Larry Rushton… Bank robber and jailbreaker and artist

When you do history at school they don’t tell you this but apart from kings and battles  and stuff other things are going on…Larry Rushton overlooked in the underground history of Blackpool.   Underground people who usually don’t appear in histories.

The guys who sell indecent photographs, the waitress who has fifty pounds and a revolver in her handbag… (this was in the 30’s), the man who preached from the bible on the promenade, the people who held communist party rallies on the beach, the dwarves and midgets (am I allowed to say this) in Littletown in the tower.

Bertolt Brecht:  “Julius Caesar conquered Gaul.  What?  Did he not take a cook with

him? ” 


Larry was born in Burnley in 1930.  He moved with his parents to Lytham St Annes.  He showed  signs of a striking character.  In March 1950 he was jailed for robbery with violence.  Robbery with violence was  to Larry Rushton what daffodils were to Wordsworth.  ( stole that.)

And he wasn’t  good at it.

A  flaw in his career as a criminal was his visibility.

Here is Larry Rushton in 1958  remembered by a colleague: trilby, herringbone overcoat,  diamond tie-pin, Luger.

Larry Rushton stood out.

In January 1960.  Larry attends a party in Lytham St Annes with two mates.  Somebody is paying too much attention to a girl he has his eye on Larry takes out a weapon and shoots a rose out of her mouth.

A bullet- hole in the wall with: “Mad Larry was here with his six shooter,” written next to it.

On Monday October 15 1962 at 5pm  he is sentenced to five years for armed robbery in Sheffield.  He is described as a street photographer of Kingsley Road, Blackpool.  He  claimed to the judge that he hadn’t been given a fair chance.  He was in  his cell at 8.50 pm he had vanished by 9pm.

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Not one to call attention to himself,  he drove into Lord Street  Blackpool in  a Jaguar Mark 4 with a Thomson Machine Gun and drove of with beautiful model Patricia Phelan.  Crime doesn’t pay, does it?

After months on the run he is recaptured  in Glasgow,  probably  a tip off.


In 1964  as a previous escapee Larry is wearing a specially visible uniform.  The authorities hear a rumour that he is planning to escape.  So they move him from one high security prison to another, Exeter Prison, where he is under special watch.  He breaks out on December 26 1964.  He is  recaptured.


The next turn in Larry Rushton’s restless life is unexpected.  In solitary confinement he paints of the wall of his cell.  The governor increases his sentence and tells him that he should develop his talent.  So he does.

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By 1975 Larry Rushton is a famous artist.  He had the perfect biography for an artist in the 60’s.   He had some exhibitions including one which he shared with an ex-policeman. and his work sold.  In an interview in 1975 he claimed he was a disciplined artist and worked 8 hours a day.

However I have doubts.  His work shows a surprising skill and attention to detail but he was at odds with  contemporary trends.  His work sometimes reminds you of  Victorian times when a painting had an explicit message.  To me his most convincing works are  his portrayals of clowns.  Larry Rushton was a man who presented himself a caricature gangster.  His clowns are an exploration of masks: a theme that fascinated Eliot Yeats and Smoky Robinson.


Or maybe he just liked drawing clowns and armed robbery.  His work still sells, Les Dawson had one of his works, but  Larry Rushton never fulfilled the promise of one who was described in 1975 as a  “leading British artist.”

Maybe he didn’t care.  He hinted that he was carrying on some dodgy enterprise.  And he was a story teller,  if half what he said was true…

He  took to wearing a wig and wouldn’t answer the door until he had his wig in place.

A colleague recalls meeting him at Dave Johnston’s house in Lytham St Annes.  Dave was a wild life artist and about to go on a working tour of Latin America.  Larry advised that essential equipment for foreign travel was a boning knife to stick between the ribs.

The same colleague recalls his last meeting with Larry in St Annes: “I’ve got a bit of something going on.  I like a bit of mischief.”

He died in 2006 in Lytham St Annes and I couldn’t find an obituary that mentioned his work as an artist or a jail breaker.  The jail breaker who screamed into Lord Street Blackpool in a Jaguar Mark 9 with  a Thomson Machine Gun to carry off his model girlfriend deserves a blue plaque in Lytham St Annes.   Some people might say the only Lytham St Annes resident of any interest but I would say that would be untrue and unkind.


He was one of a circle of friends around Mixie Walsh.


many thanks to the Local and Family History Centre and to Kari especially who is leaving to become a goddess and also many thanks to colleagues of Larry Rushton who helped me with first hand accounts.  I’d be grateful to anybody who can tell me more about Larry or his contemporaries.


Three rocking Blackpool vicars

Off the subject of crime I cannot resist pursuing my second favourite topic: religion.

I am not a fan of atheism for all the wrong reasons.  Religion is funny.  The Chinese Parliament (communist, atheist) passed a law forbidding the Delai Lama to be reborn outside Tibet.

Religion was important in early Blackpool.  The Town Council had a minister who would lead prayers before Council Meetings.  Local religious were  celebrities.  Unfortunate journalists were sent to report on church services  or the Primitive Methodist Tea Party.  And never a critical word.  The letters pages were filled with incomprehensible and enormously long letters  about sacradotalism which was tremendously controversial in those days.  Whatever.  Apropos of nothing in particular Blackpool is the world centre of a religious cult but another time…

This is about three vicars.




Where to start?  Church of England Minister, pugilist, geologist, historian, author,  philanthropist, alcoholic , lunatic…     William Thornber’s problem was that he was  too alive.

Look at the Ordnance Survey Map for Blackpool and the Fylde and you will find a Roman Road from Kirkham to…  well… somewhere.  It was William Thornber who created that road.  Probably.   William Thornber managed to convince the Ordnance Survey that there was and since then it has appeared on OS Maps.


William Thornber

I digress.  William Thornber was raised at Breck Road in Poulton.  His father was a well to do solicitor.  He went to Baines Free School and then to Giggleswick Grammar School where he was influenced by the ideas of William Paley an evangical Christian within the Church of England.  He went to Trinity College and took Holy Orders.

What was he like?  Six feet tall, enormously strong, an unmatched fighter he later floored a professional pugilist, landlord of the Albion.  He had a restless enquiring mind.  You might think that the Navy , or the Army would be more  suitable for his – character.  But he was also a scholar. At the turn of the nineteenth century the life of a vicar had a lot to recommend it.  Free time, money, a nice house.   The century from 1750 to say 1850 was the golden age  of  the English Vicar: many of them were eccentric scholars who used their  free time… and income…  to study fields such as archaeology  or history: the Red Lady of Paviland was discovered by a 19th Century vicar, at that time the earliest human remains found in Britain, she was promptly declared a prostitute of the Roman Era although we now know she was a man long before the Roman Era.  Vicars, prostitutes… but I digress.

William became the third vicar of St John the Evangelist  in 1829.  As it happens his father had been part of the committee planned and built the church.  Looking back it is easy to forget that he was the Vicar for fifteen years.  Blackpool’s population was 800 and William would have known every  one of them and he delighted in stories and and memories.  He also made a collection.  Being present at deathbeds would have helped.  William met nearly all Blackpool residents at birth, marriage and death he had enormous knowledge of the area.  In 1838 he married Alice Banks.  He was 28 and she was the 36 year old of Henry Banks…  the Father of Blackpool.  His brother in law was John Cocker.  William Thornber had married into a thrusting , wealthy, entrepreneurial family…

It was not a happy marriage.  Apologists have said that Alice drove William to drink but I don’t think he took much driving…  And as for Alice well it can’t have been much fun being married to William.

Any road up and be that as it may and so on…

In 1837 William published the History of Blackpool and Its Surroundings.  Erudite, brilliant, frustrating…  Full of fascinating nuggets of information.  Missing out the things we really want to know.

The most annoying ommission is information about the Greatrex murder of 1807.  One of the most prominent landowners was murdered and nobody was apprehended.  The population might have been 400.  Now my guess is everybody knew who did it… I think more than one…  And in this wrecking smuggling town nobody spoke to the authorities.  But Thornber would have known…  But then he was part of an effort to sell Blackpool as a holiday resort.

Alice had a son and a daughter.

William took to drinking with his buddy the Reverend Thomas Myers of  St Pauls.



In 1838 William scandalised his congregation by preaching a sermon against wrecking.  Wrecking meant using lights to simulate a port or harbour.  If there was a storm ships would head for harbour.  If they saw lights on a stormy night they would head for them assuming that they were Skippool which had once been a greater port than Liverpool.  There was a slight bay at Warbreck.  Now the people of Blackpool were used to regular shipwrecks and it was looked on as a perk of living by the seashore.   The wreck  belonged to the Lord of the Manor… in this case Layton.  So this is what happened:  shipwreck, looting by local folk who are then  driven away by the Lord of the Manor’s men.  Ships would have a strong box and that would be the target for an experienced looter.  Shipwrecks would happen from time to time…  hundreds in the 18th and 19th Century.  Local people benefitted and the drowned who were buried unnamed in Blackpool or Bispham.    There is an ethical line between benefiting from shipwrecks and causing them… but…  money .   So on a dark and stormy night there would be lights and stricken ships would head towards them.  For Blackpool people smuggling and wrecking were  parts of life…  So when William Thornber denounced them he was on thin ice.

Three events might have influenced William.  His friend had drowned, a ship the Enterprise had been looted and Blackpool men had been imprisoned and William had it in for William Boucher who built Raikes Hall in 1760.  The money came from a wreck.  Or people said it did and it is a bit strange for a Kirkham man to build a stately home in a Blackpool that scarcely existed.   The story is that William robbed two sisters who had drowned but could it have been a wreck called “Two Sisters? ”

That was the story and William Thornber,  seems quite cross at William Boucher and takes spiteful pleasure in saying that God has punishes  William Boucher by making his son believe that he (the son)  is made out of glass.

William Thornber  was popular with his congregation generally speaking.   He was drinking and there were as a local historian says “darker rumours.”  This is surely a sexual rumour and you want to waterboard local historians for their damned discretion.  Please God let it be prostitutes.

So the Bishop investigates and William is suspended in 1843 and resigns in 1845.


William launched into a career of do-goodery. He was one of a group of bright young things… witty, quick-witted, modern-minded who were out to develop and modernise Blackpool and this fitted in with the agenda of Henry Banks and John Cocker.

William had plans to set up a Market which was established near the present Town Hall.  Restless and furiously energetic it didn’t go unnoted by Henry Banks and John Cocker that William Thornber didn’t have an actual job.  He bought the Beach House Hotel near the Tower Site.   He fooled about with Freemasonry.  He campaigned to have a lifeboat.   He showed an aptitude for land deals.  He had bought land for the church which proved outstanding value and in 1845 with John Cocker and Richard Banks he bought the Yates Estate in South Shore near Cocker Square.   The railway arrrived in 1846.  His deal with John Cocker and Richard Banks ended in bitterness.

In 1851 he joined the Local Board of Health a precursor to the Town Council where he campaigned for better sewage and water arrangements.  He could be aggressive and he made enemies.  He was not re-elected.  In his journal he goes on about corruption and says that Blackpool’s Coat of Arms should feature crocodiles, grasping hands and the motto: “I was a stranger and you took me in.”  An idea  worth exploring.

He was living in Derby Road, possibly he had been moved there with the help of his son because he was becoming loopier.  He had given boxing lessons in a barn off  what is now Warley Road.

He escaped, decked a policeman sent to apprehend him and his son arranged for him to stay in a very modern enlightened asylum.  So drink and madness the fate of local historians but what a geezer.  If he were at St John’s today I’d be there.

He is buried at the East End of the Church with his long suffering wife and father in law.  Nearby is an erratic… that is a rock carried to the beach by a glacier.  I like to think William Thornber  was an erratic.




J S Balmer


A completely different kind of cleric was J S Balmer.  He was a nonconformist and his base was in Adelaide Street.   Temperance was his passion which put him in  contrast with Thornber.  He had been born in Westmorland and corresponded with Ruskin and knew Wordsworth by sight.

He he was a gifted self-publicist.  When the licensed victuallers visited Blackpool and were welcomed by the Mayor the Corporation and prayers were said by Anglican Clergy…   Balmer went nuclear.

He made full on attacks on the Mayor, the Corporation and the Anglican Clergy.  There was probably a kind of professional courtesy where clergy did not attack one another but Balmer named the Vicars.

The Winter Gardens and later the Tower benefited from selling alcohol to tourists.  Balmer points out that the magistrates who sentence people for drunkenness provide the means for that drunkeness.

In addition Balmer is a fearless advocate of Sunday Observance.  Now the Corporation runs trams on Sunday.  And the Tower is open on Sunday.  Balmer is in opposition to the Corporation.   These themes provide the themes for his work: “Blackpool, Paris and Sodom.”  “I feel as if I am being driven to Hell myself.  By comparison with Blackpool Paris is sweet and Sodom was a Paradise.”  He goes on to describe the suicide of eminent people such as Castlereagh whose death he attributes to neglecting the Sabbath.  The French Revolution was probably caused by neglecting the Sabbath and he notes that several of those who have criticised him have passed away.

For all his combatativeness he is  sensitive himself when a correspondant  questions his  familiarity with Paris… with an implication that he hung around brothels.

Balmer is surprisingly circumspect in the most obvious point of his criticism of Blackpool.  Paris was to English people  synonomous with prostitution which was a major industry in Blackpool.  The Tower was an obvious imitation of Paris …  the decor of Victorian Music Hall and theatre was Patrisian.   Balmer quotes from the Chief Constables report that prostitutes of both sexes roam the dancing rooms of public houses.   It is as if Balmer hasn’t got the language to talk directly about his obvious meaning.  Blackpool = intemperance + non sunday observance= prostitution= the wrath of God.


When Alerman Bickerstaffe asked clergy to draw up lists of deserving poor parishoners to whom he would make a christmas gift of tea and  sugar … he little expected that his offer would cause a blistering attack.  But it did.

Bickerstaffe was a brewer among other things so his gift was financed by the sale of alcohol.  Balmer claims that one of his flock said he would rather drink poison.  I can’t help wondering if anyone really did say that.


Having taken on publicans and brewers and the Corporation Balmer managed to have a memorable row with… the Methodist Conference.  Members were discussing a non-Conformist daily paper… a long held goal. The issue was how should such a paper report political matters especially Ireland and Irish Home Rule.  The row led to unique headline: “Exciting scenes at Methodist Conference.”


Balmer lived to a good age and died.  He  was a  controversialist and self-publicist.  He was a Liberal in politics and the Corporation was  Conservative.   The local press was antagonistic.  He claimed that violence was used to break up temperance meetings and that he received threatening letters.   He thrived on argument and the fact that he was often in the news was a source of   pride  to his growing congregation.  Religion as theatre?   A marxist  might say that he was competing financially  with publicans and prostitutes and that Sunday Observance  promoted a religious monopoly of Sunday and increased his income.  And he was competing for the “God Pound” with fellow clerics.  If you say he was a shade  aggressive you  also say that he did command attention and that his congregation were enormously and reliably entertained.  If he was touting for business like a prostitute or a publican he did it well.

What was he like?  You can  hear the shrill tone of neuroticism  insecurity and anxiety.  His unembarrassed self-glorification together with belittling his opponents, a coyness regarding prostitution which is one of the themes of Blackpool and Paris and Sodom but scarcely mentioned, a combination of hyper-sensitivity and aggressiveness towards others.  Freud visited Blackpool twice whilst Balmer was there…


There is a comic element: he looks at a pin-show on the pier called Paris scenes no doubt expecting views of Notre Dame… imagine his surprise… etc.   Balmer had spent time in Paris and one letter hints that something more was going on.  Balmer explodes in print.    In real life he seems to have been more genial than his writing suggests.  Highly strung and highly controlled (Hitler was such a person)  a career as a preacher  provides a theatre for anxieties.

At one point he compares himself with Jesus.  He is buried in the non-conformist part of Layton Cemetery.




rector of stiffkey                                                            The Rector of Stiffkey

Nominative determinism?  It is statistically true that people called Dennis are more likely to be dentists.  Or think of Amy Winehouse.    Remember that Freud visited Blackpool twice and   possibly his techniques might owe something to the fortune tellers that he would have seen. Rector of Stiffkey?  Really?

But I digress.

Harold Francis Davidson was born in 1875.  Unlike many Anglican Vicars he had a successful career as an actor before he took Holy Orders.  He was an eccentric and dim student.  He had an interest in the poor and saved a girl from suicide.  During the war he served as chaplain in the navy where  to his surprise his wife had a baby during his long absence.  He  treated the child as his own and she was loyal to what must have been one of the most embarrassing  parents in the history of the world.

He was appointed Rector of Stiffkey in Norfolk.

He found it hard to make end meet and further problems arose because he met and was ripped off by a con-man in a shares scam.  In his parish he was popular with the farm labourers who he supported when landholders wanted to cut wages.  He was not popular with the landowners and he  picked loopy and grossly insensitive argument with  a  colonel, over the colonel maintaining his wife’s grave.  He was careless about his parochial duties and annoyed another of  his  congregation by being late on Armistice Day.  He was good at making the wrong enemies.

He was often busy  in London saving fallen women.  There is no evidence that he had any physical relationship with any of his women although he did invite them to stay at his vicarage.  I like the answer he gave when asked why he focused on attractive women: “Because they are most at risk.”  He was regarded as a nuisance by managers of Lyons Coffee Houses.  Remember that the prostitute was becoming a kind of emblem for the late 19th Century… Gladstone used to bring them back to No 10 for a chat,  Dickens was a prostitute botherer… it was in the air.

Rural Norfolk was  feudal.  A vicar was there to uphold the hierarchy not start a prostitute sanctuary.

When the Bishop of Norwich decided to act on complaints by landowners he performed a textbook example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.  Let us assume the Bishop’s aim was to prevent  scandal.  What happened was that the Rector of Stiffkey became the best known Anglican Clergyman in the World.

The Bishop of Norwich was e focused on establishing the Rector’s guilt not establishing facts.

The investigation spent a lot of money, employed private detectives, who trawled through the rector’s acquaintances and managed to find one who would confirm that the rector’s interests were not entirely clerical.  But she was paid and promised a job.

It should have been a walkover… no evidence.  There was however a photograph.

rector of stiffkey 1


The rector was defrocked.  One interpretation is that he had never been a full shilling and now he became a full on nutjob.  Another is that he was utterly desperate for money having paid for his defence and lost his living and that he returned to his career as a showman to pay for his appeal.  Or both.  Maybe he did identify with Jesus… who was prosecuted by highly placed clerics.


The rector reverted to his previous career as a showman.  He appeared in Blackpool where he would be seen by thousands of holidaymakers on the Golden Mile.  He would calmly smoke his pipe while cotten workers paid pennies to see him.  He told reporters that he hated the job but that he did it to finance his appeal.  He was working for Luke Gannon a legendary impressario.  The established entertainment industries… the Tower and the Winter Gardens loathed the Golden Mile which they saw as deflecting would-be customers.  The Police acting for the Council arrested the Rector in 1935  for attempting suicide and he spent a couple of nights in jail.  The Council’s case was presented by Trevor Jones the Council Clerk who actually did commit suicide when councillor’s financial arrangements were being examined.

After seasons in Blackpool the Rector went to Skegness where he appeared in a cage with lions.  In July 1937 he accidentally stood on a lion’s tail and was fatally mauled.

Holy Fool?  Naive and a showman and a victim of injustice?  He had a massive funeral and is buried in his former parish at Stiffkey.
















Wrong again. The Tunnel between the Tower and the Winter Gardens… solved?

Bit out of my line this but I’ve always been interested in the alleged tunnel between the Winter Gardens and the Tower.

I have  always been a tunnel sceptic.  The Winter Gardens are on raised ground so a tunnel between the Tower and the Winter Gardens would be difficult.  I assumed  people were mistaking the tunnel  between the Palace and the Tower for a tunnel to the Winter Gardens.  And as Colin Reed who has been on many archaeological explorations says: “There’s always a tunnel.”

So I would have bet good money that there was no tunnel between the Tower and the Winter Gardens.

Well I was wrong.  Or technically I was right.

Harry Luby


The mystery was solved in Great Yarmouth where I met Harry Luby.  Harry worked as an apprentice  carpet fitter in the Winter Gardens and he recalls in 1959 when he was 16 he used the tunnel… or two tunnels… to transport material from the Winter Gardens to the Tower. Things were moved on a battery powered three wheeler… a bit like a milk float. Yes two tunnels.  So technically I was right there was not a tunnel from the Winter Gardens to the Tower.  There was a tunnel from the Tower to Tower Street and another tunnel from Tower Street to the Winter Gardens.  Tower Street, now a car park in keeping with Blackpool Corporation’s policy of changing all buildings of interest into car parks, was an intriguing area of Blackpool and included the wonderful Galleon and a forbidding Dickensian looking building that was an administrative area and warehouse for the Winter Gardens and the Tower.  I recall looking at it and thinking I would not be surprised if Bob Cratchit came out the door. I don’t think it really was Victorian.


Adelaide Street 49 to 59 & Tower Street 28 Feb 1938 env104


The corner of Tower Street and Adelaide Road

Harry recalls that these tunnels were nine foot wide and six foot tall and that the route from the Tower to Tower Street was more straightforward than the route from Tower Street to the Winter Gardens which may have had to contend with sewage and water pipes and a steep incline.  There were actually two tunnels so that you could not go directly from the Tower to the Winter Gardens.  The tunnels were on two different levels.

So problem solved.  Isn’t it?

I would not be truthful if I did not say I enormously enjoyed Blackpool Illuminati Exposed.  Which says that Blackpool’s tunnels form a pentangle.  Hey Ho.


Many thanks to Harry Luby and the indefatigable staff at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre.




William Livesey 1905: “partly devoured by lions.”

Near midnight a man is killed by a lion.  A man who lives in a tower with a menangerie and and an aquarium is called on to recover the body.  Ten years later the man in the tower dies a mysterious death.  Arabian Nights?  Transylvania?

Blackpool, 1905.

In 1905 soliciting and drunkeness take up a lot of time in Blackpool Courts. Immoral  behaviour in back Queen Street.   And obstruction…    A lad is charged with selling indecent photographs.  Another crime is “sleeping out.”  This means being homeless.  It is a crime to be homeless, a crime to beg and a crime to have no money.  Obstructing the pavement, leaving horses unattended, cruelty to animals, being drunk in charge of a horse…  but drunkeness and soliciting are the main pastimes in Blackpool judging by the court reports.


Ellen Livesey a cotton worker in Preston was looking forward to her husband’s visit on Sunday 13 August.  Her husband William Livesey worked as a carter for the Blackpool Tower Company and stays in Blackpool.  But he had Sunday off.  And he would come to see Ellen in Preston.

William’s return was  unlike the return he planned.

William was a trusted employee of the Blackpool Tower Company.  One of his duties involved the animal hospital for the  Tower menangerie.   The animal hospital was in Lytham Road almost opposite the Dunes.

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The animal hospital site almost opposite the Dunes.  The area which is now lawned.

Animal Hospital ?   Well…   Although sick animals from the Tower were housed there animals were also slaughtered.  Horses who were no longer useful would be slaughtered and the meat used to feed lions and tigers at Blackpool Tower Menangerie.   ( I have always wondered what happened to the millions of horses who must have been slaughtered in England at this time.  Would an enterprising butcher let meat  go to waste?  Pies?   The recent case of McDonald’s using kangaroos in their burgers reminds us that if there is money to be made…  but I digress…).

Among his duties William helped look after the animals and he locked up the building.  The building (I am guessing here) was a large stable with the horses separated from the beasts from the menangerie.  The beasts included  three partly-grown lions.  William was used to feeding these animals.

William  was looking forward to seeing his wife and children and he had been steadily drinking at the Dunes.  He was drinking with two companions  Edward Eaves and Thomas Melling at closing time around 11.00 pm he bought a bottle of beer and one for his friend Edward Eaves.

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The Dunes

William Livesey lived as a lodger at Stoneycroft.  His landlord was William Beck.   About 11.00 William saw his lodger William Livesey and another man walking towards the enclosure.   At 11.30 pm William Beck heard cries:  “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

At 8.35am  on Sunday William’s body was found.  Thomas Bonny (it is also spelt Bonney in the reports)  had locked up the lions with Livesey on the previous day around 5.45.  The next morning he came and the lions were in the yard.   He bravely drove the lions back to their enclosure and called James Walmsley.  James Walmsley …  fascinating character…  managed the animals and he lived in the Tower.  He had previously managed the acquarium and had lived there while the Tower was being built around him.  He  died in unusual circumstances ten years later… drowning in shallow water in the Tower.

Together they ensured that the site was secure and called the Police.  They noticed two broken bottles in the yard.   Ellen Livesey who had been waiting for her husband at Preston was brought to Blackpool to identify the body.  The local paper did not skimp details:






William Livesey was given a magnificent send off.  Crowds of visitors and Blackpool Tower staff lined the route as he was taken on a last journey to Preston by train and finally to Preston Cemetery.

It is possible that  “Albert and the Lion” performed by Stanley Holloway was inspired  by this incident.  Connisseurs of strangeness  reflect that William Livesey’s funeral cortege would have passed the site of Witherspoon’s “The Lion and Albert.”


What happened?

It is clear that William, with a day off to look forward to, had drunk freely at the Dunes.  Everybody involved afterwards claimed that none of them were drunk but…  well they would wouldn’t they?

William decided to show off by showing his friend the lions.  Once in the lions’ enclosure he had  stumbled and fallen and the lions had attacked him.  The lions were only half-grown and would not have attacked him unless they felt threatened.  Possibly he  tripped over one of them.  His job included feeding the lions but as James Walmsley said this made no difference.

It is as clear as can be from the Inquest that the Police and the Coroner believed that William Livesey had gone to the enclosure with Edward Eaves aged 28, also a carter.  It is also clear that the other witnesses do not want to accuse Eaves and that the Chief Constable is certain that Edward Eaves was with William Livesey when the  attack happened.  Edward Eaves was bought a bottle of beer by William Livesey which he took out of the Dunes.  The Chief Constable says that the bottle is not found in Edward Eaves’ home and that a broken bottle… two in fact, both William and Edward had a bottle… is found in the animal enclosure.  No doubt Edward had thrown both bottles at the lion hoping to rescue his friend.  But he did not raise the alarm and he did not tell the authorities.  He was afraid he would get in trouble.

Imagine Edward Eaves state of mind as he went home from the enclosure leaving his friend dead.

Neither the Coroner, nor the Chief Constable, nor  the jury, believed Edward Eaves’ story that he had just gone home.  The Coroner came close to calling Edward Eaves a liar.  How could William Livesey have suddenly acquired a new friend in the short time after leaving the Dunes, a friend moreover who happened to have a bottle of beer with him,  and  William invites  his new friend across the road to see the lions.  One of the witnesses says he does not know who was with William Livesey but that he was the same size and build as Edward Eaves.

But it is irrelevant.   No crime had been committed.  

We have all woken up on a Sunday morning with a hangover.  Imagine Edward Eaves  waking on Sunday and recalling…

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William Livesey’s grave in Preston Cemetery


Many thanks to indefatigable staff at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre.

There is a fascinating article “The Man Who Lived in the Tower” by Louise Thornton  about James Walmesley in Blackpool Heritage News.  I  wonder what it would be like to live in Blackpool Tower.





Blackpool Mayor Thomas McNaughtan: skeleton in the cupboard

Thomas Mccnaughton

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 (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.


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.


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



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.



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.


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 they were not closely acquainted.  An interest they shared was anatomy, Daniel attended lectures.




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


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





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




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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.”


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?




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