Sarah Ann Henley’s Unplanned Parachute Jump, 1885

Unlike the hundreds before and after, one woman survived jumping into the chasm of Avon Gorge from the bridge that spans it. Find out what quirk of fashion saved Ms Henley from her attempt to end her life.

The city of Bristol, UK, is a charming place in England’s West Country. It’s famous for a number of things; Massive Attack, Concorde, Banksy, Aardman Animations and… the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

This iconic structure was designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and completed in 1864. It spans the craggy Avon Gorge and thousands of ships have passed under its grand arch, sailing along the river Avon over the decades since.

Unfortunately, it also acquired a reputation as a place to end one’s life, with around 400 despairing souls who’ve scaled the railings before plummeting to their deaths 75 m (245 ft) below.

And so, Sarah Ann Henley’s story comes to light: On a Summer’s day in 1885 this distraught young woman made her way up through Clifton’s streets of fine townhouses to make her way along to the middle of the bridge, sobbing as she went. She stopped and peered down, contemplating her next move with a deep gulp.

Earlier she had got a letter from the man she loved and was engaged to marry, a porter for the Great Western Railway. In it, he announced his intention to break off their engagement and, in the depths of despair she made the rash decision to end it all. She climbed over the railings and onto the parapet and, before onlookers could rush to intervene, she flung herself off.

Fate had a twist for her however. As was the style of the time she was wearing a crinoline skirt — a stiff petticoat designed to hold out a woman’s skirt. Witnesses claimed that a billowing effect created by an updraft of air beneath her skirt acted as a parachute of sorts to slow her fall, misdirecting her away from the water and instead onto the river’s muddy banks. Two passers-by rushed to her assistance and found her in a state of severe shock, but alive nonetheless.

They escorted her to the refreshment rooms of the nearby railway station and from there she was taken to hospital to recover. Sarah Ann put the incident behind her and went on to marry Edward Lane in 1900 and lived to the age of 85.

Ms Henley, the bridge she leapt from and the crinoline skirt which acted as her parachute (thevintagenews.com)
One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

UK’s Terrible Twin Town, 2006

It was an awkward moment when Mantao representative George McLauchlan crossed the Atlantic to present a commemorative clock to Bideford town’s officials, only for them to not have a clue why. Find out what happened here.

Before Mr Riley’s visit… (eveningstandard.co.uk)

The sky above was white and seagulls could be heard in the distance being a nuisance. David Riley was wearing his best suit and his best smile and cradled a fine wooden case in one arm. He strode jauntily along the pavement, a bespectacled American with a ready smile for anyone willing to meet his eye along the way.

He approached Bideford Town Hall entrance, an elizabethanesque building fronting the River Torridge.

This should have been a special day for the resident of Manteo, N. Carolina. His small city of little over a thousand residents had been twinned with Bideford, England for some quarter-century and announced this on large billboards to every visitor. Today Riley’s mission was to present Bideford Town Council with a commemorative clock to celebrate the link. Manteo’s town manager had emailed Bideford council heralding Riley’ visit a few weeks prior.

He was scheduled to meet town clerk George McLauchlan and was a little disconcerted with the secretary’s embarrassed greeting. Riley took a seat to wait. McLauchlan, a sandy-haired man in a crisp white shirt and light green tie, invited his visitor in, a bemused curl on his lips.

McLauchlan recalled: “He seemed like a nice guy and gave me a clock. It was a very nice clock. He said he was very proud to be twinned with us and offered a sincere thanks on behalf of the town’s population for representing them in the UK.

Yet Bideford’s officials didn’t have any idea what Riley was on about; the only town Bideford was twinned with was one in France.

They’d never even heard of Mantao. “I said thank you but had to let him down gently. It seemed even more cruel not to. He seemed a little puzzled and said our name was on all their road signs. I couldn’t really offer any consolation so he said he was going home to look into it.

The only explanation for the mix-up could be that a resident of Bideford visited Manteo in the 1980s and said or did something which led the townsfolk to believe an official tie had been established.

In 2010 Bideford officials reciprocated the affection sent forth from the good folks of Mantao by formally twinning the two towns.

…and after. (bbc.co.uk)

The Aristocrat Who Painted the Town Red, 1837

The legend of a Marquis’ drunken antics resulted in an epic night in town… painting it red despite the townsfolk’s spluttering rage. Read about the chaos this posh wild child caused.

One day in spring 1837 at the Thorpe End tollgate in the fine old English market town of Melton Mowbray, with its half-timbered Tudor townhouses and bustling square, a tollgate keeper lay a wary eye on an approaching party of men.

The scene was at odds with itself. Their veneer of clean, tailored clothing, fine riding boots, well-groomed moustaches and strong jawlines made the tollkeeper conscious for a moment of his own grubby stubble. Yet, from their cultured tones, boozy banter spewed. Laughter and shouts echoed down the narrow carriageway and the band of staggering, swaggering men jostled after it.

The tollkeeper hailed hopefully to a young man he took to be the ringleader but the big droopy eyes which met his twinkled with mischief and he wore an ominous, leery grin. To the side were some ladders, brushes and pots of red paint to effect repairs. The leader turned his gaze to them and, before the tollkeeper could step in between, the party leapt and scooped up the paint and brushes.

They set upon the tollkeeper who, dismayed, shrieked calls to wrest them away, but to their whoops and cackles they doused the poor man in red paint. A sputtering, red-faced constable rushed over… and he was turned even more red-faced!

Like a crazed troop of monkeys the men now rampaged into the town, smashing, kicking and pulling down pieces of property. They sploshed doors, a carved swan and anyone who tried to halt them in red paint while indignant townsfolk looked on, mouths agape. They vandalised the Post Office and the Leicestershire Banking Company and tried to overturn a caravan in which a man was fast asleep.

The time the Marquess of Waterford and his cronies went crazy in Melton Mowbray gave rise to a common idiom (leicesterchronical.co.uk)

Help was called in and, finally, to the clacking thrum of nail soled boots on street cobbles, constables clamoured into the street and set upon them. Clubs cracked and thumped and swang through the air and the scoundrels were finally subdued. Now for the biggest shock; as onlookers gawped, the party’s leader was identified to be a nobleman no less – Henry Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford.

The noble was sent to sober up in the local gaol but that wasn’t even the end of it.

Marquess Henry’s cronies came to his rescue, beating up two guards and holding a sharp blade to a guard’s throat for the cell key.

So the Marquess escaped …but scot-free?

Aristocrats stand as exemplars of grace, class and decorum. The Marquisate of Waterford is no exception; rows and rows of windows festoon the grand, Georgian facade of Curraghmore House – the family estate – and their noble lineage goes back to the 17th Century. At some point, an impish streak seeped into the bloodline when Henry entered the world; the trouble in Melton Mowbray is not the only time he brought his peerage into disrepute.

Once Marquess Henry sobered up he hastened to shell out for the damages but the townsfolk wouldn’t be placated so easily. Eventually Henry and his party were fined a considerable £100 each and ordered to contribute an idiom to the English language.

The King of England’s Human Pet: Peter the Wild Boy

The story of when King George I adopted a feral child from the forests of Germany into his royal court

When King George I brought a feral boy into the British Royal Court in 1726 he caused a sensation among London’s high society. ‘Peter the Wild Boy’ as he came to be called, neither walked upright or could speak nor write and, to many it seemed, he’d surely been raised by wild animals. Yet, the truth behind why Peter behaved more animal than man only came out two centuries after his passing when a portrait of the boy was carefully scrutinized.

King’s Feral Forest Boy

So it was that in 1725, King George I of Great Britain returned to his birthplace of Hanover, Germany, and was out hunting in the Hertswold Forest one day.

Amidst a dank, dark grove of beechwood, the King and his hunting party were startled to come across a strange sight.

The fateful moment King George I came across Peter ‘the wild boy of Hanover’ (alamy.com)

It was a young adolescent boy scuttling about on all fours like some forest animal. He did not speak but growled and grunted like some guttural, primeval savage.

King George was puzzled by this naked and dishevelled child. He was so at odds with the grace and decorum he’d always known. Had he’d been nurtured by wolves or bears, the King wondered?

He returned from the hunt with this curious child, and a year later the boy, now called Peter, was brought over to London to be transformed from a savage into a gentleman.

Media Sensation

Peter’s arrival quickly became the talk of the town and he became a celebrity; a media sensation who was the subject of newspaper articles, poems and ballads.

This was a time when London was a burgeoning epicentre of European civilization and the Age of Enlightenment was in full flow. Into this intellectual environment, Peter fanned the flames of a debate raging around science and philosophy, nature versus nurture and the delicate line between humans and wild animals.

Questions around whether genetics or environment engendered Peter’s bestial traits, and whether his inability to talk betrayed the absence of a soul or conscience kept the royal court rife with speculation.

Daniel Defoe, of Robinson Crusoe fame, wrote a pamphlet, ‘Mere Nature Delineated, in which he mused about Peter’s nature. Meanwhile, the linguistic scholar Lord Monboddo, in his ‘Origin and Progress of Language’ presented Peter as an example of his theory of human evolution. Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, even went so far as to create a new category of human in his ‘Systema Naturae’ just for Peter called ‘Juvenis Hanoveranus’.

A wax figure of him was exhibited on Westminster’s Strand, and the renowned satirist Jonathan Swift poked fun at the excitement surrounding his arrival with a pamphlet called ‘The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation’.

Peter’s Palace Life

Once Peter settled in. he was treated as something of a pet. Peter charmed the royal household by stealing kisses and cheekily picking the courtiers’ pockets.

Predictably he did struggle to adjust from his life in the undergrowth to one in the plush surroundings of a royal palace, for example making it difficult for palace staff to get him to walk or dress in his green jacket. And the sight of a man once taking off stockings horrified Peter because he thought the man was peeling off his skin.

Dr. Arbuthnot was soon assigned to oversee Peter’s education but be made zero progress in teaching the teenager to speak, read or write. The most he ever achieved was to say his own name and ‘King George’. He did seem to understand much of what was said to him, however.

On balance, Peter seemed more beast than man.

Farm Life and a Pension

In 1727, Peter’s sovereign passed away and he was sent to live out his days on a farm with a handsome annual pension of £35 and his welfare was taken up by a yeoman known to the royal household.

And there, he lived out a long and presumably comfortable life in a laidback rural parish of Northchurch, Hertfordshire where he developed a taste for gin but was known for his general timidity.

He could still get up to mischief, however.

In 1750 Peter went missing. Despite searching far and wide, he could not be tracked down until a nearby jail for vagrants and miscreants caught on fire. In the ensuing evacuation, Peter was identified by his unusual physique and traits.

After that episode, a collar was made for Peter inscribed: ‘Peter, the Wild Man from Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, shall be paid for their trouble’.

Peter’s headstone, now an English Heritage Grade II listed structure (thechilterns.blog)

Peter outlived both King George I and II and was well into his 70s when he finally passed away in 1785. He was buried with a gravestone, and flowers are still laid there to this day as a mark of the affection he evoked.

Yet, the scientific mystery around why he failed to cast off his savage ways lay unsolved until as recently as 2011 when a remarkable discovery was made. Painter William Kent included a depiction of Peter in a large painting of King George I’s court that today hangs in Kensington Palace.

Peter’s tell-tale features from a painting by William Kent (bbc.co.uk)

A recent analysis of this portrait by the Institute of Child Health suggests Peter had a rare genetic condition known as Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome, indicated by:

  1. His short stature

2. Lustrous mop of thick curly hair

3. Hooded eyelids

4. Cupid’s bow mouth, with a pronounced curve to the upper lip

5. He disliked clothes and was wrestled daily into a green suit

6. Pictured holding acorns and oak leaves – symbolic of living wild in the woods – and some fingers on his left hand (not seen) were fused

Pitt-Hopkins is a genetic condition only identified in 1978 and has severe neurological effects. People who have it are characterized by severe learning difficulties, developmental difficulties and the inability to speak. It is thankfully extremely rare; just 500 people have been diagnosed with it across the globe. This discovery would explain why Peter was abandoned in the forest; his parents no doubt struggled to cope with his handicaps.

So, the mystery was solved; ‘Peter the Wild Boy’ was not raised at the teet of a wolf or bear, he was just a boy with a one-in-a-million medical condition.

He was clearly unfortunate in one sense. Nevertheless, Peter was very lucky to encounter His Majesty on that fateful hunt. The King’s interest in Peter’s development did wane with his novelty, but most people with his condition would’ve ended up in a zoo or circus freak show. Peter, however, was treated with care and affection throughout his life.

Derrick Bird and the Cumbrian Massacre

Why a friendly, sociable local killed 12 people was a mystery to most. Here, his life is scrutinised to expose how it unravelled before its fatal climax

A puzzling episode of Cumbrian history that bewilders locals to this very day. After an angry confrontation with some colleagues, a man named Derrick Bird shot dead his twin brother, his solicitor, then 10 mostly random victims as he sped 45 miles (72km) around West Cumbria before finally killing himself.

Yet, ‘Birdy’ as many affectionately referred to him, was well-liked, sociable and friendly up until that fateful day. Then something inside him snapped and his hidden demons took hold.

The Shooting Rampage

The route of Derrick Bird’s shooting slalom (murderpedia.org)

It was in West Cumbria this horror story played out. Sandwiched between the Irish Sea to the west and the Lake District to the east, West Cumbria is a tight-knit and quaint rural region. It was the kind of place with few strangers.

It was the last weekend of May in 2010 and Derrick was in the pub, as was his way, for a pint and joke or two before he headed off home. ‘Birdy’ was unusually drunk both that Friday and Saturday, however. One onlooker recalled that Derrick was “bouncing off the walls” and “that wasn’t Derrick”.

The next week on the 1st of June a low-level feud between Derrick and a few other taxi drivers, which many dismissed as banter, flared up when someone crossed a line in something they said to Birdy. A witness said Bird “shook his colleagues by the hands to say his goodbyes and said there’s going to be a rampage in this town tomorrow. They just laughed and didn’t take him seriously.

In the early hours of the next day, Bird drove to his twin-brother, David Bird’s, house, let himself in through the unlocked back door, crept upstairs and shot him 11 times with his rifle. Yet, someone recalled that just the week before Derrick and David had enjoyed a day at a scramble track “laughing their heads off like you’d expect warm brothers to do.”

By sunrise, he was seen washing his Citroen Picasso outside his house.

Then at 10:13am Derrick drove to his solicitor’s house. Attempting to leave home in his car, 60-year-old Kevin Commons found his driveway blocked by Bird’s car. Bird fired his shotgun at Commons and hit him in the shoulder. As he then staggered back up his drive, Bird shot him in the head.

From the ‘targeted phase’ of the shootings, what began now was the ‘rampage phase’ in which Derrick — armed with a 12-bore sawn-off shotgun and rifle — shot dead 10 more people.

Bird would call victims over to his car to ask the time before shooting them or he’d take potshots from distance, shooting a total of 21 people. With little rhyme nor reason, Bird cut down friend, foe and stranger alike

As an example, Bird returned to the taxi rank and executed one of his main antagonists, Darren Rewcastle, at point-blank range. Yet, Bird also shot three other drivers, including his good friend Paul Wilson whose cheek he grazed. Fortunately, the three survived.

Other locals came eyeball-to-eyeball with Bird but he let them be, such as Barry Moss, a cyclist who came face to face with Bird as he stood by the side of his taxi, having just murdered Susan Hughes as she walked home with her shopping.

He remembered “He just stared at me, and just had a very blank expression… he didn’t say or do anything really… Then he scurried into his car and drove off.

On Bird went, randomly shooting, killing and injuring some whilst letting others be.

The end came soon after midday; Bird’s car was running out of fuel as the Lake District’s fells (hills) and forest loomed up around him. Trying to pass another car, Bird skimmed a wall and damaged his tire.

This forced him to a stop and he abandoned the Picasso. Bird then headed into woodland with his rifle to kill himself in solitude.

Derrick Bird’s 12 victims, including David Bird, centre-left (bbc.com)

The Enigma

Make no mistake this crime ultimately showed Derrick Bird for what he was — a malicious and deranged gunman.

Yet, he was also an enigma.

A friendly man, Derrick was referred affectionately to as ‘Birdy’ (mirror.co.uk)

52-years-old and fair-haired, ‘Birdy’ was ‘quiet’ ‘friendly’ ‘sociable’, and time and time again referred to with warmth, even after his horrific crime.

This was a man who would pay his local greengrocer a pound for the 85p milk carton and would go out of his way to rustle up a couple of quid for the local church collection.

Derrick also had good reason to be content, having just become a new granddad by one of his two sons with whom he had a good relationship.

He was a taxi driver who worked hard through the Christmas period to pay for scuba-diving holidays in Thailand, he enjoyed motorsports and was very much a regular local.

And yes, he owned a twin-barrel shotgun and rifle, though gun ownership was not uncommon in this rugged corner of Britain.

He was so well regarded, people in the community when later interviewed almost refused to associate the Derrick they knew with the one who went haywire and attacked dozens of innocent people.

So, why did this innocuous member of the community blow up the way he did?

An examination of a number of events and developments in this 52-year-old’s life reveals a man who was actually grudgeful, highly anxious, depressed and who’d grown paranoid also.

Let’s look at what led to this horrific massacre.

Sellafield Job Resignation

The first nail in the coffin was hammered back in 1990.

Derrick had worked as a Joiner at the nearby Sellafield Nuclear Facility but resigned after he was accused of stealing wood from the powerplant.

Bird was subsequently convicted and given a twelve-month suspended sentence.

It’s funny that the idiom to ‘have a chip on one’s shoulder’ originates from 18th Century working practices in the British Royal Dockyards where shipwrights were allowed to remove surplus timber (chips) on their shoulders for firewood or building material, and this was a substantial perk of the job for the dock workers.

A later rule change made it only what they could carry under one arm which limited the amount of timber they could carry, so the shipwrights went on strike.

Ironically, this was the first of Derrick’s own chips on his shoulder for trying to remove timber, in turn.

His long-term partner at the time went on to recall how Derrick had also been really apprehensive about the prospect of going to prison, which was unfounded but would have ramifications later.

Assaulted by Fare Dodgers

18 years later, Derrick was brutally assaulted when he tried to stop some fare dodgers from doing a runner.. They knocked him to the ground, kicked his teeth in and cracked his head on the pavement.

People saw a change in Derrick after this traumatic episode. He became more anxious and started drinking more.

Taxman a-Knockin’

Derrick had committed tax evasion for a few years and his fears of a prison sentence came back to haunt him.

He consulted his solicitor, Kevin Commons, about the issue and Commons informed him that Bird had more than enough savings to cover the five-figure bill from the Inland Revenue, and that should’ve allayed his fears.

Yet, Derrick wasn’t convinced, despite repeated reassurances.

Even more strangely Derrick somehow got it into his head that Commons and his brother were in cahoots in a bizarre plot to bring him down.

Derrick’s Brother David

Regarding Derrick’s relationship with his twin brother David, family members were adamant that there was never a problem between the two, but David had once borrowed £25,000 from their now-deceased father which he never paid back.

Since then David had become considerably more financially successful than Derrick and, with his tax problems having emerged, Derrick, it seems, felt his brother owed him some of that £25,000 he’d have otherwise partly inherited. The presumption is there was some disagreement over this and the twins had argued fiercely the week previous to June the 2nd.

Ailing Mother

Derrick also lived and cared for his ailing mother whose health was now deteriorating, making her son depressed that she wasn’t long for this world.

Taxi Rank Tensions

Finally, taxicab competition had been increasing while the number of customers wasn’t, and Derrick was getting quietly irked that some of his colleagues sometimes jumped the queue and didn’t wait their turn for the next customer.

Banter is a big part of many work environments in a country famed for its humour, especially among men.

When there is mutual respect banter is fun, endearing and helps the workday pass less drudgingly. When the respect isn’t there, though, banter can be unpleasant if you’re not thick-skinned.

Although Birdy had many friends amongst the other taxi drivers of the area, jokes were made, and pranks were played, and Derrick, with his mounting insecurities, was increasingly on the wrong end of them.

Not long before that Summer, Derrick had sent £1000 to a Thai lady he met on one of his scuba diving holidays but the woman ended contact with him shortly after.

Derrick felt he had been made a fool out of and it’s not hard to imagine he got a lot of ‘flak’ for that from the other drivers.

One of deranged Derrick’s many victims (murderpedia.org)

Derrick and His Hidden Demons

Here then was the story of a man who hadn’t aged well.

Derrick Bird’s worries and grievances had been allowed to quietly fester among a stoic, thick-skinned rural community, typical of the English North.

Reading between the lines it seems Derrick felt his life had been on an inescapable slide for some time and his mother’s death plus the legal consequences of his tax-dodging were going to send it plunging.

Was he guilty of being an ‘entitled white male’? The fact Derrick failed to take responsibility for a number of his life choices, instead, projecting them as the fault of others, suggests that argument holds water.

Ultimately, Derrick lacked the empathy for his fellow humans to keep his inner demons in check. For that, one’s empathy for him should be kept firmly in check.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

From Riches to Rags – 3 British Aristocrats Who Lost Everything

Shed a tear for three British aristocrats, with their millions of pounds and stately homes, who suffered such misfortune, one might barely distinguish them from commoners

Privileged aristocrats are human and so suffer poor luck and judgement like the rest of us. But for us unwashed masses there is a certain guilty pleasure in seeing them fall from grace.

Here are three nobles who may have been born with silver spoons in their mouths, but ended up shopping for plastic cutlery at their local supermarket.

Sir John Stuart Knill, 3rd Baron Knill

The Knill Barony was founded relatively recently in 1893. Stuart Knill was head of the ‘John Knill and Co’ wharf company. (wharfingers, to use a technical term) He rose to become such a prominent citizen of the capital he served as Sheriff of London then Mayor of London — the first-ever Roman Catholic Mayor of London since the Reformation.

His son the 2nd Baron also served as city mayor from 1909–10.

It was the 3rd Baron, however, who lost it all.

Sir John Stuart Knill rose to the rank of Captain in the Machine Gun Corps during the First World War but later managed his family fortune so badly he lost the family home – Knill Court in Herefordshire.

Was he eccentric, a fool, adversely affected by the brutalities of that terrible war in the trenches? It’s hard to say. It’s possible he was a bit loopy, as we’ll see later.

Sir John running his bric-a-brac stall before WW2 (shutterstock.com)

Knill fell back on his expertise on antiques to open an antiques shop yet he couldn’t keep that in business either.

By the 1930s Knill was reduced to running a Bric-a-Brac stall in London but even that went under, and he swept streets on the weekends to make ends meet.

Knill continued his decline down an itinerant path as a postman then a DIY cat breeder. By the 1950s, Knill became the first-ever aristocrat to live in public housing, to the glee of sections of the London press.

Even his wife, Lady Ruth Evelyn Knill, worked as a mill girl and once quipped: “We’ve lived hard and now we are down to rock bottom. I’m living up to my name. Of money, we have Knill.

Knill continued to attract minor fame for all the wrong reasons, and, it seemed, he might’ve been a sandwich short of a picnic after all. Knill was reported to be trying to win the ‘Pools’ (a British lottery, of sorts) by hypnotizing his wife to stare at a blank screen and ‘see’ the winning number combinations.

(weirduniverse.net)

His son, the 4th Baron, regained some dignity for the Knill family line by championing the preservation of local canals. Yet, he is best remembered for his eccentricity around his hometown of Bath, whizzing about in a wheelchair with its astonishing system of levers, pulleys and cranks.

Today, all evidence suggests the living Knills are ‘regular joes’ who don’t hold any titles of peerage.

Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester

The 13th Duke of Manchester poses in his noble regalia, and in court for fraud charges in 2013. The family home, Kimbolton Castle, had to be sold off (dailymail.co.uk)

The Dukedom of Manchester was created in 1719 for the Montagu family. Charles Montagu had served his king as a diplomat over the years and was created the 1st Duke of Manchester upon being appointed to King George the 3rd’s Household.

His successors served in various esteemed positions through the centuries as the British Empire grew and prospered, and so did the family’s fortunes.

Yet the 7th, 8th and 9th dukes were lavish spendthrifts, the numerous properties, the land, the profligate business deals exhausted the once huge family fortune. William Montagu, the 9th Duke spent much of his life abroad ducking and diving and networking amongst his wealthy circle of friends for money.

By the 1950s the family’s financial mismanagement meant that the 10th Duke had had to sell the family home of Kimbolton Castle and most of his lands and properties, although he managed to keep up appearances, at least, with his 10,000-acre farm in Kenya.

Angus Montagu, 12th Duke of Manchester in front of the family home his father had to sell (commons.wikipedia.org)

Yet by 1985, Angus Montagu stepped up to inherit the 12th Duke of Manchester title and, of the millions his family once hoarded, he inherited just £70,000 at his father’s death.

In his early years, Angus had a patchy education growing up and didn’t last long in the Royal Marines because he stood out like a sore thumb with his silver-spoon upbringing.

So, he travelled around the Commonwealth working variously as a clothes salesman, a barman, and even a crocodile wrestler in his younger years.

It was to his ultimate detriment Angus was nice, but dim. He was a gullible man; Fraudsters fleeced him not once, but twice as a result. As he got ever more desperate to arrest his slide away from privilege, he got involved with all sorts of dodgy dealings; he even courted the Mafia.

In the same year the Duke exercised his right to sit in the House of Lords, in 1991, Angus was arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud against the National Westminster Bank for £38,000. But he dodged a guilty verdict. The trial judge didn’t credit him with the intelligence to organise such a high jinx crime; the judge figured the Duke had been duped by others to take the blame.

In the judge’s words, “…on a business scale of one to ten, the Duke is one or less, and even that flatters him”.

Unable to pay significant debts, it was in the USA the 12th Duke was convicted of fraud in 1996, and even at the trial his defence lawyer argued that he was the victim of a confidence trick by a business partner due to his gullibility, vanity, and foolishness. He was jailed for 28 months before being deported back to Britain.

His son Alexander Montagu, the 13th Duke of Manchester sank even lower. He is the current incumbent of the Dukedom, yet his life is one more like a degenerate celebrity’s than an aristocrat’s

This bigamist has been married just three times (to date) compared to his father’s four marriages.

The first of those to Marion Stoner, an Australian model who was 20 years older, lasted 2 months — she left him after Alexander shot at her with a speargun, which fortunately missed.

In the same year his dad inherited the Dukedom, his son was sentenced to three years in prison after being convicted of 22 charges of fraud, and in 1991, the same year the 12th Duke was acquitted of fraud charges the later 13th Duke was arrested again in Brisbane after he sold a car he had rented.

His other career highlights include bigamy charges and another run-in with the law for knowingly passing a $3,575 check without ‘funds, property or credit’ in 2011. For this, he was jailed from 2013 to 2017.

David Brudenell-Bruce, Earl of Cardigan

The convoluted and anarchic rules on inherited peerages means David Brudenell-Bruce is called the Earl of Cardigan, but officially he is 8th Marquess of Ailesbury in waiting.

David is also the 31st Hereditary Warden of Savernake Forest — the only privately owned forest in England, and an estate never sold in almost 1000 years.

David’s family history is largely free of the financial turbulence the other nobles here suffered. Aside from a degenerate gambler in the 19th Century, the financial affairs of the Brudenhall-Bruces were eerily stable.

The first of his ancestors honoured with the Marquess of Ailesbury is Charles Brudenell-Bruce; a career politician given the peerage in 1821 in no small part because his father had been Governor to King George IV.

Another ancestor of his was James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the legendary Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.

For the Earl of Cardigan, his family fortunes only plummeted after the 2008 Banking Crisis. His family estate, including the ancestral home of Tottenham House, are part of the Savernake Forest which places it in the care of a board of trustees.

Back in 2005 whilst the economy appeared evergreen, Earl Cardigan’s family trust granted a commercial lease to a US-based hotel corporation to turn his ancestral home, Tottenham House, into a 5-star luxury golf resort.

Once the economic bubble popped, however, the American company failed to pay its rent and ceased trading.

The Grade I listed Tottenham House was sold for £11.5 million, the contested sale completed in 2014 (en.wikipedia.org)

This plopped the estate into a financial morass and triggered a saga of bitter legal disputes between the Earl and members of the trusteeship over how they were managing and selling his family assets in their attempts to right the ship.

The legal costs mounted and by 2011, the estate was about to go under if something drastic wasn’t done. In the same year, the Earl married his 2nd wife in Arizona but, whilst abroad, the trust, with his son, Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, Viscount Savernake’s consent, sold Tottenham House.

One can only imagine how Brudenhall-Bruce Sr. felt upon returning to blighty with his new American wife to find out his family home was no longer his.

Then he hit rock bottom; the courts froze David from access to any of his family revenues, so by 2013, he was living on benefits of £10 per day and training to be a Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) Driver.

Later, the Earl was scandalously caught failing to stop when he hit a nurse’s parked car, and for that, he was fined even though he ‘failed’ to go to court for it.

Since 2017 his circumstances have improved; he is still warden of the Forest, and so lives on a lodge within the estate with access to some of his finances re-acquired.

RT report on the Earl of Cardigan’s sad story (youtube.com)
One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

The Battle of Nibley Green – England’s Last Private Battle

The little known story of the two English nobles who fought the last ever private battle on English soil.

Throughout the long, often tumultuous history of Great Britain much of it has passed the rural folk of one quiet corner of it.

In the year 1470, a traveller might have set out from London and headed west. Days of travel first by riverboat along the Thames, then on horseback along ancient forest byways would’ve finally brought them to a halt at the banks of the River Severn Estuary, a mighty river miles wide at this point. On the far side lived the Welsh, of which the Severn had served as a bulwark against ages past. The Welsh had long been a warlike people until their kingdoms were subdued in the 13th Century.

Moving up the Severn Vale the traveller would’ve entered the ancient County of Gloucestershire, and along the riverbank they would’ve seen to their right a rising escarpment, some seven miles distant, of the Cotswold Hills; a rolling hill range of limestone. At the foot of these hills, a dramatic episode of English history played out but passed into medieval lore largely unnoticed.

The Background

It was in the year 1470 that a feud between two noble families that had festered for generations climaxed into a short, bloody showdown one chilly spring morning.

In 1417 a powerful nobleman with the family name Berkeley, and who held a Barony of the same name, passed down his estates to a male heir, his nephew, instead of his daughter. That daughter, a ruthless lady named Elizabeth Berkeley, vigorously disputed the decision and her descendants would do everything they could to get the estates back, all the way down in 1470, to her great-grandson Thomas Talbot. That nephew was James Berkeley and in 1470 his son, named William Berkeley, held the Barony.

The King’s Loose Hold on the Reign

This little known violent episode of English history might not have happened had the English kingdom not been going through a bout of intense political upheaval.

Just the year before, the War of the Roses had begun to warm up again after Edward IV vanquished the incumbent King Henry VI in the Battle of Towton 1461. By the end of 1470, the tables turned so much however that Edward was forced to flee the kingdom. This gives the reader an idea of how weak and distracted the government was. This allowed a noble feud to escalate to the extent two noblemen would stake everything they had; their lands, estates… and lives, in a clash of arms.

The Baron Berkeley

The Berkeley family coat of arms (en.wikipedia.org)

The New Year had just passed in a bustling settlement named Berkeley, a town later famous as the place Mr Edward Jenner would pioneer the Vaccination.

This night, with the sun long since set, smoke rose from openings in the thatched roofs of hovels into the pristine blackness of a night, free of the orange tinge that permeates the night time today. Hulls of small river craft creaked against their moorings on the town’s tidal river and everywhere was quiet and blanketed in crisp ice.

Overlooking Berkeley stood its sturdy castle — Berkeley Castle. It had been built to hold the Welsh at bay, thus it was a stout fortification but elegant and angular also. It was already over 300 years old and the site King Edward II was murdered almost 150 years prior. At this late hour the lord of the manor, William Berkeley, 2nd Baron Berkeley, sat, sated considerably after the feasting and celebrating during the winter festivities.

He was an able lord of the land at 43 years old, married for a second time (obtaining a divorce from his first wife after just a year), and had held his Barony for six years.

Everyone else had retired to their bed chambers at this dark hour and the Baron sat alone with just the crackling of the fire to break the meditative silence. He drained his goblet of wine and his lips pursed as his thoughts turned to the object of his contempt; that was the Talbot family, currently embodied in an impudent young man named Thomas Talbot.

The Talbots had been a thorn in his family’s side all his life and William had come to despise them deeply. Berkeley thought of young Talbot, virtually squatting in his residence in Wotton and holding a Viscountcy fit for a man, not an impetuous whelp as he. Of course, it was right that the lands and castle of Thomas Berkeley, 5th Baron Berkeley, had passed to his nephew, William’s father James Berkeley, instead of the man’s only child, Elizabeth Berkeley, in the 4th year of King Henry V’s reign, thought William. In taking up their inheritance however William’s parents had endured as much trouble as Elizabeth, then her daughter, in turn, Margaret Beauchamp, could cause.

They’d treated his family absolutely disgracefully. Elizabeth had married the Earl of Warwick, and his family was powerful enough to bar his parents from possessing Berkeley castle for years until Elizabeth died in her 30s. It didn’t end there either; Margaret married into a fire-eating family named the Talbots who were also formidable adversaries.

William’s nostrils flared in remembrance. Margaret stooped to a deeper low when she had William’s very own mother, Lady Isabel Mowbray, arrested and imprisoned at Gloucester where she would expire later that year, alone in a dingy cold cell, he imagined. That had been back when William was 25 years old. Despite the passing years and the fact the Talbots were fortunately not imbued with longevity, the boy Talbot was as hellbent on wrenching back Berkeley’s fine castle as his great-grandmother Elizabeth had been. But as the Baron’s midriff had expanded and hairline receded over the years, his attitude towards the Viscount had hardened in turn. Their vendetta had been allowed to become so all-consuming their mutual hatred even extended to their respective tenants and servants, who frequently quarrelled and fought in the local taverns.

For three years now the hotheaded Talbot let it be known that he would gladly meet William on the field of battle to decide the issue. Yet Berkeley was not an adversary to be taken lightly, as time would tell.

The Viscount Lisle

The Lisle Viscountcy coat of arms (en.wikipedia.org)

The gateman could see his lord, Thomas Talbot, 2nd Viscount Lisle, was in high spirits as he trotted his horse into the courtyard of his manor in Wotton-Under-Edge on a cold, grey afternoon.

War had visited this town before when it burned down in the English civil war of the 13th Century. Now, Wotton quietly prospered and a number of buildings that still stand today, including its church; the Ancient Ram Inn; and Katherine Lady Berkeley School stood then and had for over a hundred years.

Talbot’s cheeks were full of colour and his eyes sparkled with youthful exuberance. He’d just returned from hunting in the King’s wood down the hill. With the hubbub of a Cistercian Abbey within earshot the Viscount had been chasing game through the woodland with a new companion of his, Thomas Holt. It wasn’t all fun and games, however, for when the small hunting party took food and ale at the abbey canteen, talk turned to serious matters.

Holt was the Keeper of the Berkeley Castle and, as a servant of the Baron, a disgruntled man; he felt unappreciated and unrewarded for his years of service. His head was turned by the Viscount and together they’d hatched a sneaky plan to murder the Baron and take possession of the castle. And the Viscount would reward Holt very handsomely, that was made clear. Yet, more help among Baron William’s other servants would be needed, so the two Thomases agreed that Holt would approach the castle porter, Maurice King, for help. Talbot returned to his manor feeling more confident than ever. Soon, he mused, he could finally flaunt mettle worthy of the Talbot name and the Lisle Viscountcy.

The Viscount was 21 in 1470. Married to a wife expecting their firstborn come the Summer. He was known for his fiery belligerence which his dear grandmother had channelled against the imposters seated in his birthright; the castle down by the great river.

Talbot’s anger bubbled below the surface every time he thought of this. But then Talbot had been destined to be someone’s arch-enemy, such was the warlike lineage he was born from.

Thomas’s Grandfather was John Talbot. Called the ‘English Achilles’ and the ‘Terror of the French’, he was England’s greatest general in the Hundred Years War and lavishly praised in the plays of Shakespeare. He was also a tough, cruel, and quarrelsome man, so the Talbots were the perfect family for Elizabeth Berkeley to marry into and continue the fight for her inheritance. John’s son, of the same name, was also warlike and was enthusiastic about pursuing his mother’s claims for the Berkeley estates. Yet in 1453, when Thomas Talbot was still a toddler, John Talbot, both grandfather and father, fell gloriously in the last battle of the Hundred Years War — the Battle of Castillon. When his wounded and unhorsed father begged him to quit the field and save himself, John Jr. refused, preferring death to dishonour; a scene immortalized in Henry VI.

One can assume then that the young Thomas Talbot, imbued with his paternal warrior instincts and loathing for William Berkeley, felt destined to confront the man in combat in order to quench his family honour.

Talbot had certainly let Berkeley know he was more than man enough to topple him. If the Baron were a man of honour, Talbot mused, he would have accepted one of Talbot’s many challenges to meet on the field of battle, but Berkeley was too old and paunchy to take on Talbot, a true warrior like his father and grandfather. Talbot felt a match for any knight in the land and he smirked at the thought.

A Call to Arms

Berkeley Castle, now a thriving site of English heritage (thelostcinema.co.uk)

It is hard to write too lucid an account of what exactly happened and when for obvious reasons, but as the weeks passed and the cold of winter still clung on, February came around and Talbot’s scheme involving Thomas Holt turned sour.

Holt had approached the Keeper of Berkeley Castle, Maurice King, to persuade him to switch sides. The man had listened carefully to Holt’s offer then promptly reported Holt’s treachery to his lord. This brought matters to a head. Clearly, Talbot would stop at nothing to take Berkeley’s estates and the Baron could envision this struggle going on forever if he didn’t act decisively.

They say be careful what you wish for, the Baron was going to give young Talbot the fight he wanted, yet he had to make sure he was in the stronger position when the two sides finally met. For that, he was going to call in some favours.

Talbot is said to have been furious when he found out his plot was exposed and his plan in ruins. In his fury, he issued yet another challenge to Berkeley to meet on the field of battle which was readily accepted this time. Berkeley told Talbot to meet him on ground halfway between their respective headquarters, just the next day at a village clearing called Nibley Green.

Giving Talbot just one day to raise an army clearly made it hard to gather more than just the tenants and servants of Talbot’s immediate environs. Berkeley, on the other hand, managed to raise a considerably larger force and from much further afield, including a strong contingent of miners from his lands in the Forest of Dean on the other side of the River Severn and troops sent up by his sister in-law’s family from Bristol, 20 miles (33km) south. Reading between the lines it’s hard to believe Berkeley hadn’t given these companies of troops some advance warning he would be in need of them soon for them all to arrive at Berkeley in time, particularly those hailing from Bristol.

So it was on the 20th of March an army of 1000 spearmen and archers coalesced at Berkeley Castle. They then made a short march through Michaelwood towards Nibley Green, trampling the bluebell carpet underfoot as birds’ sang their dawn chorus through the woodland.

Trying to imagine Talbot’s state of mind as he rose early that morning is muse-worthy. In an era of religion and high mortality rates, the fear of death was much lower and it’s fair to assume Talbot, with his illustrious lineage of war leaders, did not fear death in battle. This feud, which had fixated four generations of his family now, had been fuelled mostly by his family and Talbot had issued a number of challenges to his adversary which had not been taken up and I imagine this had nurtured a sense of complacent bravado, now severely rocked.

How confident was he now as he and Holt led his poor excuse for an army of just 300–400 hastily gathered armed peasants up over to Nibley village to meet his foe? Did he know he was outnumbered? I expect Talbot had at least an inkling the odds in the coming battle were not good. Perhaps he intended to call out Berkeley for a personal duel where the odds would stand in his favour, or felt that whatever else a ‘Talbot battle charge’ could carry the day against the superior forces arrayed against him.

The Battle of Nibley Green

The accounts of the short but bloody fight are sketchy; the main source on the battle being written a good seventy years after. Locals gathered under the banners of both lords and their family and friends would’ve spectated, praying their sons, husbands, and fathers would survive unscathed or better still return victorious. Youngsters climbed trees for a good vantage point. Their shouts of support would’ve been heard from the edge of the green by the two opposing forces and it is from these witnesses an account of the battle was collated.

It was early morning and Talbot arrived from the west and halted atop Shankley Hill, a steep rise above the green, probably waiting for the opportunity to make a charge down upon his opponents. On the eastern side the Baron kept most of his force hidden in the woods, with just some men visible to lure Talbot into advancing forward.

Perhaps Talbot suspected a trap because a standoff lasted some hours, the Viscount reluctant to come down from his strong position on the hill.

Eventually, however, Talbot accepted the challenge to advance upon his enemy below.

It was at this moment Baron Berkeley’s true strength was revealed. He ordered his archers to step out of the trees.

As Talbot’s force closed in quickly, the order came for them to loose off volleys of arrows again and again, maybe not exactly a cloud so dense to blot out the sun, but one imagines, leaving a litter of bodies behind the dwindling company of peasants with a better-armed band of men, perhaps mounted, and the young lord very much at the front.

During the Hundred Years War, English longbow archers gained a formidable reputation as perhaps the deadliest troops on the continent. They were strong men armed with longbows the length of a tall man and were able to loose off arrows capable of piercing the thickest plate armour. Their fallen enemies would then be finished off with the thrusts of a dagger.

As Talbot closed the distance with Baron Berkeley a Forest of Dean archer named ‘Black Will’ stepped forward, drew his bow back, and fired an arrow which pierced Talbot’s left temple through his open visor.

With blood squirting from the wound to the rhythm of his dying heart, Talbot fell and there was nothing else to keep Talbot’s force on the field. They turned tail and melted away, perhaps before they had even reached Berkeley’s ranks. 150 men are said to have fallen that day. The young lord was customarily finished off where he fell and Holt died about an hour after Talbot, executed in cold blood.

As Talbot’s men stumbled back to their relieved families waiting nearby, Berkeley marched on to Talbot’s Manor home at Wotton-Under-Edge to sack it. Who knows if Talbot’s wife, Margaret Herbert, the daughter of the 1st Earl of Pembroke, was roughly handled during the plunder but it was a very traumatic day in any case. She miscarried her child shortly after. Thus, Thomas Talbot’s family line was extinguished. The destruction of Berkeley’s enemy was complete.

And so, the great Lisle-Berkeley family feud was finished. William Berkeley must’ve been immensely satisfied. One can imagine the joyous feast he held; the braggadocio and back-patting going on late into the night.

The moment Talbot’s left temple is pierced by an arrow fired by ‘Black Will’ (studio88.co.uk)

Aftermath

The Lisle Viscountcy would be inherited 13 years later by Edward Grey — the husband of Elizabeth Talbot, Thomas’s sister.

As for William Berkeley, his status in the kingdom went from strength to strength; William was created Viscount Berkeley in 1481, a Privy Counsellor in ’82, became Earl of Nottingham a year later, then assumed the life office of Earl Marshal and Great Marshal of England in ’86. Finally, he was made Marquess of Berkeley in 1488. He passed away 22 years after the battle in 1492.

It is interesting to note that William also never sired an heir, male or female, and so his Barony was passed on to his king. His brother, Maurice Berkeley, 3rd Baron Berkeley should’ve inherited the Barony but William disinherited his brother for bringing shame to the family for marrying a woman of common stock. This, even though Maurice’s in-laws had actually reinforced William with the men from Bristol. That’s gratitude!

The Barony was returned to the Berkeley family in 1553 and the Berkeleys are the only English family still in existence that can trace their ancestors from father to son back to Saxon times. Berkeley Castle has now been the Berkeley family residence for a whopping 850 years.

The Battle of Nibley Green was the last ever private battle in English history. It was remembered throughout Gloucestershire well into the 17th Century although little known farther afield.

It stands out for its portrayal of the nobility at their basest; not in pursuit of lofty ambitions but for greed and rampant pride.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Sources

Battle of Nibley GreenWikipedia article (and links included)

Battle of Nibley GreenYoutube documentary, created by Robin Burton

Battle of North NibleyNorth Nibley website account of the battle (including Extracts from ‘Gloucestershire’s Forgotten Battle, Nibley Green 1470’ by Peter Fleming and Michael Wood), by D. Palmer

Berkeley CastleOfficial website

Nibley Green, Battle ofenacademic.com

The Battle of Nibley GreenMyThornbury account of the battle, as told by Professor Peter Fleming of the University of the West of England (UWE)

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: