Sunday, 9 May 2021

Thomas Blood and the Theft of the Crown Jewels

 On the 9th May in 1671, Thomas Blood became the first and only man to attempt to steal the Crown Jewels.

Colonel Blood as he would come to be known, was born in Ireland, the son of a blacksmith. Blood had fought for the Royalist forces of Charles I during the English Civil War. However, he switched sides to fight under Oliver Cromwell, his reward for which were land grants and a position in local government. When the new Stuart king was restored to the throne in 1660, Blood was forced to flee back to Ireland where he attempted to kidnap and later killed the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On returning to England he befriended Talbot Edwards, the keeper of the crown jewels, who living quarters were above the room where the jewels were kept. It was today, in his guise as Parson Blood and accompanied by three others, that he made his attempt to steal the crown jewels.

Blood was captured when Edward's raised the alarm.

Thomas Blood evaded punishment for this crime as he had with the murder of the Duke of Ormonde. He managed to sweet talk his way out by replying "I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire!" when Charles II asked "What if I should give you your life?"

Eventually though the Irish adventurers luck finally ran out, he died following his stint in prison after being convicted of making defamatory remarks about his patron the Duke of Buckingham for which he was also fined £10,000.

​Following his release he died on August 24th 1680 - he didn't pay his fine!

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Time Travelling Adventures

Its time for another virtual adventure into the lives of my Devon family, the Meavy's. For the past couple of weeks they have been eagerly awaiting news of the coronation of King Harold - not that they know who he is of course! Little do they know that William of Normandy has landed on Pevensey Beach in Sussex with every intention of snatching Harold's golden crown.

As the Meavy's happily skin yet another rabbit for tea, Harold and his battle weary men are trudging their way though the mire and mud of middle England to sort out the invader, but William it seems, is having trouble with England - quite literally.

As he places his shiny new Norman boots on the beach he stumbles and falls, a collective gasp is heard, but the Conqueror, knowing that his men believe this is a bad omen shouts -

                                  “See I already have England in my hands.”

How clever he is!

If my Meavy ancestors could hear him they would know that they are in real deep trouble, for this new king would have their county totally under his control by 1068.

My previous chapters on the Meavy family can be read here.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Handley Monument

Henry Handley, entrepreneur and member of Parliament was described by one James Grant as

"a tall, stout, good-looking man. He has a jolly, countrified countenance, with a complexion redolent of health. His face is full, and his features are regular and pleasing. His hair is of a light brown, and he sports a pair of whiskers of which any Spanish Don might be proud."

Handley inherited his estates in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire on the death of his father Benjamin Handley who had helped to establish the canalisation of the River Slea, known as the Sleaford Navigation, and who also founded the first bank in the town.

Following his move to Culverthorpe Hall, his new home just outside the town, Handley became interested in agricultural affairs and the plight of the land working people in regard to the Malt Tax stating

" it was impossible for the present system to continue long; the voice of the people must prevail...."

Proud of their son, the town erected a monument to commemorate the life of Henry Handley who had been born in the town in 1797.

Handley died in the June on 1846.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

On This Day in 1837

​Along with Sir Francis Drake, who had rather an important job to do this day in 1588, there was another man with an equally important event happening in 1837, this was Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Brunel, like Drake, is associated with the West Country, the sea and ships and as well as bridges, tunnels and railways, he was responsible for the design of several famous sea going crafts and the 19th of July witnessed one of Brunel's greatest achievements. The iron hulled Great Western, was also the largest vessel in the world, it was launched this day in 1837 and was the first steamship to cross from Bristol to New York. 

Another of Brunel's ships, The Great Britain, launched six years later on the 19th July of 1843, was the first Atlantic liner built of iron.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

On This Day in 1819

The Birth of English civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette.

In the image below you can see the engraving "The Silent Highwayman" featuring death as he rows on the Thames, taking the lives of those who made no effort towards the clean up of river.

By 1866, Bazalgette designs were implemented and most of London was connected to a sewer system where the filthy water, that caused cholera epidemics in the city, were diverted along new low level sewers. These sewers were built behind embankments on the riverfront taking the water to new treatment works. By 1870 both the Albert and the Victoria Embankments had been opened.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Sunday- A Day of Rest

​​On the 7th March in 321, Emperor Constantine issued an edict declaring that Sunday should become a day of rest - you could say "the weekend begins here."

​The weekend that wonderful two days you spend with your nearest and dearest, a time when you catch up on the housework do your shopping or research interesting historical stuff for your blog. 

Constantine was a fascinating man, not only did he suggest that we put our feet up after a week of hard labour, he is associated with the Cult of Sol Invictus - the pagan sun god of the later Roman period. Constantine himself lived most of his as a pagan but is remembered for his conversion to Christianity and for being the first Christian Emperor. In his edict, he stated

"On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed"

If you didn't know about Constantine's idea, did you ever wonder where the term weekend came from or how it was implemented?

The weekend is obviously linked with five day week, a concept that is dates back the 19th century and the onset of the Industrial Revolution. However, taking credit for is the Labour Movement who worked tirelessly for the needs and on behalf of the countries working class. Before this, the lives of those living in England was one of hard work, illness and exploitation.  Only the farmer and the agricultural labourer whose working life was governed by daylight received some rest from the daily grind. 
For those working in newly industrialised England the working day lasted for up to 14 hours for six days a week eventually those working in the mills and factory began to ask for longer breaks from the harsh working conditions and it was not long there were those who pushed for reform. One of these men was Robert Lowes, a warehouse clerk in Manchester who proposed that the cities warehouses and offices be closed on Friday afternoons. In the November of 1843, after much negotiation Lowes succeeded. Manchester merchants, manufacturers and printers agreed to close their places of employment at 1 o’clock every Saturday afternoon “ to allow our servants leave for the day”. This new idea spread across the country and from this we get the what we now call the weekend.

The earliest reference use of the word weekend can be found in 1879 in the magazine  Notes and Queries where it states:

"In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week’s work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance, he is said to be spending his eek-end at so-and-so."

Over a hundred and fifty years have passed since Robert Lowes put forward his ideas, today there are those pushing for even more time away from our place of work. Owen Jones a columnist in the Guardian newspaper suggests that we should all be working a four day week.

​You can read what he has to say here:


Saturday, 27 February 2021

Lord Bryon's Maiden Speech in Parliament

​The population of some of Leicestershire's villages had almost doubled by the middle of the 19th century, Syston and others villages like it would soon become towns whose border would gradually creep outwards into the countryside. With these new towns came modernisation and mechanisation. It is interesting that 19th century Leicestershire was one midland county who opposed these new ways, their opposition was such that it is known for its riotous behaviour and violence. The men who instigated and took part were known as Luddites, they were opponents to the new inventions in the textile industry, their actions would cause at least one death and would give rise to a folk hero.

The above is an extract from the latest chapter of the history of the Underwood family of Leicestershire. Although mostly family members were employed in the coal mines around Coleorton, many were employed in the stocking frame industry.

It was on the 27th February in 1812 that Lord Byron gave his first speech as a member of the House of Lords. Bryon argued in defence of Luddite violence against Industrialism in his home county of Nottinghamshire. 

You can read what he said here: