King John: Suspicious Death Or Dysentery

So, I suppose the idea is that now Richard III has unanimously been cleared of being England’s most hated historical monarch, King John comes under greater scrutiny. This villainous rogue is much more difficult to clear of said charge.


13th Century Depiction Of King John With Two Hunting Dogs.

King John of England (1199-1216) was a terror hated in his own time but is that simply because John himself was not the victor of the conflicts and struggles of his reign, in which case his characters lines were written by another. In history John is your typical cartoon villain, cackling evilly and shouting ‘Boo!’. The charges levelled against John by his own people include the murder of his nephew Arthur, Duke of Brittany, the sexual harassment of noble wives and daughters, and the enforced starvation of the wife, Matilda de Briouze, and children of a former companion. John’s criminal unpopularity gave his barons cause to rebel, rebel against domineering rulership and the chokehold he had upon their property. This rebellion would lead the barons to force John to authorise a Charter of Liberties, the much-celebrated Magna Carta, signed at Runnymede on 15th June 1215. So, you see history itself cannot judge John too harshly, his rule gave the world the Magna Carta (he gave his signature, if not his approval), a document which would become a template for such documents as the US Constitution and the UN Declaration Of Human Rights. John’s annulment of the Magna Carta and continuous domineering however mean that few lamented his mortality, when he was finally deceased at Newark Castle, purportedly of dysentery, in October of 1216.

But did King John indeed die of dysentery? It was only it seems in the late 13th Century that this was in any way disputed, and by a mere rumour at that. It went thusly, that despite the clear historical record, King John had not been a victim of dysentery but of an assassin’s poison.

In October of 1216 John, King of England demanded hospitality at Swineshead Abbey, with the remnants of his support. Swineshead Abbey rests within the Lincolnshire Fens, a treacherous route to take at the best of times, but in haste it meant John lost half his baggage train. It is probable then that upon arrival John was not in the sunniest of moods, least of all because as John impeached upon the peace of Swineshead Abbey, Louis of France attempted to seize John’s kingdom. At this point Louis of France, supported by the majority of English barons besieged the castles of Lincoln and Windsor, having already taken possession of London and Winchester. Not once in this period had John faced Louis in battle, instead hoping to regroup his forces by retreating north, this must have been foreboding for Swineshead Abbey indeed.


King John On A Stage Hunt.

And this is truly where the rumours of assassins and poison begins, it begins with John sitting down to dinner at Swineshead Abbey and querying of a monk just how much a loaf of bread cost, how very mundane. The monk informed King John that the loaf could have cost no more than a halfpenny. King John’s reply it is said went thusly, he first remarked that the value was good, but then his remark became more sinister, for he stated that should he live, in half a year’s time that very same loaf would cost as much as 20 shillings. Such a high price, the monk was well aware, would mean famine for John’s people, the remark was either nonsensical or pure evil. The monk vowed that he himself would rather die than see the England of John’s threat.

Traipsing to the Abbey gardens, the monk procured a toad. This would be the source of the King’s poison, using a brooch pin the monk pierced the toads skin allowing a white fluid to seep from it, this he collected carefully into a cup. Filling the cup then with a strong ale to mask the taste of the poison, the mix was taken to the king and the archaic English toast of ‘wassail!’ was given. Suspicious by nature John would only dine to drink from the cup if the monk too did so, needless to say the monk drank and so too did John. The poison employed was Bufotoxin, a toxin produced by toads which either stops the heart or causes it to race. Other symptoms include pains, seizures, nausea, hallucinations and ultimately death. With no known antidote the individuals’ fates were sealed. The monk proceeded to the Abbey’s infirmary. Suffering greatly King John demanded the whereabouts of the monk, only to be told that the monk had already proceeded to the afterlife. King John of England ordered his swollen stomach to be bound in hopes of alleviating his pain, within hours he too would succumb to the poison.

This is the telling of King John’s mortality as told within the Brut Chronicle, an often legendary chronicle of English history, written in the late 13th Century. But the Brut has a very particular image of King John it wishes to portray, that of a meddlesome tyrant who would have been the downfall of England, denying with the annulment of the Magna Carta a fair and just England. This is to be expected however, the Brut itself was intended for a very particular audience, John’s arch-enemies the barons themselves, and let’s face it they were hardly going to approve a chronicle which idolised John.

I’m just going to come straight out and say it, no matter how disappointed you may be about the distinct lack of drama, King John was NOT murdered… he really did just die of dysentery. Sorry. Although John did visit Swineshead Abbey, on what would be his last journey, he became sick with dysentery and lasted only until Newark Castle. Where, as already mentioned, on the night of 18th/19th October 1216 he died, supposedly during a portentous and terrible storm. How can she be so sure and committed that this was the case you may ask? Well, there are a number of historical accounts of what happened to John, him being a king and all. One contemporary historian writes that John was the cause of his own illness, a result of his ‘pernicious gluttony’, a reference to what some thought a cause of dysentery or a direct criticism of John’s gluttonous personality. Other writers throughout the following decade would suggest that John’s death was the imminent judgement of God upon his sinning. Though accounts may differ on details of John’s death or reasoning for it, all accounts seem to conform on one thing, the cause, with the exception of the Brut Chronicle, all accounts agree that Bad Old King John, died of dysentery.

King John was hated, of that there can be no dispute, and because of this throughout the centuries there has been a savage pleasure for many in retelling his demise, often in the most demeaning way possible. Rumours and retellings have had him poisoned, struck down through the eating unripe peaches or the drinking of too much sweet ale. And the hatred of John is lasting, some 40 years following his death, monk and chronicler of St Albans Abbey, Matthew Paris declared ‘foul as it is, Hell itself is made fouler by the presence of John’. Many in this modern day and age would still concur with Paris’s sentiment, indeed King John’s film portrayals are 90% the villain and 10% the entitled fool.


Matthew Paris, One Of The First Historical Chroniclers Of John’s Reign.

It’s been mentioned a few times in this article, but please if you are in the area, visit Newark Castle. It was permitted by leave of King Henry I in the mid-12th century for the Bishop of Lincoln to build a bishop’s palace, the bishop however wanted a defensive castle and so devised Newark Castle as a cunning amalgamation. The Castle now appears as a ruin having been dismantled in the 17th Century following the English Civil Wars. I volunteer there and truly the tower and dungeon tours would be of great interest to any lover of history! The Castle experience is set to soon be even more spectacular with the start of the Tower Project, which aims to put floors into the tower where King John purportedly died, with the help of Heritage Lottery Funding.


Newark Castle.

As a treat I leave you with a rendition of ‘The Phony King Of England’ a Disney production, the film is still a favourite of mine perhaps hypocritically after 19 years. I am a historian I swear… Enjoy!


Durham: A Tragic Tale

Well then chaps! Its been a while since my last article. Such a while in fact that the Miniature Historian, might not be quite so miniature any more, indeed I am now attending university. Based on the title of this article, three guesses which! And to think that my first article in a year should be filled with tragedy, alas.


A Map Of Durham From 1610

First some background, Durham is an area which has been settled since roughly 2000 BC, its current guise however is largely and quite overtly medieval. Of course, everyone knows of Durham’s wonderful 12th Century Cathedral and Castle, what fewer people know and I’d wager even many university students would be shocked about is this… One of their favourite and most frequented bars was in fact a House of Correction. Yes, that is right what was once a squalor full den of petty and serious criminals, is now a den full of often inebriated students, and arguably equally squalor full.

All joking aside however, the Bridewell (House of Correction) was a hideous penitentiary, in which conditions were inhuman and where innocent and guilty alike suffered side by side. In this article I will articulate the particularly tragic story of one individual, one Mary Nicholson, but I feel it prudent to also highlight the suffering experienced by those incarcerated in the Bridewell House of Correction. 

The House of Correction was established in 1634 on the northern side of the peninsula end of what is Elvet Bridge, in the city of Durham. Its original purpose was the reformation of itinerants, through the provision of casual employment and accommodation. Soon however this purpose evolved into that of a more traditional prison, as a containment facility for common felons. This facility would eventually be described by a Mr Nield in an 1805 edition of Gentleman’s Magazine as ‘fitter for the reception of coals than for any human being’. This condemnation however would do little to enact any adjustment or reform in the Bridewell House of Correction.

Mary Nicholson was for a number of years employed as a domestic servant in the household of farmer John Atkinson of Little Stainton. John Atkinson’s household though outwardly respectable, was not a safe place for young Mary. There were a great many rumours at the time that John Atkinson had taken great liberties and behaved cruelly towards her. It seems that there was at least some truth to these rumours as, by April 1798, Mary could no longer stand her circumstances and instigated her revenge against John Atkinson. Mary procured a quantity of arsenic powder whilst shopping in Darlington from a general supplier, claiming it was needed for the washing of some sheep. Upon her return to the household, Mary mixed the arsenic powder with some flour and proceeded to make John Atkinsons favourite pudding from the mixture. Mary’s plan backfired however when John Atkinson did not eat the pudding. This left the deadly flour/arsenic mixture unused. The household’s matriarch, Elizabeth Atkinson (John’s mother), upon seeing the wasted flour/arsenic mixture, undertook to bake from it a loaf of bread. A loaf of bread which the family then shared. The entirety of the household, all five members became violently ill. A doctor was employed and ultimately succeeded in preserving the lives of four of the afflicted. The fifth, Elizabeth Atkinson herself suffered an agonizing death, succumbing on the 16th day of her torment.

Poor Mary was distraught at the outcome of her attempted revenge. Freely admitting to three different individuals as to her responsibility for the tragedy, she also confessed to her intention to poison John Atkinson because of his treatment of her. Curiously, however the Atkinson family did nothing more than dismiss her from their service, in response to her confessions, instructing her that if she left they would take no proceedings against her. This left Mary wandering the countryside, destitute and starving, she could find no employment and eventually as an act of desperation returned to the Atkinson household to appeal to their mercy. In response she was handed over to the authorities.

Mary’s trial was held in Durham city at the Summer Assizes of 1798, the case it seemed was of the open and shut kind, she was proclaimed guilty of wilful murder and sentenced to death. The astute amongst you will see a glaring problem with this initial verdict. Mary was charged and prosecuted for the intentional murder of Elizabeth Atkinson. It had been Mary’s intention to end the life of John Atkinson, that had been premeditated, but she had recanted her attempt. Mary had done nothing with the poisoned flour, it had been Elizabeth Atkinson herself independent of Mary who had prepared the bread. Thus, there is a strong case for Elizabeth Atkinsons death not in fact being classified as murder, but simply accident. Despite having no legal representative, a point of law was raised against the prosecution and Mary was given a temporary reprieve. It would take an entire year, whilst her case was considered by the 12 judges sitting at the Common Law Courts in Westminster, before Mary knew her fate. An entire year under the custody of Durham City, in the Bridewell. A year.

Interestingly before the 1823 Gaol Act, the prison’s warden had to pay for the right to administrate the gaol, consequently the warden would recuperate his funds by charging prisoners for the services of the gaol. This could and often did include payments for sustenance, drink, bedding material and an eventual payment to ensure your release from the gaol. Understandably many prisoners were too poor to afford such ‘service charges’ and as such would suffer greatly from starvation, dehydration and disease. Perhaps the Bridewell’s only positive in comparison to other prisons was the provision of facilities of employment, thus anything earned by the prisoners could be kept to pay the warden’s ‘service charges’. The Bridewell was host to a variety of inmates, debtors resided beside petty felons, transportees beside murders, vagrants beside those intended for execution, those designated as lunatics beside innocents or those yet to be proven guilty.

Thankfully Mary’s time in the Bridewell, was not quite so unhappy as it could/should have been. She found employment, working as an unofficial housekeeper for the family of her gaoler. So dedicated and helpful to them was she that they welcomed her fully into their domestic circle. Eventually Mary was even allowed to go freely on errands across the city. Her dealings with individuals throughout the Durham City community led to her becoming a well-liked and recognised individual. The time came when all restrictions previously placed on her movements were rescinded, despite the dark anticipation of her sentence and her newfound opportunity, not once over her 12 months of incarceration did Mary attempt to escape.


John Speed’s Map Of The County Of Durham c.1611. A Number Of The Places On This Map Would Have Been Known To Mary.

It was with great anticipation that a year later the month of June once again arrived, it was finally time to resolve the sordid business of Mary Nicholson’s sentence. In view of her year long incarceration, the judge sought a quick resolution. The Durham Assizes sat in session and passed down the verdict of the Common Law Courts. Mary Nicholson was to be hanged on the 22nd July 1799, which was the following Saturday. Many were stunned by the verdict. The hanging was to take place on Framwellgate Moor.

A large crowd gathered for Mary Nicholson’s execution, hoping to pay their respects. Mary conducted herself with dignity and spoke her farewells with great kindness. And then Mary Nicholson was hung.

But then the rope snapped, Mary was quickly revived by her friends and to the assembled crowds it must have seemed as if some higher justice had intervened. Surely, after such a reprieve, Mary Nicholson would be allowed to go free. Many had thought her sentence an injustice the minute it had been handed down, in reality she had not committed premeditated murder, and had become an upstanding and valued member of the community.

An hour passed as a replacement rope was sourced and set upon the gallows. Mary Nicholson was forced to once again mount the cart and she was hung. This time there would be no reprieve from the Almighty or otherwise. Mary Nicholson, this tragic figure, or murderess, died.

That days Newcastle Chronicle would state that Mary Nicholson was ‘launched into eternity amidst the shrieks and distressful cries of the surrounding spectators’. She would be the last female victim of the hangman’s noose in the county of Durham.

Thankfully, in 1821, the House of Correction at the bottom of the peninsula side of Elvet Bridge, the almost 200 year old Bridewell, was sold. The area regenerated into the commercial district it is today, and new buildings replaced prison cells and workshops. Gone is the place of Mary Nicholson’s suffering, gone are those that condemned her, gone are those who called her friend, few are the people now that remember her.


Jimmy Allen’s Bar What Was The Bridewell House Of Correction. From


Sincerely A. B. Marshall

Any history geek or culinary enthusiast worth their salt has of course heard of the cooking leviathan Mrs Isabella Beeton and her infamous Book of Household management, but she wasn’t as I’m sure you’ll all be surprised to know the only female entrepreneur in this particular arena at the time. The name Agnes Marshall I am sure probably means very little to you, but and here is the thing… it really should.

Agnes Bertha Marshall was born on the 24th August 1855 and lived to become an English culinary entrepreneur and one of the foremost cookery writers of the Victorian period. Not only was she this but was also a pioneer in terms of the home production of ice cream and frozen desserts, an endeavour which led to her being dubbed ‘Queen of Ices’. In the time before any form of practical domestic refrigeration techniques or indeed technology, her successes in this area quite dramatically, for an individual increased the demand in London for ice imported from Norway. Marshall’s 1888 cookery book contained what is possibly the earliest publication of a recipe for an edible ice cream cone ‘cornets with cream’, so we can all definitely thank her for that at least.


So very little is known about Marshall’s early life with the exception that she was born in Walthanstow, her father one John Smith was a clerk he however died whilst she was still young and her mother remarried. It was also written later in her life in the Pall Mall Gazette however that Marshall was a student of the culinary arts from a young age and ‘practiced at Paris and with Vienna’s celebrated chefs’.

Over the course of her lifetime Marshall wrote four books Ices Plain and Fancy: The Book of Ices (1885), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Book of Cookery (1888), Mrs. A.B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book of Extra Recipes (1891) and Fancy Ices (1894). Marshall also gave numerous public lectures on cooking and ran a successful agency for domestic staff. She was also notably granted a patent for an improved ice cream machine that could freeze a pint of ice cream in five minutes, a quite remarkable feat for the time not only this but she suggested the use of liquid nitrogen in the making of ice cream, a practice which would not become common for around a decade later.

She and her husband established the prestigious Marshall School of Cookery in Mortimer Street in 1883 and also published a popular weekly magazine entitled, The Table, from 1886. This when she moved to London where she purchased the National Training School of Cookery from its owners, creating from it the aforementioned Marshall School of Cookery and building an impressive prestige and clientele. The later decades of the Victorian era saw the relatively modest beginnings of what would come to be termed domestic science and with its development the entrepreneurial Agnes Marshall boosted the schools number of pupils from a pitiful 40 within 2 years to thousands on numerous day to yearlong courses. Her pupil demographic was understandably extensive from those in domestic service sponsored by employers to aristocratic ladies who felt themselves in need of a suitable pastime. The curriculum taught was also revolutionary as it “offered specialty instruction in cooking, including lessons in curry from an English colonel who had served in India and classes in French haute cuisine taught by a Cordon Bleu graduate.”

Marshall also sold numerous culinary supplies such as leaf gelatine and equipment such as a surprisingly extensive range of jelly moulds, advertising such wares religiously in her recipes and in her books. Other such things sold were cutlery, cast-iron equipment, baking powder, flavourings, vegetable food colorants and by 1888 an edible ‘cornet a la crème’ an ice cream cone made from ground almonds. Not only this but with the eventual advent of a kitchen shop her students cuisine was sold directly to the general public.

Agnes Marshall’s lectures became legendary in her own time and she surprisingly had time (with all her other endeavours) to schedule six talks per week in Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Newcastle with her second tour visiting an additional 12 cities. Despite her live culinary demonstrations given on consecutive Saturdays in London sometimes drawing huge crowds and exceptionally complimentary reviews, Marshall found little success in the US despite her fame in Europe.

By the mid 1890’s Marshall began to decrease her workload from cooking, teaching, administration and writing to instigating Yule dinners and a system of winter soup kitchens for the growing percentage of Victorian poor.

Unfortunately after her death in 1905 just a month short of her 50th birthday, the rights to her books were sold to Mrs Beeton’s publisher, Ward Lock and her husband took control over the business that they had previously run together resulting ultimately in its failure. Marshall was just as popular, if not more so than Beeton in her day why then is her name not spoken with just as much frequency in the kitchens of amateur and professional cooks alike. In the late Victorian era the name A.B. Marshall could be seen everywhere but by the time of her tragic death she had sunk into relative obscurity with the destruction of her property and personal goods in a 1950’s fire further burying her extensive legacy which rivalled that of Beeton in the eyes of her contemporaries.

Marshall’s influence in her own time and for a while after her death was extensive however as she passionately denounced canned food and the often substandard meals provided on the railways, she also campaigned for greater year round availability of fresh produce and properly trained kitchen staff. Indeed it seems that she foresaw numerous reasonably modern developments within industry such as the expansion of automobile travel, fad diets, supermarkets, dishwashers, refrigerated transport, chemical purification of water and the popularization of freezers particularly and perhaps not surprisingly given her title in terms of ice cream.

And so it is that below I shall include an A. B. Marshall recipe in the hopes that perhaps you will cook it and thus remember a woman who was a not only a pioneer, but a pioneer in a time where women were still thought incapable of conducting business. This seemingly unknown figure in my opinion deserve the same status as Mrs Isabella Beeton, so its Mrs Agnes Marshall cook, lecturer, business owner, writer, inventor, campaigner, charity worker and pioneer, got it… good!

Albert Pudding

‘Put a quarter of a pound of fresh butter into a basin, and work it with a wooden spoon till quite white like cream; add a saltspoonful of ground ginger, the finely-chopped peel of two lemons, a teaspoonful of vanilla essence, and three ounces of castor sugar; mix these together for a few minutes, then add two ounces of finely-sifted flour, two ounces of ratafia biscuit crumbs, the raw yolks of four eggs, half a wineglassful of brandy or liqueur, and colour a pale salmon colour with Marshall’s Liquid Carmine; then add the eighth of an ounce of Cowan’s Baking Powder, whip five whites of eggs to a stiff froth and mix with the other ingredients. Butter a plain mould, dust it over with dried cocoanut and ratafia crumbs; then fill it with the mixture, and let the pudding steam for eighty minutes; when cooked turn it out on to a hot dish, and serve at once with Apricot sauce or Albert sauce round the base.’

Mrs A. B. Marshall’s Larger Cookery Book Of Extra Recipes – I have made this recipe before and it is quite yummy… watch out for the kick of brandy though it’s quite severe.

A Trip To Poland

So firstly, I have not posted in a long while which I feel great disappointment for but owing to various circumstances I am not entirely surprised. I will now however endeavour to become as prolific at posting as I was a while ago. GCSE’s went exceedingly well and I have now progressed to A-level so one would hope that my skill at writing would be greatly improved.

In October last year I went on a short history orientated visit to Poland, which I found to be greatly influencing in terms of my outlook upon history itself. Many would know that I am first and foremost an ancient and medieval orientated historian, however on this particular trip with my philosophy and ethics class we were swamped by all too modern history. Despite this I couldn’t help but come to the realisation that we are so much more emotionally attached to the history of our grandparents and great grandparents time, that we can associate so much more easily emotion with a historical event, yet when asked to think of for example how the soldiers of both sides felt at Agincourt, it is so much more difficult to feel empathetic. But why is this so? Chances are that at many of these events we had relatives involved however distant… is it perhaps because however much we may have said ‘Never Forget’ that time fades our link to events in our ancestors past. In this case I feel that for myself at least I have found a way in which modern history can perhaps appeal to me more, and that is through the transfer of emotion from such events into those of ancient or medieval history, because although the events may not be the same… humanity at least in many cases is.


A photo of Krakow showing St Mary’s Basilica (by Nico Trinkhaus –

Now on to the history, as this is after all a history blog. Kraków is a city bursting with history, but the era which was most evident to us was that of the Second World War. From the 4th November 1939 it became the capital of part of Nazi Germany’s General Government which was headed by Hans Frank who was based in Wawel Castle within the city. The majority of the cities populace at this time was made up of Jews and Poles, in order to turn Kraków into the entirely German city that the Nazi’s envisioned these sectors of society were removed, this also meant the renaming of many locations and streets into German and waves of propaganda in an attempt to portray Kraków as a historically German city. Culminating in an operation called Sonderaktion Krakau more than 180 academics were arrested and sent the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. The Jewish population of the city was also confined to a ghetto (part of the wall of which still stands) where a great many died from both starvation and illness. Of those who did not die in the Ghetto many were subsequently murdered or sent to the concentration camps of Płaszów and Auschwitz. One key resident of Kraków was Oskar Schindler who is credited with saving a great many lives through selecting employees from the Ghetto to work in his enamelware plant thus saving them from the horrors of the concentration camps. Although looted Kraków remained quite undamaged by the end of the war and thus much of the cities historical legacy was saved. On the 18th January 1945 Soviet Forces entered the city, and freed it ultimately from German occupation.


My visit to Kraków and the areas other historic sites was certainly enlightening and the vast architectural heritage which it preserves makes it a destination worth visiting whatever era of history is of most interest to you. One thing which is certain is that with a visit to a city such as Kraków is liable to come a more in depth understanding as to what history itself is, a study of humanity.

Superfortress ‘Over Exposed’ – The Remnants Dark Peak


Ok, sorry for the time it has taken me to complete this article however I believe it has been worth the time and effort. So on the 2nd of April me and my dad ventured out it utterly glorious weather to search on the Derbyshire Moors for a crash site…

On Bleaklow Moor there is scattered the remains of an American WW2 Superfortress bomber, it is indeed a poignant place to visit as much of the wreckage is still visible. This Superfortress was not your standard B29 bomber but instead was an B-29 photographic reconnaissance aircraft. Not long at all after the end of WW2 the Soviet Union blockaded off the Allies road, rail and canal access to Western Berlin (one of the first major instances of the Cold War), with the proviso that the blockades would be lifted if the newly introduced Deutschmark was withdrawn from Western Berlin. In response to this it was necessary for the allies to air drop supplies to the citizens of Western Berlin hence the now famous Berlin Airdrop which continued from June 1948 until the 12th May 1949 and which our aforementioned Superfortress was involved.

Piece of Wreckage

During WW2 many nations took to naming their aircraft, this B-29 which was a part of USAF’s 16th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron was no exception, and was aptly named ‘Overexposed’. At the time of her tragic crash, she and her squadron were based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, however she had already flown many miles and had an eventful life by this point in her service. This B-29 was one of three which ordered to accompany, the B29 Superfortress that had been tasked with the deployment of the ‘Able’ atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll (in the Pacific) in 1946.

Due to the diminutive American presence at American Logistics base Burtonwood, all the mail and pay packets destined for these squadrons was delivered to RAF Scampton, this meant there had to be regular collection and resupply flights between these military bases. Also sacks of mail bound for the states were loaded in. The Superfortress ‘Overexposed’ was on the 3rd November 1948 tasked with just such a flight, for such a mission only minimum flight crew was required however some American personnel chose to go, as the American base at Burtonwood provided the opportunity for the acquiring of some creature comforts, this brought the number of crew members up to 13. It was only a 25 minute flight away which the pilot may have made before, so to the personnel aboard the flight must have seemed to have little risk attached to it.

At about 10.15 on the morning of the 3rd of November, the pilot of B-29 Superfortress ‘Overexposed’ filed his Visual Flight Record with Flight Control for what was supposed to be a simple routine flight.

The November weather the day of the flight was not good and the cloud level was lower than 2000 feet with visibility being four to six miles. It was 11.15 am when the B-29 Superfortress flew across the moor not far from Burtonwood final approach basically at ground level. It is unclear why Captain Landon Tanner flew into the ground a couple of hundred yards from the highest point of Bleaklow (approximately 2077 feet).

An Engine

It should be noted that Captain Tanner had no notable reason for being below 2000 feet, as he was still just a few minutes under ten minutes away from Burtonwood. The facts remain his maps would clearly show him the high ground he was flying over, he had been informed of how low the cloud base was (from his pre-flight meteorological reports at Scampton and from communications via radio from Burtonwood). It was just a 25 minute trip from Scampton to Burtonwood in a B-29.

It is perfectly acceptable to believe that the adverse weather conditions effected the navigator’s calculations on the aircrafts position significantly, resulting in them thinking they were a lot closer to Burtonwood than they were in reality.

Captain Tanner’s crew for the trip consisted of co-pilot – Captain Harry Stroud, engineer – Technical Sergeant Ralph Fields, radio operator – Staff Sergeant Gene A Gartner, navigator – Sergeant Charles Wilbanks, radar operator – David D Moore, camera crew – Technical sergeant Saul R Banks, Sergeant Donald R Abrogast, Sergeant Robert I Doyle and Private First Class William M Burrows. Two more crew members were Corporal George Ingram, Corporal M Franssen and acting photographic advisor Captain Howard Keel of the 4201st Motion Picture Unit.

A Memorial

When ‘Over Exposed’ failed to arrive at Burtonwood an air search was initiated, and the Superfortress’s blazing wreckage was spotted that afternoon. By chance Members of the Harpur Hill RAF Mountain Rescue Unit had just completed an exercise two and a half miles away, on their radio they picked up the messages that were being broadcast by the search aircraft. They checked the map reference and Flight Sergeant George Thompson and Corporal William Duthie both noted their proximity to the crash site and ordered their men approach the site and search from one side, whilst they started the search from Doctor’s Gate. Poor visibility prevented them from seeing the aircraft at first, but after 20 minutes they spotted the Superfortress’s tailfin and the fires blazing around it. Several bodies were scattered around the remains of the plain, Harpur Hill RAF Mountain Rescue could do nothing for them so they went back to their vehicle, so they could guide the Glossop firemen to the wreckage which was spread for a quarter of a mile across the moor. An extensive search was made for survivors, none were found and only eight bodies were located. The next morning around fifty men set off across the moor towards the downed aircraft, it was two hours before they saw the tailfin. They scoured the moor for the missing personnel, eventually all the bodies were discovered, scrambling about the wreckage an American Officer found a satchel containing £7000, part of the payroll.


Ted Ward a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team for Harpur Hill recalled: –

The first piece of wreckage that I came across was the nose wheel, followed after some 200 hundred yards by the tail unit.

Ted Ward was also close by when the remaining four bodies were found:-

I was within two or three yards when the remaining four were found, unfortunately they were burned beyond recognition.

The crew of ‘Over Exposed’ had completed their required service in Britain and were due to return home to the states in 3 days.

The Wreckage has been surrounded by many memorial crosses.

The Wreckage has been surrounded by many memorial crosses.

One visitor to this incredible site found a wedding ring belonging to one of the crew members and endeavoured to find its rightful owner, needless to say he succeeded and a local paper wanted to report on it. So he and the papers photographer ventured onto the moors and he stood in front of the wreckage for a photograph. The next thing this visitor knew the photographer was ‘legging it’ across the moor, when he finally caught up he asked the photographer why he had run. The photographer told him that when he had looked through the cameras lens to take a photograph, all of the Superfortress’s crew were stood around him.

I will state here that neither I nor my dad experienced anything like this whilst at the site, however it is certainly a sombre place and we left thoughtful.

If you want to know more about Superfortress ‘Over Exposed’ and other crash sites on Dark Peak. I whole heartedly recommend Dark Peak Aircraft Wrecks 1 by Ron Collier and Roni Wilkinson. If you do visit please do not disturb the wreckage as it stands testament and in memorial to the men that lost their lives there.

I may do another post on this subject, however now it really is exam season and so there may not be any posts for awhile.

All that roams there now is nature.

All that roams there now is nature.

Unsung Documenter: Henrietta Maria Queen Of England

Henrietta Maria of France, Painted By Anthony Van Dyke

Henrietta Maria of France, Painted By Anthony Van Dyke


Much has been written about the English Civil Wars, with many author’s being contemporary to the conflict, however some of these author’s I believe deserve more recognition as they provide unique insights into a horrific conflict through which they survived to ‘tell the tale’. Henrietta Maria can be considered a less well known Queen of England, this in all probability a consequence of the Civil Wars, the execution of her husband Charles 1 and her subsequent exile to France. Henrietta’s strong views on religion and the absolute power of the king, who is anointed by God, meant that by 1642 she was an extremely unpopular monarch, not only because she was foreign and therefore distrusted, but because she had the ear of the king and was thus perfectly placed to influence him. Henrietta remained ever faithful to her religion and thus remained sympathetic to her fellow Catholics and as a result of gestures such as the construction of a Catholic chapel at Somerset House in 1632, it can clearly be seen that the Queen was not concerned with cultivating good will towards herself from her subjects. The Chapel was extremely unpopular amongst the local protestant community, and it is rumoured that London apprentices even considered destroying it as an anti-Catholic expression. The Chapel although fairly non-descript externally, was extremely elaborate internally this combined with its opening being a grand ceremony, mortified and alarmed local Protestants. Henrietta seemed determined to again cultivate a more open Catholic community in England; this led to many Catholics being more open about their Catholicism in court discussion and prevalent in court as a denomination. Because of this blatant publicising of the Catholic faith king Charles 1 came under criticism for his failure to prevent several high profile conversions to the Catholic faith. Henrietta was even so bold as to hold a requiem mass for high profile priest Father Richard Blount in her private chapel in the year of his death 1638. Perhaps her most scandalous escapades from the Puritans perspective however were her several roles in masque plays, in which she chose roles to further the development the Catholic community in England and promote ecumenism. Hatred towards Henrietta reached a crisis point in the 1630’s; this was only enflamed with the punishments devised for those that openly criticised her. In 1630 for example a Scottish doctor by the name of Alexander Leighton, was flogged, branded, mutilated and imprisoned for life for being the author of a pamphlet which denounced Henrietta. Even the popular puritan lawyer William Prynne had his ears cut off in the late 1630’s for questioning the integrity of women actresses and subsequently writing of this opinion, this was seen at the time as a clear insult to Henrietta. Much of London society would later blame Henrietta for the Irish rebellion of 1641, which was in reality coordinated by Jesuits, who in public imagination Henrietta was linked to. In 1641 an alliance of Parliamentarians under John Pym attempted to use Henrietta as a way of placing pressure on Charles 1. A list of grievances called the Grand Remonstrance which was passed near the end of 1641, referred to and condemned to a Roman Catholic conspiracy, although not mentioned by name it was clear to all that Henrietta was involved. This contributed to the fleeing of her confidant Henry Jermyn to the Continent, Jermyn’s involvement in the First Army Plot of 1641 also forced him to flee after its discovery. It is believed that Henrietta encouraged Charles to arrest his parliamentary opposition in January 1642. The French ambassador, Marquis de La Ferte-Imbault advised reconciliation with Pym and cautious observation to ensure no further plots. Pym and his colleagues arrest was unsuccessful, it is thought as a result of a leak of secret information from Henrietta’s former confidant Lucy Hay. In an attempt to defuse tension in society caused by her open Catholicism and her influence over the king, the retreat was also allowed for the queen’s personal safety Henrietta retreated to The Hague.


Henrietta was still at The Hague in August 1642 when the Civil War began, she attempted to raise money for the Royalist cause, by selling off the Royal jewels and attempting to persuade the King of Denmark and Prince of Orange to offer their support to Charles’ cause. For this she was portrayed in the English press as selling off the crown jewels to foreigners in exchanged for guns to resolve a religious conflict, adding to her infamy. During this time Henrietta urged Charles to secure the strategic port of Hull at the earliest opportunity.


Henrietta attempted to return to England at the beginning of 1643, unfortunately severe weather conditions forced her ship to return to Port, Henrietta made the most of this delay by convincing the Dutch to release a ship of armaments for the King, which had been held at the request of Parliament. In defiance of the advice given by her astrologers who foresaw disaster, she attempted the journey again at the end of February; she evaded the Parliamentarian navy to find harbour at Bridlington in Yorkshire. Unfortunately the pursuing navy then bombarded the town, thus forcing the Royalists to shelter in nearby fields, however whilst still under fire Henrietta returned to the town to recover her dog Mitte who had been neglected by her staff. Whilst stopping in York she was entertained by the Earl of Newcastle, she took the opportunity discuss situations North of the border with Royalist Scots, she promoted Montrose and others plans for an uprising. Henrietta also supported many other controversial schemes such as the earl of Antrim’s proposition to settle the rebellions in Ireland and thus bring forces to support the king in England, the queen refused to support anything other than total victory for royalist forces. She was asked on many occasions by both Pym and Hampden to use her influence over the king to force the making of a peace treaty, each time she flatly refused. Perhaps in retaliation parliament voted the destruction of her own private chapel at Somerset House. In March the chapel was razed by the parliamentarians Henry Marten and John Clotworthy, the altarpiece by Ruben’s was destroyed, the many religious idols fragmented and the Queens religious vestments, books and artworks burnt to a cinder and the Capuchin friars responsible for maintaining the chapel arrested.



Despite this loss Henrietta travelled south and rendezvoused with Charles at Kineton before traveling to the Royalist capital of Oxford through the Midlands an area continuously contested by both parties.

We cannot doubt the Queens courage, but perhaps her most endearing quality to me is her avid correspondence writing and the true grit she expresses through every sentence. She is no doubt an unsung documenter of one of the most tumultuous times in history.

The Holly And The Ivy

Right so first of all apologies for the lack of articles recently, but as every GCSE student knows the month of November is entirely centred around achieving the forecast mock exam results. Apologies aside in the interest of the festivity of this season, what does the Holly and the Ivy symbolise?

Holly And Ivy growing together.

Holly And Ivy growing together.

The importance associated with these plants is not as some may think it a Christian phenomenon, more correctly it’s foundation predates Christianity and instead was an important Druidic symbol which was then adopted by Christianity. The use of Holly was highly ritualised and there are reports of Druids wearing it as a form of ceremonial headwear in Northern Europe, when they processed to observe the harvest of Mistletoe by their priests. Many Druidic cultures believed that Holly remained evergreen throughout the Winter months to ensure that the land remained beautiful, when their most sacred plant the oak lost its leaves.

The Romans also believed that the Holly and Ivy plants held importance, as Holly was the sacred plant of one of their God’s Saturn, and because of this was used at the feast of Saturnalia to honour him. Saturnalia was a celebration of the last harvest and the sowing of a new autumn crop, it was a time where informal clothing could be worn, gambling was allowed in public, children were allowed out of school and were given gifts by adults, wild behaviour was accepted and slaves could act disrespectfully to their masters. Holly and Ivy garlands or wreaths were given as gifts as they were believed to be gifts that inspired luck and good fortune, especially if subsequently used to adorn effigies of the God. Then on July 19th 64AD, the city of Rome was set ablaze and rumours circulated that the Romans own Emperor Nero was solely responsible, in a panic to prevent these rumours (which are now thought to be true) Nero blamed a group of the populace who were already persecuted and feared because of their beliefs, Christians. As a result of this, persecution of the Christian faith increased and with the number of practitioners also increasing, Christianity began to develop into a mainstream religion with its own set of holidays. One of which was Christmas, by coincidence this celebration coincided with the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, to avoid persecution many Christians adorned their homes with Holly and Ivy garlands so as not to cultivate suspicion amongst their neighbours, whilst inside their homes they celebrated Christmas in groups.

The associations of Holly and Ivy with Christmas and indeed the season persisted throughout the centuries as is evidenced with the number of songs that have been written concerning them or their symbolism. Indeed even Henry VIII wrote a love song concerning the virtues of Holly and Ivy ‘Green groweth the holly’ which concerns holly and ivy resisting the onset of winter and remaining evergreen ‘So I am and ever hath been Unto my lady true’, which he wrote and composed for Catherine of Aragon. However the most well-loved and well-known Christmas carol concerning the virtues of Holly and Ivy has to be ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ which was reputedly first mentioned in a Broadside of 1710, according to the book Early English Lyrics by Chambers and Sidgwick published in 1926.

It begins …

The holly and the ivy

Now are both well grown

Of all the trees that are in the wood

The holly bears the crown

Another such old carol is contained within a manuscript preserved at the British Museum, which was then published in 1823 in a book entitled Ancient Mysteries Described: Especially the English Miracle Plays founded on Aprocryphal New Testament Story extant among the unpublished manuscripts in the British Museum by William Hone (1780-1842).

Nay, my nay, hyt shal not be I wys,

Let holy hafe the maystry, as the maner ys:

Holy stond in the hall, faire to behold,

Ivy stond without the dore, she ys ful sore acold,

Nay, my nay etc

Holy and hys mery men, they dawnseyn and they syng,

Ivy and hur maydyns, they wepen and they wryng.

Nay, my nay etc’

Or in more modern language collected by Cecil Sharp (1859-1924) from Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, relates also to another carol which is known as ‘The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly’.

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:

Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.

Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;

Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,

Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.

Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;

Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.

The aforementioned Contest of the Ivy and the Holly, is traditionally thought of as a contest between female (ivy) and male (holly) symbolism. In several social history manuscripts of the time there is evidence that in village life in ancient Britain there was a midwinter custom of holding and performing singing contests between men and women, in which men sang carols praising Holly for its masculinity and condemning Ivy, whilst women sang carols praising Ivy for its femininity and condemning Holly.
Holly has become a symbol of peace and joy, so Holly trees became place to settle arguments as they would help create lasting peace. Lots of superstitions have developed around Holly including the belief that it has the power to frighten away witches and protect a home from thunder and lightning. In England, farmers sometimes placed holly on their beehives, because they believed that on the first ever Christmas the bees hummed in honour of Christ’s birth. The hanging of either Ivy or Holly on a door or in the house first would determine which gender would rule the household for the following year, however it was bad luck to do so before Christmas Eve. This was also believed in the case of ‘she holly’ (smooth leaved holly) and ‘he holly’ (prickly leaved holly) e.g. if ‘she holly’ was hung on the door the female of the household would rule it for the year. In Germany it was believed that a piece of holly used in church decorations would be an effective charm against lightning. In west England it was thought that placing holly around a girls bed on Christmas Eve would protect her and keep away goblins. Holly was thought at this time of year to bring sweet dreams and a tonic of it was thought to cure a cough and ivy was still believed by some to cure hangovers (which was originally a Roman belief).

So remember the importance of Holly and Ivy to almost all religions, respect it and its cultural importance. But most of all have a,

Merry Christmas Everyone!


An Early Greetings Card showing holly and mistletoe.

An Early Greetings Card showing holly and mistletoe.