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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