Abandoned buildings became a healthy addiction approximately five years ago, seeing me trawl google earth at every given opportunity. A visit to the Isle of Anglesey, gave me the perfect opportunity to visit some relics in the North East but nothing as interesting what I would stumble across.
After an hour’s map search this, find wasn’t an if but a when. Luckily, I found information that assisted me on google regarding a visit from a fellow explorer—he’d been chased from the park by a member of the Bulkeley family who lives nearby. From here I learnt the Baron Hill Estate had been owned by and had been the family seat to the influential Bulkeley family, explained his annoyance as the family lost their fortunes to death duties.
Undeterred, I arrive in Beaumaris and given on-line reports of former angry encounters left a digital footprint of my whereabouts before setting out on my adventure towards the gate house. I have to admit, adrenaline was pumping but there was no alternative but to volt a four foot wall in order for me to be out of view—I’m not sure who was more startled, myself or the pheasant I disturbed!
Making my way I was in awe at the view of the south of the island and the Beaumaris Castle coming into view, an amazing sight, but I was soon bought back into reality as a tractor came towards me. On high alert once more, I quickened my pace and made my way back into the wooded area for coverage. After all, I was trespassing.
After a few more steps through undergrowth I stumbled upon what I was looking for—an incredible sight, decaying among the trees that was difficult to photograph. The true scale of the building impossible to capture due to the density of the plants growing around and withing it. Floors had given way, and stairways were impassable, but it was still possible to gauge the enormity and grandeur existence.
Baron Hill Mansion: Abandoned After Polish Soldiers moved out in WWII
The Baron Hill Estate was stablished in 1618 with the original mansion being built the same year by Sir Richard Bulkeley. During the English Civil War, Richard Bulkeley’s successor Colonel Thomas Bulkeley was said to invite King Charles I to take possession of the house in order to set up his court there. In the early eighteenth century the house was the seat of Richard Bulkeley 4th Viscount Bulkeley who maintained Jacobite sympathies.
King Edward VII enjoying tea in the garden of Baron Hill Estate
(Seated fourth at table--with the Bulkeley family)
In 1776 the house was reconstructed by architect Samuel Wyatt to a much similar design that is still evident in its ruined state today. In the nineteenth century the Bulkeleys remained the most dominant land owners on the island and other parts of Wales. During WWI the death duties had wiped the family’s fortunes and they were unable to maintain the estate. During the war Royal Engineers were stationed at the house. In 1939 when WWII broke out the mansion was taken over by the government and used as temporary housing for Polish soldiers, who in protest to the cold conditions, started a fire and destroyed much of the interior so they would be moved to new housing accommodation. The mansion was abandoned and still is to this day.
The park is a designated site of special scientific interest due to the large area that has been undisturbed for many years. I believe the building itself is now listed and there was a planning application in 2008 to restore and convert into flats.
Looking back through some old newspapers in Dave’s personal collection, a headline grabbed our attention. Nothing, it seems, changes although the vastness of the volume of traffic has obviously increased over the years. That dreaded stretch of road was as bad back in 1965 as it is today!
Reporting in the Daily Sketch on Tuesday, April 20, 1965 John Hunt reports:
Given the era, a staggering 50K cars made their way towards London during what Hunt describes as the “worst holiday trek home of all time on Britain’s roads”. He goes on to report that the Easter weekend death toll tops the previous year by twenty-three at the time of print. Totalling 8M vehicles on a road network, which was much less in terms of both quality and space, Hunt claims everyone appeared to return home simultaneously and clearly states that Yorkshire, Lancashire, Wales and Scotland were at a standstill before going on to give Kent and London special attention.
Notorious, even back then the Dartford Tunnel gets a mention. The stretch of road known as the A2 in Kent couldn’t cope and as a result the Northbound lanes of the tunnel were closed to allow the congestion of the Southbound traffic a little relief. Thankfully these days we also have the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge which takes all Southbound traffic. Even so, the stretch of road remains notorious for congestion. London, its reported by Hunt, was just as congested with five mile tail backs on the Great North Road.
One of the four tunnels at the Dartford Crossing
Tom Fraser, Transport Minister called for a ‘How could it happen’ inquiry but it was Dr R J Smeed of the Road Research Labortory who stated that deaths could be reduced by half on our roads if all motor cyclists wore crash helmets; if all motorists wore seatbelts; if roads were properly surfaced, designed and lit; if there were more traffic police; and if more speed limits were in place. He suggested that “if society is willing to make some sacrifices, accidents could be drastically reduced”.
Consequently, seatbelts were installed by car manufacturers in the same year, but startlingly it took the UK until 1991for the law to be changed and for it to became compulsory for us to wear them. Classic cars manufactured predating 1965 are exempt, by law, from having seatbelts fitted and thus those driving or being a passenger within them do not therefore have a legal obligation to wear a seatbelt in such a vehicle.
Again, there was substantial delays before the wearing of crash helmets became law and it wasn’t until 1973 that the law was changed in the UK making it offence to ride a motorbike without one. This also applies to quad bikes on our roads. Helmets must meet with British standards and carry the BSI kitemark. Again, there is an exception within our law—a sikh who routinely wears a turban as an expression of their religious beliefs cannot be charged for motoring offences for failing to wear a helmet while riding their motor bike.
Presently there is no law stating that bicycle riders should wear protective head gear although it does state in the highway code they are recommended while riding on our roads and currently the law states that children (but not adults) should wear safety crash helmets while riding horses or ponies on the road. Again the helmets worn by horse riders carry BSI kitemarks.Be safe out there!
by Donna Siggers and David Last
SS Richard Montgomery, a US Liberty Ship, rests on a sandbank running east from the Isle of Grain approximately 250 metres north of the Medway Approach Channel in the Thames estuary and has done so since it ran aground on 20th August 1944.
Its an eerie sight, even on the brightest of days.
Built in 1943 by the St John’s River Shipbuilding Company, Jacksonville, she was one of in excess of 2,700 mass-produced vessels built for the WWII effort. Setting sail containing cargo of 7,000 tonnes of munitions she was directed to anchor in the Great Nore anchorage off Sheerness, to await formation of a convoy before heading to Cherbourg. Running aground in shallow waters just North of the Medway Approach Channel. Efforts to unload her cargo were intensive but a crack appeared in the hull by the next day and unfortunately the forward end begun to flood. Salvage continued until 25th September when she flooded completely and was abandoned. Remaining on the sandbank where she sank, her masts clearly visible above the water, there is something sinister about this ship.
Protected under Section Two of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, there is a no entry exclusion zone around her. Marked on the relevant Admiralty Charts and defined by coordinates—the physical site is marked by buoys in the water that act as a warning other ships in the area. There are also warning signs attached to the masts.
Why so much protection?
Approximately 1,400 tonnes of explosives remain aboard the forward holds and although water is a good mitigator (allegedly) the issue is the actual wreck around the explosives is decaying. Experts believe the decaying vessel could cause enough energy to detonate the bombs and if this occurred Sheerness could be flattened. The wave and subsequent momentum that would occur from the explosion would, it’s thought, travel the Thames flattening buildings along the way. Of course, there is a lot of speculation of how these explosives may behave after being submerged for such a long time but who needs to be taking such huge chances?
Another worry is the masts could be struck by a passing vessel and there have been many near misses over the years. Despite the exclusion zone being clearly marked, storms can be difficult to navigate and some of the larger ships, once set on their path are hugely difficult to turn. There are even internet photographs of a paddle boarder entering the exclusion zone and touching a mast. Those images are on google if you’re interested to view them—irresponsibility seems to be high on some people’s agenda.
Responding to decay and potential danger the plan is to remove the masts from this incredible ghost that sits within our estuary. A silent ticking time-bomb that will be costing £5M in danger money to preserve live and land. Its an incredible story and we are glad we got to view the Montgomery together before her masts disappear.
We were taken out from Southend-on-Sea by jetstreamtours.com who are based in Rochester, Kent. Their boat, Jacob Marley, has been kitted out in line within Covid-19 guidelines. Each table is divided with plastic divides and numbers are limited on each tour. Hand sanitiser is available and numbers are limited out on deck, with plenty of time for everyone to have their turn taking photographs at each of the sites visited. History of the area is shared by the captain who is very knowledgeable--not just on the sites you have paid to visit but on other hidden gems too.
by Donna Siggers and David Last
David P Perlmutter has a few true crime stories under his belt and he tells them in a way that makes you feel as if you’ve been magically transported into an off the hip documentary. Taking you back in time, to his younger years, you are locked into a passionate embrace one minute and then thrown into extreme panic the next. His stories are raw and authentic—they are dramatic. The first words I ever read of Dave’s were “Let go of my fucking hair”, words that both resonated with me and that have stuck in my head—they were the opening lines of 'Five Weeks'.
Drama is most definitely at the forefront of Dave’s mind these days at a very different level, for production of his first movie is beginning to take shape. 'Wrong Place Wrong Time' has become a worldwide bestseller on Amazon and is now a Book To Movie project with Golden Mile Productions and No Reservations Entertainment. And with the recently added Bafta winner, executive Producer Mark Foligno from movies such as Moon and The King’s Speech this movie is definitely one to be looking out for!
Letting you in a little on this story, it unfolds as Dave, an estate agent from London, finds himself on the wrong side of the law in England’s capital and so he runs away to Spain rather than facing the shame he’d bought upon his family because he’d lost his job, and his driving licence. In hindsight what occurred on home soil was a far simpler matter than the night over in Marbella that the book is essentially about. Dave (it seems odd calling him that, as to me he’s DPP) stumbled upon a burning building and entered it, not giving a thought to his own safety. I’m not going to give anything further away as it’s a compelling story that I know you’d enjoy for yourself but I'll say this--despite all the help he gave that night, there may have been a little misdemeanour in the mix, and he was arrested and charged for far more than he’d carried out.
Cups and Oranges is one of my favourite chapters—it portrays the harshness of the situation Dave finds himself in, both physically and emotionally. Isolated in a foreign country, he finds a simple way to connect with his family in a way that’s truly moving and this chapter may have bought a little moisture to my eyes.
Dave has written more true crime books (pictured below) than the two I’ve mentioned, they can all be found through his author page each of which are stand alone stories and as compelling as one another. I began with 'Five Weeks' but with the movie looming my ultimate recommendation has to be 'Wrong Place Wrong Time'. There is much more to DPP's writing than his true stories and I will share some more of his work at a later date.
Reculver Towers and Roman Fort is mostly a ruin. Still, this site takes your breath away as you approach it. The dominant towers of the twelfth-century former monastic church stand out against the skyline and act as a navigational marker for shipping. Unfortunately, much of the site has been lost to coastal erosion but you can still gain a sense of how grand it must have been from what remains.
Two thousand years ago the geographical layout of the area was hugely different—the Wantsum, a sea channel, cut off the Isle of Thanet from the mainland (this area has since silted up and is now dry land). The Roman Fort once stood on what was a peninsula at the north end of the channel where it joined the Thames estuary.
The Romans conquered England under Claudius in AD 43 thus their armies landed unopposed under Aulus Plautius. There has always been debate as to the location this occurred—Reculver and Richborough (at nearby Sandwich) are locations where fortifications of the Claudian period have been found: given these early findings its plausible the Wantsum channel could be the site where Romans first landed in England.
It’s believed the Roman settlement was build during the 1st and 2nd centuries around a harbour and that the fort was erected during the 3rd century. Almost square, with rounded corners and measuring 180m x 175m it was built on Saxon Shore against Saxon raids.
The religious aspect of the site wasn’t erected until the 5th century, by which time the Romans had abandoned it. The Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded in 669 which made good use of the existing fortifications. The monastery was in use for five centuries.
Another wonderful visit that has prompted a little research into England’s heritage and flared our imagination as to what life might have been like living in a place like this centuries ago.
by Donna Siggers and David Last
Walking has always prompted a stream of thinking, but this week was different. We took a walk around St Mary’s Island, Chatham and paused to read an information board which prompted some research. Both of us are interested in Britain’s criminal past, and so we’ve stepped back to the 1860s and to a time St Mary’s Prison held one thousand convicts, but our research took us back a little further in order to understand the full impact of what we were reading.
Prison hulks had been present on the River Medway since the early nineteenth century, when Chatham became a permanent hulk station. By the end of the French wars in 1815, in excess of 70,000 prisoners of war were being held in these hulks moored at Chatham Reaches, Gillingham and Sheerness. Disease was rife and punishment harsh.
When, in 1818, the announcement that Chatham Dockyard would be expanded it was the convicts from the hulks who provided the labour for the work—this included the reclamation of St Mary’s creek. Over time the hulks deteriorated but the authorities, wanting to keep the labour, begun the construction of a brick convict prison on St Mary’s Island, which opened to receive hulk convicts from Chatham and Woolwich in 1856.
St Mary's Convict Prison, St Mary's Island, Chatham
According to The Times, (January 1861) “A considerable degree of uneasiness, almost amounting to alarm, has been occasioned to the officials of the convict prison of St Mary’s Island… in consequence of the disaffection and mutinous conduct of the convicts confined in that establishment.” So, what might this be about? Continuing the article, we learnt that convict Peters had acquired a skeleton key and during a mass gathering in the hall where he and fellow convicts were awaiting a medical examination, he took the opportunity to escape. Making his way across the parade grounds he attempted to release a man named Bennett, incarcerated for burglaries in London, but was recaptured by a warder.
Revolt followed. Although, in comparison with today’s standards of retaliation against authority their response might be considered somewhat mild. The prisoners protested by disturbing the minister during his chapel service. No violence was displayed, instead marks of disapproval such as hooting, yelling and cheering were used. Considered a prelude to something that might manifest into a larger event, the ringleaders were rounded up by order of the governor and his deputy—Captain Powell and Mr Measor respectively. Now safely confined to the punishment cells they assumed it would be easy to contain the remaining convicts. The following days would see 150 warders on duty, all heavily armed, but they made no difference. Mutiny continued within the cells. Windows were smashed and furniture broken, alongside the vocal disturbances that continued.
Official action was deemed necessary and upon request of the Home Secretary--Sir George Cornewall Lewis—the inspector-general, Captain Gambier, of the convict establishments commenced an investigation but this wouldn’t be the end of the matter. Despite prison food being far superior to that of any union workhouse dinners, a dockyard work party begun a protest regarding the quality of their food. At a pre-arranged signal fifty convicts threatened to massacre their keepers, stole their cell keys and begun to release fellow convicts. Pandemonium ensued and damages amounting to £1,500 (approx. £35.5K in today’s money) was caused.
Military intervention was deemed necessary. Four-hundred Royal Marines, stationed nearby, charged the rioters with muskets—the Warders following in close quarters with their truncheons. Order was resumed. Warders lost their jobs—staff at the prison had been made up from two hulk ships and it had been reported there was jealousy between the two sets of staff that resulted in bad management of the convicts. A number of Warders were transferred from Pentonville prison to replace them.
It seems the ‘blame culture’ has been around some time!
The River Medway today, from St Mary's Island
by Donna Siggers and Dave Last
Terry Ellis has taken social media by storm with his story. Podcasts are gaining thousands of views within hours of airing and although each interview shares the same subject matter they delve into a different depth of Terry’s past. His debut book “Living Amongst The Beasts” is an Amazon bestseller, so what sparks international interest in a man born to humble beginnings in London’s East End?
Although I’ve not met Terry we network on various platforms and in within groups. Before I delve into his past, I’d like to share a little of what he’s involved in now—and it seems that anything that this man puts his mind and energy into succeeds. During lockdown Terry and a small team decided to arrange for food parcels to be delivered to vulnerable members of his community and what started out as a small gesture ended up as a mammoth undertaking of enormous effort. Donations kept arriving and parcels were delivered for the duration of lockdown.
Terry continues to give back to society. He helps run a Facebook group “Change your life, put down your knife!” This group brings together both victims and perpetrators of knife crime. A non-judgmental group the aim is to educate, raise awareness and to help others at a community level. Again, there are no half measures with politicians and celebrities involved giving Terry and the other organisers the momentum required to make this a successful endeavour.
I could continue!
Its great to see Terry’s positivity shining so brightly when I know, through reading his book “Living Amongst The Beasts” and from listening to the podcasts, how he used to live out his life. Although I could go into details, I’d rather you read it for yourself but I will share this much: having risen to earn himself the notoriety of one of Britain’s top underworld armed robbers, Terry was the mastermind behind the 2007 $4M heist at Verizon Business Centre in Kings Cross, London. Resulting from this he spent time at Britain’s only full therapeutic prison—HMP Grendon—where he describes living amongst the beasts: rapists, child killers and paedophiles with whom he would sit alongside in therapy. For the first time in his life, violence couldn’t be his response and instead he learnt to discover the positives in fellow humans, whatever crime they had committed. Something I personally find humbling. In changing his own mindset, he was able to break the cycle that allowed therapy to work for him. Adjusting his behaviour and thus his quality of life has meant returning to society and a crime-free way of life.
“Living Amongst The Beasts”
isn’t just about Terry’s own
journey. He’s written it in a way that will flair your own emotions in a way
that will spark a self-discovery journey of your own if you allow it to, as you
begin to look inwards at yourself. It truly is an inspirational and encouraging
book and suitable for anyone seeking to change.
Terry has a second book that’s newly released, that he’s co-authored with Christopher Alston. “HMP Help Me Prepare: A guide to prison for first timers and their families”. The blurb reads as follows: Help me prepare is a guide to prison for anyone facing a custodial sentence in the UK, their families or anyone with an interest in how the UK prison system works.
The guide is designed to give people first-hand accounts of what to expect and offers advice on how to navigate your way through the system and the challenges everyone faces.
The guide has been written by people with first-hand experience of the prison system totalling over sixty years and includes sections from former inmates and prison officers. There is also a health and wellbeing section written by an external holistic health and wellness coach which details ways in which inmates can practice a more mindful approach to their sentence.
The guide takes you from the courtroom through to the end of the sentence with detailed descriptions of each step along the way and a comprehensive resource guide to assist you.
To follow Terry on social media
#Change Your Live, Put Down Your Knife!