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 brain freezing  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  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?




1956 portrait of a year and a death in Orchard Avenue



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.


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.


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.



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.”


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


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

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 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.


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.



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…”



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.”


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.