Blackpool Mayor Thomas McNaughtan: skeleton in the cupboard

Thomas Mccnaughton

Thomas McNaughtan

THOMAS MCNAUGHTAN
When Thomas McNaughtan died  the family wanted a quiet funeral.  On Monday 20 July 1896 the body was borne by carriage from his home at 3 Queens Square Blackpool to Blackpool Cemetery at Layton at midday while the bells of Christ Church and St Johns pealed.  Following the hearse was a landau laden with tributes.Just about every councillor, senior council employees, the chief constable,  doctors attended.

Thomas McNaughtan  embodied the second generation of Blackpool Council and his era   coincided with Blackpool’s Golden Age.   The Tower, the tram system, current St Johns, the Town Hall, the Winter Gardens, the Grand… were all built between 1860 and 1901.  Blackpool Tower is a symbol of this astonishing enterprise.

The tram system allowed people to live further from the centre and suburbs developed.  So farmers sold agricultural land for building, the tram system had a customer base, builders and their employees benefited and housing needs were met.  The expansion fuelled further expansion.  Councillors were businessman who promoted their interests by promoting the growth of the town.

 

Dr Thomas McNaughtan was in the thick of it.  He was born in Glasgow.  After a start in business he studied medicine.  He was an outstanding student, won many prizes and was chosen by his professor to demonstrate anatomy to other students.  When he qualified he worked in Cumbria and Bolton.  In April 1873 he married Miss Jane Ann Dickson at Marton Church.  Jane Ann was the daughter of Edward Banks Dixon.  I have not studied the family tree but it is likely that she was a relative of Henry Banks  “the father of Blackpool” , and so connected by marriage to the ruling dynasty of Banks and Cocker and to Blackpool’s first historian William Thornber.

Photographs of Thomas McNaughtan show a burly man.

At his  funeral the Rev N S Jeffrey said plaintively that Thomas came to church even when he was ill: “Unfortunately medical men did not come to church in great numbers now. ” He did not know why.

Thomas McNaughtan died on 16 July 1897 on the Steamship Columba out of Glasgow.  He had suffered from heart problems and had seemed to have been recovering.  He always found that a holiday in Scotland restored his health.  When Blackpool was incorporated in 1876 he was one of the first aldermen (for Claremont) until 1892.  He was twice mayor in 1879  and 1880.  He became a  magistrate in 1887.  In addition to his medical practice he was involved in many local businesses such as the Metropole.   He was photographed laying the first tram track.

He lived in Queens Square….  the most prestigious address in Blackpool.   Prostitutes carried on their profession in Back Queen Street.  The Convent of the Holy Child Jesus, which became Layton Hill Convent had been in Queens Square.  In more modern times Fred Sewell and his gang fled to an escape vehicle in Queens Square after the robbery initiating a fatal car chase.

As the funeral orations take place and Thomas McNaughtan is praised for his courtesy…

Nobody mentions that his half-brother Daniel M’Naghten attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister Robert Peel and   killed Robert Peel’s secretary, Edward Drummond,  (well, probably , come to that later)  and that Daniel was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum and Daniel’s  trial resulted in a change to legal practice.

 

DANIEL M’NAGHTEN

Daniel M’naghten (this is how it is usually spelled) was the illegitimate son of Daniel M’naghten Senior who was also the father of Thomas McNaughtan.  When Daniel’s mother, Ada, died he lived with his father’s family and was trained as a wood turner in his father’s factory.  Then he worked as an actor for three years and then in 1835 started business in Glasgow as a wood turner. He prospered.  He was sober, frugal and anxious to learn.  He studied politics and taught himself French.  He was a political radical and employed other radicals.

In 1840 he sold his business and stayed in London for two years. He briefly visited France.  In 1842 he returned to Glasgow and attended lectures on anatomy.  He complained to various people including MPs and his father that he was being persecuted by “The Tories.”

On 20 January 1843 Edward Drummond, the secretary of the Prime Minister Robert Peel, was walking towards Downing Street from Charing Cross when Daniel drew a pistol and shot him.  Before Daniel could draw a second pistol he was overpowered.  It is thought that Daniel had intended to kill Robert Peel.    Drummond did not appear to be badly hurt… he walked away… but he died  afterwards.  Probably his death was caused by medical treatment.  The most common medical intervention was bleeding.  That is a vein was opened and blood taken.  This had gone on for two thousand years when a naval statistician demonstrated that it had the effect of shortening life.  It is possible that the overall effect of the medical profession has been to shorten life… that was indisputably the case in 1843.  A contemporary pamphlet by an Army Doctor blamed the death on excessive bleeding.

TRIAL

Daniel’s father took charge of  Daniel’s  legal defence.   The  defence offered evidence that Daniel was suffering from mental problems… what we would call paranoid delusions.  Daniel was convinced that “The Tories” were planning to kill him.  So convincing was the defence case that the persecution declined to proceed.  Daniel was transferred to an asylum.

Queen Victoria was unamused.  She had been a victim of assassination attempts.  As a result of her insistence the House of Lords  examined the case and produced what are called the M’naghten Rules which set the legal test for criminal insanity and which  still apply.

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Daniel M’Naghten in 1856, thirteen years after the murder of Edward Drummond

 

ROBERT PEEL: BLACKPOOL TOURIST

By coincidence Robert Peel was a visitor to Blackpool.  Robert Peel’s  father ‘s father in law (who was also his business partner)  William Yates,  had bought property in Blackpool.  The Yates Estate  is remembered in the name Yates Street and also in General Street.  Yates’s son was a general.  Robert Peel  stayed with  his relatives when he was young.  The Rev William Thornber mentions this.

 

CONSPIRACY???

It is a  well known fact that all assassinations are conspiracies.  Well there are grounds.  Most puzzlingly Daniel had £750.  That is equivalent to £75000.  Lot of money for a woodturner who hadn’t worked for two years?  It is   possible that Daniel was under observation by the early intelligence services.  It was a time of social unrest and the authorities may  have kept tabs on a wealthy radical who employed other radicals and took trips to France.  Finally there was the speed and decisiveness of his legal defence .

More probable is that Daniel was mentally ill.

DANIEL AND THOMAS

Did Thomas McNaughtan respected Mayor and pillar of the community know his half-brother Daniel M’naghten assassin?   Daniel was born in 1813 and Thomas in 1834 so there was an age difference.   Daniel and Thomas’s father also confusingly called Daniel made no effort to conceal his illegitimate son, employed him and came to his aid when he was on trial.  Following the death of Edward Drummond, Daniel Senior  intervened decisively on Daniel Junior’s behalf.   Thomas may have met Daniel but that they were not closely acquainted.  An interest they shared was anatomy, Daniel attended lectures.

 

 

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Thomas McNaughtan’s tomb at Layton Cemetery… I was intrigued that there seemed to be a tribute….

 

You can visit Thomas McNaughton’s tomb in Layton Cemetery.  I do not know where Daniel is buried possibly an anonymous grave at Broadmoor.

 

 

 

Sue Prideaux: I am dynamite. A life of Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

friedrich

 

For my own interest I am writing about books, partly so I can remember what I read. I have no qualifications in philosophy.  I am not  convinced that Nietzsche is a philosopher.  He is intoxicating.

He loathed anti-semitism and was dismissive about German nationalism.  He pretended to be a Polish aristocrat…

But to get back to the book… well what a collection of characters.  It’s like reading a  version of Viz… in which all the characters are intellectuals.    Wagner…  he would be a splendid villain.  He was an anti-Semite,   his father was probably Jewish.  If he were not a great composer he would be loathsome.  Cheat, liar, adulterer, dripping with perfume and silk underwear…  and yet… and yet…  you long for him to be a rubbish musician but he isn’t.  Its as if Sting were any good.   Or Bono.  Or Mick Hucknall.  Waste of a villain was Wagner.  And he did leech money out of poor mad King Ludwig possibly bringing about Ludwig’s death.  Bloated, self-centred, narcissistic, fraudulent, dishonest to the core, a great composer.  Go figure.

Cosima Wagner…  also an anti-Semite and without the excuse.  A  staunch Catholic,  Wagner’s mistress, dauntingly imperious,  Wagner was hopelessly in love with her.  You read accounts of their evenings reading Shakespeare to one another and you wonder why they never thought to top themselves.  Later she had to endure Wagner’s affairs with younger and younger women.   And  there is Friedrich’s sister Elisabeth.  Anti-Semite, early Nazi,   mad as a bag of frogs.  But cunning with it.

Wagner took Nietzsche up when Nietzsche  was unknown … clever but weird.  Nietzsche  became the closest friend of Wagner and Cosima.  Wagner looked on him as a son.  Wagner was at  the height of his cultish quasi-religious appeal when he met the unknown and unprepossessing Nietzsche.  Wagner was best friends with kings and counts and German aristocracy…

Freud was to call Nietzsche  the man who understood the  mind best… Yet Nietzsche did not notice that Cosima was about to give birth when he stayed with the Wagners and when he woke up and there was one more person …  it came as a surprise.  So Freud… Nietzsche may have uncovered the secrets of the mind but…

Inevitably… given Nietszche and Wagner they fell out.  But Nietzsche looked back on their friendship as the happiest time of his life.  Nietzsche also managed to have an affair… or was it a relationship… with the most enigmatic woman of his time Lou Salome.  Freud was also fascinated by Lou Salome.   You cannot help but ask: wht did Lou see in Friedrich?    His myopia led to him wearing blue tinted glasses and with his ludicrous militaristic moustache and his awkward behaviour and his ineluctable (I don’t know what that means but it sounds good) strangeness you wouldn’t have thought he’d make it on Love Island.

Nietzsche was antagonistic to contemporary culture… despised democracy, socialism, christianity, the bougeoisie.  He preached the Superman.  He felt that a Superman… say Napoleon… created their own moral world.  So the lower creatures gang up and do down the Superman.  Good on them I say: kill the Superman.  But Nietzsche disagreed.  Some folk say that he just meant that you should be your best self but I can’t bear the idea that he was some kind of early Californian Positive Thinker.

But let’s not get carried away with Nietzsche’s thoughts.  For me they are provocative but not coherent, frenzied  attacks on the status quo… a philosophical punk.  I am the Antichrist… Sid Vicious stole it off Nietzsche.  Nietzsche’s appeal to Goths and nihilists owes something to his very short sentences and  a kind of doomy biblical feeling to his work… he denies  religion in the voice of an old testament prophet.  Kind of having your cake and eating it?

Take a deep breath:  in a cast of intellectual nutters you are about to meet the queen of fruitloopery.    Nietzsche’s sister was a hyper-organised anti semitic germanophile  and a crook …  the word crook is a bit harsh… yes crook.  Nietzsche does write about  successful tricksters…  they are actually seized by their delusions which makes them charismatic.   One can’t help thinking of another strange man with a strange moustache.

Nietzsche was painfully ill all his life.  He does talk about the military as if he were an old sweat but as far as I can see his military service consisted of falling off a horse and being hospitalised… to his credit he despised the expansionist policies of Bismarck at a time when many Germans intoxicated by nationalism.

But I’ve interrupted myself lets go back to the fragrant Elisabeth Nietzsche.  She part idolised and part despised Friedrich.  As a young professor she was his housekeeper (irresistably one thinks of Hitler employing his half sister as housekeeper).  It may have crossed her mind that she might meet eligible young men but Nietzsche’s friends tended to be loopier than he was.  Which is saying something.  Eventually she settled on Bernhard Forster.  Good looking, charismatic, anti-semite he had a following who he mesmerised with his vision of  founding an Aryan paradise in Latin America.  It could be said that Elisabeth called his bluff.  She offered to help finance a colony in Latin America.  Oh and they would get married.  One feels for Bernhard… talking about doing something is one thing…  Elisabeth was excellent at fund raising and publicity and before you know it they were off.

Right from the get go Bernhard was useless and Elisabeth was a deceiver.  The colonists starved in Germania in Uruguay while Elisabeth lived like an Empress with servants and so on and wrote letters to anti-Semitic nationalist papers in Germany saying how wonderful if was and encouraging more people to make the journey.  Bernhard was continually drunk until he summoned the energy to commit suicide.  A lesser person than Elisabeth might have read into this a form of criticism  but Elisabeth was made of sterner stuff and  managed to recast Bernhard’s death as heroic.

She returned to Germany where she wrote articles about how successful the colony had been.  By a stroke of luck, for her,  Nietzsche became insane.  In Milan he broke down over a man beating a horse.  Nietzsche who had always despised pity.

It did not take Elisabeth long to realise that you can monetise a mad philosopher.  So you have Nietzsche who is irrecoverably insane.  He has at the same time become a cult figure,  rather like  Wagner.  Elisabeth managed his reputation…  her home was a kind of shrine and money came her way.   She publicised his work through German nationalist anti-semitic papers.  Hitler said he was a follower but I have my doubts if he had the capacity.  Elisabeth enjoyed her role as guardian of the prophet and quasi -Empress.   Then she died and Adolf attended the funeral.

There are so many characters in this work that each of them deserves at least an article in an Encyclopedia of Scumbags that I am contemplating starting.  I have sketched the Kissinger article in my mind.  The en passant people:  Catulle Mendes: the handsomest man of his generation, a blond christ.  He was cruel and nasty: “a lily in urine.  ”

So what was Nietzsche’s philosophy?  Well…  I don’t really know and I doubt if anybody does.  I don’t think he had a coherent philosophy and there was a lot of the trickster about him: he liked to shock.   He was so ill that he could only write for brief spells.  Main ideas: God is dead.  Man must create his own values.  The Superman will create his own values.  The will to power is the motive force. Greek philosophy gave us logic, rationality… but there is also a darker neglected aspect of intoxication, madness, irrationality.

So far so good.  Nietzsche by no means exults that “God is dead,” it appals and horrifies him.  Since my education by Irish Christian Brothers I do not recognise Nietzsche’s depiction of Christianity as a religion of meekness.  The aboriginal people of America and Australia and New Zealand might not recognise it either… if they were still here…  The will to power is convincing… not unlike Schopenauer’s  “will to life.”

Philosopher or not Nietzsche was a poet.   My favourite Nietzsche: “Plato is boring.”  Or: “I cannot believe in a god who wants to be praised all the time.”

So how do I feel about Nietzsche?  A  ragamuffin noble.  Somehow the sincerity of his work overcomes the view that he is in many ways ludicrous… I think he was the initiator of the macho tough guy tradition in philosophy where he emphasises his masculinity which suggests to me that there is not much to emphasise.  Nietzsche did display extraordinary fortitude considering his health, but in this tough guy stuff I think I see a trend of the intellectual longing to be the man of action. One thing I admire is Nietzsche’s ability to walk in mountains in spite of all his illnesses.  I go from memory but he said something like: “All great thinkers were walkers.” And I cannot despise him even though he was a natural Tory.  Something about the brilliant noble idiot pulls your heartstrings.

 

To  get back to the Wagner entanglement.  Nietzsche went to see his doctor complaining about his health.  Wagner had suggested specialist.  Unknown to Nietzsche Wagner wrote a letter to the doctor suggesting excessive masturbation (what is the right amount?) might be the cause of Nietzsche’s distress.  Nietzsche learned of this correspondence.

You need a heart of stone not to dance around whooping.

 

 

 

Blackpool 1895… deaths, brothels, suicide, indecency, vicars, the Fleetwood fishing fleet.

Looking at a year in newspaper archives is enchanting.   It is like time travel… briefly you are in 1895.  Nobody is alive now who was alive in 1895 and here in Blackpool we walk among relics of Blackpool’s Golden Age… the Tower, the Grand, the Winter Gardens.   Our ancestors…

“fools in old style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy stern

And half at one another’s throats. ”

Philip Larkin

 

 

WELCOME TO 1895

What were they like?    They loved organisations… churches, political organisations, freemasons and similar groups, working mens clubs…  the  number of churches…there were 7 varieties of Methodist Church in Blackpool.  People flocked to become Buffalos and Druids and Oddfellows.  A religion, the Rechabites,  was founded in Salford.

They had a painful sense of humour.   You read: “An amusing incident” and you know you are in for something numbing  banality.  They had an unhealthy interest in  prostitutes as do we all.   It was  the golden age of the loopy vicar.  Our ancestors managed to combine  a matter of fact attitude to death with sentimentality.

Typical headlines from 1895:

“Singular death of a Child

Hit on the Head with a Shovel.”

“A Lunatic at Large.”

Or “Bad Boy Birched. ”

Victorians thought that they were the bee’s knees.   We can see their delusions but we cannot see our own.

Life was getting better. .  Life expectancy is about forty and one in five die in infancy.   Small pox and  typhoid persist.  The health reports make uncomfortable reading …  there were ten private slaughterhouses and one public one.  There were privies and cesspools and things I don’t like to think what they were… ashpits.  Sewers were a problem.

With so many horses…   deaths increased in the warm months.

RELIGION

All through the newspapers religion looms large.  Clergymen were treated like celebrities.  There was a weekly portrait of a local clergymen.  At the drop of a hat a local clergyman would condemn…  well anything: gambling, alcohol, novelettes, the theatre…  The finest condemner  was the Reverend Balmer who worked himself into a fine  frenzy.  His  work: “Paris, Sodom and  Blackpool, ” gives you the flavour.  His sermon picturing Jesus coming to Blackpool, for reasons not fully explained the Town Council has invited the Prince of Peace to visit Blackpool: “He would find multitudious hypocrites not only in churches but in the warehouse and the market place. ”   Whew.

Anglicans were converting to Catholicism in the way that public school lads in the 30’s would “join the Party.”  When the chapel at Layton Hill Convent was consecrated Father Bernard Vaughan  looked forward to the conversion of England.  The Mayor was criticised at St Johns  for attending a service in Sacred Heart.  Articles and letters titled: “Rome or Reason.” and warnings against “Romanism.”

One feels a pang for the reporter who attended the Primitive Methodist Tea Party.

THE PURITY CRUSADE, THREE BROTHELS

Although the Purity Crusade is mentioned in newspapers I do not know if it was an organisation or a name the press gave to a campaign against brothels and indecency.   I have already written about Blackpool Brothels  in “Victorian Sex Tourism,” so I will concentrate on  one case.

7000 military volunteers were stationed at the sandhills in the south of the Town.  7000 young men in a town whose winter population was 24000 according to the 1891 census. Go figure.

After surveillance a brothel at 122 Lytham Road was raided on 21 June 1895.  All the visitors are officers.

A brothel at 8 Grosvenor Street was raided on August 1 1895.  It was strategically located between Raikes Pleasure Gardens and the Railway Station.

But the raid that  fascinates is on July 28, 1895 at 3 Derby Road.  Catherine Briggs Bolton “a refined looking woman of middle age” was charged with keeping a disorderly house  at 3, Derby Road.    Two Policemen watched the house for many days.  In the course they acquired a ladder and peered through bedroom windows.  On one occasion they saw  “an elderly man,” (he was 50)  holding up a book at shoulder height, the ladies kicking it…    all will be explained.   There was smoking, there was drinking, there were male visitors.  There was kissing and indecent behaviour.

Catherine Briggs Bolton was imprisoned for a month and the others fined.

Except that she wasn’t.  She appealed.  I have never come across a case in the local papers where somebody had appealed against a sentence.  Whatever else Catherine Briggs Bolton had money… or friends.

And when the appeal was heard her solicitor was Mr Callis,  a  quick-witted solicitor advised  her legal representatives.  He hadn’t any difficulty in destroying the case against  against   Catherine Briggs Bolton .  Two constables, Drabble and Duckworth, had been watching the house every night for almost a month.  They saw men arrive, champagne being drunk, smoking.

They managed to put a ladder in the back yard and peer through the windows and seen kissing and indecent behaviour.

19 strange men had entered between 11pm and 2 am.

At the appeal a Constable is questioned.

“Did you ever in the course of your experience see such a respectable brothel?”  His point being that 19 customers in a month or so isn’t very many.

“No Sir.”

The Constable is also asked if he has ever known a brothel where there are no blinds and the curtains are open.  No he hasn’t.

 

 

The appeal was successful and Catherine Briggs Bolton left court without a stain on her character.  As far as I can tell the Purity Crusade disappeared.

We have an explanation for the kicking the book incident.  The elderly gentleman aged 50 had been to a show at the Grand that featured high kicking girls and he is demonstrating and asking the girls if they can  manage it.

 

INDECENCY IN ST JOHNS MARKET

In an article: “Purifying the Town” (Wednesday June 26 1895)  we learn that Arthur Lomas and John Thornhill are arrested for gross indecency in the lavatory of St Johns Market.  Lomas is a doorman and Thornhill is a waiter.  And Mannaseh Bailey a poultry dealer and Reuben Holmes a surveyor are arrested on similar charges at the same location.  The charges are  too serious to be dealt with by the Police Court and they appear at Lancaster Assizes were they are acquitted.  They are represented by the cunning Mr Callis.  Much is made of the fact that constables are spying on the gent’s lavatory from above and that the gas-lighting is poor.

FATAL FRIENDSHIP

John Lumsby was a railway pointsman.  On Tuesday night he saw his son Percival at 10 pm.  The next time he saw Percival was on Thursday in the mortuary.  Percival aged 14 was an errand boy at Butcher’s Tailors in Lytham Street.  Charlie Parkinson aged 19 worked at the taylors.  Witnesses say they were the best of friend.  On Wednesday evening at 7pm Percival teased John in an upstairs room by touching his hip as he sat down with a “goose.”  A goose is a heavy iron.  John jumps up and Percival runs downstairs.  John throws some scissors at the retreating Percival and the scissors pierce his back.  Percival is taken to a doctor but dies shortly.

Charlie Parkinson is charged with “wilfully causing death.”  The Parkinson family are well known and there is public sympathy for Charlie.  The well known phrenologist Herr Cohen is among those who subscribe to Charlie’s defence.

At the inquest there is a range of options.  Charlie and the Parkinson family are advised by the solicitor Mr Callis.  There is a  duel between the Chief Constable John Derham and Mr Callis.  It is clear that the Chief Constable wants to pursue a case against Charlie Parkinson and that Mr Callis wants a verdict of  “death by misadventure.”

Inquests were no joke .  The jury views  the body which has “a peaceful expression as if asleep.”   The doctor offers to show a section of Percival Lumby’s ribs to illustrate how the scissors pierced Percival’s lungs.   The jury could  have a verdict of  murder in which case Charlie Parkinson could be hanged.  Or the jury could find Charlie’s behaviour reckless… he would stand trial for manslaughter.

The verdict was “Death by misadventure.”

Percival Lumby’s father says that the boys were the best of friends illustrating this by saying that Percival had thrown a brick injuring Charlie who had to be off work and that Charlie did not blame Percival for this.  Friendships were robust in those days.

The funeral of Percival Lumby was on Saturday afternoon and was well attended including pupils and masters from St Johns School.  Mr and Mrs Parkinson attended.  What is surprising to present day readers is that the Lumbys bore no ill will towards the Parkinsons.

 

ELEVEN MEN DEAD

A  storm  tore the Fleetwood Fishing Fleet on 2 October 1895.   11 Fleetwood fishermen perished.    Blackpool had enjoyed an Indian Summer and the fishing fleet out of Fleetwood had no reason to expect a change.  Boats from Lytham did not set out because a change in  barometric pressure was noticed.

The Fleetwood fishing fleet was  powered by sail.    When the storm hit suddenly at 4 in the morning the fleet headed towards any port.  Five trawlers were lost: Two Sisters, Schoolgirl, Daisy, Sarah and Mariner.  Seamen were lost very close to shore…the Two Sisters was foundered off Central Pier and the crew was lost.    In some cases… the Blue Bell… the trawler foundered but the crew was saved.

Some survivors spent the night clinging to  a shallow island of sand at the mouth of the Ribble.  Besides fishing smacks “prawners” were lost.  These were sailing boats  used to trawl shrimps.  Many of the bodies washed up at Blackpool were from Morecambe and after the Coroner’s Inquest bodies were returned to Morecambe  by sea.  Bodies of fishermen continued to be found for a fortnight  afterwards by which time they were unidentifiable.  The Coroner was busy.  Amongst the bodies washed up was a woman, 40 years old, poorly dressed.  She was not identified.  “Death by drowning.”

The losses of 1895 followed another disastrous year… in  1894 nine  trawlers were lost mostly in storms in October and December.  1894 and 1895 saw heavy losses…  At that rate given that most of the crews perished the working life of trawler crew…  seven years.

The Fleetwood Disaster Fund was established to support the widows and orphans of those lost at sea.

THE TOOMEY MURDER AND PENNY DREADFULS

Does life imitate art ?  Oscar’s ghost hangs over  1895… fin de siecle… in 1883 he had given a talk at Blackpool on the “House Beautiful.”  He was paid 14 shillings.  The detective had appeared in fiction… notably Inspector Bucket in Bleak House .  The Jack the Ripper murders reported in the popular press ( one historian thinks there was no Jack the Ripper…  there were separate incidents sensationalised by popular journalism… at first this sounds bonkers until you realise that the “authentic”  Jack murders differ… some say three some say eleven).  True crime and fictional crime (Sherlock Holmes is the model) fascinated the public.

So when John Toomey murdered his wife at Foxhall on October 13 1895… the first significant murder in Blackpool in living memory… it had many of the features of a detective story and the public followed it.

The murderer disappeared.  Incidentally he walked from the Foxhall to the Red Lion in Norbreck.  He was fifty six years old.  Our ancestors were fit.  And some of his clothes were discovered in a field at Norbreck.

He could have committed suicide… but where was the body?  Readers of detective stories thought he could have  given the impression of committing suicide and caught the ferry from Fleetwood to Ireland.  But the police were watching the port and the railways.  He had a history of amateur theatricals.  He could have escaped disguised as a woman.

But… a man in Clarence Gardens, Regent Park, sat down on a seat and shot himself in the head on Friday 13 October 1895.  Joseph’s brother and another friend identified the body as John Toomey.  Except it wasn’t,  Chief Constable John Derham had further identifying evidence from an old injury and the body in Clarence Gardens  was not John  Toomey.

In the wake of the October storm that ravaged the Fleetwood fishing fleet John’s body  washed up at Rossall.

John Toomey dressed as a woman fleeing his pursuers… was this a creature fed by detective fiction… after all there was a contemporary view that Jack the Ripper was disguised as a woman.

FIN DE SIECLE…  OPIUM… SUICIDE

A  boredom with Victorian certainties is in the public mood.   “Is it to be opium or cocaine?” asks Sherlock Holmes… (I am going by memory) and his boredom  matches the decadent poets.  Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.

At the same time this is  the most orderly Britain.  Disorderly people are dispatched to workhouses, prisons or lunatic asylums.  You can’t go into the Gents in St John’s market without surveillance by the constabulary.  Schools, factories, the church, civil administration are enforcing conformity.

On October 2 October  1895  a lady in Foxhall took an overdose of laudanum.  Laudanum is a solution of opium in alcohol.  It was available in chemists and who knows how it enlivened events in Blackpool. Dancing and drugs.  Mill workers used it as an alternative to alcohol.

In this case the lady died.  Jane Nicholson, 37, as far as I know, was the first reported opiate death in Blackpool.

A suicide is a critic of the world.  Considering the omnipresence of religion suicide was frequent in Victorian Britain.    Take Colour Sergeant Thomas Aspden who was with the Volunteers at South Shore.  He killed himself using a rifle and a cane.  He left a note:
“Dear Wife- goodbye to all the children.  Hope you will forgive this rash act.  Goodbye to all.  Thomas Aspden.  Colour Sergeant.”

GOODBYE TO 1895 AND A DISORDERLY THOUGHT

The papers of 1895 advertised dozens of patent medicines.  None of them had any effect.  Many of them reflect our anxieties…  a medicine that will “restore manhood.” The phrenologist Herr Cohen warning against phoney phrenologists.  Since all phrenology was phoney …   Is  the same true about religion?    Religion was a money making proposition (of course it was many other things)  so a parson had an interest in discrediting other religions and even other parsons of his own religion.  And he had an interest in raising his own profile.  Were churches like  brothels touting for business and part of an entertainment industry?  When St Peters (Protestant) is built opposite St Cuthberts (Catholic) aren’t they competing over a patch like two prostitutes?

Questions which cannot be answered.  Who was the drowned 40 year old drowned woman?   And what led the man in Clarence Gardens to  shoot himself in the head?

 

 

 

1956 portrait of a year and a death in Orchard Avenue

 

WRITER GOES ON A BIT MISS THIS OUT IF IT ANNOYS YOU

Reading archive copies of the Gazette in the Local and Family History Centre  I experience awe.    Let me explain.  You are utterly unlikely to exist.  That of all the atoms in the universe a selection should come together and constitute you is infinitely improbable.   Between your ears weighing  three pounds is the most complex structure in the universe.  If you exist in a random lottery you are infinitely more likely to be bacteria than  person.  Your body is host to 37.2 trillion organisms, bacteria, fungi, archae, protists, viruses but only one of them is you.  If every living thing in your body were a human being it would equal the population of the earth  multiplied it by 5400.  And you would be one of them.  For every year you spend alive you will not exist for 140 million years.  If the population of the UK were in proportion to this unlikeliness  it would be half a person.   Given the near impossibility of your existence you would be entitled to think that there was some point in your (or my) existence.  There is no evidence that it does.

Reading the archives of the Gazette in the Local and Family History Centre you realise that somehow we accommodate the inexplicability of existence. Tragedy for a person and family is news to neigbours and largely neglected.  This strange paradox  that we (you, me…) are the most significant being  and at the same time entirely dispensible…   well all I can say is its a  rum do.

Is this purple prose?   I apologise and go back to a crime and a time.

1956

Thanks to the Gazette you realise that many people will get up eat their breakfast, go to the toilet, clean their teeth and  they will not live to see another day.  As Jimmy  Hoffa said: “The undertaker  steals their watch and their wedding ring.”

On Saturday 23 June 1956 at 6 pm Joe Brandon of Orchard Avenue was getting ready to go out.  He would not  see Sunday.

The joy of reading the Gazette from 1956… it is like being in a similar but different world.  The Suez crisis happened…  although this was a foreign policy snafu  of Iraqi proportions there was no defining moment: it was like the air leaving a balloon.  An astonishing amount of news print is taken up with foreign news.  We export Harry Allen to hang  9 Cypriot terrorists, or probably just 9 Cypriots.   In his retirement Harry Allen gave out change on Fleetwood Pier.

The Gazette explores daftness in its  letters.  The terms “Wog” and “Gyppo” are used freely.  They will melt away at the appearance of “British Steel.”  An editorial approves when a Policeman (Kenya I think) is dismissed for marrying a Kikayu.  The editor has the right to answer all letters and so has the last word on everything.  He explains that he has heard that Kikayus make good wives.  So that’s all right then.

Mr Russell is awarded £350 to be paid by the correspondant who had been “cuckolding the petitioner.”  “Mrs Russell was a good wife and Mr Russell had lost a competent housewife,” says the judge.

A man writes a letter to the Gazette to complain that he is charged as much by his barber as a hairier man.  Picture  the  mind that would find this the main preoccupation.  Another writer  opines that people who write letters to the paper are all stupid.

A man drowns in the sea… he has been charged with indecent behaviour and he has already served four years for a similar crime.  Another man is charged with attempting to commit suicide.

A war veteran of 60 (First War) known for his cheerfulness hangs himself in his Layton home.

Accidental death is endemic.  Fatal accidents at work, at home, crossing the street… the fact that domestic gas  could eliminate  families.  A fifty year old woman sitting in Redman’s cafe is killed when a piece of  the ceiling lands on her.

Fourteen year old Brenda Coleshill from Runcorn dies in a fall from the Grand National.

Sometimes it is like another century:  this headline: “Cockfight case.”  Sadly it didn’t happen in Blackpool.  My favourite headline: “Trail of havoc in Lytham St Annes- MAD BOAR CHASED THROUGH THE STREETS.”

A man who stole three pounds twelve shillings and sixpence used his gains to embark on a “drunken orgy.”

There were worries about Teddy Boys and controversy when Blackpool Council considered banning a Liberace Film because it had inspired uncontrolled feminine desire.  Liberace.  It is instructive possibly, but I can’t at the moment think why,   that Liberace was the object  of feminine lust.  Was it a symptom of moral decline that three men were convicted for spying on courting couples in the sand dunes?  One of the men claimed that the police were persecuting him and he had been innocently roaming the sandhills with his binoculars.

Errol Flynn looking like I feel most of the time appeared at the Central Working Mens Club off Central drive to award prizes to bodybuilders on TV.

The multiplication and banality of  comedy and tragedy that  is eye-popping. In crime Billy Hill is well known… a household name… he is mentioned in  film…  the predecessor of the Krays…    there is no evidence Billy Hill  ever killed anybody…  unlike the Krays who did.  A brilliant man,  Billy Hill lost his judgement  in his hatred of Jack Spot..  Billy Hill  evolved an intricate but ludicrous  plot to involve Scarface Jock Russo,   who was to claim that he had been attacked by Jack Spot.   The plot involved a vicar who owed gambling money to Hill’s organisation, giving evidence to support the story.  Jock agreed and then fled to Blackpool where he ran a protection racket.

When Billy Hill moved out of crime he opened a casino which was more profitable.

In the Gazette Allan Prior is writing the TV page.  He praises Dragnet an American TV series which he says is “documentary.”  He went on to write Z Cars.

JOE AND ANNE BRANDON

So how did Joe Brandon meet his  end?  He lived with Anne Brandon in Orchard Avenue off Highfield Road.  Anne was not his wife but she used his surname.  Both Anne and Joe had previously been married but were separated.  Another member of the household was Jack  Hibbert a lodger.

Joe Brandon (34)  was a self-employed painter and decorator.  He was not fully employed.

At 4 pm on  Saturday June 23 1956, Joe returns from work.  He complains that there is nothing to eat.  He complains that Anne can’t cook properly, and goes out.  At 6 pm he comes back and gets ready to go out drinking as he does nearly every evening.  Anne asks if they can go out together.  Joe Brandon says no.   At 9pm Joe is in the Waterloo with two of his friends when he meets Jack Hibbert.  At 9.45 they go to the Farmers Arms… the vaults.  In those days women weren’t allowed in the vaults but Anne Brandon could see Joe Brandon from the other bar and sent drinks for him and Jack Hibbert.  At 10.45 Jack and Joseph returned to Orchard Avenue.  Anne Brandon could not get in.  Anne Brandon thinks that Joe has shut her out.

Anne offers to make Jack and Joe a cup of tea.  Joe refuses which upsets Anne.  There is an argument in which Anne accuses Joe of having a “new woman.”  Joe  punches Anne but Jack Hibbert steps between them.  Joe tells Anne to leave.  Anne says: “Where shall I go?”  Anne is standing at the door about to leave.

And then…  you really want to slap him… Jack  Hibbert thinks it will be a good time to put the dogs in a kennel in the back yard.

When Jack comes back… it can only have been minutes… Joe is lying on the floor.

“Good god Jack she’s done me good and proper.”  Anne nurses him and tries to embrace and kiss him.  According to Hibbert Anne tells Joe: “she didn’t mean it and asked him not to leave her.”

An ambulance is called.  Anne says: “If he dies they can hang me.  I don’t want to live if he doesn’t.”  At that time Joe was dead although Anne who had worked as a medical orderly knew that he was seriously wounded but did not know for some time that he was dead.  She asked if she could see him.

Joe had been stabbed with a breadknife which was usually in a drawer in the kitchen. Since Jack Hibbert in his exasperating way had chosen that  moment to see to the dogs  we cannot know the sequence of events.

The pitiful image of Anne in the ambulance.  She is covered in blood.  She wants to believe that Joe is still alive.  She wants to see him.  Somewhere in her mind the idea is forming that she has killed the one she loved.

 

TRIAL

The trial was in October in Lancaster.  Jack Hibbert witnessed many of the events.  His evidence was that Joe Brandon hit Anne  and that he was nasty  towards her.  He disparaged her cooking and he refused to go out with her.  When she bought him a shirt he said he didn’t want it.  Jack Hibbert’s  opinion was that Joe was embarrassed by Anne’s deafness.  Anne’s deafness must have been moderate… she was able to give evidence in court.  Here is Jack Hibbert’s reply to a question: “It is clear to you that despite these quarrels that the woman was very fond of Joe Brandon.”

“Definitely.”

Anne was providing money and gifts for Joe.  Joe comes across as being  dreadful.     Anne said that their relationship was happy at first but that Joe had troubles at work and then worked for himself and then did not have a regular income.  And he began to drink more heavily and gamble.  On the night of Joe’s death they had both been drinking.

Was Anne Brandon a prostitute?   My reason for asking is that in the Gazette her name is always followed by “described as a housewife.”  This unusual form of words must mean something.   If Anne  was a prostitute it is a rare case of a prostitute killing somebody instead of being killed.  We  do not know.  Prostitution was  often  part-time or occasional , in a case in Blackpool in the same year a woman explained that she only solicited when she wanted to buy clothes.  Whenever we hear of money changing hands it went from Anne to Joe… but Anne was not working.

Joe was unspeakable in his behaviour towards Anne.  She had been treated for an injured jaw, twice he hit her and broke her dentures  and she had injuries that were still visible at her trial.  She was also being treated for anxiety.   And she suspected Joe might have another girl friend.  They were both drunk.

After his death Joe’s  brother said that he had been in Whittingham Hospital suffering from depression when he was younger.  His brother also said that he had been married but was separated and that his mother had lived with him until Anne Brandon had moved into Orchard Avenue.

 

The jury had three choices: guilty of murder, of manslaughter or self defence.  Self defence would mean that Anne was not guilty at all.  The jury chose manslaughter and the judge acknowledged that she had been provoked  and had suffered violence at the hands of Joe Brandon.  The judge sentenced her to eighteen months.

It is just within the bounds of possibility that she is still alive.  She killed the man she loved.   Imagine her state of mind in the ambulance, covered in blood, hoping but not believing that Joe is still alive.   Anne Brandon wanted  security, affection.  And instead she got Joe Brandon.   Hopefully she found peace.

 

 

 

 

Neville Heath: the Charmer: The Blackpool connection

LIFE IMITATES ART?

The link between Neville Heath, Margery Gardner and Blackpool is weak.  But it is such a  tale that I am cheating.  It also has similarities with Gordon Cummins… the Blackout Ripper  and Evelyn Oatley late of Anchorsholme.

When we read about Neville Heath we are in an Agatha Christie mystery… all the props are there:  retired Majors, Eastbourne hotels, and Neville Heath himself who actually sounds like Biggles or Bulldog Drummond.  When Oscar said that life imitates art he was not as daft as he sounds.

I believe that Neville Heath modelled himself on the heroes of popular fiction.  He was  athletic, tall, good-looking, a fighter pilot, a war hero, the kind of man that women adore…   There was just that thing about stealing money, and claiming  rank and decorations that he  was not  entitled to, and whipping women and killing them… Biggles didn’t do that. Not in the books anyway.   Heath  sounds like Biggles or one of those straight-jawed dim characters: this is Neville Heath writing to his brother Mick who is  about to join the Air Force: the date is Tuesday October 15th 1946:

“You’ll shortly be going into a damned good service….”

“Use King’s Regulations and Air Council instructions as your bible and stick to it.”

Or writing to his father:

” This I regard as just another journey…. To my very  limited intelligence it is nothing more than another  “op”- and like all “ops” it may prove to be quite exciting.”

The following day Neville Heath was hanged.

 

MARGERY GARDNER

margery gardner

Margery Gardner

You grow fond of people you write about.  Margery Gardner… brave,  artistic, good-looking, stylish, bohemian but…   poor, anxious, often ill,  bad judge of character,  enjoying an unconventional love life, friend of  eccentrics such as Quentin Crisp (he recalled discussing with her the attractions of men in uniform and her leopard skin coat)  and  criminals…   She loved London… she lived in Chelsea… In spite of the difficulties  Margery Gardner would chose no other life.

Margery came from a wealthy Sheffield family. The family home is  grand… it is now a hall of residence of the University of Sheffield.    Her father worked in the family solicitors firm that went back to the 18th Century.  During her early education she stayed with an aunt and shared a governess with her cousin.  At school she was a gifted artist and won national prizes for her drawing.  Her head-teacher said that she was “more than half a genius.”  Her mother was alarmed  by an unsuitable boyfriend and sent her to Chelsea School of Art

Spanish saying: “How do you make God laugh?   Tell him your plans.”

Her tutors at Chelsea included famous artists such as Henry More.     In 1936 she met Peter Gardner and they married in 1939.   He was the son of a brigadier and born in Egypt.  He did not do well and had a series of jobs.  Although he went to Sandhurst he did not complete.  Margery’s family disapproved.  When war came he joined the RAF.

Peter was stationed near Blackpool.  Margery lived in Blackpool and worked in a hairdresser and beauty parlour.  Sadly she had a still born child in 1941.  When not accompanying Peter Margery stayed in Chelsea which was heavily bombed.  Peter had a  nervous  condition that needed treatment…  and was hospitalised in Grantham.  He  took to escaping from hospital to go on drinking binges and to finance them he stole from pubs.  He was caught and jailed for two years.

Margery remained loyal to Peter.  Her family disapproved.  Margery was determined to make a home when Peter finished his sentence.  She found a flat in Chelsea.  When Peter Gardner was released things didn’t go according to plan.  Peter was a heavy drinker, highly strung  and unstable.  Peter and Margery separated although they continued to see one another.

Margery was pregnant again.  In 1944 she had a daughter Melody Ann.  Melody spend her early years in a nursery for training nurses, Margery’s mother paid the fees, Peter contributed nothing.   Her marriage was over when the Nazis launched their doodle bug assault on London.

Margery had difficulty finding  regular  work.  Her health was bad.  She was an arresting figure with an ocelot fur coat and good looks.  Although her odious husband said after her death that she drank too much nobody else ever saw her drunk except once.  Peter Gardner died of cirrhosis within a year of Margery’s death.

She wrote to her mother saying she had a boyfriend.  This was (probably) Peter Tilley Bailey.  He was a gentleman thief.  He had served time for stealing a car and Margery had been with him at the time although she was not charged.  According to her friends Peter Tilley was Margery’s only boyfriend at the time although Peter Tilley had other girlfriends.

Margery reminds us of the beatniks  and the hippies.  They had matters in common:  art and creativity,  little regard for convention, respect for eccentricity and bohemianism, tolerance for criminality and an experimental attitude to sexual matters.

It is just possible that you have seen Margery Gardner… she sometimes worked as a film extra.

On the evening of  20 March 1946, Margery was  short of money.  She would be dead within six hours.  At 7.15pm she met her friend Trevethan Frampton an art student and they spent an hour in the Trevor Arms.    They were joined by a number of men, some of whom Margery knew.  Amongst the men was Neville Heath.  Neville Heath asked Margery if she would join him for dinner.  Margery said she already had an arrangement for dinner with an Army Captain.  Trevethan left at 8.30 saying he might meet Margery later at a club they both visited.   The Army Captain met an old friend unexpectedly and was unable to dine with Margery.  At this point Margery had about eightpence… she could not afford a drink.  Heath introduced Margery to his air  force friends: “A great little scout.”  Heath took Margery to the Normandie Hotel for dinner and at 9.30 pm they went to the nearby Torch Club and then on to the Panama club.  At the Panama Club  Neville Heath and Margery unexpectedly met Peter Tilley with a young nurse, this did not go down well.  Witnesses at the club say that Margery, unusually , drank heavily and  threw herself at Neville.

Shortly after midnight on Friday 21st June 1946 Neville and Margery took a taxi to the Pembridge Court Hotel. The following afternoon her body was found.  I haven’t the heart to describe her injuries in detail but she was tied up, the victim of a violent sexual attack, she had been whipped and the whip had left distinctive marks.

That afternoon the investigation was led  Divisional Detective Inspector Reginald Spooner.   Chain-smoker, heavy drinker, workaholic.  Another character from  crime fiction, .  The hotel room at Pembridge Court had been booked in the name of Lieutenant Colonel Heath.  Lieutenant Colonel Heath had been staying with a lady but not Margery Gardner.  Heath had stayed at the hotel before using different names, dressed in different uniforms and accompanied by different wives.  A description of Neville Heath (but not a photograph)  was circulated.  The case was  a classic English murder…  the kind of crime that people loved to read about in the News of the World.  A  smart hotel, a good looking charming war hero, an attractive woman who was a film extra  who had shady friends and who had posed for life drawings.

Neville Heath was the most wanted man in the world.

 

Neville Heath in the meantime had taken off to the Tollard Royal Hotel  Bournemouth where he divided his time between flirting, drinking heavily, charming everybody, and sending letters to police asking to communicate through the Personal Column of the Daily Telegraph.  He registered as a South African:  Group Captain Rupert Robert Brook.  Rupert Brooke the poet had often visited Bournemouth and was described by Yeats as: “The handsomest young  man in England.”

Group Captain Brook settled his attentions on tall slim attractive 21 year old Doreen Marshall.

 

doreen marshall

 

Doreen Marshall

 

When she disappeared witnesses recalled her closeness to the dashing Group Captain.  Group Captain Brook presented himself at the Police Station to help.  The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Constable Suter,  had an uneasy feeling and without arresting the Group Captain kept making excuses to keep the Group Captain at the station…  asking questions, checking details…

To grasp the audacity of the Group Captains’s behaviour imagine the scene: Neville Heath as Group Captain Robert Brook is at the Police Station.  He meets Doreen Marshall’s father and sister who are also at the Station.  They  have a conversation.

Suter is under pressure to release Group Captain Brook.  Brook had came to the Station voluntarily to help.  Suter points out that Brook bears a close resemblance to a description of Neville Heath.  Brook laughs and says that other people have pointed that out.

Now all this time Neville knows that he has murdered Doreen Marshall and that her body is still undiscovered.  Leaving aside  moral criticism the audacity of Neville Heath is eye-popping.  During his stay at the Pembridge Court Group Captain Brooks, as he was claiming to be, got into a conversation with Peter Rylatt, a former Army Captain.  The subject Neville Heath came up.  Of course everybody was talking about Neville Heath on the run and sought for the murder of Margery Gardner.  “I knew him, he was a fairly decent kind of chap.”  This is Group Captain Brook talking about Neville Heath who is… himself.

WTF as the young folks say.

Long story short.  Suter rings Spooner.  A search of Neville’s room reveals a whip.  Spooner goes to Bournemouth.  Heath is taken to London.  Doreen Marshall’s body is found.  The body had been hidden in undergrowth.  Writing about crime you might become a bit thick skinned but I cannot describe the details.  The attack was  savage and sexually sadistic.  Neville  would have been covered in blood, it is suggested that after the attack he bathed naked in the sea and then had a cigarette then hid the body.  The following morning at the hotel he showed no sign of agitation.  One can feel  for all victims but Doreen Marshall aged 21, an ex-Wren… what words?

 

NEVILLE HEATH

neville heath

Neville Heath

 

Neville Heath came from a loving repectable middle class family.  His school was  modelled on a public school… houses, prefects, games etc.  It is simply true to say that the public school was  a religion in British culture.  Take  popular fiction… children who went to Mill Hill Ragged School (there really was one in Preston) read books about Billy Bunter and in their comics they read about public schoolboys.  Lord Snooty…  remember him?  These tales had an extraordinary hold.   The public school was a template for all kinds of institutions: borstals, the Air Force.  The pre-war military had a  reliance on public schools through  Officer Training Courses.  Wealthier young people  might  have access to flying clubs.  In  the armed forces a public school ethos prevailed.  I have gone on about this probably far too long in order to place Neville Heath in that ethos.  About to be hanged and in the face of  facts he insisted he had been to private school.  What was it all about this public school thing that seized a nation’s imagination?  Courage, loyalty, determination, good humour, team spirit, athleticism,  contempt for anything intellectual or complicated… a  culture of dimness, youth, good looks, charm…    It is easy to see why these qualities were desirable in other settings and why the heroes of the popular fiction of the 30’s were grown up public schoolboys.   There was something else…  an attachment to violence… a contempt for  outsiders.  Bulldog Drummond is an anti-semitic xenophobe with Fascist tendencies…  But lets not get carried away.

What is startling is how closely Neville Heath fits this template and how it informs he behaviour.  It is not unusual for people to model themselves on a literary hero.  Lenin modelled his early self on the hero of What is to be Done?  And who are Christians supposed to take as a role model?   I will give a very brief biography of Neville Heath simply because the  intensity of his activities would require a lot of space: for example in his address book there are four hundred names… most of them women.

After school Neville got a job and then joined the RAF.  He was trained as a fighter pilot.  Then he  got in trouble over money.  It was a trivial thing involving a bounced cheque which could easily have been a misunderstanding.  But  Neville  decided to run off stealing his commanding officer’s car and communicating with his commanding officer suggesting correspondence in the Personal Column of the Daily Telegraph.  Dismissed from the RAF he met a bank manager at a seaside hotel and rushed back to the bank manager’s house and robbed it.  He got sent to a borstal with an enlightened director who modelled the borstal on a public school.  Neville adjusted well and was looked on as a  role model.  Interestingly he was in Borstal with Brendan Behan who had been sent there because of his attempt to support an IRA group which was carrying out a bombing campaign.  I don’t know the details of this group, it may have been based in Liverpool and may have been the group that planted a bomb at Blackpool Town Hall in 1939.

Neville often  thrived in disciplined organisations and all the evidence is that he was happy in Borstal.  He remained friends with the staff and even went back to lecture the boys.

Neville Heath joins the Army when war comes and is in Egypt.  Money is the problem and he solves it by having two pay books.  When he is found out he is sent back to England by ship stopping at Durban in South Africa.

In Durban he pulls off his most audacious stunt.  Arriving in South Africa he is a prisoner.  He walks off the boat, assumes a new identity hinting that he is linked to a famous banking family, he joins the South African Air Force, qualifies as a pilot and becomes a pilot instructor.  He marries a beautiful heiress from one of South Africa’s leading families. Elizabeth… a debutante. They have a child.    He has been staying at hotels without paying and so on and  his new family pays off his debts to keep him out of trouble.

In South Africa he is a popular character… he and his wife Elizabeth are a golden couple and a great deal is drunk.  Some of Neville’s past his revealed but he is a valuable asset to the SAAF.  Meantime Neville wants to be transferred to Europe where the action is.  When appraising Neville Heath an  indigestible fact is that he left a safe and respected role in South Africa, and his beautiful wife,  to return to England where bomber crews had a 66 percent chance of being killed.

He is transferred to England and again commissioned as a pilot under another name.  This time he is a bomber pilot… A bomber pilot is different from a fighter pilot.  A bomber is big and heavy and cumbersome.  And it is filled with bombs and a crew.  Say you are a bomb aimer…   it is over in minutes, a pilot is under strain for many hours.

THE BOMBING OF VENLO

Neville was part of a raid on the bridge at  Venlo   in the Netherlands.  The aim was to prevent supplies and troops reaching  the Germans.  Finally the bridge was blown up by the retreating Germans.

The aircraft, a Mitchell Bomber, reliable, noisy, was struck by flak after the bombing and fire began to spread.  Neville ordered the crew to bale out.  The navigator,  Freddie Silvester previously a teacher, struggled with his parachute.  Neville helped him and Freddie Silvester and Neville baled out.  Seconds later the aircraft exploded in a ball of flame.  Neville and the crew had two weeks “survivor’s leave.”  Freddie told his wife that Neville had saved his life.

Neville was under observation by his Squadron Leader.  A  member of his crew had refused to fly with him.  This had caused his Squadron Leader to take that member’s  place on the Venlo Raid,  with the idea of keeping an eye on Neville Heath.  Although Neville’s conduct was exemplary his Squadron Leader felt he might be  having a breakdown…  Neville was drinking heavily and there was an embarassing incident.    We do not know more about this incident which was witnessed by his Squadron Leader  but we do know that Neville had previously flown into an  uncontrollable rage.  He met an MP in South Africa who delighted in telling unlikely stories about his false leg…  it was bitten off by a crocodile and so on.  This was not intended to be believed but Neville, beside himself,  called him a liar and threatened the MP.  Neville had to be held back from attacking the MP.  Strange that a serial liar should be incensed by a lie.  Was it because Neville  regarded himself  as the supreme liar and the MP was threatening Neville’s territory?

Regarding the later incident his Squadron Leader,  Fielding-Johnson: “He seemed to become an entirely different person. ”

Neville would not fly for the RAF again.  Neville also got a genuine  if informal medal …  the Caterpillar Club… for crew who parachuted from aircraft.  Neville returned to South Africa but not to the welcome he might expect…   In South Africa his wife told him she wanted a divorce.  According to Neville Heath’s later account he intended to shoot Elizabeth and himself but had a “blackout.”   After the trial Elizabeth did not harbour ill feelings  towards Neville but she did say that drink made him a different person.

The divorce unsettle Neville Heath. He went on a spree, absent without leave from the SAAF, and his fallback behaviour, staying at hotels without paying.  The divorce settlement involved Elizabeth’s family paying of debts, in return Neville gave up rights to his child.

During his bomber pilot days in  England,  apparently happily married, Neville had become  engaged.  The church was booked, the reception organised, Heath told his fiancee that the wedding would have to be postponed as he had to go back to South Africa.  From South Africa he wrote that his wife refused to divorce him…

In South Africa he was arrested for fraud but, sympathetic to a damaged ex-officer, his sentence was suspended.  The SAAF tried him for among other things, awarding himself a DFC and an OBE.  While awaiting court martial he took the opportunity to steal from another officer.   In addition his former fiance’s father in England had written to the South African authorities with details of  Neville’s  breach of promise and other misdemeanours.  He was dismissed from the SAAF and deported from South Africa.  It was later said by Neville that he changed following his separation from Elizabeth.  We have no idea if this is true.

In England he worked seriously to obtain a pilot’s licence.  Because of  his conduct the RAF made it clear that he would not be allowed to fly.  He had worked hard and in a disciplined way for his pilot’s licence.  He had borrowed money from his father and he told his mother that he had actually qualified.  After his hanging his mother said that she thought Neville had told her this to save her from disappointment.  Neville went off rails which he had never been entirely on… fraud, heavy drinking, high spending, falsely claiming rank and honours.   It was a consequence of fraud the Neville was flush with money when he met Margery Gardner.

 

TRIAL AND EXECUTION

It is possible to argue that the death of Margery  Gardner was manslaughter.  Suppose a sexual encounter had got out of hand?  It turned out Neville had previously been turned out of a hotel for whipping a woman.   One of Margery’s acquaintances claimed that she had an interest in such things but Spooner in his politically incorrect way said that the witness was: “a mental case.  ”

A witness said that Neville had twenty five pints of beer before the left with Jane.  And he drank more with the meal and at the nightclubs.  And Jane Gardner was drunk.

But the murder of Elizabeth Marshall?  21 years old, an ex-Wren, inexperienced?

Neville Heath was sentenced to death.  He was indifferent to his fate… he told his legal representative: “Put me down as not guilty old boy.”

He did not make any effort to appeal and told his mother and father that he would rather die that live in prison.  A woman juror wrote to the Home Secretary saying that she had concerns  about Neville Heath’s mental state.

Awaiting hanging Neville Heath was unconcerned.  Interestingly he re-read the Thirteen Steps in which an innocent man evades the authorities.  A bit like Neville Heath except for the innocent bit.  Neville Heath was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint.  The governor asked him if he would like a whiskey.   Neville said (his last words?): “Make it a double will you?”

Pierrepoint’s account of the hanging is (is it just me?) disconcerting.   We have to remember that Pierrepoint was shaping a lucrative career as a celebrity hangman.  First of all Pierrepoint used a special strap to pinion Neville’s hands: “I had a more than formal interest in this execution.”

And after the hanging:

“As he hung I stripped him.  Piece by piece I removed his clothes…  A dead man, being taken down from execution is a uniquely broken body whether he is a criminal or Christ…”

 

LITERARY HERITAGE

Neville Heath , good looking, brave, bold, tall, athletic, clever, cool … but indifferent to cruelty and killing.  There have been many works around Neville Heath.  The most wonderful piece of work is the Gorst Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton.  For my money Patrick Hamilton is the most underrated author.  I don’t  believe that the trilogy comes close to explaining Neville or the nature of evil…  but it captures the strange labyrinthine rituals of middle class life in the thirties and this was the milieu in which Neville operated. The Gorst Trilogy was made into a television series: The Charmer by the writer Allan Prior from Blackpool.  Allan Prior said that he based his character on the Gorst Trilogy but also on Neville Heath.  Since Hamilton based Gorst on Neville Heath…  but I’m sure Allan Prior knew that.  In the trilogy there is an incident in which the young Gorst ties up a girl in a shed.  There was an actual incident when Neville was young when he and his friend attacked a young girl at a party.  Characteristically he apologised to her father who was an MP and nothing came of the incident.

A theme in Neville’s life is the literary quality of his behaviour.  When he was originally sentenced to borstal the prison chaplain said he was a “Raffles.”

BLACKPOOL

The connection with Blackpool is through Margery Gardner who worked in Blackpool while her husband Peter was in the RAF.  After the trial of Neville,   Margery’s  husband Peter used her paintings and drawings for an exhibition on the Golden Mile.  Morbid interest in the works of the murdered, an unfairly notorious, Margery Gardner probably attracted seaside visitors more than artistic considerations.   Neville’s beloved brother Mick  did follow his footsteps at least in as far as joining the RAF was concerned.  He was stationed near Blackpool.  He visited Tussauds waxworks and there he saw his brother staring back at him. He lived in fear that he might have some of Neville’s tendencies.  Eventually he found his feet in civilian life.  Margery’s daughter, Melody, on a visit with a schoolfriend read a sensational book which described her mother’s death.  On the same journey in Tussauds in London she saw the model of her mother’s killer wearing the actual jacket he wore at the trial.  Melody took years to recover.

What to make of Neville Heath?  Let me try this out:  we think he is more calculating than other people… that there is more going on in Neville’s brain.  But actually there is less.  And it is  this absence that enables him to act as he does.  When you think about Neville Heath is it possible that he was a robot… a handsome void?   Just a guess.

An incident comes to mind.  Neville Heath is living at home and studying hard for his pilot’s licence.  A woman comes to the door. Neville’s mother answers.  The woman is the wife of Freddie Sylvester.  Freddie Sylvester said that Neville Heath saved his life and the wife wanted to thank him.  Freddie Sylvester had subsequently been killed on  another operation.

But consider Margery Gardner and Elizabeth Marshall…  the loss to their friends and parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edith Oatley, Anchorsholme to the West End: Gordon Cummins the Blackout Ripper

Second Blackout Killer Victim

Evelyn Oatley

 

 

I  intended to write a piece about two ladies who lived briefly in Blackpool and were murdered.  But I became interested in Evelyn Oatley and the Blackout Ripper.  So this is the story.

I am a left wing bigot  but however you try you  cannot portray  the women who were victims of the Blackout Ripper as exploited by men.  The boot is on the other foot.

These murders happened in 1942.   The blitz and the blackout had transformed London to gothic strangeness.  The last thing the government wanted was a panic around blackout measures and so the case was not heavily reported.

To get our bearings: 1942 main events:   Pearl Harbour, Germany declares war on USA (!).   Singapore surrendered in the same month as  the activities of the Blackout Ripper.  Blackpool experienced its single most lethal murder. (???)

World War 11 was a  game of two halves.  An informed observer would have bet on a German victory in early 1942.  The same person would bet on an allied victory at the end of 1942.

The mood in early 1942 was uneasy, fearful, exhausted.

EVELYN AND HAROLD OATLEY:  A  LOVE STORY

Evelyn Judd was born in Earby  in 1918 which was then in Lancashire but is now in Yorkshire.  She  longed for the glamour of a life in theatre.  Unfortunate in Earby.   In newspapers Evelyn  is described as  “a talented actress”,  but I found no evidence that she did act.

Evelyn  became pregnant at 15 and her daughter was adopted.  She had a very close relationship with her mother.

And how did she meet Harold who was a  chicken farmer in Thornton?  We don’t know but my guess is that Blackpool  and dancing were involved.   Evelyn loved dancing.

Harold was smitten.  In 1934 he financed a journey by Evelyn to the West End.  She had a flat in Great Portland Street and  made a living as a dancer and a nightclub hostess.  She was unable to find work in the theatre.  She had a stage name, Lita Ward.  She claimed to have worked at the Windmill Theatre.

What did Harold make of all this?  Perhaps he thought that when Evelyn got this acting bug out of her system she would settle down to the life of a poultry farmer’s wife in Thornton.  And in 1936 Evelyn returned to Thornton and on June 26 they were married at the Registry Office in Blackpool.  Photographs of Evelyn show a dark blonde attractive woman.  Unlike most photographs of the time they are revealing , modelled on Hollywood glamour shots.

It could  have worked.  Evelyn could have got this theatre thing out of her system and settled down as the wife of a poultry farmer.  Her husband adored her.  But it didn’t.  Harold’s business did not prosper and he moved to Lyddesdale Avenue in Anchorsholme.    Evelyn returned to the West End.  Harold visited her regularly.  She made a living as a dancer and a nightclub hostess and a prostitute.  Evelyn also had affairs.  And she told Harold about them.  Loving Harold hoped that in the end she would realise that she did not need to seek love because she was already loved.  Evelyn saw Harold as a shoulder to cry on.

When the war came there were few  theatrical opportunities in the West End and Evelyn was getting on by dancer standards.  The life of a prostitute was not at all unsuitable for a girl who likes  glamour, and dancing, and drinking, and men in uniform.  And there is a  community of prostitutes in which Evelyn was highly regarded.  She was confident, generous, trustworthy,  she didn’t work  Sundays.

Harold continued to make the round trip to see her.  At one point Evelyn  was in a relationship with a military man and they asked Harold if he would divorce Evelyn so that they could marry.  Harold agreed.   He put Evelyn’s happiness above his own.  But Evelyn’s relationship with the serviceman collapsed.

On Tuesday 3 February 1942 Harold waved goodbye to Evelyn at Euston Station.  Evelyn would eventually value  his  devotion. Maybe he was right… time was on his side.

On the night of Monday 9 February 1942 Evelyn, fashionably dressed, waved to her friends who were in the company of two air-force cadets from the Regent Park Reception Centre.  She entertained various gentlemen, a Canadian military man and a civilian.  She may have entertained six to eight clients that evening.

On Tuesday 10 February her body was found when a neighbour opened the door for two men who wanted to read and empty her meter.  She had been mutilated and posed.  She was exposed and had been penetrated with objects including a torch.

The next time Harold saw Evelyn she was a corpse.   Good natured, kindly, generous Harold…  And Evelyn, with her  dreams of fame and her mother’s photo in her cigarette case.

Evelyn had been robbed.  She had about £20 in her purse…  which had the purchasing power of almost £1000  today.  And her cigarette case had been stolen with the  photograph of her mother inside.  She had been mutilated with a can opener.  The killer had concentrated on the breasts and sexual organs.  The killer had partially strangled her so that Evelyn was semi-conscious.  Her artery had been cut with a razor blade…  blood shot six feet across the room.  The killer was left handed.

Evelyn was the second victim of the Blackout Ripper.

THE VICTIMS

I had intended only to write about Evelyn Oatley but I found myself bewitched by the other victims.  I am not the first person to be enchanted by prostitutes (Dickens, Gladstone) .  This is late romanticism where the artist identifies with the prostitute…  Another strand is the notion that like  priests and doctors and undertakers they have privileged access to what people are really like.  The term “sex worker” that somehow puts prostitution in the same realm as working at Tesco…  well that doesn’t work.  Whatever, as the young folks say:  it is just true that people (especially men) are fascinated.

Jack the Ripper, the Blackout Ripper and the Yorkshire Ripper.  You will find all kinds of bosh about  hatred of prostitutes but it does not take much thinking to work out  that if you want to kill a woman and get away with it the  prostitute is your best bet.  The Blackout Killer’s first victim was not a prostitute.

The Blackout Ripper killed four women and attacked two over six days.  Apart from revulsion there is something eye-popping about his  work ethic.

EVELYN HAMILTON

Evelyn Hamilton, the first known victim, was born in the North East of England.  Her father died when she was young and her mother paid special attention to her education.   She went to a prestigious school and then to Edinburgh School of Medicine where she obtained a diploma as a pharmacist.  She worked hard and worked at Yardleys Chemist in Romford.  Among her belongings was a book on women’s suffrage.

She was a solitary figure with no close friends and  no men  in her life.  She was anxious and depressive.    Her dress was  dowdy as if she never wanted to draw  attention to herself.  She was a Socialist.  She was given notice at Yardleys the Chemists because business was dwindling but she  immediately got a new job in Grimsby.  She was packing to go to a new job in a town she did not know.

Edith left her lodgings for the last time on Sunday 8 February 1942.  She was going to spend the night in London and travel to Grimsby on Monday.  Evelyn took the railway to Baker Street.   She took a taxi to the Three Arts Club.  At 10.50 Evelyn took a taxi to the Maison Lyonesse, half a mile from her hotel.  There is an hour when she drops from sight.  At 11.45 she orders a meal and a glass of wine.  It is her forty-first birthday.     Four cards are found among her belongings…

On Monday 9th February  at 8.30am  two plumbers going to work noticed a torch outside an air-raid shelter in Montagu Street.  Then they saw a leg.  And then they saw Evelyn Hamilton’s body.  She had fought hard against her attacker and had been strangled.  Her body had been exposed, posed and mutilated.  There  are unexplained injuries that might have been caused by penetration  with the torch.  Her two pairs of undergarments are about her knees.   She felt the cold on Sunday 8th February and she would never feel the cold again.  Evelyn who was almost noticeable because of the care she took to avoid notice.  There are anomolies about the timing.  There is an unaccounted hour after she left the hotel.  And how had the killer managed to get this loner into the shelter?  She died ten seconds from her hotel.  Why didn’t she get a taxi after her meal?     The killer was left-handed and Evelyn’s money was stolen.  It was her severance pay and amounted to £20, £1000 today.

 

MARGARET LOWE

Margaret Lowe the third victim of the Blackout Ripper was in a class of her own.  She had the misfortune to come down in the world twice.  She was born in 1899 in idyllic surroundings in Napier New Zealand.  Her family returned to England.  Her father died during the war and she  lived in poverty with her mother widowed with three children. In 1919 she was convicted of living on immoral earnings.

In 1921 she married George Frederick Lowe.  Her fortune took a turn for the better.  Her husband set up a shop in Southend which flourished.  In 1932 George died.  They had a four year old daughter Barbara.  Margaret took to drinking, the business fell apart, Barbara was taken into care, and Margaret took to prostitution.

In twelve months she had gone from being a prosperous shop owner with a husband and daughter to being a depressed alcoholic lone prostitute. Margaret was unhappy and a loner.  Unlike most prostitutes she did not have a “patch” but walked in a long square near Picadilly Circus.  She worked late at night.  She was well-spoke and generally wore a fur coat.  She did not socialise and seemed to detest both her clients and other prostitutes.  Other prostitutes called her “The Lady.”

At odds with the implication of gentility was the fact that she dealt with troublesome clients violently, decisively and frequently.  She was  often seen drunk and singing.

The single bright spot in her life was her daughter Barbara who had grown into vivacious young lady of fifteen.

On Tuesday 10 February 1942 Margaret was in a cheerful mood when she ordered lamb livers, kidney, fat and suet.  Her daughter was visiting her on Saturday and she was going to make a suet pudding.

Margaret lived at Gosfield Street in a flat that today would be worth be well over a million pounds.  Neighbours heard a man leaving early on Wednesday morning.

Margaret was solitary and friendless.  Her body was not found until Saturday when her daughter. Barbara,  was unable to get her to open the door.  A constable opened the door and found Margaret’s body on the bed.  The body was posed and exposed and mutilated using things that the murderer had found in the room: a potato peeler.  She had been penetrated with a candle.  Margaret had been partially strangled by a left handed person.  She was 43 years old.

I was puzzled that the door was locked.  Did the killer use her key to lock the door?

DORIS JOUANNET

Doris Jouannet is the only one of the Blackout Ripper’s victims who had the experience of being driven around in  silver Rolls Royce.  She was born in 1907 in Northumberland.  She was the daughter of a single mother who died shortly after her birth and she was raised by her aunts.  And that’s almost all we know.  She next appears on the world stage as a prostitute in London and then her fortunes took a considerable turn for the better.

In 1935 she was 25 and she married Henri Jouannet.  French born Henri was 60.  Henri had interests in hotels including the Royal Court Hotel in Sloane Square.  Doris became used to a very high standard of living.  Various money worries including a decline in hotel trade meant that the couple were not as well off as they had been but they were still prosperous.  They lived in an apartment at Sussex Gardens… a prestigious address.

In her last recorded conversation Doris said that she was not getting on with Henri and that she had a meeting with another man in Piccadilly.  This man either cancelled the meeting or did not turn up and Doris set off for home.  Doris had taken up prostitution again and with her tallness, her striking looks, her expensive clothes and her commanding manner she attracted wealthier clients.  She was said to be Russian.

On Friday  evening,  12 February Henri returned home.  His wife’s bedroom door was locked and there was no reply.  A policeman entered the room.  Doris had been murdered, exposed, her body posed,  mutilated with knives and a potato peeler that the killer had found in the kitchen.  In this case too the killer seems to have locked the bedroom door.

 

GRETA HAYWARD AND KATHRYN MULCAHY

On  Thursday 12 February 1942 at  8pm 30 year old  Greta Hayward was an hour early for a date.  An airforce cadet offered to buy her a drink while she waited for her friend near Piccadilly Circus.  She agreed on condition that she could meet her friend by 9pm.  He asked if he could meet her again and she agreed and gave him her phone number.  The airman had had a few whiskies.  He forced her into a darkened doorway, took off his respirator in its canvas container and  kissed her.  He started to squeeze her throat with his left hand. A 24 year old night porter, John Shine, sensed something was wrong and shouted “Stop police!”  The airman ran off leaving behind his gas mask and its container.

 

About 10 pm the same day a tall slim attractive red-haired  prostitute, Kathryn Mulcahy, was propositioned by an airman and took him back  to her flat at 29  Southwick Street Paddington.   While they lay naked on the bed, he caressed her neck with his left hand.  She bent both his thumbs back till they nearly snapped and kicked him in the chest.

Kathryn screamed “Police.  Murder!” and knocked on her neighbours’ doors.  Her neighbours saw the airman but he was unruffled and apologised, peeled of five one pound notes and left without haste.  He left behind the belt from his air force tunic.

Meanwhile Greta Hayward made her way to the Police Station in the West End.  She described the airman. Five foot nine, fair hair, an air force cadet… but most importantly he had left his air force respirator in its bag.  And on the respirator was a six digit service number.  When Greta talked to DI Clarence Jeffrey there were a number of anomalies.  Greta’s money had been stolen, but if this was a simple theft why had the attacker bought drinks for Greta and taken her phone number?   If it was a planned assault why did he not have a weapon?  And it was peculiar for an assailant to subdue a victim by strangulation.  But funny things  happen.  On the plus side there was a good description of the airman, both by Greta and by John Shine and critically there was the respirator with its six digit number, 525987.  The cadet was most likely at the Regents Park Reception Centre for initial training.

 

GORDON FREDERICK CUMMINS

 

At 5.45 am on Friday 13 February 1942 Gordon Frederick Cummins was interviewed.  He denied the assault on Greta Hayward and was arrested,  When told that he would take part in an identification parade he admitted that he had drunk too much and blacked out and he apologised.  He was charged at Bow Street in the afternoon and was held in Brixton Prison.

At around the time that Gordon Cummins was arrested Kathryn Mulcahy  was telling the story of her attacker.  A doctor confirmed that attempted strangulation had taken place and she was able to give a good description of her attacker.  She also had his tunic belt which he had left behind.  There were bloodstains.

On Friday 13 February 1942 the bodies of Margaret Lowe and Doris Jouannet were discovered.

When Gordon Cummins gave an account of his movements he was relaxed and good humoured.  He  stuck to the facts.  The investigation was hampered because comings and goings at the reception centre were inadequately recorded.

Two one pound notes which had been given by the airman to Kathryn Mulcahy could be traced to Gordon  Cummins.  Gordon Cummins’ uniform was taken for forensic examination and thirteen small bloodstains were found. Chief Inspector Greeno was in charge of the investigation into the Blackout Murders.  At some time it must have  struck him that there was a similarity between the victims and the attacks on Kathryn Mulcahy and Greta Hayward.

At 6.30pm on Saturday 14 February 1942 DS Leonard Crawford search Gordon Cummins’ flat.  Odd items: a black fountain pen, a silver cigarette case, a comb with several missing teeth and a gold watch seemed anomalous.  Doris’ husband identified the pen, the gold watch and the comb.  Margaret Lowe’s 15 year old daughter Barbara, identified the cigarette case.

On Tuesday 27 April 1942 at Bow Street George Cummins was charged with the murder of Doris Jouannet.  Meanwhile George Cummins’ fellow cadets found a cigarette case and a handkerchief hidden above a fridge.  The handkerchief belonged to Evelyn Hamilton and was identified by a laundry mark.  The cigarette case belonged to Evelyn Oatley.  The cigarette case bore the initials LW, from Edith Oatley’s stage name, and inside was a photograph of Evelyn Oatley’s beloved mother.

In addition there was now fingerprint evidence from Margaret Lowe and Doris Jouannet’s flats.

In the face of overwhelming evidence George denied everything.  The trial was at the Old Bailey.  George offered no defence, called no witnesses.  The trial lasted only a day and the jury took  35 minutes to find George Cummins guilty.

His parents and his wife continued to believe that he was innocent.  His wife?  Yes well I was coming to that.

GORDON FREDERICK CUMMINS

gordon cummins

 

 

Gordon Cummins

So what kind of man attacks six women and kills four in six days.  Apart from that how did he do it?  Don’t forget that George Cummins had a full day as a cadet.  He was killing in his spare time.  George Cummins had volunteered for aircrew possible pilot training.  Who was he?

He had a loving mother and a strict father.  His father was a pious Catholic and a schoolteacher.  There had been a  scandal in his father’s life.  Some money had gone missing in a school where he worked.  He claimed he was innocent but paid the missing money.  He was able to go on to another teaching post.

Gordon left school at 15.  He took a diploma in chemistry.  He was fired from three jobs after about 6 months.  His employer said he was: “abnormal and dense.”  He was very easily distracted, crazy about girls and fond of drink.  He adopted a posh accent.

Gordon moved to London and in 1935 he met 22 year old Marjorie Stevens, a secretary. In 1938 they were married at Paddington Registry Office within walking distance of two of the murders.  The couple rented a flat in Barnes a suburb of South West London.  Shortly afterwards Gordon joined the Air Force.  Although he was stationed all over the country he regularly visited Marjorie.  Marjorie was very private, but she believed in Gordon’s innocence until he died and she said, in a very rare interview, that their marriage was: “very, very happy.”

It may be that a combination of marriage and the Air Force improved Gordon’s behaviour.  His CO said he was “exemplary” and that he “never complained.”  Opinions varied about Gordon.  Some found him charming.  Others said that he was a liar, claiming distinguished birth and education, drunken, a womaniser and a thief.  He had nicknames reflecting his grandiose claims: “The Duke” or “The Count.” He was always short of money and he needed a lot of money to fund drinking and womanising.  His stay near Bath was accompanied by a series of thefts from women and two women had been hit and robbed near Bath.  Gordon managed to become a member of an elite club called the Blue Peter Club.  And then he ran off with the money. .  His final posting was to Regents Court for pilot training one week before the death of Evelyn Hamilton.

 

Consider two episodes during Gordon Cummins’ killing spree.

Monday 9th February (remember he had murdered Evelyn Hamilton in the early hours of that morning)  Gordon left his flat at 6pm, went for a drink with his friend, met two prostitutes, went to their flat, then he left picked up Evelyn  Oatley and murdered her.  It is possible he murdered Evelyn Oatley and Evelyn Hamilton on the same day as well as doing his duties as an airforce cadet and going with another prostitute.

Or  on Thursday 12 February 1942. At  9 pm he attacked Greta Hayward, at 10pm he attacked Kathryn Mulcahy and about 11.00 pm he picked up and later  murdered Doris Jouannet.  This again  after a working day as a cadet.

A possible explanation might be alcohol plus amphetamines.  Amphetamines were  freely available to servicemen, in Germany just about everybody including Adolf, used them.  Apart from increasing alertness and wakefulness they can also make people  more reckless and less fearful… a handy thing if you are piloting a bomber.  Germany’s victory over France  might be down to amphetamines… their tank drivers just went on and on.   What do amphetamines do in combination with alcohol?  I haven’t got the foggiest idea but I think its likely that they make violence more likely and perhaps induce dreamlike states.  There is no evidence that Gordon used amphetamines and he certainly did use alcohol in abundance.   Another feature of Gordon’s case is the robotic repetitiveness of his actions.  So fear of impotence?  A private almost religious ritual to appease the terrifying feminine  gods?  A hatred of women?  All of these?  None of them?

Gordon Cummins’ choice to offer no defence intentionally closed examination of his behaviour.  The jury took 35 minutes to reach a decision.  He was hanged on Thursday 25th of June 1942 at Wandsworth  by Albert Pierrepoint assisted by Harry Allen.  Harry Allen, after his retirement used to give change on Fleetwood Pier.   It is  claimed  that Gordon Cummins, who was 28,  was hanged during an air-raid.  A memory of the  Blackout Ripper contributed to the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 film “Frenzy”.

It will not benefit Evelyn Hamilton or Evelyn Oatley or Margaret Lowe or Doris Jouannet to think of them with sorrow and pity.  But it won’t do any harm either.  And  think of Harold Oatley… I believe he died in the 60’s.  Did he pause in Anchorsholme  and reflect on his lost love…

 

Many thanks to staff at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre for unfailing help.  If you are interested in learning more about the Blackout Ripper the most detailed source o is a Podcast called Murder Mile which is simply wonderful.  It is written and read by Michael Buchanan-Dunne who also conducts Crime Walks in Central London.  Murder Mile is brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World War II in Blackpool Fylde: murders, vicars, prostitutes, fortune tellers and heroes

For the Devil has broken parole and arisen,

He has dynamited his way out of prison,

Out of the well where his Papa throws

The rebel angel, outcast rose.

Danse Macabre

W H Auden

 

 

My intention is to focus on crime and violent events  but I cannot resist  stories  from the Gazette  which were new to me.  You could say that Blackpool was populated by prostitutes spivs dotty vicars and heroes.  Or that it was our finest hour.

THE 1939 HORIZON

In 1939 Blackpool was bombed.  By the IRA.   The event was overshadowed by the War but a campaign by the IRA  was under way.  Brendan Behan aged 16 was on his way to Liverpool presumably to join an orperational unit.  He  was arrested and sent to Borstal where he met Neville Heath… more later.  ( Brendan Behan’s saying: “I am a drinker with writing problems” wish I’d thought of that  first).  Elsewhere Finland  was in a struggle with Russia.  Newspapers  took the side of Finland.  At about the same time Russian forces clashed with the Japanese and the success of Zhukov…  the most capable military leader of the war… influenced Japan’s “Southern Policy” aimed at the United States.  Later Finland was an ally of Germany ( I haven’t checked this but I recall that Finnish aircraft  had swastikas on aircraft long  after the war ended… politically incorrect or what?) and Britain was an ally of Russia. Air Force Command

Surprising insignia of the Finnish Air Force Command

I am told ( I have not checked) that on the day war was declared the Times devoted more words to the dance The Lambeth Walk than to war.

In spite of dreamy sense of catastrophe  Blackpool was booming …  new buildings: Derby Baths, the Odeon Cinema, the Casino, the New Opera House, the Solarium,  Woolworths, St Johns Market had recently been built.

 

The Gazette went  from  silly optimism to realism.  A  well informed gambler  in 1940 would bet that Germany would control Europe for generations.  The invasion of Britain was not  within the capacity of German forces but, as in the case of the Armada…  the threat united people.     The peculiar, restless, uneven nature of  Adolf destabilised his enterprise, his later career displays advanced fruitloopery.  An observation about history goes:  “Everybody knows what’s going to happen after it happens.”  My point is that from 1940 Britain victory seemed unlikely.

In 1942 Adolf declared war on the United States.  He was under no treaty obligation. Germany was now at war with the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States.   An eight year old could work out the outcome  on the back of an envelope.  Germany might survive a couple of years .  That it survived for three  is a   tribute to Adolf’s  (yawn) charisma.  The war transformed from a pursuit of realist goals to an  operatic suicide  with all the Wagnerian trimmings by Adolf.

Blackpool’s preparations make  bleak reading.  At the Raikes Garage on Church Street there was a store of paper coffins and the Town Clerk, Trevor Jones…  who much later committed suicide…  had detailed plans for public buildings to become mortuaries.  Pro-forma paperwork  to accompany each cadaver.  Trevor Jones was the brother in law of Amy Johnson who often flew to Squires Gate and visited the home in Newton Drive.  She perished in the war.

There were two thousand air raid shelters in the area.  Shelters on the promenade provided for 85000 people.  A shelter underneath the Metropole was the site of a murder.

The  expected bombing did not happen on time… both sides paused uncertain what to do….

Pill-boxes , anti-aircraft batteries and beach defences appeared.

Communists were enthusiastic about war until the Nazi Soviet pact.  Many Conservatives were opposed to the war.  It would lead to the end of the Empire.  They were right.   Adolf was  disconcerted by the Japanese victory at Singapore saying that it meant the end of the white race in Asia.  “Conchies” refused active service and sometimes refused to work in non-combat roles because this released others for combat roles.  The religious group most associated with conchies in Blackpool were the Christadelphians.  People who worked for the council who were “conchies” were dismissed.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union most opinion was united.  Four out of five German servicemen who died in the war did so on the Eastern Front.

A Spitfire Fund raised money.  At one of the events lion cubs were displayed and a young girl walked off with a lion cub.  The loss was  detected later.

 

AIR FORCE TRAINING AND  CIVIL SERVANTS
Blackpool was a base for air-force training and for parts of the civil service during the war.  1700 civil servants moved to Blackpool.  770000 RAF troops received training, the biggest military training centre in the world.  The Olympia buildings in the Winter Gardens were used to teach Morse Code.  Troops bathed nude at Derby Baths.  Aircraft at Squires Gate took part in the defence of Manchester and Liverpool. Fires from Liverpool could be seen from Blackpool.  A third of Wellington bombers were produced at the Squires Gate factory.

The Vickers factory at Squires Gate built Wellington Bombers.  You see photographs of five young air force men and read that none of them survived the war.  These nineteen year olds  spent hours in aircraft  knowing that an unpleasant death  was their likely  fate.  Two thirds of bomber crews were killed.  A  General was asked what undermined courage… he said: “Imagination.”

All this activity had an economic effect.  Female unemployment fell from 3700 in January 1940 to 184 in August.

“If he’s being difficult shoot him.”  This is Lord Beaverbrook’s  speaking about a farmer  angling for compensation when the Warton Airbase was constructed.  12000 American airmen  moved into a small town.  And Blackpool to the North was a year round entertainment centre.  “Blackpool has more ways of parting people from their money than any other place in Britain. ”  Armed military police supervised dances at the Winter Gardens and saturday night there was a  fight between Americans and others.  Americans earned three times as much as British counterparts and their uniforms were  smarter.

EVACUATION

Evacuation of children from northern cities meant that schools operated a shift system.    There was ill feeling because the allowances paid were small.  Some children were said to be difficult or wet the bed.  Many of the children  were from poorer homes and when they were billeted with middle class families there was mutual shock.  Evacuees drifted back.   Even though the  evacuation was not a success  the experience  helped more successful  evacuations during the blitz and the V1 and V2 campaigns.

In 1939 37000 children and expectant mothers arrived in four days.  There were complaints that children were not billeted in affluent areas… such as Newton Drive and Whitegate Lane.  There is a cringe-making report in the Gazette where children are chosen by host families and one family choses: “a negro.”

 

At one time half the homes in Blackpool were used as billets during the war either for civil servants, or evacuees or air force recruits.

LITERARY BLACKPOOL

Among evacuees were Barbara Windsor and the baby who became Cynthia Lennon.  “Put out More Flags” by Evelyn Waugh has his anti-hero become billeting officer  in order to make a nice living placing unspeakable families with genteel upper class couples (plenty of china).  They pay him to remove the children.  Evelyn Waugh visited Lytham Hall and although Brideshead Revisited is not based on Lytham Hall it had some influence (stately home, loopy catholics).

Mervyn Peake who wrote the wonderful Gormenghast Trilogy was in Blackpool for air-force training.  He is said to have written some of it on North Pier.   Also in Blackpool was R F Delderfield who wrote To Serve them all my Days.  He wrote a Worm’s Eye View a play based on his experiences in Blackpool which was a  hit in the West End starring a youthful Diana Dors.  Jack Rosenthal, who wrote many tv plays and dramas including Coronation Street wrote the Evacuees… a play based on his experiences in Lytham St Annes.

My favourite book about this time is by Allan Prior (father of Maddy Prior) who wrote for Z Cars and the Gazette.  “My old Man” is a masterpiece about human folly, an obvious autobiography it explores the  seedy  logical world of gamblers in Blackpool before and after the war.  The book opens with a policeman coming to take the Old Man to prison.  The Old Man is (surprisingly ) upper class… former officer , he  puts on his regimental tie when in trouble, and he has a live-in maid… never paid.  A feature of the book is the Old Man’s optimism.  His generation saw the First World War and were surprised to be alive.

“Vamp till ready” is a work by the  poet  Roy Fuller who lived in Blackpool and was from a wealthy family… he writes about the vulgarity of his (I think) Rochdale relative who was a Conservative councillor and Mayor of Rochdale.  He was also very Left Wing at this time.  He recalls a comrade who died in the Spanish Civil War.  The book is so charming and dry that you never know if he is aware of the irony of his position.

DEATH FROM THE SKIES

Blackpool suffered one lethal enemy bombing on 12 September 1940.  A German aircraft  dropped bombs which landed on Seed Street near North Station.  The aircraft  was returning  after a raid on Manchester.   Eight  people died and the street was destroyed.

 

On October 1 1940 a  lone bomb destroyed several houses in Church Street, Ansdell and one person was killed.  In Kirkham one hundred and thirty houses were damaged and two people lost their lives in 1941.

A bomb hit Leopold Grove in Blackpool but nobody was injured.

Non-lethal bombings happened at North Shore Golf course and  Lindale Gardens near the Vickers site at Squires Gate.  139 bombs and 11000 incendiaries hit Blackpool and the Fylde.North Shore Golf

Damage at North Shore Golf Club

The most severe incidents were accidents.   On 27 august 1941 a training flight resulted in a mid air collision between aircraft which caused the fuselage of one aircraft to crash onto the entrance of Central Station…  eighteen people were killed.  The engine of one of the aircraft destroyed 97 Reads Avenue which was never rebuilt.  The body of one of the aircraft crew was found in Regent Road with an unopened parachute.

 

The most distressing Fylde  incident was the crash of a B24 Liberator heavy bomber on Wednesday 23 August 1944 at Freckleton.  The aircraft had taken off from Warton.  The weather was  unusual … hurricane-like…and the aircraft crashed into cottages and a snack-bar at Freckleton before ending up in Holy Trinity reception classroom.  In the school 38 children and 6 adults were killed.  In the snack bar which catered especially for American servicemen 14 adults were killed.  The three aircraft crew were killed.

An injured child recalls  that Bing Crosby sang to the victims.

Freckleton

Thanks to the Gazette.  Freckleton: the aftermath

 

On August 9 1944  about 3.40pm Mrs Hannah Haworth  aged 55 was enjoying a holiday in Blackpool from her home near Preston. She was staying at a hotel in Queens Drive with her husband and daughter.  She was hit by a bullet and  died in hospital.  The coroner said the bullet came from  aircraft  training over the Irish Sea.

The major source of casualties in Blackpool and the Fylde was traffic accidents in the blackout.  In  august 1940 eleven people died in a motor coach  returning to Rugely  from Blackpool.

There were  reports in the Gazette of women being molested in the darkness.  Although crime was under- reported burglars must have found the blackout helpful.    Rationing provided an incentive  for theft.  Blackpool traders needed sugar and fat to carry on their fish and chip shops , ice-cream businesses and rock manufacturing.     Businessmen needed to break the law to continue in business.  Crime moved up the social scale.   Police had to cope with extra rules such as blackouts and rationing and there was an increased population… civil servants and servicemen… on top of this the most experienced and able officers were taken by the forces.

Crime took a back seat compared to the war effort.  Looting was a feature of the blitz but not  reported.

 

PROSTITUTES AND FORTUNE TELLERS

This is Blackpool in the War: a number of young men training for the air-force.  Many civil servants.  Well paid American airmen at Warton.  Blackpool was the prostitute centre of Britain… with a changing stream of young men and an all year season.    Blackpool was a magnet for young women because of the glamour of all year dancing and the number of young men…   troublesome young girls appear in the town.

Blackpool has always been a dancing town and the transition from peace to war brings to mind the strange closeness of dancing and war .   Auden’s poem “Dance Macabre” captures this.  Probably reading too much into it… it was just dancing.

The police were not active in suppressing prostitution.  Possibly they thought it was a waste of time.  The Feldman Theatre had nude shows… the models were not allowed to move and by the kind of sleight that  makes you suspect the existence of God, the other Feldman, the  store on the prom, was a VD clinic.

Fortune tellers  were prosecuted.  The authorities may have mistrusted fortune-tellers…    Adolf had it in for fortune tellers in his later stages .

So there were clampdowns on fortune-tellers which involved a policewoman having her fortune told and providing evidence for a prosecution.

 

MARRIAGE ABORTION BIGAMY

Strain on marriage was increased by the war.  Bigamy was common.  Divorce was expensive for working  people and couples drifted apart and  felt able to remarry. There were cases of bigamy in the courts  but this was a fraction of the real number.

A lady living in Park Road burned her still-born child in the fireplace.  She had an affair while her husband was abroad.  Witnesses spoke of her good character and her husband spoke up for her.

Abortion was an illegal option.

Mary Casey aged 28 kept a boarding house in Commercial Street.  She died and since she had been attended by Doctor Billing there was not an inquest.  She was buried at Carleton Cemetery.  At the insistence of her estranged husband she was exhumed.  Jennie Flynn aged 41…  a housewife of Lytham Road…  was charged with murder.  If found guilty she could have been hanged.

The death was a consequence of an abortion.  Mary Casey had an affair with a lodger, Mr Seed.  Mr Seed asked Jennie Flynn for help on December 22 1939.  Mary Casey became ill after the abortion.  Dr Billing was called in.  Mary Casey died and Dr Billing gave the cause of death as heart failure.  It is interesting to recall that this was the Dr Billing who certified that Alice Burnham, the victim of Brides in the Bath murderer Joseph Smith, had suffered a heart attack in the bath at Regent Court.  He had two of his former patients exhumed.   Mary Casey’s estranged husband told Jenny Flynn that he was not satisfied with the Doctor’s explanation.  Jenny Flynn offered the husband  money.  Mary Casey was exhumed and a post-mortem carried out.

On April 29 at Manchester Jennie Flynn was sentenced to 12 months hard labour for “using an instrument for an illegal purpose.”  Her representative said that she: “denied running her boarding house for the purposes suggested by the police.”  The detective investigating the case, Detective McKenna, later apprehended  German war criminals who were hanged by Mr Pierrepoint.

 

A MURDER IN WHITEGATE DRIVE…

At his time the newspapers did not usually refer to homosexual offences.  Blackpool may have had one of the earliest gay communities outside of the big cities.  The degree of tolerance varied and there are stories of young policemen acting as bait in public toilets and of accused men committing suicide.  If anybody wants to share memories of those times… policemen or gay men…  I would be very glad to learn more about this hidden history.

 

Gunner Elvet Howells aged 29 of the Royal Artillery was charged with the murder of John Thompson Wood aged 41, a Blackpool Bus Conductor at Mr Wood’s flat in Whitegate Drive.  John Wood had twelve stab wounds.  John Wood and Elvet Howells had been having drinks and John Wood invited Elvet Howells to stay the night.  John Wood had four stab wounds in the chest and eight in the back.  Elvet claimed that John Thompson proposed an indecent act and when refused John Wood attacked  Elvet Howells, who acted in self-defence.  The jury took five minutes to find Gunner Elvet: “Not Guilty.”  Elvet Howell’s claim of self defence is hard to square with the fact his knife was used and the multiple stab wounds.  But Elvet Howells was in the uniform of the Royal Artillery.

 

 

POLICE AND CRIME

An anecdote (from after the war) has  Blackpool’s Chief Constable buying  fruit from a shop in Cookson Street which was a brothel.  It would be surprising if he used his ration card.

Two cases involving policemen are reported.     One officer was accused of burglary and  identified by a fellow officer.  The accused said, and his wife supported him, that he had been at home at the time of the crime.  One piece of evidence against the accused was that his bicycle had been involved.  The accused said that his bicycle had been stolen from his shed.  The accused policeman  was acquitted.

A second policeman was accused of planning to steal fat from a warehouse.  He had been seen unlocking a door to the warehouse where his duties would normally have taken him.  Because of an unforseen event…  an aircraft crash… his duties were disrupted.  He  returned to the warehouse later.  In his defence it was said that he and his wife owned a boarding house and did not need that quantity of fat.  He too was acquitted.

BLACKPOOL’S SADDEST YEAR…  1942.

I have written before about Blackpool’s saddest year so I will be brief.  Blackpool councillors supported the founding of the Blackpool Regiment.  The Blackpool Regiment, this was an informal name it was really the 137 Field Regiment Royal Artillery,  of who 580 were sent to Singapore which surrendered on 15 Feb 1942,  224 died 134 as prisoners of war.

Leo Rawling’s  book about his experiences as a prisoner of war is  unique because it is a squaddie’s point of view.  Leo came to Blackpool when he was 13 and had his own business when he was 17 signwriting and stagepainting.  His drawings document the experiences of prisoners.  He worked on the bridge which was the model for Bridge Over the River Kwai.  Gratifyingly, in a way, he spends as much time moaning about officers as the Japanese.  His point of view reinforces what we kind of always knew that the POWs were not selfless heroes but ordinary people and that there were resentments between POWs who thought some camps were “cushy”.  It is  a gloriously amateurish  resentful punkish work that tells us as much as we dare know about what it was like to be a POW.  Leo went on to work as an illustrator especially for the comic Victor.rawlings

One of Leo’s illustrations from The Dawn Came up Like Thunder

 

The anxiety of relatives and friends can be imagined.  It was often months before a “missing”  person was located so many families did not know if their sons, or husbands were alive or dead.  .

 

Because of these concerns the following the Japanese Surrender Professor McGrath of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine gave a talk  at Blackpool Central Library to five hundred wives, mothers and girlfriends about what to expect from the survivors of the Blackpool Regiment.  Generally the survivors were returned by ship which gave them an opportunity to gain weight and recover.  They were questioned about their experiences and advised not to talk.  For all we know this may be good advice.

Because of the surrender of Singapore the events of Tuesday 3 March 1942 did not receive attention.  Six people were found dead in a house on Marton Moss.  Edmund Smith had killed his wife Freda and four children and himself.  They are buried together at Marton Cemetery.  This is the  most lethal crime in Blackpool’s history.

 

ELSEWHERE…

Two former residents of Blackpool featured in the Gazette.  One murdered the other and was hanged.   Twenty-five year old Ernest Hamerton formerly of Cheltenham Road Blackpool, a kitchen porter, was charged with the murder of Elsie Ellington also from Blackpool.  The murder happened on January 16, 1940.  The couple had moved to London.  Elsie Ellington was 29 and had  worked at the Lyons Cafe in Church Street.  She lived at Leaford Avenue in Blackpool.  Ernest Hamerton had formerly worked at “one of Blackpool’s leading hotels.”  Which one?     He was handy for the Imperial… but  we don’t know.

Elsie was found stabbed to death.

On Friday February 9th 1940 he was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey.  Ernest Hamerton asked for no leniency.  He said: “The last words of the girl who I knew loved me when she was dying were: “You bad———-.”

“If I had lived those three words would have haunted me to the grave.”

GANG CRIME
An event which may have been connected with gang crime was the assault on a taxi driver Mark Abson aged 29 who lived at Elaine Avenue Marton.  This was not a murder .  Mark Abson died following an operation on his lip which had been caused by an assault… three men were charged with malicious wounding and acquitted.  Mark Abson was attacked on August 25th  1945 at the Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Club in Talbot Road.

How could this be connected to a gang?

Mark Abson had been complimented by Magistrates on April 11 1945 for telling police about suspicious behaviour by three men who had robbed the Brewer and Turnbull Warehous at  Hornby Road.  The thieves took two carpets.   The carpets were in storage and may not have been missed for some time.  The carpets were valued at £1100.  They must have been large or high quality, you could easily buy two houses for less than that in Blackpool.  So the crime involved high value goods.  The thieves would need a client who could sell the carpets.  The thieves must have had inside information about the warehouse.   Two of the gang were jailed for a year and one for fifteen months.  Brewer and Turnbull were among the earliest and most famous removal firms and closely connected with Blackpool.

 

Although Mark Abson’s name had not been released at the earlier trial he had been threatened.  He carried a stick in his taxi to defend himself.  So was the assault connected to the robbery ?   Chief Constable, Frank Barnes, opposed bail, on the grounds that witnesses might be intimidated.  He said that some witnesses had been threatened and that others were too frightened to speak out.  The three accused were acquitted.  There were no witnesses.

 

JOAN LONG

Joan Long was found dead and partly clothed in an air raid shelter on Princess Parade in front of the Metropole early on Wednesday morning on the 26th July 1945.   There is a photograph of Joan in the Gazette from the time.  You look at it and look again.   It is taken post- mortem.   I will use another photograph from the Gazette.

Scan

Joan Long from the Gazette

Joan Long had a story to tell.  She enjoyed the benefits of being a young woman in a town where young men far outnumbered women.  She also enjoyed a drink.   Apart from their intended purpose air raid shelter provided privacy for couples.

The inquest was longer than usual because expert guidance was needed.  The cause of death was  strangulation.

Thomas Montoya, an American airman based at Warton, was identified at a large scale identification parade.  He said he had been with Joan Long but that he had not murdered her.  The trial was a Court Martial held at Blackpool Police Station.   The defence claimed that Joan had an epileptic seizure.  Joan was slightly impaired because she had suffered from meningitis.  Her father William Long described her as: “Not very bright.”  This might be a result of her childhood illness.

William Long , Joan’s father, had a story… he joined the Army as a Private and Left as a Lieutenant in the First World War.  Which was exceptional.

The British and Americans would not have wanted this case to gain too  much attention when cooperation was essential.  Thomas Montoya was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years.

 

 

LOOPY VICARS HEROIC COUNCILLORS

A shameful  pleasure   of reading the Gazette is the reliable occurrence of vicars … the letters to the Gazette which turn  banality to an art form…and  councillors.    On the eve of VE day one resident found the “dog problem” in Bispham the most noteworthy event.   The most significant moment in history and a Bispham writer takes up his pen…

A  vicar mysteriously rails against anonymous letters (“cowardly”).  Unintended consequence is that you wonder what he’d been up to.   Vicars disputed about whether we should love the Germans… “snakes”.  One said that Jesus’ words (loving our enemies) did not apply because Jesus was “speaking before the day of poison gas and bombing planes.”  One Vicar deplores people getting married in May.  He puts this down to superstition.   During the war the Bishop of Blackburn led an annual “mission to the sands.”  A chaplain led prayers before council meetings.

Bishops mission to the sands

Thanks to the Gazette.  The bishops’ mission to the sands

 

An interesting letter which sparked many others concerned the burial of German war dead…  A German victim was buried at  Lytham and flowers were put on his grave…  which prompted outrage.

Many writers   resent holidaymakers because they take up room on  trams.  The  “sandwichgate” saga was an exchange of letters.  Why do workers have to go home for their dinners (filling up trams), why can’t they take sandwiches?   Have you considered comes the reply how long you would have to queue to get the ingredients?

A letter is from a mother who protests when  her son, killed in the war, was named by a spiritualist.

One Blackpool councillor used a newspaper article to criticise his fellow councillors for “defeatism.”  He said that half of Blackpool councillors were defeatist.  This must have been disconcerting for other councillors.     Another councillor accuses him of being a “cowardly sniper.”  Much fury, rage and so on.  “Town Hall Watch on Spies” said the Gazette  on April 30 1940, in St Annes Alderman W.  Hope  said that the 64000 enemy aliens were the advanced guard of the Nazis (many  had fled the Nazis).

There is anger especially when the Holocaust became known.   Another bishop is  scorned for regretting the destruction of Cologne Cathedral. Many military historians debate the effectiveness of bombing to this day: the critical question: could the same resources be used more effectively?   Almost two thirds of bombing crew were killed and  in unpleasant ways.  A bomber is a slow moving container  filled with bombs being shot at.

The horror of the war  especially perhaps for the Germans who had limited possibility to mourn their losses.  The sufferings of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad were Dantean.

We should think about the Merchant Navy and also especially the Fleetwood trawlermen.  Being a trawlerman in peacetime  was  hazardous enough but in war time there were u-boats, enemy aircraft and  mines. A growing  concern in letters to the paper is housing.  Many people were desperate for a home and returning servicemen made the problem worse.  It was  felt that people who had suffered in the war were entitled to good housing.  Grange Park and Mereside were planned partly as homes for heroes and the survivors of the Blackpool Regiment were given special consideration. For many people Blackpool was heaven during the war.  It was spared serious bombing and entertainment boomed.   In the background there was suffering not least for the Air Force Trainees and the Blackpool Regiment.

 

entertainment

Thanks to the Gazette.  A variety of entertainment in wartime Blackpool.  Theatrical agents relocated to Blackpool.

 

The presence of so many civil servants meant that many discussions about the future of the country were held in Blackpool and the ideas that led to the welfare state and the Health Service were refined.  Alongside this the evasion of rationing meant that entrepreneurs with a flair for living close to the edge thrived.  Two national stereotypes Arthur Daley and Sir Humphrey were conceived in Blackpool.

Nothing is more striking than the range of fate in wartime Blackpool and the Fylde.  One moment you are walking in Norbreck and the next a bullet out of the sky enters your head.  One day you are dancing in the Tower and the next you are  flying over cities you  remember from geography lessons last year.

I hope to continue by looking at two murders which involved women who at one time lived in Blackpool.

Thanks to Local and Family History and their ever helpful staff at Blackpool Central Library…  The newspaper archives of the Gazette  and many of the personal reminiscences were invaluable.