s talk numbers—Masonic numbers. The number three was celebrated among ancient sages, the sum three times three (nine) has no less celebrity. Representing each of the elements which constitutes our bodies—water, earth and fire—are thus tripled. The flowers each have eight petals: eight was esteemed by Pythagoreans as the first cube being formed by the multiplication two by two by two. It signifies friendship, prudence, council and justice. Reduplication of the first even number it was made to refer to the primitive law of nature, supposing all men to be equal. Christian numerical symbologists consider the number eight the number for resurrection—here goes—Jesus rose on the seventh day. In Greek numerals, corresponding to its Greek letters this is represented as 10, 8, 200, 70, 400, 200. These numbers added is 888, the Dominical Number. (Number source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry).

Unfortunately, the building was locked so it wasn’t possible to gain entry, but I’m now intrigued as to what symbolism might lay within it.

Returning home with questions as to who might have wanted this important structure built in the first place, I got to researching who the Third Duke of Darnley might have been and the family connections he had were remarkable! Esmè Stewart, 3rd Duke of Lennox (1579-30 July 1624) KG, Lord of the Manor of Cobham, Kent, a Scottish nobleman and second cousin of King James VI of Scotland and I of England was also 3rd Duke of Darnley. Interestingly, his son, the 4th Duke of Darnley, served as Lord Warden of the Clique Ports based in Dover Castle (also in Kent).

Further research has revealed that both King James VI of Scotland (later I of England and Esmè Steward were Freemasons, which explains the elaborate design of Darnley Mausoleum and the rarity of it being placed in vast wooded parkland.

James I will also feature next week as we delve into November, and plots of treason against him.



By Donna Siggers with David Last

Change Your Life Put Down Your Knife!

Starting the campaign, Change Your Life Put Down Your Knife around six months ago, Ben Spann built upon foundations for what has turned out to be the fastest growing knife campaign group in the UK. Gaining support from members and many reformed high-profile ex criminals willing to get the message out there, people like Terry Ellis (who was our first ever feature on this blog), Vinny Bradish and Chris Lambrianou have created a strong message that is here to stay.


To join the Facebook group "Change Your Life Put Down Your Knife"
PRESS HERE

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Ben says, “we are the group that represents the people: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles but most of all every child in the U.K. Our campaign values are simple Prevent, Rehabilitate and Educate.”

Fully committed to the ongoing work that’s involved, the team are aware how much work is required to get them to where they want to be. Ben conveys that with “the support from every parent and grandparent to give us the voice we need. To be able to stand up for what is right our future generations shouldn’t feel the need to have to carry a blade as a necessity like a phone or watch.”

Campaigners: Romail Essex, Vinny Bradish, Tony Turner, Ben Spann,

Chris Lambrianou, Kimberly Ann Overton, Jim Lamianou, and Terry Ellis

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Knife crime effects every part of our country and if you’re blinded to that, please take a long, hard look at your community. Unfortunately, it’s become part of culture. It’s a known fact that if you are carrying there’s a greater likelihood of you using rather than not if the opportunity arises—if you carry consider leaving it behind.

Ben speaks for the group, Change Your Life Put Down Your Knife when he says that they “do not tolerate our kids being groomed into gangs, nor will they tolerate them being the victims or the perpetrators of knife crime. Enough is enough. We are doing great things but as you can imagine there is no overnight fix.”

Ben states that working within communities is one of the important aspects of what they are about and it’s been a great pleasure to have had a close association with Leamington Amateur Boxing Club, ran by Ollie O’Neil who are doing fantastic work with our youth, as are Aces Boxing Club, ran by Harmi Singh. Now in the process of becoming the proud [main] sponsors of Coventry City Supporter’s Club, the distinctive logo for the group will soon be displayed on their new kits.

Ben Spann handing over a donation to Leamington Spa Boxing Club

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Acutely aware that not all youth are sport minded the group have also been working closely with Hills FM, a Coventry based radio station and also with the homeless and youth services and drug and alcohol rehabilitation services within the area.

As a group, Ben and his team, are looking to carry out educational talks in schools and youth facilities all over the UK, once the Covid-19 situation allows. In the meantime, they will be seeking ways in which our future generations can be occupied, since funding for youth facilities has been cut year upon year. Ben ensures us that their campaign is “enrolling new schemes on a weekly basis as well as being affiliated with many sport facilities locally and across the UK.”

He goes on the say “Thanks for the support of our members and we look forward to all new members who have the same views on this subject.”


by Donna Siggers and David Last

Sweet Misery

Looks sweet and innocent enough, doesn’t it, the jelly baby, but this unassuming treat has a dark past. What we want to know is do you have a sinister mastication to the method in which you eat them? Are you the type that goes straight in for the kill by chopping of the head, Henry VIII style? Or do you nibble off the arms and legs to leave a helpless torso? Perhaps you place the whole thing into your mouth and allow it to melt as if it’s in an acid bath! Pseudo-cannibalism may not have crossed you mind until now but allow us to take you through the history of this sweetie and all will be revealed!

Invented by an Austrian immigrant confectioner working at Fryers of Lancashire in 1864, the mold produced for what was supposed to be jelly bears looked more like new-born infants. Subsequently the sweets were given the macabre name, unclaimed babies. Unclaimed babies were part of life in Victorian Britain, with newborn babies being left on church steps regularly—Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Temptation claims that Victorian people would have found the name “amusing”.

This name was short-lived. In celebration of peace, after WWI, Bassett’s of Sheffield began producing the sweet in 1918 as Peace Babies but production was halted during WWII due to a shortage of raw materials. Once production restarted in 1953, they were relaunched as Jelly Babies and their popularity took off. They even have names as well as their individual flavour! “Brilliant” (red: strawberry); “Bubbles” (yellow: lemon); “Baby Bonny” (pink: raspberry); “Boofuls” (green: lime); “Bigheart” (purple: blackcurrant); and “Bumper” (orange).

There is a little more to their cute faces than meets the eye too—have you ever looked at them? Their faces illustrate sin and the darkness of the human heart. So here is the list for you to wrap your head around:- Pink: This one is an actual baby—awww! Red: Displaying a large B, representing blood sacrifice; Green: This baby is crying indicating human misery.

Doctor Who ate them, he pretended they were weapons against an enemy too in the popular cult TV show. Rowan Atkinson carried them in Johnny English Strikes Again, as disguised explosives. The Beatles were pelted with jelly babies, but most importantly Basil Brush considered them his favourite sweetie snack—and who could argue with a sitcom puppet fox?

by Donna Siggers and David Last