Knox Box of Miscellany

Dawn Knox – A rearranger of words into something hopefully meaningful…

3rd March 2020
by Dawnknox

What’s Afoot in London?

What’s Afoot in London?
It doesn’t matter how many times I go to London and visit the same places, I always see something I’ve never noticed before and I learn something new.

pair of discarded shoes
What’s afoot here?

Today was no different. I went to the area known as EC3 with my sister-in-law – and revisited many of the places I’ve been to before. We started by looking at St Botolph’s Hall which was originally an infants school, with its two stone figures of a schoolboy and girl in early nineteenth century costumes. It was shortly after that I spotted the stiletto shoes which someone had either lost or discarded. A strange sight in a churchyard.

We stopped at St Dunstan’s in the East, the church which I’ve visited before and you can see some photos here. The church was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The only part of his design that still exists today is the tower. The remainder of the church was built in 1817 but it was destroyed by enemy action in 1941. However, rather than flattening what was left and building something else on the site, a garden was created in and around the walls which gets busy at midday as office workers eat their lunch in this peaceful haven.

Model posing
Model posing in St Dunstan’s in the East

There was obviously a modelling photoshoot going on with a scantily-clad lad who shuffled into position wearing towelling slippers which didn’t really go with his outfit. However, he soon slipped them off and very gamely posed barefoot. As it was very early March, the ground must have been freezing but he ignored the cold and did his best to tie himself in knots as the photographer requested.

Next, we made our way to St Margaret Pattens where, on previous visits, I’d seen a display of pattens (a type of undershoe consisting of a wooden sole fitted with leather straps and mounted on a large metal ring to raise the wearer above the mud and detritus which littered the roads.) However, when we arrived at the church, the glass case was empty and the exhibits had all been placed in boxes. Luckily, the beadle of the Pattenmakers Guild passed by and offered to get a few examples out of storage for us to see. The first ones he showed us had once belonged to a child.

Child's pattens for wearing over shoes
A child’s pattens
Child's pattens for wearing over shoes
A child’s pattens

As the beadle pointed out, it was probably very difficult for a child to balance on those metal rings whilst walking on cobbles.

The next pattens he showed us belonged to a woman and a very small child.

Woman's and child's pattens for wearing over shoes
Woman’s patten with a tiny child’s patten on the top

If you want to know more about pattens and their history, click here to go to the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers’ website

So, what’s afoot in London? Well, apparently, all sorts of things, if you know where to look!

25th February 2020
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on Leap Day 2020

Leap Day 2020

Leap Day 2020
What are you going to do with your extra day this year? I must admit, I’d never really thought about it before. For me, 29th February has always been just another day. But as I get older, I find I’m valuing time a great deal more than I used to. After all, I don’t have so much of it left. And I’ve come to realise an extra day every four years should be savoured.

So what will I do? Well, I’ll have a look through my new writing prompts book and see if anything tickles my fancy, then I’ll write a ‘Leap Story’. The book was compiled by Gill James and the suggestions are from many of the authors who regularly write for her. I have a few writing prompts in there too and I was surprised to see fellow author, Allison Symes, having used one to come up with a story which was published on the CafeLit site here. I’d forgotten I’d submitted that particular prompt!

If you would like to check out the book of prompts, click here for the Kindle version

Writing Prompts 2020

Here’s the description:
There are 366 writing prompts here – one for each day of the year in 2020. Some are short and pithy, others are inspired by obscure days e.g. 16 February Do a Grouch a Favour Day, and some go into more detail on an aspect of writing craft. There are series that go over a number of days, e.g. creative writing in other languages, working with postcards, writing for children and writing historical fiction. A few prompts are about works in progress and several give you the choice of working with a text you have already created, creating something new or even editing a completed piece of work. There are also invitations to read. But every prompt gives you the opportunity to write something as well. 

These prompts were put together by writers published by the Bridge House, CafeLit and Chapeltown imprints, and their friends. 
Happy writing in 2020!

So, if you fancy doing something different on Leap Day 2020, why not write a story and if you’re lacking inspiration, buy the book and you’ll have ideas for the rest of the year!

6th December 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on The Basilwade Chronicles

The Basilwade Chronicles

cover art for The Basilwade Chronicles
The Basilwade Chronicles

The Basilwade Chronicles – Several years ago, I wrote a short story to read out at the Basildon Writers’ Group which meets each month. My story involved a socially inept, rather tactless man called Derek Carruthers who decided to go speed dating. At that event, he met a woman called Mary Wilson whose mother had insisted she try speed dating to find a husband. Mary wasn’t keen but went to keep the peace. Unfortunately, Derek and Mary didn’t exactly hit it off!

I enjoyed the two characters so much, I wrote another story about them and since I’d introduced a next door neighbour, Florrie Fanshawe, my third story, was about her and her Knit and Natter Club. Each month I took at least one character from the previous story and wrote them a new tale until the final chapter which you can see from the cover art involved a wedding – but not Derek Carruthers and Mary Wilson’s!

Gill James of CafeLit, Bridge House and Chapeltown Books published one story per month, concluding with ‘The Perfect Wedding’ on her CafeLit site. Links to the previous stories appear at the end. Eventually, once I’d finished, Gill agreed to publish the collection as a Kindle version and a paperback – THE BASILWADE CHRONICLES was born! As I write this, it’s only available as a Kindle book which you can see here on UK Amazon and US Amazon but the paperback will be available shortly.

The artwork was created by artist Neill C Woods, who read the manuscript and superbly interpreted many of the characters who appeared in the stories. I approached Neill to find out if he would be interested after seeing the cover art of ‘The Oui Trip’ written by another member of the Basildon Writers’ Group, David O’Neill which I thought was fantastic. Happily, Neill agreed to work on my story.

If you’re interesting in seeing my other books, you can see here or go to my author’s page on Amazon, here

15th November 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair
The Empty Chair – a gift from Heiligenhaus to Basildon.

Several people have asked me after my last post which you can see here, what was the significance of the large, wooden chair which was positioned in front of the stage during the performance of ‘The Other Side of Peace’.

Although I’ve referred to this as ‘the’ Empty Chair, it is in fact one of three which have been carved by the head forester of Heiligenhaus, Hannes Johannsen. In 2018, one of the Empty Chairs was taken to Lochnagar Crater Ovillers-la Boisselle, between the town of Albert and the village of Pozières on the Somme, France. There was a ceremony at its installation which included the deputy mayors of Heiligenhaus and Meaux and the mayor of Basildon as well as members of the Forget Never Project, from all three towns.

The Empty Chair
Three languages explaining the Empty Chair

The following is the text on the sign at Lochnagar Crater which explains Hannes Johanssen’s original idea.

“The Empty Chair symbolises the void left in so many homes across the world following the immeasurable loss of life during the Great War. It is a poignant reminder to us of the countless lives lost and the suffering of those they left behind.

“The idea for the sculpture was conceived by Head Forester, Hannes Johannsen, from Heiligenhaus, Germany who carved it from the trunk of an oak which fell during a storm in 2016. The tree would have been 20 years old at the start of the war and since it stood close to the road which led to the railway station, many young men would have travelled past it on their way to war – and home again if they returned.

“The Empty Chair is part of the Heritage Lottery-funded Forget Never Project which is a joint initiative between twin towns in England, France and Germany. The chair is located here at the Lochnagar Crater with the kind permission of Richard Dunning MBE.”

Each year, the Forget Never Project will clean and maintain the installation of the Empty Chair and gather around it to remember. In 2019, the date of the ceremony is Sunday November 17 and if you’re anywhere near, why not drop by and see it for yourself and meet some of our team?

Lochnagar Crater was created by a large mine placed beneath the German front lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, it was one of 19 mines that were placed beneath the German lines from the British section of the Somme front, to assist the infantry advance at the start of the battle.

The British named the mine after ‘Lochnagar Street’, a British trench where the Tunnelling Companies of the Royal Engineers dug a shaft down about 90 feet deep into the chalk; then excavated some 300 yards towards the German lines to place 60,000 lbs (27 tons) of ammonal explosive in two large adjacent underground chambers 60 feet apart. Its aim was to destroy a formidable strongpoint called ‘Schwaben Höhe’ (Swabian Heights) in the German front line, south of the village of La Boisselle in the Somme département. (Information taken from the Lochnagar Crater website which you can see here)

The second Empty Chair was installed in the Musée de la Grande Guerre in Meaux in 2018 and the chair which was photographed above, in front of the stage in the Aula Immanuel-Kant-Gymnasium, Heiligenhaus, during the performance of ‘The Other Side of Peace’, was a gift from the people of Heiligenhaus to the people of Basildon.

11th November 2019
by Dawnknox
1 Comment

The Other Side of Peace 2019

The Other Side of Peace flyer in German
The Other Side of Peace flyer in German

The Other Side of Peace 2019

Isn’t it strange how sometimes life offers you opportunities you wouldn’t have dared dream about? I’d never have thought I’d write anything which would be performed on a stage by professional actors but in 2014, a friend asked me to write a short sketch for some of his friends who belonged to the Forget Never Project which was set up to commemorate the centenary of World War One.

I agreed and I was asked to write about three real men who fought in the First World War – one from England, one from Germany and one from France. It didn’t occur to me that the ‘sketch’ would turn into the production entitled ‘The Sons of Three Countries Remembered’ which would be directed by Andrew Lindfield and performed four times by DOT Productions in three different countries – England, Germany and France. Click here to read about the last performance in 1917

But the dream didn’t finish there because I was asked to write a second play about the men returning from the First World War. I hadn’t previously given much consideration to what happened after the men came home from the fighting. I’d focused on the end of the conflict and the men’s return. The Forget Never Project is a joint endeavour, incorporating Basildon Borough and its twin towns of Heiligenhaus in Germany and Meaux in France, and I looked at the post-war conditions to which men from those countries returned and how they and their families might cope.

‘The Other Side of Peace’ was performed by Andrew Lindfield and DOT Productions in 1918 in Basildon to an international audience and I assumed that since the Forget Never Project had drawn to a close with the end of the centenary of the First World War, that would be its first and last performance. However, members of the audience who’d come over from Heiligenhaus decided they wanted to stage it in their town and DOT Productions went out to Germany for two performances in November 2019.

The English family reunited
Tension at home
French mother and son struggling to find normality
Young German couple struggle to adapt to life back together
In the pub
In the pub seeking solace from other soldiers
The women discuss their hopes for the future
The cast

The director was Andrew Lindfield
The members of the cast were:
Bill Richards – Andrew Lindfield
Florrie Richards – Natalie Scotcher
Jacques Dubois – Christopher Walthorne
Madame Dubois – Dawn Bush
Karl Friedrich – Louis Hill
Anna Friedrich – Francesca Ottley
Shopkeeper/Barmaid – Sarita Plowman
Soldier/Ghost – Matthew Burrcombe

Musicians – Hannes Johannsen and Sebastian Grothe with choirs from Heiligenhaus.

The play explores the changed relationships of the three different families and looks at some of the social conditions which they would have experienced. I generally (although not always!) like to write a happy ending to my stories but in this instance, it seemed that all their lives had been blighted by the war and that the emotional scars were likely to persist. Society, too, had changed forever.

In order to leave the audience with a message of hope, I decided to incorporate an animation at the end which considered war from Nature’s point of view. It seemed ironic that land – the very thing men were fighting to possess – was being destroyed in the process of that warfare, as trenches were dug, bombs exploded and thousands of men trampled the ground as they marched. But after the battles were finished and the men had gone home, Nature would have taken over and once again, birds would have returned and flowers would have bloomed. I imagined the flowers of remembrance of Britain, Germany and France growing together in a field. They obviously wouldn’t have arranged themselves in banks of poppies, banks of cornflowers and banks of forget-me-nots. They would simply have grown together, mixed and sharing the field. I wondered why we – the people of the world – couldn’t be like that. The final frame says: ONE PEOPLE-ONE WORLD-TOGETHER. And that is my hope and the final thought I wanted to leave with the audience.
I wrote a piece which Angela Makepeace of Motion Graphics Studio set to an animation. You can see it here (There is sound but no images for the first 40 seconds of the animation)

The words are:
One army loses. It wearily staggers home.
The other army wins. It takes possession of the land… and wearily staggers home.
Now the blood-drenched fields are deserted, silent, but for the echoes of the dead.
Wind caresses the pock-marked earth, and rain washes away all traces of the killing.
Barbed wire rusts and wooden posts rot in the water-logged ground. Beneath the earth, flesh decays, becoming one with the soil.
These fields, so highly coveted, are now wasted.
The land, so highly prized, has been sacrificed on the altar of man’s desire to possess.
But Mother Nature will not be conquered.
One by one, birds return to fill the silence with their song.
And beneath the earth, the spark of life ignites an explosion of shoots, roots and leaves, to cover the soil’s nakedness.
And there, a red poppy bursts from its bud. It entwines a blue cornflower and embraces a forget-me-not.
Different colours, shapes and sizes but all growing together towards their future in the sun. 

Thank you to everyone who helped to make the play a success. I had such a wonderful time in Germany. And to everyone who played a part, however big or small, YOU helped to make my dream come true.

30th August 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on Roman Villa at Lullingstone, Kent

Roman Villa at Lullingstone, Kent

Roman Villa at Lullingstone, Kent

Model of Roman Villa, Lullingstone
Model of Roman Villa, Lullingstone

Still on the trail of Roman remains, my cousin, Dave, and I went on another jaunt, this time, with the rest of our jaunting crew – Mum, Jamie and Andrea. Our destination was the Roman villa at Lullingstone, Kent which was thought to have been built as early as 80CE although it was extended and modified to become a luxurious house in the mid-4th century CE.

Mosaics in the Dining Area
Mosaics in the Dining Area and Audience Chamber

Originally, there was a central accommodation block with two wings – the northern one, being built over a cellar which may have been used for storage although later, in the second century, it became the Cult Room in which, a well can still be seen. It was probably used to worship a water deity. External access to this Cult Room suggests people other than the family who lived in the villa were involved in worship there.

There was also evidence of a bath house although its layout was not as simple and sensible as the one Dave and I saw at Billingsgate, London (click here to read about that)

In the second half of the 2nd century, the house was enlarged, suggesting the owners had become more prosperous and two busts have been found which may indicate who owned the villa. One is of Publius Helvius Pertinax, the son of a freedman who became a Senator and Governor of Britannia in 185–6CE. Although he was forced to leave Britain, he went on to become Emperor, reigning for 87 days in 193CE, before being murdered by soldiers of the Praetorian Guard.

The second bust has been identified as his father, Publius Helvius Successus, and it is possible that Lullingstone was the country retreat of the provincial governor.

Remains of the villa
Remains of the villa

Around the middle of the 4th century some interesting changes took place that distinguish Lullingstone from many of the other villas known in Roman Britain.

The first was the addition of the dining room or triclinium with its attached audience chamber and their mosaics which can still be seen. In the triclinium, the table would have been arranged around the mosaics, so the diners could eat and admire their beauty. They illustrate the story of Europa being abducted by the god Jupiter disguised as a bull. The main mosaic panel in the audience chamber tells the story of Bellerophon, Prince of Corinth, on the winged-horse Pegasus, killing the Chimæra, a fire-breathing she-monster. The scene is surrounded by four roundels containing representations of the seasons.

Perhaps even more remarkable, however, were the changes above the Cult Room involving the creation of a house-church. The wall-paintings from this room set the villa apart, as they are the only known paintings in Roman Britain that contain clear Christian symbolism.

The material from the house-church was found collapsed into the Cult Room below it. The excavators found many thousands of fragments of painted wall plaster which, when painstakingly pieced together, revealed the images that once adorned the walls.

At some point in the 5th century there was a fire at Lullingstone, and the villa seems to have been abandoned.

As the roofs fell in, or perhaps as the tiles and possibly some walling were removed for use elsewhere, the building gradually decayed and collapsed. We noted in the stream which ran nearby, there were many red pieces of stone – possibly tiles – which might have come from the villa.

After 400CE, little is known about the site although some Anglo-Saxon artefacts have been found, perhaps dating from the 7th century.

The temple-mausoleum seems to have survived, at least as a ruin, to be incorporated into the chapel of St John the Baptist, probably in the 11th century when the area of the site was occupied by the hamlet of Lullingstane.

A description accompanying a drawing of the chapel made in 1769 refers to it being ‘built with flints and Roman bricks, the west end being chiefly of the latter’.

I was interested to know what the Romans might have called the place where the villa stood but I was told it had not been recorded and so, no one knew.

If you’d like to read more about the history of the Roman Villa at Lullingstone, check out the English Heritage website here

18th August 2019
by Dawnknox
1 Comment

Jaunt to the Roman Baths at Billingsgate, London

Caldarium of the Roman Baths at Billingsgate, London
Caldarium of the Roman Baths at Billingsgate

Jaunt to the Roman Baths at Billingsgate, London.

My cousin, Dave, and I set out on another jaunt to London to see the remains of the Roman Baths in Billingsgate, London. No, not the old fish market but just opposite, in the cellar of the building at 101, Lower Thames Street, EC3R 6DL. We’d discovered the site on a previous jaunt (check out about more secret Roman remains here on a previous post) but the site at Billingsgate hadn’t been open, so when we got home, we checked it out online and purchased our tickets. Unfortunately it’s only open on Saturdays but if you’re interested on an hour-long visit and you’re free on that day, you can get tickets here .

When Dave and I arrived, we were greeted by our City Guide who told us a little about the history of the Roman invasion of Britain and then led us down the stairs to the basement. That’s the only access, so if you’re planning on visiting, you need to be fit enough to negotiate steps. The site was discovered in 1848, but actually dates to the late second century and it wasn’t until 1968-9 that the ruins were fully excavated.

Model of the baths

The baths were privately owned and were associated with a U-shaped or perhaps L-shaped house which was large enough to accommodate twenty people. It is thought that perhaps it was a hotel or possibly a brothel, since it was situated quite close to the riverside were there would be lots of sailors. The bath house consisted of an entrance chamber with access on the right, to the warm room, or tepidarium, and on the left, to a hot room or caldarium. The large room in the photo of the model is the cold room or frigidarium which is thought to have had a cold plunge pool. Heat in the baths was provided by underfloor heating and the piles of tiles which are still evident show how the floor was supported, leaving a cavity underneath called a hypocaust. The air in the hypocaust was heated by a furnace which was kept stoked by slaves.

A Bather's Accessories
A Bather’s Accessories (Not original)

On entering the bath house, guests would go into the tepidarium and a slave would use oil from a bottle such as the one shown above (top left) to rub into the skin. The curved instrument in front of it is a strigil which would be used to scrape the oil and dirt from the skin. The wooden sandals would have been worn to enter the caldarium which might reach temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius. The small items near the strigil in the photo were an implement to clean between teeth, another to clean inside the ears and tweezers to pluck out hairs. Once finished in the caldarium, guests would pass into the larger and much colder frigidarium and possibly cool off in the plunge pool.

Having been built about 200 CE, the buildings were abandoned soon after 400 CE when the Roman Empire collapsed. A hoard of nearly 300 Roman coins were discovered hidden in a wall, the latest date of any of the coins was 388 CE. The owner never recovered the cache possibly because its value decreased as the Roman economy died.

Gradually, the roofs collapsed, the walls crumbled and the ruins became overgrown and buried under soil washed down from the hillside. In about 450 CE, when Londinium may have been a deserted Roman city, someone, possibly a Saxon woman entered the ruins and dropped a decorated bronze brooch which slipped between some roof tiles in the frigidarium and was lost. This is the earliest evidence of the arrival of the ‘English’ who would rule until the coming of the Vikings and Normans five centuries later.

If you’d like to see some of my other photos of the site, you can see them here on Flickr.

Dave and I then set out to find another bit of Roman remains but the site was closed. More of that next time…

23rd July 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on A Jaunt Around London EC3 North

A Jaunt Around London EC3 North

A jaunt around London EC3 North.

I’ve got a great book about the history of London called “I Never Knew That About London” by Christopher Winn, which you can see here on Amazon, if you fancy buying a copy. Inside, there are lots of fascinating facts about London and its history.

The other day, I took myself off to London and decided to explore a small area and find some of the interesting places referred to in the book.

So, what’s included in EC3 North? Well, it’s Aldgate, St Helen’s, Leadenhall, Cornhill and the Royal Exchange.

And what was I looking for? Mainly things of interest in the many strangely-named churches and also the sites of London’s oldest coffee houses. Unfortunately, most of the churches I wanted to visit either had a lunch-time service, a concert or an event going on inside and I wasn’t able to go in. But I did manage to get into St Katherine Cree, in Leadenhall Street. It’s a survivor of the Great Fire of 1666 and is a 17th century rebuild of a 13th century church with a distinctive rose window which was modelled on the one in old St Paul’s Cathedral. It tells the story of St Katherine, an Egyptian princess who was martyred on a wheel at the age of 18. The wheel was destroyed by a bolt of lightning from God and gruesomely, is the origin of the Katherine Wheel firework.

St Katherine Cree, London EC3
St Katherine Cree, London EC3

What I liked about St Katherine Cree Church was watching the bellringers who were visible from the street and listening to the cheery peals which could be heard above the traffic.

Bell ringers St Katherine Cree
Bell ringers St Katherine Cree

Leadenhall Market was just a short walk away, so I decided to wander around there. It’s built on the site of the 1st century Roman Basilica which was the largest basilica north of the Alps. Click here to see a plan of Londinium. (The basilica is the large rectangular structure). Leadenhall Market takes its name from the lead-roofed house that belonged to the Neville family who lived there in the 14th century. It’s laid out in the shape of a cross and has narrow, cobbled streets and passageways lined with shops. In 2001, Bull’s Head Passage was transformed into Diagon Alley, where Harry Potter went shopping for his magic wand in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Leadenhall Market, London EC3
Leadenhall Market, London EC3

I managed to go into St Botolph Without Aldgate which is one of the four St Botolph’s churches in the City which are all beside gates (Billingsgate, Aldersgate and Bishopsgate). They were all sited next to gates because St Botolph was regarded as a saint for travellers. Interestingly, Botolph gave his name to Boston in Lincolnshire and therefore, also to Boston, Massachusetts. In St Botolph Without Aldgate, the author Daniel Defoe got married in 1683.

However, St Helen’s was busy, as was St Andrew Undershaft, so called because of the tall maypole put up outside the church in the 15th century. In 1517, on what became known as ‘Evil May Day’, City apprentices rioted and the maypole was taken down and never used again. And St Mary Woolnoth was similarly closed to the casual visitor which was a shame because it sounded quite interesting – “The interior based on the Egyptian hall of Vitruvius is considered to be [Nicholas] Hawksmoor’s finest.” Incidentally, the name ‘Woolnoth’ comes from the church’s Saxon founder, a noble called Wulfnoth. The original church was damaged in the Great Fire of London and was restored in 1727 by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

It wasn’t only the churches which weren’t accessible on my jaunt – I thought I’d visit the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Bevis Marks which is the oldest synagogue in Britain, having been built in 1701. However, it was closed.

Undaunted, I carried on my search for evidence of coffee houses between Cornhill and Lombard Street. Cornhill is the highest point in the City of London and in Medieval times was a grain market and then the location of a pillory where Daniel Defoe was placed in 1703 for writing a pamphlet satirising the government (I wonder what his wife who he married in St Botolph Without Aldgate made of that!). Lombard Street was named after the Lombardy merchants who arrived in the 12th and 13th centuries to collect taxes for the Pope, then became bankers. Many banks have their headquarters in Lombard Street. Between Cornhill and Lombard Street is a maze of narrow passageways and alleys which were home in the 17th and 18th centuries to dozens of coffee houses and taverns where merchants, bankers and traders met to exchange news and ideas and to do business.

Today, the coffee houses are all gone although evidence remains, such as the sign on the wall in Change Alley, shown below. Thomas Garraway, who opened Garraway’s Coffee House in 1669, was the first man to import tea into Britain.

Site of Garraways Coffee House London EC3
Site of Garraways Coffee House London EC3

St Helen’s Place in Bishopsgate, is somewhere I’d never really noticed before. It was redesigned in the 1920s for the Hudson’s Bay Company who had their offices there. It consists of a short cobbled street, surrounded on three sides by Neo-classical-style buildings. It was built on nunnery land bought by the Leathersellers’ Company in 1543 at the time of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. On the right of the photo, you can see the Leathersellers’ Hall. If the Gherkin wasn’t there brooding in the background, it might look as though the photograph below was taken years ago.

St Helen's Place, London EC3
St Helen’s Place, London EC3 and brooding Gherkin!

My next jaunt? Hmm, who knows! There are certainly lots of things I missed in EC3 but I’ll have to consult my usual jaunting partner, Dave, who was away when I did this one on my own.

13th July 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on Top Secret – a Science Museum Exhibition

Top Secret – a Science Museum Exhibition

Top Secret – a Science Museum Exhibition

Enigma Machine
Top Secret – German Enigma Machine

There’s an interesting exhibition on at the Science Museum, London at the moment entitled ‘Top Secret – From Ciphers to Cyber Security’ which explores over a century’s worth of communications intelligence. It’s on from 10th July 2019 to 23rd February 2020, and you can see the details on the Science Museum website, here. It’s free although you have to book tickets in advance.

The exhibition started with a timeline of methods used throughout the ages to pass secret messages such as the Scytale Transposition Cypher which was used by the Spartan army. Then, moving to the twentieth century, there were exhibits from the trenches of World War One. The part I was interested in came next – the work carried out during World War Two at Bletchley Park which I’m currently researching for a new book.

I’ve already visited Bletchley Park (click here if you want to read about it) and it was a fascinating day out. Definitely well worth a visit.

Lorenz Machine
Top Secret – Lorenz Machine

The next part featured exhibits from the 1950s during the Cold War, when Peter and Helen Kroger, the unassuming Ruislip couple at the heart of a 1950s Russian spy ring, were operating. The couple, whose real names were Morris and Lona Cohen, were arrested in 1961 along with other Russian agents. On display were toiletries with secret compartments where messages and other items could be concealed.

The final part of the exhibition featured the work of GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) which is currently celebrating its centenary. There was information about the top secret work which is carried out defending the country against terror attacks and serious crime as well as dealing with threats to digital security in the 21st century.

For me, the best part was the Bletchley Park section with its German Enigma Machine and Lorenz Machine. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Secret Life of Bletchley Park’ by Sinclair McKay and the ingenuity and dedication of the people who lived and worked there, was staggering.

But I’m also amazed that over 10,000 people worked at the Park during the height of the code-breaking activities yet it remained a secret for many years. It wasn’t until the 1970s that wartime information was declassified and the people who’d worked at Bletchley Park were able to tell their stories and in fact, some people went to their graves without divulging their part in the codebreaking which took place there.

Truly remarkable!

7th July 2019
by Dawnknox
1 Comment

Jaunt to Wilton’s Music Hall

Jaunt to Wilton’s Music Hall, Aldgate, London.

Exterior of Wiltons Music Hall
Exterior of Wiltons Music Hall

Wiltons Music Hall, in the East End of London is, I believe, the oldest surviving music hall in the world and is a hidden gem that’s well worth discovering. It’s only a short walk from the Tower of London but is concealed in tiny Graces Alley, not far from the famous – or perhaps infamous – Cable Street where the Battle of Cable Street took place on 04 October 1936 between East Enders protesting against a march by Sir Oswald Moseley’s Blackshirts and police who were attempting to clear the way for the marchers.

Battle of Cable Street Plaque
Battle of Cable Street Plaque

Anyway, if you’re visiting London and you come across the red plaque above, you’re about two minutes’ walk to Graces Alley!

If you’re really interested, Wiltons Music Hall periodically run tours of the site and I can heartily recommend it. For more information from their website, click here.

Wilton’s began life as five houses – 1 to 4 Graces Alley and 19 Wellclose Square. In the 1600s, Graces Alley consisted of individual houses, the largest of which – No. 1 – became an ale house, dating from the first half of the 18th century. It was called The Prince of Denmark and it was frequented by many of the Scandinavian seamen who came to the nearby London Docks. Later, it became known as The Mahogany Bar, supposedly because the landlord installed a mahogany bar and fittings. In 1839, a concert room was built behind the pub and four years later, it was licensed as the Albion Saloon, a saloon theatre which was permitted to stage full-length plays.

John Wilton and his wife, Ellen, bought the business around 1850 and he replaced the concert room with a music hall which opened in 1859. He furnished the hall with mirrors, chandeliers and decorative paintwork, even installing the finest heating.

Wiltons Music Hall
Wiltons Music Hall

By the early 1860s theatres were being built in the West End and John Wilton, perhaps suspecting his hall might not be able to compete, sold up early in 1868 and opened a West End restaurant. The music hall carried on under a number of different proprietors for another thirteen years until 1877 when a serious fire in the hall left just the four walls and the ten barley twist columns that still support the balcony today. The hall was rebuilt and refurbished the following year but in 1881, Wilton’s Music Hall closed its doors – possibly because the rebuild didn’t conform to fire regulations brought in that year. In the thirty years Wilton’s was a music hall, many of the best remembered acts of early popular entertainment performed there, from George Ware who wrote The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery to Arthur Lloyd and George Leybourne, two of the first music hall stars to perform for royalty. When George Leybourne performed his comic song Champagne Charlie, it was to a sell-out audience of more than fifteen hundred people.

In 1888, Wiltons was bought by the East London Methodist Mission who renamed the building ‘The Mahogany Bar Mission’ and used it to help the people of the East End, many of whom lived in extreme poverty. During the Great Dock Strike of 1889, a soup kitchen was set up which provided thousands of meals a day to starving dockers’ families.

The mission remained open for almost 70 years during which time, the Methodists campaigned against social injustices and supported the local community – particularly needy children.

The main reason I’m so interested in Wiltons is because during the 1930s, my father used to go there to the youth club which was run by the Methodists. In fact, he represented the club at table tennis, playing in the international finals in the Albert Hall. One one occasion, he was playing a ball game in the hall, dived for the ball and knocked himself out on one of the barley twist pillars which gave him two lumps on his forehead!

Barley twist pillar in the hall
Barley twist pillar in the hall

The photo below shows the canteen just before the war and if you know where to look, you can see my father and his twin brother!

Youth club at the Old Mahogany Bar
Youth club at the Old Mahogany Bar about 1938

Dad was very sad when the Mission closed in 1956 and the building became a rag sorting warehouse with rags piled from the floor up to the balcony – a factor which may have supported them when the building was left to decay. However, a campaign was launched to save the building and it has been restored with much love to its current state. The mahogany bar has disappeared but our guide told us that when a film was being shot there, the film company installed a wooden bar and after they’d finished filming, it remained.

Entrance hall to Wiltons Music Hall
Entrance hall to Wiltons Music Hall

The tour around Wiltons took about an hour and for me, it was wonderful to know I was in a place which held such fond memories for my father. But it was also fascinating to learn more of the building’s history too.

Definitely well worth a visit!

And it still stages plays, so if you’d like to see a performance there, visit the site and find out what’s on by clicking here.