Blackbeard the Pirate.

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The most notorious pirate of them all came from Bristol. Edward Teach was born in the Redcliffe area of what was the England’s second largest city in about 1680. Initially he was a steady, respectable sort of chap who, in keeping with his name, entered the teaching profession. However, in 1700 he went through a mid-life crisis which upset his friends and family because he was only twenty so it meant he would barely reach forty before he snuffed it.

The mid-life crisis manifested itself in this manner…He started advocating to his pupils that they grow long beards like him, smoke copious amounts of tobacco, drink gallons of rum and bed numerous buxom wenches. What made this all the more shocking to early-18th century Bristolians was that he was teaching in an all girls’ school at the time.

Edward Teach was dismissed from his post and immediately looked into making a career from being a ruthless and bloodthirsty pirate but one that remained on land in Bristol because his mum was reliant upon him to collect her pension every Monday. Teach changed his name to Blackbeard to capitalise upon his long, luxurious growth of chin hair. To this he attached fuses that he set alight whenever he boarded vessels. It was for this reason that he was sacked from his next job as lock keeper on the Avon & Kennet Canal. Blackbeard then opened a refreshments stall at St. Nicholas Market, but Trading Standards closed him down for selling pirate coffees.

Blackbeard then detached himself from the pursuit of a legitimate job as the careers officer showed him that he only had one job that was suitable for him on his file and that firm wouldn’t be requiring his services for another 169 years because Bristol Rovers hadn’t even been invented yet. Thereupon, Blackbeard started forcibly spreading the pirate ethos. For instance, he deliberately tripped Bristol’s Lord Mayor as he opened the doors of the market to the crowds to herald the start of the January sales so that he could witness thousands walking the plank.

In 1703, he embarked on his greatest mission up to that juncture. He declared that he would replace the Union Jack with the Jolly Roger throughout the land. One councillor in Bristol, William Torpid, was denounced for agreeing that he would prefer the Jolly Roger because he had fond recollections of visiting a brothel in Anchor Road in his youth when he was under the influence of laughing gas.

Blackbeard’s most audacious coup was to replace the Union Jack flag that flew above Buckingham Palace with the ‘Skull and Crossbones’. However, the press and the public misunderstood and thought it was official confirmation that Queen Anne was suffering from anorexia. It was speculated that the flying of these flags on the palace roof would signify these events:

  • The Welsh Dragon – the Queen’s mother-in-law is in residence.
  • The Welsh Dragon at half-mast – the Queen’s mother-in-law has completely recovered from a serious bout of influenza.
  • Three Lions – Lord Bath is visiting.
  • The Cross of St. George – The angry residents of Crew’s Hole Road are visiting to protest about all the pot holes.
  • The Stars and Stripes – Famous erstwhile prisoners who’d done time for theft are visiting.
  • No Flag At All – Famous ex-prisoners who’d done time for theft have just left.

In the event no further incidents occurred and it wasn’t until 1917 that something other than the national flag was displayed above Buck House. That was when the Union Jack appeared with lots of holes in. It transpired that no deeper meaning could be read into this it had simply been a case of the Red Baron flying overhead.

Blackbeard had always been a little hard of hearing and the budget of 1711 led to him swiftly leaving his native Bristol never to return. He heard that the Chancellor was going to impose a heavy tax on beards for the first time. The pirate had taken to the high seas before it could be explained to him that the tax was on beers.

Blackbeard plied his nefarious trade in the seas around the Caribbean. During his reign of terror there he was responsible for murdering thousands of people – many without their permission. He also married a dozen wives in a six month period in 1719 without once applying for a decree nisi. This was known as his Honeymoon Period. But at the height of his powers and influence he suddenly died. His exploits had gone to his head and he attached a Catherine Wheel to his beard. Upon lighting it he fell overboard and drowned, his body having become stuck on the rudder. The only consolation was that his vessel, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, then completed the fastest ever crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

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John Wesley’s Chapel

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Throughout the 1730s the road-sweeper and preacher John Wesley walked thousands of miles each year spreading the Methodist view of religion and also encouraging dog owners to purchase poop-a-scoops. Thousands gathered to hear him spread the gospel…thousands more would’ve turned up had he chosen to spread the gossip instead. Wherever he went a multitude was sure to gather. If he lived today he’d be offered a free season ticket at Ashton Gate.

His brother Charles also spread the Methodist faith by the different route of composing hymns. Indeed, he was regarded as the greatest hymn writer ever. As he chose music to spread the word he became known as the Rhythm Methodist. This was bad news for John because it meant that he only got to see his brother at certain times of the month.

John Wesley was content to sweep the streets and cleanse the souls of the poor an un-churched with his preaching and his brush. To avoid the expense of building churches he encouraged his ever-expanding band of devotees to hold meetings in their houses. This made Methodism more popular still. This was especially the case at the home of Miss Lillybeth Aurbothnott who’d placed a sign in the window of her abode in Lawrence Weston which read: ‘Services Provided Daily between 10am-6pm’.

Although the experiment using the private residences of followers as churches was initially successful, it soon became apparent that inconveniences could be caused to home-owners. Roy Weald, for instance, who attached a hymn board to the rear wall of his property in Brislington to enable him to conduct Methodist meetings in his back garden found that it instead attracted the Number 78 Horse-Bus to stop off there to pick up and set down passengers to the detriment of his prized rhododendrons.

Christopher Larkhill, whose home in Keynsham doubled up as a Methodist church, found that after an outbreak of influenza amongst his parishioners that he needed to evict several garden gnomes and shelve his plans for a fish pond due to the pressure for space occasioned by the consequent burials.

Buoyed by his increasing popularity John Wesley was seen to adopt a more radical stance and on one occasion, in front of 40,000 at Bishopsworth, held up a placard which read ‘Down With Our Rulers’. Wesley was immediately arrested for sedition but equally swiftly released when he explained that he’d supported the message because he was cheesed-off with not being well endowed.

After almost a decade of hoofing it, Wesley announced plans to build a real, permanent chapel. Donations flooded in which enabled the first Methodist chapel in the world to be built-in the Horsefair, Bristol in 1739. What particularly pleased John Wesley as that there was enough money remaining to install a small cupboard in the chapel, inside of which was placed a brand new sweeping brush to remind him of previous days. Wesley proudly called this ‘The New Broom’.

The permanent home presented Wesley with the opportunity to work on a maxim that he was convinced would promote peace and goodwill when unleashed upon the world. This adage was: agree to disagree. Within weeks of its release in 1741 firms of solicitors were going to the wall at an alarming rate. By 1744 the few remaining practitioners of this noble profession, in order to preserve their existence, were forced to broker a deal which included a sizeable donation to get Wesley to amend his saying to: agree to disagree, but only on Sundays (their day off).

When John Wesley died in 1791, King George III called it one of the saddest days of his life…John Wesley’s life that is, not King George III’s.

Dame Clara Butt.

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Sir Thomas Beecham once said of Dame Clara Butt: ‘On a clear day, you could’ve heard her across the English Channel’. This off the cuff comment upset a lot of people, so they clubbed together and purchased a DAB radio for Sir Thomas so he could hear her with clarity irrespective of the weather.

Dame Clara Butt came to Bristol at the age of 8 with her family in 1880. It was in her adopted city that her talent for powerful singing was nurtured and then blossomed. Her ability to belt out a song was first recognised at South Bristol High School. This shows how loud her vocals were because she was attending North Bristol Grammar School at the time.

On the strength of numerous recommendations she was invited to join the Bristol Festival Chorus, this was because they were touring Australia at that moment. Upon her return, she was advised to profit from the lavatorial humour that could be mined from her name. With this in mind, in 1887 she became a semi-professional Lavatory Minstrel.

Lavatory Minstrels were employed by prudish Victorians to take up residence in their privies and play tunes when they were used to drown out the embarrassing sounds that were made within. For shy Victorians there were blind Lavatory Minstrels available, who judged by sound when to break out into song. However, many who used them complained that they were never able to water the roses in their garden ever again without hearing a rendition of Swanee River issuing from their outhouse.

The most famous Lavatory Minstrel was Harvelous Pimpkins from Mississippi. In attempting to find his long-lost mother so he could be her very own Lavatory Minstrel, he searched the whole of Europe and several far-flung outposts of the British Empire on foot before he eventually tracked her down to a terraced house in the Easton district of Bristol. It was then that he penned the immortal, Lavatory Minstrel classic that made his name: Mammy, Oh Mammy….I’ve Walked A Million Miles Just To Find You’ve Got Piles!’

Dame Clara Butt was much in demand as a Lavatory Minstrel at public events as she was able to drown out the shameful noises from a whole cacophony of  portaloos single voiced. This further enhanced her reputation, to the extent that when she agreed to put on a performance, accompanied by other leading Lavatory Minstrels, at the Bristol General Hospital Loos during an outbreak of dysentery, a crowd estimated to be in the region of 78,000 gathered in the narrow streets outside. The police advised the concert to be delayed while they established order, but the excitement and anticipation of the spectators spilled over into shouting, violence and irrational behaviour. However, Dame Clara wasn’t blamed for the disorderly behaviour as it was all put down to pre-minstrel tension.

In 1890 the powerful, 6 ft 2 inch Clara Butt won a scholarship to the Royal Festival of Music in London. Soon after, Queen Victoria paid for her to study music at the prestigious Academy in Paris. Three months later she paid for her to study in Berlin, because she could still just about hear her in Paris.

Dame Clara has been credited with having the greatest vocal range of any singer in history. She was also the first to sing, and thereafter be identified with the Elgar anthem Land of Hope and Glory. She regularly performed before royalty and toured the world, only resting her voice – except when it was foggy – when voyaging on ship between continents.

In 1902 in a historic concert, that evoked memories of her Lavatory Minstrel days, she performed in Bristol’s sewers accompanied by the Bournemouth Philharmonic Orchestra and matching Wellington boots. It attracted an estimated listenership of 400,000, a record for pre-radio days, as her voice was conducted through all the pipework to the loos of her public. Unfortunately, her powerful voice unblocked all the toilets and drains in the area which led to the Bristol Society of Plumbers putting out a contract on her life. Dame Clara also disliked thereafter being labelled The First Lady of Pong.

She became the favourite of the British troops serving in the trenches in France with her free performances two evenings every week. However, this was curtailed in 1917 when Dame Clara had a double glazed window fitted to her bathroom in Staple Hill.

It was said that one only had to hear Dame Clara Butt’s voice to be moved. The evidence supports this as during her lifetime she had 18,937 different next door neighbours. One music critic stated that her vocals were so powerful and full of emotion that whenever she cried thousands upon thousands of others cried simultaneously. This was because they mistook it for an air raid siren and thought their homes and possessions were about to cop it.

When Clara Butt was made a Dame, all of Bristol was proud. Because Clarus is Latin for ‘Loud’, the Bristol Evening News used the Latin for ‘Our Dame’ to proclaim her ‘Noster Dame’ on their headline. This was bad news for Clara as Quasimodo instantly consulted a firm of solicitors specialising in compensation claims as he wanted to sue her for going deaf as he wasn’t getting far with his litigation against the bells.

Docker W.G. Grace.

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The epithet of the greatest and most well-known sportsman of the Victorian Age most undoubtedly fall upon the broad shoulders of William Gilbert Grace. A figure who dominated cricket for decades. He was the first sporting superstar and the epitome of a craftsman. He was such a brilliant batsman and excellent bowler that suggestions were tabled at Lord’s about ways to curb his commanding influence upon matches by blindfolding him to redress the balance. Upon hearing this W.G. declared that he wanted to be a batsman not a bloody selector!

W.G. Grace was born in Downend, Bristol in 1848. It was the same year that Karl Marx released The Communist Manifesto, I don’t know what was on the ‘B’ side though. This coincidence seems to have influenced the young Grace for he fashioned both his politics and his appearance on the founder of communism, growing a long beard like Marx as well as securing a job at Avonmouth Docks, a hotbed for socialism at the time. There he helped develop several left-wing cricketers who became the bedrock of Gloucestershire’s championship winning sides of the period. He referred in a comradely fashion to these men as his ‘brothers’.

Grace exploited his talent and influence to endeavour to bring communism to the conservative sport of cricket that had hitherto been dominated by Old Etonians, Old Carthusians and Old Hartcliffians (the Old Etonians and Old Carthusians needed someone to carry their gear and take up dangerous fielding positions such as short-leg and silly-mid-on). Here are some of Docker W.G. Grace’s radical beliefs:

  1. He vehemently believed that EVERYONE should be given a chance to shine regardless of class….although several of his team-mates thought this was simply because he didn’t like getting red marks on his cricket whites.
  2. He was against the introduction of floodlit cricket because he didn’t want to encourage the spread of blacklegs.
  3. He was against Test Matches being played overseas. This was because he thought the wooden decks wouldn’t take spin and that the names of the grounds (ships) would be given silly names such as The Row val, Edge Bathton and the M. Sea. G.
  4. He was against hoardings around the boundary that advertised tobacco. This was because he was knackered after running to the boundary, while fielding, in a failed effort to catch up with a square-cut and if he didn’t go against the hoarding he would’ve collapsed.
  5. He believed that players should be picked for England irrespective of class. He never lived to see the fulfilment of this dream when England were regularly stuffed by Australia from 1989-2003.
  6. If he was at the bowler’s end and a single was there for the taking he organised a ballot first before going on strike.

Many of W.G.’s onfield antics have gone down in cricketing folklore. The most famous of which was when he refused to be given out LBW at The Oval in 1879 because he was in Cleethorpes at the time. Diagrams, meticulously produced by surveyor P.Y. ‘Hawkeye’ Malone clearly showed, using the ball’s trajectory, a horse and cart, the 2.15 Express to London, a hansom cab, Shanks’ Pony and a devil of a throw from the boundary, that the ball would’ve just clipped the off-stump at the Oval had it not struck Grace’s leg in Cleethorpes. Despite the weight of this evidence, Grace belligerently still refused to accept the decision and thus earned himself a reputation for obstinacy.

There was many a time also where there was a close shout against W.G. for a catch behind, or LBW where he refused to accept the umpire’s decision, if it was unfavourable, then glared at the official while pointing to the sky and saying ‘Ultimately the man upstairs knows.’ This was unfair because TV replays didn’t become available until the 1960s so ‘the man upstairs’ was as much in the dark as anyone else.

On another famous occasion a spinner bowled Grace very early in his innings. W.G. simply turned around replaced the bail that had come adrift and explained to the umpire that he had wind. The umpire accepted this and gave him Not Out because he’d heard rumours that on overseas tours the sailing ship always arrived a couple of days earlier than expected if Grace was onboard.

Grace was responsible for many cricketing firsts as well as extraordinary feats of batting and bowling. Once, when fielding for Gloucestershire against Lancashire at Durdham Down in 1871 he asked the Lancashire batsman, J.P. Trophy, while he was at the crease if he had a liking for dogs. Trophy replied that he did and was particularly fond of Huskies and had four at home in Bolton. This was music to Grace’s ears as a consignment of dog pulled transport bound for Norway had fallen off the back of a ship at Avonmouth. Trophy willingly bought one on the cheap and thus became the first batsman ever to be ‘sledged’ at the wicket.

It was said, in 1870, that W.G. Grace refused to wear a t-shirt at Gloucestershire’s matches emblazoned with the letters ‘W.G.’ because he was afraid his long beard would cover over the tail on the ‘G’ and inebriated spectators would urinate against him. Even the prospect of obtaining a penny each time refused to sway his opinion. It was also said, in 1872, that because of his prolific batting his England and Gloucestershire team-mates called him ‘The Door-to-Door Salesman’ because once he was in it was nigh on impossible to get him out again. However, when he became the first man to do ‘The Double’ in 1874 (later achieved by Preston North End) nobody said anything, This was because the person responsible for saying the previous two things had died in 1873.

In 1895 Grace, well into his 40s, hit a thousand runs before the end of May. Although what Peter May’s grandfather, George, was doing baring his rear all summer at cricket matches has never been adequately explained!

When Grace died in 1915 the cricket world lost its greatest son, although many didn’t believe it at the time as he’d also been given ‘Out’ in 1907, 1911 and 1912 but had refused to budge. Only when a third umpire was called in was W.G.’s death certificate given the doleful signature. W.G. Grace remains to this day, England’s greatest Victorian cricketer. Although with the relaxed views now taken on what constitutes being qualified to play for England there is always the possibility that another Victorian will represent England who eclipses Grace’s achievements. A Downender replaced by a Downunderer.

Thomas Chatterton Bristol’s Famous Boy Poet.

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Thomas Chatterton was born in Redcliffe, Bristol in 1752. From a very early age he did a bizarre and wonderful thing, at Edward Colston’s School he started writing poetry in the persona of a 15th century monk. This caused a sensation as it was the first recorded incident of anyone writing verse using the persona of a 15th century monk since 1499. The school’s physician was immediately called to examine Chatterton. He placed him under minute observation over a period of ten days to see if he had any curious habits. But all he found was one habit with a psychedelic type hood. However, he did find a note written in Chatterton’s hand informing everyone that he was the gatekeeper of a local monastery. This was further evidenced by the placement nearby of a bunch of keys upon which was written on the fob, ‘Hey, Hey We’re The Monk-Keys’.

The school physician rendered his findings, upon Chatterton taking on the persona of a 15th century monk, to the school’s board of governors and concluded that Chatterton was either:

  1. Possessed by the spirit of a 15th century monk.
  2. Possessed by the spirit of a 16th century monk whose watch had stopped.
  3. Possessed by an urge to audition for the Monty Python team 200 years too early.
  4. Possessed by an urge to make himself seem much older so he can get a pint at The King’s Head.

The diagnosis that Chatterton was possessed by the spirit of a 15th century monk gained momentum when Chatterton handed his English teacher an illuminated manuscript. The teacher was fortunate to escape with just third degree burns.

The Bristol literate soon got to hear of Chatterton’s exploits and lionized the young cub. This provided him with the confidence to embark on several writing projects each undertaken in the persona of a 15th century monk. There were two bawdy plays:

  1. Confessions of a Stained Glass Window Cleaner.
  2. No Sex Please, We’re 15th Century Monks.

There was also a script for a play that was never performed (although centuries later a much altered version appeared in film starring Sandra Bullock) about God’s representative on Earth and his ability to walk on water called ‘Pope Floats’.

Finally, during this productive period, he became the scriptwriter for a double act featuring the head monk at a monastery and a male prostitute who was having to advertise his services for free called ‘The Abbot & Cost-zero Show’.

However, Chatterton became so consumed by the character of his persona that he became embroiled in the ups and downs of that traumatic period of turmoil in the 15th century, the Wars of the Roses. The poetry he wrote regarding this time was so realistic that Bristolians were convinced that the young teenager had really experienced those terrible events of 300 years earlier. Chatterton did nothing to dispel these beliefs as he was on a healthy commission for every jar of his anti-ageing cream sold in the Broadmead branch of Boots.

Chatterton, as the monk, composed this verse when Edward IV was in the ascendancy during the Wars of the Roses, about the King’s opponent, Henry VI’s Queen Margaret of Anjou:

Margaret of Anjou, Margaret of Anjou

Why cause all this mayhem

You silly gert moo

If I hath not but taken this silent vow

I’d shout from the rooftops “You Stupid Cow”

The monk (Chatterton) then turned upon Edward IV when Henry VI and Margaret were the top dogs again, albeit briefly.

Edward the Fourth

Edward the Fourth

Your wife is a commoner from up t’ North

You drowned one brother in a vat of wine

And your surviving brother has a crooked spine

(& he’ll also usurp the throne and kill your son and heir with his brother in the Tower upon your death. I couldn’t rhyme this bit but I thought it was important you should know what sort of bloke he really is)

Despite putting her down in verse Chatterton’s 15th century monk developed an intense, yet ultimately unrequited love for Edward IV’s wife, one of the greatest beauties of the times Elizabeth Wydville. His pained and tormented feelings found an outlet in his poetry, such as:

Elizabeth Wydville

I love ye still

But I’m stuck in this Monastery

On the outskirts of Pill

The Abbott thinks I’m wasting away

He didn’t even see me at prayers today!

And:

My sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, Elizaybeth

A delicate beauty a one of such waif

It’s hard to believe you’ll be the Grandmother of Henry the Eighth

The Dark

The Cold

The Damp

The Rain

Tortured I be

Wracked with pain

I suffer these torments through your lack of attention

And cos the Abbot only gets a basic state pension

As one can derive from these examples, Chatterton was a rare and precocious talent and considered a genius, for which he was later eulogized by Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth and all that Lake poet mob.

Unfortunately, the fame and adulation went to the boy poet’s head and he abandoned the monk and started creating in the persona of other artistic types from other periods of history. This proved terribly embarrassing for himself and his family when he wrote to the Customs Office in London enclosing recent pictures of himself and his mother and sister so they could get passports to accompany him on a lucrative tour of North America. The passport office thought he had adopted the persona of an 11th century stonemason and was sending them designs for some gargoyles to adorn Westminster Abbey.

But young Chatterton really overstepped the mark when he took on the persona of a 12th century architect and composed a verse about designing Bristol Cathedral School in 1154, making him well over 600 years old. A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest under The Prevention of Moses Act, 1722. Chatterton swiftly fled to London and continued to make a name for himself there.

Then, suddenly and dramatically, it was all over. At the age of just 17 he was found dead one morning, sprawled on his bed – the basis of a famous painting by Henry Wallis…what Chatterton was doing sprawled over a famous painting has never been explained. He’d taken an overdose.

Initially it was thought that due to his youth he had mistaken the pills for a tube of smarties. Why else would such a talented genius with so much more living to do ( although the majority of it would’ve been in previous centuries judging by his modus operandi) kill himself? The answer was swiftly forthcoming for in his hand was a letter from Bristol City Council demanding payment of 609 years poll tax arrears.

The Rabbit That Jumped The Avon Gorge. Part 1.

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On Christmas Day 1812 a strange incident occurred in Bristol. It was the strangest incident that had occurred in Bristol since the previous strangest incident, and it would remain the strangest incident until the next occurrence of a bizarre happening. That was how much it rated on the scale of strangeness. Unfortunately, nobody recorded, at the time, exactly what had happened so we can only speculate, or rather you can, if you so desire, as personally I can’t be arsed.

What I can do for you is provide details of an interesting story, from about that time, where facts have been preserved. It might, upon initial reading, seem a trifle frivolous, but when one examines it in greater depth a profundity is revealed that goes some way to explaining the presence of Bristol’s most iconic structure. I’ll be bush-whacked by a yorker delivered by Harold Larwood if I can see it, but if you can then more power to your elbow, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d contact me with an explanation. All I can do is lay the facts I have at your disposal.

Document 1

Advert From The Baltimore Comet in the Livestock Section, March, 1813:

For Sale: Young white rabbit capable of jumping the Avon Gorge if it possessed the desire so to do. Offspring of the prodigious leaper Firework Heels William winner of the Long Jump at the Maryland State Fair in 1811. Genuine reason for sale, $5 o.n.o. Apply to Grover Knox Box 79.

Document 2

Private Letter written by Genius Picton to his sister Mary Kingsholm and received by her in Trenton, New Jersey on or about March 29th, 1813 (the date cannot be definitively verified as there had been a strike by calendar manufacturers in the Eastern United States in 1812, the effects of which didn’t kick in until the following year). 

Dear Sissy,

I realise this American sojourn was intended to revive me from this state of melancholy but until now none of my experiences in the new world has raised my spirits at all, that was until a chance encounter last Saturday that has subsequently infused me with such a passion for life that I cannot wait to return to England to fulfil my destiny. I dare say sissy, when I relate this to you you will no doubt dismiss this as one of my harebrained schemes, such as selling European tourist attractions to American tourists and offering them 50% off if they thought that would make it easier for them to fit it into their luggage.

Where do I start, I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any. I happened to be perusing the streets of Baltimore when I had occasion to step into a newsvendor’s stall to avoid the gaze of someone to whom I owe a considerable sum. I wish I hadn’t agreed to help him with that complicated equation now.

Low and behold the first ‘rag’ I picked up was The Baltimore Comet and amongst the copious adverts on its front page one leapt out at me advertising the sale of a rabbit that was capable of jumping the Avon Gorge if it ever possessed the desire to do so. My heart itself leapt at mention of home pastures across the ocean and the opportunities afforded to me. Something had seized me – it was the newsvendor because I was on my way out and I hadn’t paid for The Baltimore Comet.

I managed to extricate myself from this predicament and having made contact with the talented rabbit’s owner, it was with some foreboding that I approached the abode of Grover Knox, pessimistic in spirit that this opportunity to better myself would go my way. Imagine my unqualified joy, therefore, when I approached the Knox abode and discovered that nobody else had secured the services of the rabbit. The nearest offer he had received was from about 90 feet away, and unlike the rabbit, he was unable to traverse such distances with ease owing to suffering from severe arthritis of the spine.

I offered $4 from a distance of about 6 feet away, any nearer would’ve risked contracting consumption one of the fatal diseases poor Knox evidently suffered from. This was the nearest offer he’d received by quite some margin and thus ownership of this most exceptional of long-eared creatures passed to my custodianship. As we concluded the deal he also offered the explanation that there was no point hanging on to a rabbit that can jump the Avon Gorge if one had no intention of allowing it to fulfil its destiny. And besides hanging on to it would also add extra weight and make it more likely to fall short of reaching the other side.

Sissy, I have now booked passage to Bristol upon The Moist Dependable sailing out of Baltimore this coming Friday. I am determined that this opportunity will enable me to at last make my mark on this world, failing that I will at least be responsible for making a small mark somewhere on the Portway beneath the Avon Gorge.

Your Most Obedient Brother,

Genius Picton.

King Stephen Bristol’s Most Famous Prisoner.

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In 1120 a tragedy occurred. A vessel known as The White Ship sank off the coast of France. Everyone on board drowned including the heir to the English throne, William, the only son of Henry I. All the crew and passengers had been drunk and had engaged in revels and debauchery. As a result of this Henry I decided:

  1. To chastise himself for allowing his son and heir to go on a Club 18-30 holiday.
  2. To chastise himself for making his son heir to the throne of England but then not providing him with enough heir to adequately fill his lifebelt.
  3. To employ a dominatrix to chastise him instead as he considered it far more fun.

However, in the long run, the tragedy had far deeper ramifications for the stability of England. This was because Henry’s only surviving legitimate offspring was his daughter, Matilda. England had never previously been ruled by a monarch who liked crochet, cookery, wearing make-up and dresses, well not in public anyway. (One King did have a penchant for wearing dresses in private for which he earned the name ‘Edward The Crossdresser’.)

Henry was astute enough to realise that his daughter was in a perilous position and therefore got his barons to swear an oath that upon his death they would install Matilda as Queen. He then got them to swear an oath that they would install Sky Sports as soon as it became available, as there were some mouth-watering jousts lined up for 1127.

Henry I died in Rouen in 1135. How his finances got into such a perilous state is unknown. But what did become apparent soon after was that England was in the soup. For the barons immediately gathered and swore an oath to disregard all previous oaths they’d sworn, and furthermore, not to swear at any oaths in the future. This proved particularly difficult for the Duke of Norfolk who had an idiot of a handyman on his estate that he found it impossible not to cast profanities towards. As a result of swearing these oaths, Henry’s nephew Stephen took his chance and declared himself King of England.

Matilda didn’t take it lying down (as King Henry had discovered, she favoured being placed in perilous positions). With her ally the Duke of Gloucester at her side she landed in England and made her way to his stronghold, the West Country, and declared herself the true monarch. England was effectively divided, with Matilda holding the west with her capital in Bristol and Stephen holding the rest of the country with his capital in the Britannia Building Society – he wasn’t going to let his finances go to Rouen like Henry had.

Plenty of battles ensued and in 1141 King Stephen was captured at the Battle of Lincoln and imprisoned in Bristol Castle. But having the King as an inmate in one of his own prisons provided numerous difficulties such as:

  1. A special prison uniform had to be made for Stephen with the arrows pointing downwards as he expected everyone to kneel in his presence.
  2. Counterfeit coins made in 1141 in Bristol Gaol were more accurate than those produced by the Royal Mint.
  3. At Xmas 1141 King Stephen, aided by his supporters, ran a protection racket in the prison called ‘The Fist of Stephen’.
  4. It was far easier for prisoners to obtain a royal pardon. They simply needed to pass wind in his vicinity.
  5. Fellow prisoners didn’t involve Stephen in any of their escape plans, because whenever a tunnel was dug he expected to be invited to open it accompanied by a fanfare.
  6. On Xmas Day King Stephen was presented with various fruits in his cell as a present. However he hated the peaches and angrily tossed them through the bars of his cell window at a guard in the forecourt below. It whistled past the guard’s ear and therefore he became the first person in history to hear the King’s Peach on Xmas Day.

King Stephen actually fleeced his fellow convicts of much of their coinage by saying it belonged to him because his picture was on it. This actually endeared him to the other prisoners for although he was considered aloof, they could see he also had the conman touch. He also helped in the process of drawing a map of the castle grounds and near vicinity by sticking his orb out through the bars and capturing the image reflected upon its shiny surface. This was the first ever map made by orbanance survey.

King Stephen was eventually released and did a deal with Matilda. He was allowed to continue as King until his death, but had to recognise Matilda’s son, Henry, as heir to the throne. Henry would thus become Henry the Second the second Stephen died, which he did in 1154.

The problems prison warders encountered keeping a King imprisoned explains why not many monarchs have suffered this indignity since. Here is a list of kings since 1154 who have been kept prisoner:

  1. Richard I (banged up abroad).
  2. Richard II (became the most notable victim of Henry IV’s policy of cutting prison costs by not feeding them when he starved to death at Pontefract).
  3. Henry VI (the first monarch to lose his head while it was still firmly connected to his shoulders).
  4. Edward V (imprisoned in the Tower of London aged 12 in 1483 with his younger brother by their uncle, who became Richard III, and they were subsequently murdered there. It has to be remembered that this was in the days before Esther Rantzen started Childline).
  5. Charles I (imprisoned and then beheaded in 1649 for ignoring Parliament….I’d better start watching Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesdays I reckon).

Jack the Aider Part 3.

Continuing the attempts of Inspector Token-Black of the Bristol Constabulary to apprehend the nefarious serial life-saver Jack the Aider.  A miscreant with no comprehension of the appeal of death to the majority of poor sods who have to live in the austerity of late-Victorian England.

Using the recommendation of an associate I embraced new methodology in tackling crime detection by employing the services of a criminal profiler. I immediately allowed him, Professor Hank Cleveland, access to all the files on this baffling case. With them at his disposal he was able to wear down the metal locks and open the lid. He then promptly advised me to, in future, only purchase cases that weren’t so baffling to gain access to.

Having gained possession of the documents relating to Jack the Aider he studied them intently. Why he expressed a preference to examine them under canvas rather than in the office I’d set aside for him I do not know, maybe it is the artist in him. He concentrated upon the nature of Jack the Aider’s misdemeanours; the favoured locations, the times of each atrocity and other facets of the Aider’s modus operandi. This enabled Professor Cleveland to compile the following profile of Jack the Aider, to which I’ve added my initial thoughts after each point in brackets.

  1. He or she is high up in the medical profession. (I will need to check out everyone who works on the top-floor at the Bristol General Hospital.)
  2. The location of their birth features prominently in their name. (Suspect anyone called ‘Cliff’ as there’s a chance Jack the Aider’s mother went rock climbing whilst heavily pregnant.)
  3. He or she has the ear of someone in authority. (If it’s Queen Victoria’s right ear the Aider has stolen it would explain why only her left profile ever appears on coins and stamps.)
  4. He or she was plagued throughout childhood by bird sounds. (I will need to check the background of any suspect to see if they were ever hired out as freelance scarecrows in infancy.)
  5. He or she served in the Crimea. (I’ll need to visit the tennis club in Redland and add to my list of suspects anyone who has played abroad.)

All of this pointed to one person. However, within seconds it pointed at nobody at all. A minute later it pointed at three people, followed by a woman walking her dog and then two children. That’s the last time I allow a criminal profiler to write his list on a one-way sign!

Just when it seemed this list of suspects was leading me up a blind alley I was the recipient of the touch of luck anyone, like myself in the vanguard of fighting evil, is grateful for. Florence Nightingale was arrested for loitering with intent to use a bandage in Park Row. It was normal procedure to match everyone taken into custody with the criminal profile and Florence Nightingale scored a full-house.

Her temporary apartment in Cotham was searched and a large quantity of bandages, plasters, a strait-jacket and antiseptic ointment located there. Despite this we were still unsure whether this would be enough to secure a conviction. It was more than enough to secure a lunatic, especially the strait-jacket. A lawyer who called into the station upon inspecting what we’d retrieved said that something more concrete was needed. A further search located some plaster of Paris. He said that that would be fine and immediately applied it to his broken forearm.

Nightingale proved to be a rather fussy filly. Her biggest bugbear was the sleeping accommodation provided for her. One has to remember that this woman single-handedly took on the establishment to secure better conditions for British troops in the Crimea (her other hand was used to carry the lamp). She also carried a heavy limp, this was because just before she was provided with her famous lamp, a kindly French officer, who witnessed Nightingale’s toils in the wards in darkness, said, in his heavy French accent to a British officer whilst pointing at Miss Nightingale, that this lady needs a lamp. The British officer walked straight across to Florence in his reinforced boots and stamped on her toes.

It was decided to remand the famous nurse in custody so that she could assist us with our enquiries, and help us with our veruccas, aching backs, migraines and a variety of other ailments. The press had a field day and I chuckled at the headline in The Western Daily Press which read ‘FLORENCE: NIGHT IN GAOL’.

Soon after the station was deluged by injured British troops from various parts of the Empire seeking treatment. Those engaged in trying to calm conflict with the Zulus and Boers in South Africa found it so expensive and time-consuming transporting injured British troops from the tip of Africa to our police station that it was strongly mooted that the Zulu conflict might be relocated to Bristol. Indeed, I have it on good authority that Dinuzulu the King of the Zulus was looking at property in the Dundry area and was seeking to position his tribe on the slopes there. This would’ve made it a rather precarious undertaking for any schools to allow their pupils to practice the javelin in PE in any area in its path.

It was stated in Parliament that Florence Nightingale would have to be released as if the Zulu conflict was relocated for reasons of convenience it would set a dangerous precedent. Dr Alfred Carpenter, the MP for Bristol North, made his point against war relocating by cleverly using examples from history of how other wars would’ve been impacted upon by relocating for reasons of convenience. Here are some of his examples:

  1. The Battle of Marathon – relocated to the outskirts of Athens to give sprinters a better chance.
  2. The Battle of Hastings – relocated to a sauna in Stockholm to save the weavers of the Bayeux Tapestry money on thread as the armies wouldn’t have a stitch on.
  3. The Battle of Bosworth – relocated to the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Bristol General Hospital so Richard III could get his hunchback checked out and thus kill two princes with one stone.
  4. The Battle of Trafalgar – relocated to a forest with plenty of mistletoe overhead so Nelson wouldn’t have to waste his dying breath having to ask for kisses.

Fortunately, fate intervened and whilst Nightingale was in custody another Jack the Aider atrocity was committed thereby proving her innocence. She was released and none of us officers had any hard feelings towards her. Although this was because she admitted later that she’d been lacing our drinks with bromide.

Princess Canapoo.

In 1817 one of the most famous hoaxes in history was played upon the unsuspecting citizens of Bristol. It commenced when a strange young woman was found wandering aimlessly around Almondsbury in exotic attire muttering bizarre words such as ‘olga moncrasity della’, ‘zechni plog flip plog’ , ‘wolbs eb hencrass’ and ‘I can get Bristol City into the Premier League’.

It was just two years after the Battle of Waterloo so her actions were considered highly suspicious. The strange female was quickly apprehended and escorted to the local gaol and thence onto Bristol Crown Court the next day to try her as a spy….and if she wasn’t terribly good at that to try her at something else instead.

At court the mysterious girl captured the imagination of the public and much debate ensued regarding her provenance. Some thought her to be an escapee from a lunatic asylum, as it was in the days before Bedlam Hospital adopted their ‘Care in the Community’ programme. Others considered her to be the mad King George III on a royal walkabout.

However it was the presiding magistrate Justice Henry Vale whose judgement mattered most. He believed the reason she spoke with an unintelligible tongue was because she was a Geordie who’d got lost after a night on the toon. But a medical examination conducted soon after revealed that she was a virgin, so that knocked his theory on the head.

It was at this juncture, back in Almondsbury, that the female was befriended by a wealthy and influential woman called Ethel Worrier. Through perseverance and kindness she discovered that the mysterious woman was really called Princess Canapoo and was third in line to the throne of a yet undiscovered island called Javanu. Unfortunately, she’d also been 93rd in line to use the portable loo at an outdoor music festival in Cunganoo, the capital of Javanu, and in desperation to relieve herself sought the privacy offered by the nearby forest. It was there that she was abducted by pirates, who then dumped her in Almondsbury. This theory gained a lot of kudos with locals because they also had a lot of problems with fly-tippers.

Once Bristolians became acquainted with these facts they fell over themselves in haste to exhibit hospitality to Princess Canapoo and withdraw their previous suspicions about her. The Bristol City chairman also wanted to withdraw the offer of a four-year contract.

Princess Canapoo enchanted visitors to Ethel Worrier’s home with her strange gymnastics, archery skills and astounding ability to catch birds with her bare hands. The fact they were chickens on the shelves of the local Sainsbury’s was somewhat overlooked. She became a big hit in society with her eccentric behaviour and bizarre language. It wasn’t just Bristolians who were taken in by her antics as many intelligent people were fooled too. The England cricket captain even visited her fashionable Bristol apartment to pump her for information and left relieved to discover that they didn’t play cricket n Javanu, because he didn’t fancy getting panned by them as well.

It transpired that the majority of Javanuvian vocabulary was conveyed by means of sign language. But what words were used verbally were pretty basic as these examples testify:

zigga = ‘dance’

bigga = ‘mountain’

bugga = ‘I have to climb the mountain’

Arsa = ‘the Prince Regent’

kissa = ‘the etiquette to use when greeting someone’

kissa Arsa = ‘the etiquette to employ when greeting the Prince Regent’

The esteemed journalist William Melbourne conducted an in-depth interview with Princess Canapoo for the Bristol Times & Mirror in which he used some of her sign language he’d learnt to assist with his probing. An impressed Princess Canapoo explained that in Javanu if an outsider becomes proficient in their language the citizens exhibit their gratitude by allowing him to have 24/7 access to the Emperor’s harem of 3,000 beautiful women for a period of five years, so joyful are they that someone has taken the trouble to learn their sign language. This revelation did wonders for the sale of The Highway Code.

On one occasion Princess Canapoo was escorted around Bristol by the head of the Planning Department and asked what aspect that she most disliked about Bristol compared to Javanu. Princess Canapoo removed her bow from her back and immediately fired an arrow. Upon retrieving it and finding nothing attached she shook her head dismissively and explained, in the little English she’d learnt, that in Javanu she could fire an arrow 100 yards in any direction on the compass and where it landed food could be found whether it was meat, fish, fruit or vegetables. The head of the Planning Department wasn’t that impressed because he knew it would be like that in Bristol too if Tesco got their bloody way.

Princess Canapoo, during the many months the ruse lasted, was even painted by the renowned society portrait artist Edward Bird. He had famously painted Horatio Nelson before the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He was glad he elected to depict him before rather than after the battle because he was running low on red paint at the time. Throughout the sitting, Princess Canapoo distracted Bird by making the sounds of the weird instruments played by the indigenous tribes of Javanu and also sang some of their folk songs. Bird used his influence to make it illegal to behave in such a way anywhere near a painting while it was under composition. This led to the 1816 Prevention of Rolf Harris Act, a law that remained on the statute books until the 1950s.

However, the portrait proved Princess Canapoo’s undoing. Her former landlady recognised it when it went on show in the foyer of a bingo hall in Southville. The landlady told the authorities that Princess Canapoo was really called Mary Baker who’d absconded with her bath-towel and owing 6 weeks rent several months earlier. The bath-towel had obviously been adapted to form a turban according to the picture.

Upon being confronted with the truth, Princess Canapoo instantly broke down. This was most unfortunate because she was leading the British Grand Prix at Brooklands at the time with just over a lap to go in her one horsepower buggy. Astonishingly, all those who’d been fooled by her now took pity upon her and maintained a friendly association with her; that is with the exception of the daughter of the Duchess of Chipping Sodbury who was about to sit her GCSE in Javanuvian.

******AVAILABLE FROM OCTOBER 25th on Amazon Kindle: The Typo Files: The Bee-Hooded Sir Walter Raleigh by Jonty Morgan £1.87. See ABOUT page on www.jontymorgan.com for details. Plus other Kindle publications available in November.

Ronnie Dix: Boy Wonder.

In the austere years following the Great War many found it difficult to make ends meet. Even those who did make ends meet could find themselves in trouble. This is the fate that befell cartographer Hector Bartholomew who made Lands End and Southend meet and was promptly dismissed from his job. Bristol Rovers were no exception and therefore found it necessary in the 1920s to pilot several money-saving and making schemes. These included:

  1. Reducing the size of the pitch to allow greyhound meetings to take place.
  2. Enlarging the size of the pitch to allow St.Bernard meetings to take place.
  3. Digging up the pitch to allow funeral directors meetings to take place.
  4. Stealing the pitch to allow a criminal investigation to take place.
  5. Flooding the pitch to allow fishermen to take plaice.

Rovers also installed a basement beneath the pitch so they could profit from the lucrative venture of hiring it out for grazing sheep during matches. Thus Rovers became the first club in the Football League to install undersoil bleating.

In 1923 the Eastville club hit upon the novel idea of fielding ten men and a boy. The child selected for this initiative being 10-year-old Ronnie Dix. The benefits of playing him were considered thus:

  1. At most he would be paid maximum pocket-money which was considerably lower than the maximum wage.
  2. His kit would be cheaper to buy as traditionally the junior version is £10 less than the adult version. In 1923 the adult kit cost £3; so the Rovers were quids in.
  3. Whenever Rovers played away they could send a consent form to Mrs Dix for her to sign and pay a contribution towards the cost of the trip.
  4. There would be little chance of Dix ever being sent-off, as like most boys he would do anything to avoid a bath, let alone an early one.
  5. He would qualify for Free Pre-Match Meals.
  6. Even if he failed to score for years nobody at Eastville would be able to hurl any verbal criticism his way for fear of being accused of child abuse.

The disadvantages of playing the boy Dix were considered to be:

  1. The Rovers management wouldn’t be able to drop him (see 6 above).
  2. It was inevitable that one day he would get too big for his boots.
  3. Rovers would get into trouble with the F.A. for under-the-counter payments; simply because Dix couldn’t reach over-the-counter to collect his weekly money.
  4. Dix might cover the club badge with a Blue Peter one.
  5. The club would have to go to the expense of buying a large quantity of ‘Lucky Bags’ because each time the ref gave the opposition a free-kick, Dix would want something too.
  6. Fans would have to be banned from taking rattles into the ground otherwise Dix could become easily distracted.
  7. Dix would only be useful in a defensive wall if the free-kick was from 57 yards plus.

Despite some reservations in the boardroom – although once the diners had finished their meals and left the directors were able to conduct their business – it was decided to press ahead with the experiment.

The plan was a resounding success with the exception that in his first five seasons Dix failed to find the net once; the fact modems hadn’t been invented didn’t help. Contrary to the belief Dix would never get sent-off that was precisely what happened in a match against Watford in 1924; when he got into a fight with the Hornets’ centre-half Charlie McGivern over whose father had the best coal-scuttle. It was such an unedifying spectacle that both players were hauled before the F.A. Disciplinary Committee and charged with bringing the game into disrepute. Dix, who turned up with snakes & ladders under his arm, was further charged with bringing the game into the F.A. Disciplinary Committee. Both players were severely punished. McGivern was fined two weeks wages and banned for five matches; while Dix was told that Santa didn’t exist.

Eventually, in March, 1928 when Dix was 15 years and 5 months old and the Eastville faithful were counting down the remaining 7 months until they could vent their pent-up frustration, he finally scored with a header against Norwich City. This provided him with the record – which still stands today – for being the youngest goalscorer in Football League history. Upon hearing that he’d scored, Mrs Dix alerted the police as he was still underage.

Just three days later Dix scored with two more headers in a midweek fixture at Gillingham, and then rounded off a marvelous seven-day period with a hat-trick of headers at home to Plymouth. Dix revealed after that game that the reason for his sudden scoring prowess was that he’d just joined the Scouts and it was ‘nod-a-lob week’.

Thereafter Dix made quite a habit of scoring and was eventually transferred to top-flight Blackburn Rovers for £3,000. He went on to play for a host of top clubs as well as for England.

The illustration is a cartoon from August 1925 by F.G. Lewin which depicts the Rovers strike-force for the imminent 1925-26 season with Dix on the left.

Taken from The History of English Football According to Jonty Morgan available in Kindle format from http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com

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