The Crumbling Cliffs of St. Leonards (and other tales)

To understand the crumbling cliffs of St. Leonards on sea and indeed the whole landscape of Hastings through to Rye, via Fairlight and Pett, you have to go back millennia. Hastings and St. Leonards on Sea are part of a large area of land called the High Weald, which is a ridge of sandstone and clays, which extends southwards from Tunbridge Wells down to the coast at Hastings and St.Leonards. This area was created millions of years ago by the deposition of sand and silt from rivers and estuaries, which have been shaped by earth movements and glaciers to the landscape that can be found today.

Where these sandstones are layered with silts and clays, as is the case in Hastings and St. Leonards this has resulted in landslides and mud flows over centuries, as water has penetrated into these various layers, a process that is still at work today.

West Hill in St. Leonards (not to be confused with West Hill in Hastings), as seen on the below map extract, covers a relatively short distance from the ‘Royal Victoria Hotel’ in Burton St. Leonards to just past the ‘Bo Peep’ Pub, a distance of less than a mile, but an area which is full of fascinating history and human interest, visited and lived in at various times, by writers, artists and poets, not to mention smugglers. At the bottom of the cliff along the seafront is West Marina and running parallel along the top of the cliff is West Hill road. To call them cliffs is almost a misnomer, as they are somewhat modest compared with Fairlight just east of Hastings or the majestic chalk coastline on the South Downs at Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

The extent of the West Hill in 1846, prior to the massive development in the 20th century, can also be seen on the plan below.

Plan of St. Leonards on Sea and West Hill in 1846

However, what cannot be disputed is that this landscape is very unstable and has been slowly disintegrating over the last 200 years, ever since the area first became a seaside resort and many examples of earlier and recent falls can still be seen.

In the early 19th century, a rather foolhardy individual, a certain William Smith, excavated a series of passages and caves, some of which extended over 300 feet into the cliff. He installed his family in furnished apartments with kitchen, bedrooms and parlour and would give visitors a guided tour for a small fee. Smith, who by trade was a milkman, stored his milk in the caves and had a tradesman’s card which read “Milk from the Cow at the door”. There were also rumours that the caves were used to store smuggled goods, a strong possibility, in light of the extensive smuggling activity in the area. Inevitably, the caves were doomed and in 1855 a rock fall sealed off the mouth of the caves. Today, after further subsidence over the years, there is no trace left of the caves or even of their exact location.

Another example was the original St. Leonards Church, built in 1834, which survived numerous cliff falls until it was destroyed by a German rocket in the 2nd World War and its replacement has now been closed permanently due to the danger from the unstable cliffs (Further information on this can be found in my earlier article An Iconic Church in St Leonards)

In 2002, Sussex steps, a short cut from the top of West Hill Road down to Caves road, collapsed suddenly and some workers in the electrical substation had to run for their lives. The remains of the steps, suspended precariously, can still be seen to this day.

High above the church, on West Hill Road, is a memorial garden containing a strange tomb in the shape of a pyramid. This is where James Burton1, the founder of St. Leonards in the early 19th century, is buried together with his wife and other members of his family. Unfortunately, this garden has not been spared the march of time as, also a result of subsidence, the garden has now been temporarily closed to the public. It is hoped that a solution can be found to allow this unique tomb and memorial to remain in place for the public to enjoy in the future.

The Burton Pyramid with the spire of St. Leonards Church in the background

Various methods of halting the erosion have been attempted over the years, from mass concrete, to stone gabion walls, some more environmentally friendly than others.

View of the cliffs from below, showing the precarious state of affairs and the various methods, over the years, built to delay the inevitable

However, the most ingenious method to be tried to date, has to be the arches supporting the Victorian Hospital complex in West Hill Road (now sadly derelict). The Eversfield Hospital and Home for Consumption and Diseases for the Chest and Throat was opened in 1891 and once housed hundreds of Tuberculosis patients partaking of the fresh sea salt air, which was thought to be a cure for consumption.

There is an urban myth that these arches, which were actually not constructed until some time in the twentieth century, were used for the TB patients to partake of the fresh air for their lungs, but the truth was far more mundane but equally bizarre. The patients were in fact housed in portable shelters on wheels in front of the hospital, where they slept in all weathers, with the only concession to the climate being that they could be moved to avoid the worst of the wind and rain. The survival figures as a result of this treatment are, unfortunately, not available.

This area of St. Leonards, however, is more than just the landscape that shaped it, people have come and gone and left their mark on the area and made it what it is today.

As we move from West to East up West Hill Road, we encounter an unusual dwelling, ‘The Bath House’, now a privately owned Grade II listed building. It is this spot that, in 1848 that a Chalybeate spring2 was discovered and a certain German entrepreneur, Emil Grosslob, opened up a spa the following year. In the Victorian era, Spa treatments were all the rage, with the middle and upper classes, who flocked to these areas to take the healing waters. Grosslob had big plans for his small spring.

In Hope’s Pictorial Guide to Hastings and St. Leonards it was stated that “The Chalybeate Spring , recently discovered by Mr. Grosslob , is at No. 2 , West Hill , a short distance to the westward of the South Lodge .” and after describing the chemical analysis of the water, it went on to state that “The action on the system is mildly laxative and tonic , correcting also acidity of the stomach , and is likely to be a valuable adjunct to the usual means of cure for many of those invalids who here seek restoration to health.”

In 1849, there was an article in a journal, called ‘A Ramble through St.Leonards, where the writer stated that “Further on I saw the word Chalybeate in a neat little garden by the roadside. My curiosity led me in, and here I was introduced to Mr. Grosslob, a German gentleman, with whom I passed a very agreeable hour.

In time, Grosslob developed the site, first into a bigger complex building a Russian Bath and when that burnt down, replaced it with a Turkish bath in 1864, before inexplicable leaving St. Leonards in 1866.

However, one of its early and most distinguished visitors, was a Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name of George Eliot. Her novel ‘Middlemarch’ has been described as being one of the greatest novels in the English language and Virginia Wolf wrote that it was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”, so who am I to argue with that.

Eliot arrived in St. Leonards in 1853, where she had been staying in Tunbridge Wells, but with the construction of a new railway link to Hastings and St. Leonards, she was tempted down to the coast to enjoy the sea air. It was here, when she was staying in Park Cottage in West Hill Road, near the Assembly Rooms and Victoria Hotel that she met Grosslob. As well as partaking of the healing waters, it may well be that as an aspiring writer, she wanted to make Grosslob’s acquaintance, as he claimed friendship with those great German artists, Schiller and Goethe. (Reference- George Eliot’s English Travels by Kathleen McCormack)

As one moves further up West Hill Road, there is another surprise in store. Who would have guessed that our greatest living artist, David Hockney, once spent a year living in a small cottage at the top of West Hill, perched on the edge of the cliff? A story, strange but true.

When Hockney left art college and was called up to National Service, he registered as a conscientious objector and spent the first year in a Bradford hospital, and then in 1958 he was sent to Hastings to work as an orderly in St. Helens Hospital. There is not much artistic evidence from his year in St. Leonards, but I have come across a Linocut entitled ‘Cliff Cottage, West Hill, St Leonards on Sea‘, a brief legacy of his short stay on West Hill Road. There is not much written material about his stay here, but it would be fascinating to hear from Mr. Hockney himself about the time he spent here in St. Leonards, prior to launching himself to fame and fortune at the Royal College of Art.

David Hockney Linocut c1958 entitled ‘Cliff Cottage. West Hill. St.Leonards-on-Sea. Sussex’ sold at Bonhams Auctioneers in 2005

As we move towards the western end of West Hill, we come across an area with the unusual name of ‘Bo Peep’ and on the corner is the Bo Peep Hotel. But why this name? If you look at the pub sign, you start getting a clue as to its true meaning. On one side of the sign is the image that every school child knows, from the nursery rhyme, with the careless shepherdess looking for her lost sheep. However, on the other side is something far darker, alluding to smuggling and deadly fights with the customs and excise. If truth be told, in the early 19th century, the area of Bo-Peep and Bulverhythe a bit further West, was not for the faint hearted.

In this version of the children’s nursery rhyme, Bo-peep refers to the Customs men, the sheep are the smugglers and the tails of the sheep refer to the contraband, that the smugglers are trying to hide in various places.

One of the definitive books on smuggling appears to be ‘The Smugglers’ by Charles Harper written in 1909, but recently re-published as a free e-book by Project Gutenberg. Harper paints a grim but perhaps rather fanciful picture of life in the early 19th century in West St Leonards, as follows:-

“A determined and blood-stained struggle took place at Bo-Peep at midnight of January 3rd, 1828. Bo-Peep was the name of a desolate spot situated midway between Hastings and Bexhill. The place is the same as that westernmost extension of St. Leonards now known by the eminently respectable—not to say imposing—name of “West Marina”; but in those times it was a shore, not indeed lonely (better for its reputation had it been so) but marked by an evil-looking inn, to which were attached still more evil-looking “Pleasure Gardens.” If throats were not, in fact, commonly cut in those times at Bo-Beep, the inn and its deplorable “Pleasure Gardens” certainly looked no fit, or safe, resort for any innocent young man with a pocketful of money jingling as he walked.”

Harper then went on to tell the story of how a group of smugglers brought their goods ashore, but were accosted by a large group of ‘blockade-men’ a few miles inland and in the ensuing fight one custom’s man and one smuggler were killed. At the ensuing trial at the Old Bailey the smugglers, all who were under 30, received a death sentence, which was later commuted to transportation to Australia.

Another incident took place later in 1828, when a large group of smugglers came ashore in broad daylight with their goods, guarded by a 300 locally hired “rustic labourers”. This time, the customs men, prudently, did not intervene and the whole operation passed without incident.

The ‘evil looking inn’ that Harper refers to, is not the present day Bo Peep pub, but a pub of the same name, formerly called ‘The New England Bank’, but now sadly long gone, having made way for the ‘West Marina’ railway station, which is also alas no more.

This original ‘Bo Peep’ inn was also host to an unlikely visitor in 1817, considering its unsavoury reputation. When I first moved to the area, I had noticed a small side road next to the Bo Peep pub, called Keats Close, but it had never occurred to me that it was in reference to the famous Romantic poet, John Keats, doomed to die an early death 4 years later of Tuberculosis.

Keats was in the middle of writing his famous poem ‘Endymion’ and was looking for inspiration at the seashore, which he found in the form of the beautiful Isabella Jones of Hastings. Keats must have been enamoured with her as he wrote a number of poems to her over the next couple of years. The exact nature of their relationship is not clear, but Keats told his brothers that he had ‘warmed with her … and kissed her’. Make of that what you will.

No article about this area of West St. Leonards would be complete with a mention of the Marina Fountain, formerly the Fountain Inn. Within the last few years, this pub has been transformed into a thriving community hub by its new owners, with good food, drink and music for the growing population of West St. Leonards. For us relative newcomers, there is nothing better on a warm summer’s day than to sit in the garden of the Marina Fountain, with the enormous brick arches towering above us, protecting us from the crumbling cliffs.


1 James Burton started building the seaside town of St. Leonards in 1828, based on his experiences of developing parts of London including Regent’s Park and Bloomsbury, as a summer retreat for well to do Londoners. After his death in 1837, his son Decimus Burton, a renowned Architect who designed Kew Gardens Glass House and other famous London landmarks including the Gate at Hyde Park Corner. To find out more about the Burtons and the founding of St. Leonards on Sea go to The Burton’s St. Leonards Society website

2 Chalybeate (/kəˈlɪbieɪt/) waters, also known as ferruginous waters, are mineral spring waters containing salts of iron. Due to uniqueness of the soft sandstone landscape, Hastings and St. Leonards is full of many other Chalybeate springs, from St. Helen’s Park to Alexandria Park and beyond.

Pre-Raphaelites at the Seaside

When it comes to Art, I love all things modern and delight in the abstract. It is, therefore, somewhat of a mystery to me why I have a weakness for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. However, I have always loved the romanticism, the intense colours, the idealised beauty and the general rebelliousness of the whole movement, which struck a chord in me and has lasted to this day.

It, therefore, piqued my interest, when we moved down to Hastings, to hear about the Pre-Raphaelite connection to the Hastings area. With some minimal research, I soon discovered that many of the great names of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood had associations with the area including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife and muse Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal, his sister Christina Rossetti, along with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. In addition, Edward Lear, that wonderful eccentric writer and painter was also a peripheral member of the Group and spent many happy summers in Hastings.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti founded the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood together with William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais in 1848 when he was only 20. Their influence was the art of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, prior to what they regarded as the corrupting influence of the later Renaissance, following Raphael, hence the name Pre-Raphaelites. They wanted to revive the intense colour and sensualism of that period, but updated for the 19th century.

Like many artists before and after, the Pre-Raphaelites were drawn to the light on the South Coast. It is not widely known, but in the early 19th century, one of our greatest ever artists J.M.W. Turner visited Hastings, again and again, between about 1810 and 1825, and produced a vast number of sketches and many fine paintings. And so it has continued until the present day, artists are drawn to our shores like moths to a flame.Turner’s wonderful painting ‘Fish Market at Hastings Beach’ can be seen below, with one of his characteristic moody skies.

Fish Market at Hastings Beach by J.M.W. Turner c1810 (Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Missouri)©

A further atmospheric watercolour painting of the fish market on Hastings sands, much closer to home, can be found in the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery. For the eagle eyed, it can be seen that there are two exotically dressed figures in the foreground .These were Greek Refugees, escaping the Greek War of Independence (1821-1832), which has a certain resonance with the world we live in today.

Hastings: Fish Market on the Sands, Early Morning – J.M.W.Turner 1824 (Hastings Museum and Art Gallery)©

But this is predominately a story of the Pre-Raphaelites in Hastings and it starts with the tale of a doomed love. Elizabeth Siddal, better known as Lizzie, was born in humble circumstances, and was already an accomplished poet and artist in 1849 when she was introduced to the Pre-Raphaelites, by a customer, when she showed him some of her art. Rossetti was smitten from the start and she started modelling for Millais and Rossetti, but it was clear the women in the group were not treated on an equal footing with the men, even though many were themselves accomplished artists. For all their so-called radicalism, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (the clue is in the name), treated women as their muses, models and often, quite frankly, as chattels.

In 1851 and 52, Lizzie was the model for Ophelia in the famous painting by Millais, where she was made to lie in a bath for hours on end; eventually the inevitable happened, she caught pneumonia and nearly died.

Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1851-1852), Tate Britain©, modelled by Lizzie Siddal which nearly cost her life.

Lizzie was always frail and she went to Hastings to recuperate, where she stayed on and off for the next decade. In 1854 she was staying at No. 5 High Street, where Rossetti visited her, a blue plaque being put up in their honour. From this time onwards Rossetti became infatuated with Lizzie, making thousands of drawings and paintings of her during their time together and also preventing her from modelling for the other Pre-Raphaelite artists.

But although Rossetti dominated her life, and they were engaged, he was reluctant to commit to marriage. By 1860 Lizzie, who by that time, was in very poor health and addicted to laudanum, had had enough and broke off her relationship with Rossetti. He rushed down to Hastings to make amends, staying at the Cutter pub along East Parade and once she had regained some of her strength they were married in St. Clements Church in the Old town on the 23rd May 1860. There were no family or friends present, just a couple of witnesses.

After a Honeymoon in Paris, Lizzie was soon pregnant, but sadly she was already in decline and gave birth to a stillborn child. In her grief and depression, her laudanum use increased and in February 1862, Rossetti came home to find her unconscious, having taken an overdose of laudanum. It is said that there was a suicide note, which Rossetti destroyed so that she could have a Christian burial and today she rests in Highgate Cemetery, London.

Rossetti mythologised Lizzie after her death and painted, from memory, Lizzie as Beate Beatrix from the Dante story of unrequited love, producing a haunting and beautiful portrait of Lizzie transformed into an angelic being. It is to Rossetti’s shame, that he treated Lizzie better in death than he did in life.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Lizzie Siddal as Beata Beatrix, ca 1864-70, Tate Britain©

Lizzie died tragically young, at 32 and despite being an accomplished self taught poet and artist, whose work was lauded by the likes of the famous Victorian art critic, Ruskin, her talent was always overshadowed by the male Pre-Raphaelites. The painting below shows her true potential, and what she might have achieved, if she hadn’t died prematurely.

Lady Clare by Elizabeth Siddal 1857 (Private Collection)©

Whilst writing about Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Hastings, we should not forget his sister, Christina, as she was also a frequent visitor to Hastings and regularly worshipped at St. Clement’s church. Christina was a devout Christian and it has been suggested that she suffered from religious mania. Although, she disapproved of her dissolute brother, they stayed close to each other throughout their lives.

Although her star faded in the early 20th century, with the rise of modernism, Christina was one of the most lauded female poets in Victorian England, second only to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In recent years, she has been studied again for the Freudian imagery in her poems, including themes of sexual repression and unconscious longings.

Today, she is probably best remembered for writing the words to one of our best loved Christmas carols, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, which will no doubt guarantee her fame for posterity.

Portrait of Christina Rossetti in 1886 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti ©

Both the other two original founders of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais, also had strong ties to area and painted many coastal scenes in Hastings, Winchelsea and Rye. Holman Hunt’s paintings were full of symbolism and were often painted in vivid colours.

One of Holman Hunt’s most famous pictures was painted at at Lover’s Seat at Fairlight Glen near Hastings, in 1852, a spot very familiar to people who live in the area, with an original title of ‘Our English Coasts’. The treatment of the light was considered revolutionary and the painting has a luminous, almost spiritual quality. At a later date, Holman Hunt changed the name of the painting to ‘Strayed Sheep’ thus emphasising the symbolic meaning of the picture. To me it has an ecstatic feeling to it and is one of my favourite Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which I never tire of.

Strayed Sheep (Our English Coasts) by William Holman Hunt 1852 – Tate Britain©

During his time at Fairlight, Holman Hunt produced another masterpiece ‘Sunlight on the Sea – Fairlight Down’ which is the header image, that can be seen at the start of this article.

1852 was also the year that a certain Edward Lear spent the summer with Holman Hunt being taught technique and working in oils by the younger Hunt. Lear was a polymath, at times a musician, self taught artist, intrepid traveller and travel writer and, not least, world famous for his nonsense prose and poetry.

Ever since I was a small boy, I loved the daft poetry of Lear and in particular I was entranced by ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, once requesting this on a BBC children’s programme, sung by Burl Ives. I never knew what a runcible spoon was, but I definitely wanted one. I still do.

As time passes, Edward Lear’s art is being recognised for it’s greatness, especially his landscapes of foreign lands on his extensive travels, many of which have the same techniques and intensity of light that Holman Hunt had taught him a few years earlier. The influence of Holman Hunt can be seen can very clearly in this painting in the Middle East of 1858.

Masada on the Dead Sea by Edward Lear 1958©

Another painting with a similar quality to the Fairlight paintings of Holman Hunt, is ‘The Blind Girl at Pett Level’ by John Everett Millais from 1854. Pett Level is a short distance east of Fairlight and the story goes that Millais spied two young girls in Winchelsea, one of them blind, who were singing and begging in front of the church. When he saw them again the next day, walking across Pett Level, he realised he had to paint them and the result was this glorious picture, which manages to avoid sentimentality and conveys a deep sense of compassion for its subjects. The town of Winchelsea can just be seen in the background.

The Blind Girl at Pett Level by John Everett Millais 1854 (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)©

I am privileged to own a modest piece of Pre-Raphaelite art, whilst not being as grand as the famous works in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous Pre-Raphaelite collection, means a great deal to me. It is a print of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Sancta Lilias’ , the original of which resides in Tate Britain.

Many years ago, when I was a boy, my Father came home, in a state of excitement, with a picture which he had rescued from a junk shop. He soon discovered that it was not an original drawing as he had first thought, but what he had found was an early print of ‘Sancta Lilias’, probably produced not long after the original was painted in 1874.

My treasured print of ‘Sancta Lilias’ inherited from my Father
Original of ‘Sancta Lilias’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Tate Britain) 1878 ©

This picture is based on one of Rossetti’s own poems ‘The Blessed Damozel’ about the longing felt by a dead woman for her lover, who is still alive. There is no question that the poem and the picture from 1878 , with May Morris (William Morris’ wife) as the model, refers back to Lizzie Siddal, still in Rossetti’s thoughts after so many years.

My Dad died many years ago and I have since had the print framed, where it hangs in our house, a treasured link to my Dad, the art lover. Perhaps it is this one image, which has been with me for most of my life, that is the source of my fascination with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

Secret Hastings – A Tale of Two Churches (Part 2)

A couple of months ago I wrote an article about one of the gems of Secret Hastings, the Church in the Wood in Hollington and now it is the turn of that other special church in a hidden place, Old St. Helen’s church in Ore. The only thing that the two churches have in common is that they both claim to be the oldest churches in Hastings but other than that they have very little in common. The Church in the Wood is a rebuilt church from the 19th century with an enormous churchyard and still holding regular services and set in woodland.

Old St. Helen’s church, on the other hand, is a picturesque ruin, abandoned in the 19th century, with a small and unkempt churchyard and surrounded by an upmarket housing estate. However, once you enter the church area you suddenly feel a sense of remoteness and solitude, surrounded by trees and other foliage and are totally unaware of the surrounding houses, as you are transported back through the centuries.

There’s can be little doubt that this is the oldest church in Hastings; other than Hasting’s Castle, this is the only structure in the town that can be demonstrated to have been constructed from the 11th century onwards, with the nave built in typical 11th century style and the tower being added in the 12th century.

There is a nearby well on private land, which unfortunately is now inaccessible, strongly suggesting that there had been a Saxon church on or near the site, due to the Saxon healing cult linking St. Helen and the presence of a holy well. However, on the site itself, no evidence of this was found during the archeological excavations of 2012.

On the side of the church there is an inset stone with a cryptic message, stating that “In the reign of King Edward A.D. 1293 this church was rated at 8 marks”. On further investigation, it appeared that, in 1291, Pope Nicholas IV instigated a tax on all Ecclesiastical Properties in England and Wales, based on the estimated value of the church, in order to raise money for the Crusades, with Edward I being allowed to keep one tenth of the annual profits. The 1291-92 records show that St. Helen’s Church was valued at £5. 6s. 8d. the equivalent of 8 marks, which appeared to be the currency used for recording this valuation.

It seems amazing that Rome was able to exert so much power over the lives of people living over 1000 miles away and this practice was continued until the Reformation, when Henry VIII, with the help of Thomas Cromwell, ‘Took Back Control’, to use that well hackneyed phrase.

The church was in use until 1870, when it was partly dismantled and some of the stonework was used to construct the new St. Helen’s Church, in order to accommodate the growing population of Ore. For the next century , the old church was then left to slowly fade away, a roofless ruin, becoming more and more dilapidated until, in 1991, the church was acquired by the Sussex Heritage Trust. In the following year its importance was finally recognised by English Heritage and it was given Grade II listed status and designated an Ancient Monument.

This gave the impetus to the Sussex Heritage Trust to embark on a programme of conservation and, between 2011-2013, after obtaining a Lottery Heritage Fund grant, the fabric of the church was stabilised and consolidated and the tower was repaired, with an internal staircase being constructed for the public. In addition, an archeological investigation was carried out, plus a detailed survey of the churchyard and memorials and an ecological study of the churchyard and surrounding area. Further information on the works carried out can be found on the Old St. Helen’s Church website.

During the conservation, the earliest burial that was revealed was in the nave, possibly that of William de Ore and family of the early 14th century, who was Lord of the Manor at the time. The flat memorial stone was damaged and now resides in Hastings Museum.

One of the most substantial tombs in the churchyard is that of a certain Musgrave Brisco, who died in 1854, the tomb being elaborately carved with various decorations including foliate heads as can be seen in the photographs below.

Brisco had been an undistinguished Conservative Member of Parliament for 10 years and in that time he made not one speech and had only contributed to just one debate in 1851, on the General Board of Health Bill, when he called for the insertion of the word “Hastings”. It doesn’t appear as though he spent much time working on behalf of the people of Hastings.

The Briscos were a wealthy Hastings family, Musgrave owning Cogshurst House (now demolished) and his brother Wastel who owned large tracts of Bohemia including Bohemia House (also now sadly demolished) and the Summerfields Estate. However, the source of their wealth had a dark history and together with thousands of wealthy families in Georgian and Victorian Britain, the Brisco’s money had been made in the slave trade. When the slave trade was abolished in the 19th century, the slave owners were compensated with enormous sums by the British Government, which enabled these families to retain their great wealth.

As for the freed slaves, they received not a penny for the abuse they had received. This shameful and forgotten era in the history of 19th Britain has been brilliantly documented by the historian David Olusoga in articles and in his BBC television series David Olusoga on slavery in Britain

For anyone wanting to read more about this unsavoury family and their many court cases for assault and worse, there is a wealth of information about the Briscos, Bohemia and Summerfields on the Bohemia/Brisco website. There is also a history of the Briscos in a newly published book from local historian Steve Peak on the America Ground Hastings, which is highly recommended.

However, by far the most famous person who was buried at St. Helen’s was General James Murray, who fought under General Wolfe in the battle for Quebec against the French in 1759. After the British had gained victory, Murray was made the first colonial administrator and governor of the Province of Quebec and was remembered for his even handedness in dealing with the defeated French-Canadian population and allowing their traditional rights and customs to continue.

Also, to his credit, he signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the Huron Nation, near Quebec City, which is still in legally valid to this day. Unfortunately, Murray like most people of that period, had a blind spot in regards to slavery; he pushed for slavery to be continued in Quebec province as it had been under the French. He later became Governor of Minorca before retiring to Beauport House (now Bannatynes Health Spa), which he had inherited from his first wife’s family. His family tomb is buried in the chancel of the church, but following the repair of the church his monument stone has been moved into the new St. Helen’s Church for safekeeping.

Portrait of General Murray in the National Portrait Gallery

As for the remainder of the churchyard, there are 80 memorial stones, although according to the Parish Register there are 1926 people buried in the churchyard, the vast majority of people at that time having been unable to afford their own memorial stone. Most of the memorials are either very difficult to read or completely illegible, as time and weather has worn away the soft sandstone, leaving countless anonymous souls lying in their eternal rest. Lichen has grown over many of the stones, creating beautiful patterns, nature’s memorial to the departed. The churchyard, as a result, has its own unique unkempt beauty.

Wild Flower Meadow in the Graveyard
The Beauty of Lichen on a Memorial Stone

The church can be a magical place. I was alone when I made my most recent visit to St Helen’s Church to take some photographs in the middle of September. It was late afternoon and as the sun went down, I sat in the churchyard completely alone and there was silence all around, except for the singing of birds. I felt completely at peace and alone in the world and, just for a moment, I was able to forget the pandemic, the climate crisis and all the other horrors of this world. It was a brief glimpse of heaven in Hastings.

A Visit to the Temple of Art

A few weeks ago we left our safe haven at the seaside in St Leonards-on-sea for one of our increasingly rare forays up to London. We had an urge to view some of our favourite artists and paintings in the National Gallery; it had been many years since we visited there and we were anxious to use our time to the best advantage for the few hours that we would be visiting. But how? The National is a forbidding place and a person can be totally overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of art and all enjoyment can be lost.

So we decided on a more structured approach and to concentrate on a number of iconic pictures, in the region of about 25 to 30 in chronological order, ignoring other paintings as we moved round the galleries. A tall order, but were we successful? Well up to a point; we saw about 20 on the list, but added some more on the way. Believe it or not, we were distracted by some of the other great art in the galleries.

This is the story about a few of the highlights and, inevitably, the disappointments of our day, where we attempted to cover 600 years of Western Art history in a few hours. I will concentrate on describing some of our favourite paintings up to the end of the 17th century from the visit. The later centuries will be the subject of a subsequent article.

We started in the medieval era, surrounded by hundreds of altar pieces and other religious icons, but we had only one picture on our radar and that was the famous ‘Wilton Diptych’, from the end of the 14th century, and we were not disappointed by this exquisite work of art, which looks as fresh today, as it did when it was made over 600 years ago. This brightness was obtained by the use of tempera, where egg yolk is mixed with pigment, and gold leaf, giving a brilliant and long lasting permanent finish. The right hand panel is suffused in ultramarine on the angel’s dresses, the pigment made by crushing the semi precious stone, lapis lazuli, an incredibly expensive technique, but resulting in the most ravishing blue you’ll ever see.

The two panels show King Richard II kneeling in supplication, surrounded by three saints, before the Virgin and Baby Jesus. The detailing is magnificent from the intricate robes through to the detailing of the faces and jewellery, a true medieval masterpiece.

Wilton Diptych c1395 artist unknown

Next on our list was the enigmatic ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ or ‘Arnolfini Wedding’ by Jan Van Eyck from 1434, probably one of the most famous pictures in the world and rightly so. Who are these two rather formal figures? If it’s a wedding, why does the bride look pregnant? Whose is the reflection shown in the mirror? Finally, and, perhaps, more frighteningly, why does the man bear an uncanny resemblance to Vladimir Putin?

The picture depicts the house of a wealthy merchant and his wife, and although the Arnolfini Wedding is an alternative title of the painting, most experts believe that the couple would have been married for a number of years. As to the lady’s condition, it was the fashion at the time to look fecund, even if you weren’t expecting a child, so the ladies pulled up their dresses and looked coy. It is believed that the reflection in the mirror could well be of the artist Van Eyck, as artists of this period often liked to sneak themselves into the picture.

The technique is superb and the photograph does not do the painting justice; to see it in real life, close up, shows the wonderful mastery of Van Eyck in creating an image that almost has a physical presence in the room. Gaze and marvel at the detailing in the every aspect of the painting.

Unfortunately, the Putin resemblance, once seen can never be unseen, and I will never be able to view this painting in the same light again.

The Arnolfini Wedding – Jan Van Eyck 1434

Following on from the Van Eyck, we took in the ‘The Baptism of Christ’ by Piero Della Francensca from the 1450s and then onto an old favourite of mine ‘Venus and Mars’ by Botticelli from the early Renaissance, which portrays an idealised version of human beauty and was a big influence on the 19th century Pre-Raphaelites, who also happen to be one of my guilty pleasures.

Venus and Mars – Sandro Botticelli c1485

However there was no time to waste, because next on the agenda was our date with the greatest genius of the Renaissance and arguably of all time, Leonardo da Vinci. As I entered the Da Vinci gallery, I felt a frisson and goosebumps on the arm. But why? it made no sense. Was I suffering from Stendal’s Syndrome? Apparently, according to Wikipedia, “Stendal or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations, allegedly occurring when individuals become exposed to objects, artworks, or phenomena of great beauty and antiquity.”

My symptoms, luckily, did not seem so extreme, but something was definitely was happening. It’s cause was an unfinished sketch in charcoal and chalk, displayed in low lighting, because of its age and poor condition. It shows the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus together with the figures of John the Baptist and St. Anne, who has a finger pointing up to heaven. Somehow, this modest picture, with the figures balanced in perfect harmony, evoked some sort of psychological reaction, for which there is no rational explanation. Leonardo the magician.

Virgin and Child with St. Anne (Burlington House Cartoon) – Leonardo Da Vinci 1499-1500

From the sublime beauty of the da Vinci, we braced ourselves for the one of the most horrific paintings in the National, by Caravaggio, the Quentin Tarantino of the Renaissance. Caravaggio was a master of the technique of Chiaroscuro, the using the contrast between dark and light, to create dramatic effect.

Painted near the time of his untimely death at the age of 38, possibly following a brawl that resulted in sepsis, he had been on the run following his sentencing to death for murder in another fight. Here was clearly a man with a few anger issues.

This painting captures perfectly the uniqueness of Caravaggio, where he frequently used the people, from the streets of Naples and elsewhere, as models for his paintings. The executioner, holding John’s head, looks like a ruffian from a street gang, whilst Salome looks away from the head, possibly in disgust or maybe regret, at what she has requested . As the saying goes “Be careful what you wish for.”

Salome Receives the head of John the Baptist – Caravaggio c1610

Another painting, another betrayal. This time, its Samson and Delilah by Peter Paul Rubens. Having exhausted Samson with her vigorous lovemaking, Delilah orders a servant to cut off Samson’s hair, thus destroying his strength. In the painting, she looks on tenderly at her lover, as she contemplates her treachery with perhaps a hint of regret, while an old crone lights up the scene holding a candle. But its all too late, as the Philistines are already in the doorway, waiting for the hair to be shorn, so that he can be captured into enslavement and have his eyes gouged out. For all those who know their Bible stories, Samson gets his revenge, as later when his hair has grown again, he pulls down the temple on top of himself and all the Philistines.

This is a wonderful example of how the great masters could tell a complex story with a few images and perfect composition.

Samson and Delilah – Peter Paul Rubens c1610

I realised with regret, as we wandered round, that there had been no woman artists on our list, so this needed to be remedied. Luckily, we spied this wonderful painting next to the Caravaggio, by Artemisia Gentileschi ‘ Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria’, which was purchased by the National Gallery in 2018 and has been extensively restored.

There’s more to this self portrait than appears at first sight, Saint Catherine was a Christian Martyr who died after being tortured on a wheel with iron spikes and on the left of the painting you can see St. Catherine chained to the wheel. Artemisia was raped by her art tutor at the age of 17 and she had the bravery to take him to court. What did she get for her bravery? The court tortured her to check whether she was telling the truth, but she would not be cowed and her fortitude won through, resulting in her attacker being jailed.

We now view this painting in a totally different light, Artemisia stares out through the centuries, a defiant and strong woman, who refused to be held back by the male dominated society that she lived in and who went on to become a great artist on a par with the likes of Caravaggio.

Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria – Artemisia Gentileschi c 1615-1617

The next painting on our list was ‘The Rokeby Venus’ by Velasquez, which we found rather disappointing. It felt too voyeuristic and in bad taste, especially straight after the magnificent Artemisia portrait. Viewing a painting is a very personal affair and we have no control over our reactions and the subjective feelings that are aroused. Perhaps, we were already thinking about our next assignation with that master of miniature stories, Vermeer.

The Toilet of Venus (The Rokeby Venus) – Diego Velázquez 1647-1651

There are only two Vermeers in the National and one was on loan when we visited, so we ended up seeing ‘Young Woman seated at a Virginal’. Like all Vermeer pictures, you feel as though you are intruding on something intensely personal, a secret that one can only guess at. The girl, as she plays her instrument, looks out at us with a frank gaze, as though to say, why don’t you join me. There is a Viola propped up against the Virginal, waiting to be played; is she expecting a friend or a lover? With Vermeer there is always ambiguity, but there are hints here; in the background is a copy of a famous painting of the time, set in a bordello. The implication is therefore clear, but as a viewer, we are also a participant in the scene and the story is ours to finish.

Lady Seated at a Virginal – Johannes Vermeer c1670

You cannot visit the National Gallery without seeing the greatest Dutch artist of the 17th century, Rembrandt. With over 23 wonderful paintings to choose from, it was difficult to pick just one, but in the end we went for one of his self portraits at the age of 63. It is a selfie like no other, an unflinching glimpse into the artists own soul, warts and all, a tired old man painted not long before his death. It was an uncomfortable painting to view for too long, we were tired and felt intimidated by his accusatory stare.

Self Portrait at the Age of 63 – Rembrandt 1669

So we left Rembrandt and moved on to the next few centuries to finish our visit, but my impressions on the 18th and 19th centuries are for another day. Suffice to say, we were tired and slightly overwhelmed, despite limiting ourselves to a chosen number of masterpieces.

We returned home to the seaside, rather weary but happy, having reacquainted ourselves with some of the greatest art that the world has known.

Ode to the Seagull

I have thought long and hard about writing this article, because there is nothing more likely to cause deep divisions in my home town of Hastings and St. Leonards-on-sea than the poor seagull, Brexit notwithstanding. However, I feel it’s time to make a stand for a much maligned member of our seaside community and make a case for this survivor, who experts believe has lived on this earth for over 30 million years.

I am also writing this to prove a point, as over a drink one evening a friend of mine suggested, half jokingly, that I would be hard pressed to write an article about the seagull. This then is my response, which is dedicated to my friend; I look forward to an apology and perhaps a beer the next time we meet.

Of course we all tend to use the word ‘seagull’, which is a misnomer, as we are normally referring to the Herring Gull when we talk of seagulls as they are the most populous in our seaside towns, but there are numerous other gull species worldwide, in fact about 50 at the last count, many smaller and many perhaps more beautiful than our herring gull. However, it is our common or garden Herring Gull that is our subject in this article, as this is the bird that we all know and love or hate (or both), according to our proclivities.

Throughout history, seagulls because of their close proximity to both land and sea have cast a spell over humans, who often invested them with supernatural powers. In numerous cultures they have been a symbol for man’s yearning for another existence. To Native Americans, they represented a carefree attitude, versatility, and freedom and to the ancient Welsh they were seen as an omen of bad weather and a predictor of storms.

Adult in full flight riding the currents (photograph – John Bostock ©)

Again in literature, over the centuries, they have been used by many writers as serving a symbolic purpose. One of the greatest of medieval Welsh poets, Dafydd ap Gwilym wrote a love poem “The Seagull” in the early 14th century, where he praises a seagull and asks it to find the girl that he loves and to tell her that he cannot live without her. He contrasts the white purity of the gull with the purity of his beloved and compares the freedom of the gull with his beloved, trapped behind the castle’s walls.

"A fine gull on the tideflow,
All white with moon or snow,
Your beauty’s immaculate,
Shard like the sun, brine’s gauntlet.
Buoyant you’re on the deep flood,
A proud swift bird of fishfood.
You’d ride at anchor with me,
Hand in hand there, sea lily.
Like a letter, a bright earnest,
A nun you’re on the tide’s crest.
Right fame and far my dear has –
Oh, fly around tower and fortress,
Look if you can’t see, seagull,
One bright as Eigr on that wall.
Say all my words together.
Let her choose me. Go to her.
If she’s alone – though profit
With so rare a girl needs wit –
Greet her then: her servant, say,
Must, without her, die straightway.
She guards my life so wholly –
Ah friends, none prettier than she
Taliesin or the flattering lip
Or Merlin loved in courtship:
Cypris courted ‘neath copper,
Loveliness too perfect-fair.

The Russian dramatist Chekhov’s celebrated play “The Seagull” is also full of symbolism, which changes as the play develops. At first, it represents freedom and security to Nina, one of the main characters, when she remembers her childhood. Later in the play, a darker symbolism appears, when one of Nina’s suitors shoots a seagull and lays it at her feet, it then comes to signify her loss of innocence and destruction.

Despite the naysayers, one thing that is inescapable is the intelligence of gulls, who unlike many other birds are capable of advanced learned behaviour, as we all know to our cost when we lose our food to them. Many people will have seen gulls stamping the ground with their feet, which they have learned to do to imitate rainfall, in order to trick earthworms into coming to the surface and providing then with a tasty morsel.

I’ve also watched many times, with fascination, the tenacity of gulls breaking open mussel shells on the beach, by dropping them from a great height onto the pebbles below. They will continue time and time again until they succeed; I once saw ten attempts by one bird, until eventually he cracked the shell and gained access to the gourmet delight inside

If only they had stayed away from our own food, we might have looked more favourably on our seaside neighbour. However, we only have ourselves to blame, as prior to the 20th century it was almost unknown for seagulls to move into the towns to live. Their traditional nesting places were sea-cliffs, sand dunes, islands on the coast and inland and other inaccessible locations.

The first record of seagulls nesting on a building was in 1909 in Cornwall, but it wasn’t until the 1956 Clean Air Act, when rubbish was put into landfill, instead of being burned, that seagulls moved inland in a big way and the population exploded. This together with industrialised fishing methods, which depleted fish stocks, resulted in seagulls being forced to live in closer proximity to us. An excellent recent article on this phenomenon can be found on the BBC website Why seagulls are making their homes in our cities. This is a problem of our own making.

And so we have to accept and deal with with the consequences of our actions. The seagull has a tendency of fixing us with his yellow, rather alien eye, while we are eating in the hope of a morsel. It is all rather unnerving, however I have found that the only way that deters this behaviour is to stare right back, and within no time at all the gull backs off. There’s nothing a gull hates more than being stared at.

Close up of a seagull’s eye

One thing that drives many people insane are the noises that seagulls make and I must admit when woken up by a chorus of dozens of seagulls in full song at 4 o’clock on a Summer’s morning, it can be somewhat trying. However, once you learn what they are trying to say, for me, the fascination outweighs the irritation. Every crying, mewing and screeching serves a specific purpose.

There is the long call, the most common sound that everyone recognises, which seems to say “this is my patch and I’m here to stay”, then there is the mewing sound much mistaken for a cat, which is parent calling to it’s chick and where the old English name of ‘Mews’ for a seagull is derived. Other calls are the choke, yelp and the copulation call, the latter of which is, as you would imagine, rather distinctive. Finally there is the whining and whimpering sound that the babies constantly make as they call out to their parents for food and attention. All of these sounds and more can be heard in an article written in 2019 for the Seattle Times What’s that Gull saying?

Seagulls live very long lives, compared to many birds, in the region of 20 years, which also gives them a long time to perfect their learned behaviour skills. Gulls are monogamous and a pair of gulls will usually stay together during their lifetime, returning to the same nesting place every year. They also share the parenting activities on an almost equal basis, a practice many humans could learn from. There is a pair that has returned to the same chimney in the house opposite to me, ever since we moved here 8 years ago and this year, for the first time, I was able to monitor their progress on a daily basis though my binoculars, from hatching to fledging, a fascinating and rewarding experience.

Nest on roof chimney with a couple of recently hatched chicks (if you look hard enough) (Photograph – John Bostock©)
Soaring Gull, wonderfully aerodynamic, but also looking rather menacingly prehistoric (Photograph – John Bostock ©)

What would the seaside be without the the crashing of the waves and the screaming of the gulls overhead? John Masefield put it perfectly in his 1902 poem “Sea Fever”, in which captures the sheer exhilaration and joyousness of being on the seashore.

"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over."

These creatures have inhabited this earth since the time of dinosaurs, millions of years before the first humans appeared in Africa, and they may well long outlive us, if we manage not to destroy this planet of ours first. It’s time we made our peace with these wonderful creatures, for after all, in many ways, we are not so very different from them.

Secret Hastings – A Tale of Two Churches (Part 1)

Since arriving in Hastings and St Leonards, I have discovered that beneath the facade of a typical coastal town, once rather rundown as a result of the package holiday exodus in the latter part of the twentieth century, but now experiencing a renaissance, lie pockets of wonder often enclosed behind housing estates and other trappings of modern life. Examples that come to mind are Old Roar Gill, Filsham Reed Beds, Summerfields Wood behind Bohemia Road and St. Helens Woods amongst many others.

Two other wonderful examples of note are the two oldest churches of Hastings, ‘The Church in the Wood’ in Hollington and ‘Old St. Helens Church’ in Ore, both Grade II listed buildings, in idyllic settings and with atmospheric and romantic churchyards. I feel I need to honour both churches, which are very different, yet both seeming to inhabit that mysterious ‘sense of place’. Part 1 features ‘The Church in the Wood’

As you near Church in the Wood, the signs are not particularly promising, first you pass a large Tesco Hypermarket on the main road before turning off a small side road, past a local school before eventually reaching the church. However, on arrival you will not be disappointed. A small fairytale church on the edge of a wooded area, hence the name, with a vast churchyard that seems to go on forever.

Although ‘Church in the Wood’ is one of the oldest churches in Hastings, this is not instantly apparent from the facade, which is mainly a Victorian construction in traditional Sussex vernacular style. There is very little of the original fabric of the church remaining and what is left is, unfortunately, covered up.

By the 1830s the old church had fallen into a state of decay and was closed for many years, eventually being fully restored in 1866, in its present form, by a certain Matilda Dampner in memory of her parents.

However on entering the church, the internal architecture is pure English Gothic Revival, with the clear influence of Augustus Pugin 1 ( the Architect who designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster), with beautiful tiled floors and a stunning pulpit of inlaid Italian marble. The stunning stained glass window, showing Faith [woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment], Hope [Jesus’ resurrection victory over death and sin] and Love [the good Samaritan helping the man in need] was made by celebrated Belgium stained glass painter Jean-Baptiste Capronnier and which acts as a focal point when first entering the church.

Photograph of church in the early 20th century

Over the years the church has had many names, in its early days it was St. Rumbold’s and then in its later guise, it was known as St. Leonard’s Church. When James Burton founded the new seaside resort of St. Leonards on Sea, with a church to match, in the early 19th century, the church slowly changed its name to ‘Church in the Wood’, although it is also called ‘Hollington Church’ by some. I know which name I prefer, the romantic in me could only ever call it the ‘Church in the Wood’.

However, despite the beauty of the church, the jewel in the crown is the magnificent churchyard. I’ve always had a love of churchyards, places of quiet and contemplation, where you can escape the cares of day to day life. They are also places where you are forced to contemplate your own mortality, sometimes a necessary antidote to our often hectic and messy lives.

This particular one is a wonderful example, slightly overgrown, but full of atmosphere with old trees and a wide variety of gravestones, ancient and modern, many humble, some imposing and a few others, quite frankly, strange and eccentric. There are a number of impressive angels and many crosses of various shapes and sizes.

The churchyard is of, course, surrounded by the wood, giving it that additional feeling of solitude and peace. We visited once in Spring, when the surrounding woodland was covered in carpets of bluebells, adding another layer of magic to this unique place.

The oldest surviving tomb in the churchyard is that of John Turner, a yeoman farmer in Hollington, who died in 1703. It is apparently adjacent to the entrance, but I have been unable to find any trace of it.

However, there are dozens of other impressive graves, each no doubt with a fascinating tale to tell of the occupants resting below. As I wandered round the churchyard, I have discovered something about a few of the more striking memorials, which I will relate.

In a secluded section of the churchyard, surrounded by trees, is a magnificent large carved angel, with its outstretched wings protecting Maria Ripley Brazill, who died in 1924, aged 67. The monument was erected by her husband William and their family; William who died in 1934 was later laid to rest in the same plot.

What intrigued me was the name Brazill, which I had never come across before. However, on further investigation, it appears that the Brazills as well as the Ripley’s were well known Romany families, with large extended families in Hastings and throughout Kent and Sussex. There is a tantalising story here, perhaps there are descendants of Maria and William still living in the surrounding area.

An Angel watching over Maria Brazill

In another part of the churchyard is a large rough hewn piece of granite, with an inscription “In loving memory of Alfred Borgeaud B.A. who died September ….1926, aged 24 years”. Who was Alfred Borgeaud and how did such a young man meet his end in this way?

The story turns out to be almost stranger than fiction. It was a new age and Alfred Borgeaud an idealistic young student at London University, born and raised in St. Leonards, was brimming with ideas about how he wanted to change the world. A devotee of D.H. Lawrence and all things modern, in science, literature and art, he had a bright future ahead of him. It was at University in 1922 that he met the Wells Coates, a Canadian, who would later become one of the great Modernist Architects and Designers of the 20th Century.2

Alfred and Wells Coates became devoted friends and they set out together on their mission to create a new and better society. In 1926, Wells Coates was desolate after an unhappy love affair and he suggested to Alfred that they take off and travel across Canada together on a journey of discovery, a fateful decision.

In April 1926 they set off on their journey of a lifetime and in September 1926, en route for Vancouver through the Canadian Rockies, the two men “hopped”3 a freight train and somehow Alfred fell to his death, a tragic and pointless end to such a promising life. Wells Coates was devastated by the accident and he managed to return his friend’s body to his family in St. Leonards, where he now lies under a piece of granite in this secluded churchyard, a salutary lesson to us all on the precariousness of life.

Alfred Borgeaud tragically killed in the Rocky Mountains after falling from a passenger train

A memorial with a carved anchor must surely signify a Navy man and, sure enough, it turns out that this unusual grave is the final resting place of Rear Admiral Marcus Lowther, who died at the aged of 88 in 1906 and enjoyed a full and long life, unlike poor Alfred Borgeaud.

Rear Admiral Marcus Lowther was born in St Leonards-on-sea in 1820 and, between the years of 1842 and 1853, he served on board HMS Portland, travelling to the Far East and the Pacific Islands. He visited the Pitcairn Islands, where some of the mutineers of the Bounty had sought refuge 60 years earlier and the Easter Islands, some of the remotest areas on earth.

And all the time he was sketching and painting the landscapes, houses and the indigenous people, recording a world that has now totally vanished. His sketches are full of sympathy and affection for the people that he met.

Rear Admiral Marcus Lowther with an anchor on his grave, dreaming of South Sea Islands

But all of this was mainly unknown, when Marcus Lowther was laid to rest in 1906, having died in relative obscurity in Essenden Road in St. Leonards. However, in 2020, an album containing 166 of his watercolours and drawings appeared on the market, owned by the son of a west country book seller, who had bought them in the 1950s. They went up for Auction in London, with an estimate of £10,000-£15,000, but eventually the hammer went down at a massive £52,000 Forum Auctions, 9th June 2020

Over 100 years after his death, Rear Admiral Marcus Lowther has finally gained the recognition he deserves, for recording for posterity a world that has now disappeared for ever. Who knows how many other sketches of his might be out there, hidden in some dusty attic .

It was inevitable that the unusual location of the church, with its romantic and peaceful churchyard, would attract many visitors from across the British Isles. One of the most famous was the Poet and essayist Charles Lamb4 who wrote in 1823 of his visit to Hastings that:-

The best thing I hit upon was a small country Church (by whom or when built unknown), standing bare and single in the midst of a grove, with no house or appearance of habitation within a quarter of a mile, only passages diverging from it through beautiful woods, to so many farm houses. There it stands, like the first idea of a Church, before parishioners were thought of, nothing but birds for its congregation…

Charles Lamb’s most famous book was ‘Essays of Elia’, which I recall my Father reading when I was young. Nowadays it is almost unknown, but many people feel that these small gems of observation about everyday life are ripe for rediscovery Guardian Review April 2011 It’s time for me to dust off the old copy of my dad’s book and discover Charles Lamb for myself.

Charles Lamb’s most famous poem “The Old Familiar Faces” is rather better known and is one of the saddest poems in the English language, full of longing and nostalgia for a past that can never be relived. No wonder he found solace in deserted churchyards. This is the last verse of the poem:

"How some they have died, and some they have left me, 
And some are taken from me; all are departed;
All, all are gone, the old familiar faces."

To read the poem in full, see the attached link The Old Familiar Faces

Today, the church is still going strong with a service held every Sunday morning (in non-Covid times) and the churchyard is the last remaining private burial ground in the Borough of Hastings. When we visited the church we were kindly shown around by the Verger, who obviously took great pride in maintaining the interior of the church, so that visitors and congregation alike can continue to enjoy this unique building and churchyard for many years to come.


1 Augustus Pugin – One of the most remarkable Designers and Architects of the 19th century, working in the Gothic Revival style, who died far too young at the age of 40. To admire his work, forget about the Palace of Westminster, but visit instead his own small church in his home town of Ramsgate, where he designed absolutely everything, both interior and exterior, from the humblest door handle to the altar piece Shrine of St Augustine & The National Pugin Centre

2 Wells Coates – Iconic modernist Architect and Designer, greatly influenced by Le Corbusier, and who was best known for the Isokon Building in North London. He was also a prolific designer, most famous for his EKCO radio in Bakelite.

3 Freighthopping or trainhopping is the act of surreptitiously boarding and riding a freight railroad car. In the United States, this became a common means of transportation during the early 20th century, especially among migrant workers who became known as “hobos.” Many writers and musicians, amongst others Ernest Hemingway and Woody Guthrie, hopped their way across the continent in their search for the real America.

4 Charles Lamb – a close friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he spent his whole career as a clerk for the East India Company. He devoted his life to caring for his sister Mary, who had murdered their Mother when Charles was 21, during a psychotic episode. In order to save her from being permanently confined to an asylum, he agreed to care for her at home, at great personal sacrifice. His rather tragic life was spent fighting depression, which he attempted to alleviate with bouts of heavy drinking.

The Priest Who Loved Fossils

How Hastings inspired Teilhard de Chardin in his Spiritual Quest

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is not so well known today, but go back to 1968, and ‘The Summer of Love’, and his name was everywhere, the go-to theologian and philosopher of the counter-culture. There was a list of essential books that all aspiring ‘weekend hippies’ were meant to read at the time; Herman Hesse “The Glass Bead Game”; Carl Jung, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections“; Alan Watts “The Way of Zen“; Aldous Huxley “Doors of Perception” and Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Phenomenon of Man”. There were, of course, many others, but these were the ones that stick in my mind. I think that I read most of them, but I remember that the Phenomenon of Man was too esoteric for my simple mind and I never got beyond the first few pages.

Of course, he was always the unlikeliest of new age rebels and his star eventually faded. Nowadays, fewer people are acquainted with him and for many years the scientific community dismissed him as a charlatan. He reappeared on my radar more recently, when I discovered, after I moved down to East Sussex, that his formative years as a priest and a palaeontologist were spent in Hastings between 1908 and 1912 at a Jesuit Seminary in the north of the town. It was during this period, as he searched for fossils at ‘Pett Level’ and ‘Fairlight Cove’, that Teilhard de Chardin developed the theories and beliefs that would last a lifetime.

Teilhard de Chardin in his later years

What was also just as fascinating to discover was his close friendship with a certain Charles Dawson, he of the notorious ‘Piltdown Man’ fraud and long term resident of Hastings. Here was a story too good to miss and I was hooked.

It is a strange thought, a French Jesuit Roman Catholic Seminary in non-conformist East Sussex. However, it came about as a result of ongoing hostility from the French Government towards the Jesuit order, from the 1880s onwards. Unlike France, late Victorian and Edwardian Britain had a fairly tolerant attitude towards Roman Catholicism and, as a result, from 1883 until 1926, the Jesuit order established a presence in Hastings.

After occupying various properties in the area, in 1905 they purchased Ore Place, an old Manor House in 14 acres of land, which they proceeded to add to over the years. It was here at Ore Place that Teilhard arrived in 1908, a 27 old novitiate, to complete his preparations for the priesthood and where he spent his next 4 years, finally being ordained a priest in 1911.

Ore Place in early 20th century (Photo from the Geoff Wolfe collection – Copyright 1066online)
Postcard of Ore Place after 1926, when it was sold by the Jesuit Order to the Society for African Missions

Sadly, Ore Place was demolished in 1986, to make way for a housing estate. The only evidence of this once grand place are some of the original medieval ruins, slowly disappearing under foliage, nearby to the Old St. Helens Church, another of Hasting’s secret jewels. 2

The remaining ruins of the once grand Manor House as at June 2021

While training in Hastings, Teilhard pursued his life-long love of fossil hunting and at Fairlight Cove and Pett Level he found the perfect place for his obsession. Pett Level, seen below, is an area of very unstable cliffs and treacherous quicksand. However it is also a fascinating area, a site of great geological interest including numerous fossils, dinosaur footprints and an 8,000 year old sunken forest visible at low tide. 3

Theilhard loved this period of his life and looked back at his time in Hastings with great fondness. And the more he searched the area for his fossils, the more he became convinced of the truth of evolution, which he later stated “haunted my mind like a tune” . It was also during this period that he studied the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, whose ideas had a profound influence on Teilhard’s later evolutionary theories.

He had soon amassed a large collection of fossils, including ferns, fish and dinosaurs, many of which were later donated to both the’ Hastings Museum and Art gallery’ 4 and the’Natural History Museum’, where a number of his discoveries are named after him. Below are a selection of fossils from the Teilhard collection at the Hastings Museum including plant fossils and reptile scales, teeth and bones (Photographs courtesy of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Museum reference numbers and descriptions are included beneath each photograph)

During his time in at Ore Place, Teilhard became acquainted with Charles Dawson, an amateur archeologist and palaeontologist, who lived in Hastings and was something of a celebrity in the rarefied world of fossil collecting, having made myriad finds and discoveries. As a young fossil hunter, the older Dawson with his considerable experience and reputation would, no doubt, have made a strong impression on Teilhard.

Teilhard and Dawson spent many hours searching for fossils under the cliffs and in 1912 Charles Dawson started excavating in Piltdown Gravel Pit in East Sussex and had discovered, so he claimed, some pieces of a human like skull. During this period, Teilhard was present at a further digs when Dawson produced further pieces of the skull, which was to cause problems for Theilhard at a later date.

Dawson claimed in 1912 that he had discovered the missing link between apes and humans and together with Arthur Smith Woodward, the Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum, over several months and further digs reconstructed the skull and came up with the hypothesis that they belonged to a human ancestor from half a million years ago. Right from the start this claim was treated with great scepticism, but it was not until 1953 that enough conclusive evidence was amassed to prove once and for all that the ‘Piltdown Man’ was an elaborate forgery. By that time, Dawson was long gone, having died at a young age in 1916 of septicaemia.

Piltdown skull being examined, with Charles Dawson , 3rd to the left and Smith Woodward seated in white coat. Painted by John Cooke 1915.

For many years after 1953, as well as the main suspect Dawson, accusations were also levelled at Teilhard, Smith Woodward and various other peripheral figures, including, surprisingly, Arthur Conan Doyle, as being either the perpetrators of the fraud or part of a conspiracy.

Finally, however, a detailed study in 2016, using the latest scientific techniques, 5 came to the conclusion, that the fraud was carried out by one person alone, and that person was Dawson. Furthermore, it has now been proved conclusively that Dawson had been a serial offender, forging countless artefacts during his lifetime.

It appears that Teilhard was a totally innocent bystander in the most notorious scientific hoax of the 20th century. Knowing Teilhard’s later career, it seems inconceivable that he would have party to something so fraudulent.

Teilhard was ordained in the chapel in Ore Place in 1911 and the very next morning he held his first mass in the impressive Gothic St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Hastings old town. He left the seminary in 1912 and spent the next 2 years working in the palaeontology department of the French National Museum of Natural History, but during that time he made a number of visits back to Hastings, to take part in archaeological digs and to spend time at Ore place.

Then came the First World War, which changed everything, when Teilhard was drafted into the army as a stretcher-bearer. Following the war, Teilhard spent the rest of his life travelling the world, including spending over 20 years in China, participating in numerous geological expeditions, including the discovery of ‘Peking man’, one of the greatest archeological finds the 20th century, and, unlike ‘Piltdown Man’, totally genuine.

This was also when through his lectures and writing, that Teilhard came into conflict with the rigid conservative doctrines of the Catholic Church, which eventually forbade Teilhard from teaching altogether. During the 1930s, Teilhard wrote the two works that were to be his greatest achievement, ‘The Divine Milieu’ and the ‘Phenomenon of Man’, but so great was the hostility of the Catholic establishment to his ideas on evolution, that these books were not published until after his death in 1955..

‘Phenomenon of Man’ had an introduction by the distinguished biologist Julian Huxley, a great friend of Teilhard and although an agnostic himself, promoted many of Teilhard’s ideas, despite disagreeing with him on some of the more religious aspects of his work. The book was a publishing sensation and achieved great success, paving the way for its great popularity amongst the counter-culture in the 1960s, but was also roundly condemned by the Catholic Church, who maintained that position for many years, until a more liberal approach was adopted more recently.

Having talked about Teilhard’s life and influences it is now necessary to try and explain in a few sentences the crux of Teilhard’s theories and world view, a formidable task, but with my limited understanding, I will attempt the impossible. Teilhard believed that evolution began in the origins of the universe and that as life evolved from one-cell organisms into animals and then to homo-sapiens, who were able to acquire intelligence, a new layer of the biosphere (the global ecosystem composed of living organisms and the non-living factors from which they derive energy and nutrients) has been created called the ‘Noosphere’, which is a cognitive layer of consciousness or mind surrounding the earth, which will evolve over time, through the aid of science, and move towards something called ‘The Omega Point’, a supposed future when everything in the universe spirals toward a final point of unification and infinity.

Even with that simplistic explanation, it can be seen that it might not have been too popular with the Catholic establishment, discarding, in one go, the concept of original sin and heaven and hell. It can also be seen that it would be a concept, that would appeal to the alternative philosophies that were emerging in the 1960s,

However, it was not long before a backlash came from the scientific community, in particular Peter Medawar, the immunologist and Nobel laureate, who condemned Teilhard as a charlatan and stated that most of his work was nonsense. Others followed suit and it seemed as though his scientific credibility had been permanently damaged.

His greatest influence at that time appeared to be in the Arts and, unsurprisingly, many science fiction writers used his concept in their stories of the world in the far distant future. But his ideas also had an impact on more mainstream writers such as Don DeLillo whose novel ‘Point Omega’ takes a number of ideas, as well as the book title from Teilhard.

An artist who was obsessed with Teilhard and the Omega Point theory was that eccentric surrealist artist Salvador Dali. His 1959 painting The Ecumenical Council is said to represent the “interconnectedness” of the Omega Point, and shows various images blending into each other. to illustrate this.

The Ecumenical Council by Salvador Dali, Dali Museum, Florida

But after many years, something strange is beginning to take place. After being ridiculed for years by the scientific community, Teilhard’s star appears to be on the rise again. Take his theory of a vast ring of consciousness surrounding the world ‘The Noosphere’; does that remind you of something in today’s world, it is of course the World Wide Web and the Internet. Perhaps Teilhard was more prescient than had been previously thought.

And in the field of Astrophysics, which is beginning to uncover a universe resembling ‘Alice in Wonderland’, some of his concepts are beginning to gain ground. A mathematical physicist called Frank Tipler has developed a theory based on Teilhard, where he attempts to reach the same Omega Point of Infinity, using the laws of physics, and envisaging a future in which Artificial Intelligence will have the sum of all human knowledge, in other words will become, in effect, ‘God’.

This is all heady stuff and way beyond most people’s comfort zone, so perhaps we need to come back down to earth and in particular to Hastings. In 2008, Hastings remembered the arrival of its illustrious visitor to the town a hundred years previously, with a blue plaque ceremony at the site of Ore Place, followed by a commemoration at St. Mary Star of the Sea, where Teilhard had held his first mass as a priest.

It has been said that Teilhard was “perhaps the man most responsible for the spiritualization of evolution in a global and cosmic context” and this is perhaps his lasting legacy. It seems that the twenty first century has finally caught up with the extraordinary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Perhaps we should leave the last word to the man himself. Just before he died, Teilhard wrote movingly of his time in Hastings that:

I found extraordinary solidity and intensity then in the English countryside, particularly at sunset when the Sussex woods were charged with all that “fossil” life which I was hunting for, from cliff to quarry, in the Wealden clay. There were moments, indeed, when it seemed to me that a sort of universal being was about to take shape suddenly in Nature before my very eyes.


1 Header Photograph – This is a fossil containing a unique plant frond ‘teilhardia valdensis, discovered by Teilhard and named after him, found at Fairlight and gifted to Hastings Museum (Photograph courtesy of Hastings Museum and Art Gallery)

2 Old St Helen’s Church – This Grade II listed Ancient Monument is purported to be the oldest building in Hastings and is one of Hasting’s best kept secrets, dating back to the 11th century and possibly before. This now derelict structure and small churchyard is wonderfully secluded within the Ore place housing estate and will be the subject of a future article on this web-site.

3 Pett Level – Pett Level, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, is a strange and somewhat eerie place, where countless fossils and bones of long extinct mammals and fish lie. It is therefore, no surprise, that artists have been attracted to the beach, theatre director Jonathan Miller filmed the beach scenes for his 1966 TV film of Alice in Wonderland here, with John Gielgud playing the Mock Turtle. However, the most famous use of Pett Level was as a backdrop to David Bowie’s iconic video of ‘Ashes to Ashes’, I have watched this video many times and had never realised the location, however it is intriguing to know whether Bowie, the polymath, was aware of Teilhard de Chardin and his connection to the beach. I suspect Teilhard would have been just the sort of person that would have piqued Bowie’s interest.

4 The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery – This excellent museum is another hidden gem of Hastings and is an exemplar on how a local museum should operate. I would urge anyone visiting Hastings to set aside some time to view their fascinating collections and exhibits.

5 For further information on the conclusions reached by Scientists in 2016 on the Piltdown fraud, a very good article can be found in ‘Science Magazine’ dated Aug 9th 2016

Tunnel Vision – The Genius of Marc Brunel

If you ask a random selection of people to name the greatest British engineer, the almost certain reply would be Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He certainly was the most famous and his genius can be in no doubt, with his phenomenal output including bridges, dockyards, railways and steamships, during his short and productive life. However, not so many people will have heard of his father, Marc Isambard Brunel, whose own unique genius paved the way for his more famous son.

I first came across Marc Brunel nearly 25 years ago, in another life, when I was part of a team working on the refurbishment of the Thames Tunnel between Rotherhithe and Wapping, which had been one of the greatest engineering projects of the Victorian age. Unfortunately, it was tired and sad and needed a well earned facelift, but more of that in due course.

Marc Brunel was a French citizen and how he ended up on the shores of this country is a tale that’s definitely worth the retelling, involving as it does romantic love, revolution, flight and a happy ending in exile. He was born in 1769 in Normandy and from an early age was fascinated by mathematics and drawing and was soon a prolific inventor with a great aptitude for engineering.

While living in Rouen, Normandy, he met an English Governess, Sophia Kingdom and they became engaged in 1793. Unfortunately, this coincided with the height of the French Revolution and the beginning of the period known as the “Reign of Terror”, when Robespierre sent thousands of people to the guillotine. Because of his Royalist sympathies, Brunel was in imminent danger and had to flee the country on a ship bound for America.

Sophia was arrested and accused of being of an English spy, facing almost certain execution, but thanks to the fall of Robespierre in 1794, she was released and was eventually able to return to England.

Meanwhile, in America, Brunel wasted no time in establishing his reputation and, amazingly, by 1796, he was appointed Chief Engineer of New York City, designing houses, docks, commercial buildings, an arsenal, and a cannon factory. He had also come up with a proposal to automate the production of pulley blocks for the Navy and in 1799 he decided to sail to England to put his idea before the Admiralty. This was an incredibly risky thing to attempt, leaving a prestigious position in New York, on the off chance of a Contract with the British Government.

However, this was also his opportunity of being reunited with Sophia and one can’t help thinking that this was the real motivation for the journey. The gamble paid off, he was awarded the contract and by November 1799, he and Sophia were married and he settled in Britain for the rest of his life.

During the following few years Brunel was involved in many projects, many successful but also a number that were unprofitable and by 1821 he was deep in debt, culminating with his imprisonment in the debtor’s prison in Southwark. Following the possibility of Brunel’s debt being paid by the Russian Tsar on condition that he move to Russia, the British Government paid all his debts on condition that he abandon his plans to emigrate.

Below is a portrait of Marc Brunel painted in 1812/13, which shows Brunel looking thoughtful with a sheaf of engineering drawings on his knee, the archetypal Victorian man of vision looking to the future.

Marc Brunel painted by James Northcote in 1812/1813 (National Portrait Gallery)

Brunel’s greatest invention had already taken place in 1818, when he had patented a tunnelling shield of cast iron in which miners were able to work in separate compartments, digging at the tunnel-face. Once a certain amount of tunnel had been completed, large jacks would then push the shield slightly forward, and at that point the exposed tunnel surface behind it would be lined with brick protection.

This invention became the prototype for the construction of his greatest triumph ‘The Thames Tunnel’, both the world’s first shield driven tunnel and first major underwater tunnel. A diagram below shows part of a sketch for the shield used for the Thames tunnel construction.

A tunnel under the Thames had previously been attempted in 1805 using traditional mining methods, but was abandoned in 1807 as being impossible. Now, following Brunel’s radical invention, the decision was made in 1824 to make another attempt and in 1825 construction started in Rotherhithe, commencing with the sinking of a vertical access shaft, followed by the assembly of the tunnelling shield underground. Brunel’s son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel was now 18 years of age and already showing great engineering promise and so he became an assistant to his father from the very beginning.

The Tunnel was fraught with difficulties from the outset, with difficulties steering the shield, poor air quality, financial problems and poor ground conditions , which eventually led to numerous inundations of the Thames, resulting sadly in the deaths of a number of the workers. In 1826, the Resident Engineer became ill and resigned his post and a very young Isambard took over as Resident Engineer, thus launching his prestigious career.

The first major inundation took place in in May 1827 and again in January 1828, where Isambard nearly died, having been dragged out unconscious from the tunnel. These problems took their toll and money finally ran out, resulting in the bricking up of the tunnel in August 1828 at the halfway point .

The tunnel remained closed until 1834 when the Government loaned the company enough capital to continue and following many trials and tribulations, including more major inundations and serious health problems for both father and son, the tunnel was eventually completed in 1843. The Chronology below lists in greater detail the events of those many tumultuous years of its construction.

On the 25th March 1843, the tunnel was opened to a great fanfare and celebration, with the production of many souvenirs to commemorate the opening; on that first day 50,000 people descended below ground each paying one penny entrance fee. A typical cheap commemoration medal produced for the occasion can be seen below:

Although the tunnel had originally been intended for wheeled vehicles, this was quickly dropped due to financial constraints and during its first few years it was open to pedestrian traffic only. In the early days it was a tremendous success, attracting about 2 million people a year, many from overseas, who had heard about this 8th wonder of the world. It became a gigantic market-place attracting all sorts of hawkers and entertainers plus less reputable company once darkness had descended. An American tourist, William Allen Drew gave a graphic description of the tunnel in 1851 in his book “Glimpses and Gatherings During a Voyage and Visit to London and the Great Exhibition in the Summer of 1851, Homan & Manley, 1852″

Now look into the Thames Tunnel before you. It consists of two beautiful Arches, extending to the opposite side of the river. These Arches contain each a roadsted, fourteen feet wide and twenty-two feet high, and pathways for pedestrians, three feet wide. The Tunnel appears to be well ventilated, as the air seemed neither damp nor close. The partition between these Arches, running the whole length of the Tunnel, is cut into transverse arches, leading through from one roadsted to the other. There may be fifty of them in all, and these are finished into fancy and toy shops in the richest manner – with polished marble counters, tapestry linings gilded shelves, and mirrors that make everything appear double. Ladies, in fashionable dresses and with smiling faces, wait within and allow no gentleman to pass without giving him an opportunity to purchase some pretty thing to carry home as a remembrancer of the Thames Tunnel. The Arches are lighted with gas burners, that make it as bright as the sun; and the avenues are always crowded with a moving throng of men, women and children, examining the structure of the Tunnel, or inspecting the fancy wares, toys, &c., displayed by the arch-looking girls of these arches … It is impossible to pass through without purchasing some curiosity. Most of the articles are labelled – ‘Bought in the Thames Tunnel’– ‘a present from the Thames Tunnel‘”

Unfortunately, within a few years the tunnel fell further into disrepute and became a no-go area frequented by prostitutes, thieves and muggers by which time the pedestrian traffic had all but ceased. Eventually, the tunnel was purchased in 1865 by the East London Railway Company, which was eventually incorporated into the London Underground network, where it became part of the East London Line, where it continued until March 1995, which is where I became part of the story.

Site investigations carried out during 1994 and subsequent analysis demonstrated that the tunnel was in urgent need of strengthening and additional waterproofing and Taylor Woodrow Civil Engineering Ltd, who I was working for at the time, won the Contract for this refurbishment. The state of the existing tunnel in 1995, following removal of the track, can be seen below.

The preferred solution for London Underground Ltd. was just to line the tunnel with a sprayed mesh reinforced concrete, with an expected closure of about 7 months, in order to minimise disruption.

However, there was a strong backlash from English Heritage and many other conservation groups, who felt that Brunel’s great achievement needed to be preserved in a more meaningful way. Three days before the contract was due to commence, the Heritage Secretary designated the tunnel a Grade II* listed structure and immediately suspended all work until a new solution could be found.

Following protracted discussions between the parties, in late 1995 a compromise solution was eventually agreed, which preserved 30 metres of the original tunnel at the Southern end and contained an agreement to reline the remainder, while retaining the original 64 cross passages and replicating many of the original features. A comparison between the original tunnel with the 1990’s repair work shows that the refurbishment stayed true to Brunel’s original concept; I’m sure as an engineer, he would have approved of the final result.

In the end, the various delays meant that the East London Line did not re-open until the Autumn of 1997, almost 2 years later than planned, no doubt purgatory for the thousands of people using the line for their work, but a triumph for conservationists and architectural historians.

Following the first major inundation in 1827, a celebration banquet had been held in the tunnel for the great and the good, when the tunnel was almost halfway completed. As the work was stopped for 7 years shortly afterwards, it may have been somewhat premature for a celebration.

To commemorate the original celebration and in tribute to Brunel and his achievement, Taylor Woodrow hosted a black tie dinner to celebrate the success of the project in March 1997, sensibly this time at the end of the works, by recreating the previous banquet 170 years previously. I was honoured to have attended and as we took our seats we were accompanied by a string quartet. The VIP’s were seated closest to the camera, while my work colleagues and I were at the other end of the table, a distant blur in the background of the photograph. I feel privileged that I am one of the few people in the world that can claim to have dined in a tunnel beneath the Thames.

Marc Brunel died in 1849, at the age of 80; he was a modest man and his work was his passion, but his achievement was enormous, his inventions were legion and his revolutionary tunnelling shield paved the way for the London Underground network, the first in the world, and finally, of course, he sired Isambard, arguably the greatest Civil Engineer of them all.

It would also be remiss not to mention the role of Marc Brunel’s wife, Sophia Kingdom, a formidable woman who spent two periods in prison, one fearing for her life and the other in a debtors prison supporting her husband. They were devoted to each other and she supported him through thick and thin. Brunel stated that without Sophia there would be no tunnel and there can be no doubt that their’s was a true love match.

Today, Marc Brunel’s legacy is safe in the hands of the Brunel Museum , which is housed in the old tunnel engine house in Rotherhithe. The original shaft down to the tunnel has now been opened to the public, who can now visit where the tunnel first began its life.

And for me, the tunnel will always be with me; I mean this quite literally, as I have a piece of the original tunnel, sealed in perspex, sitting on my desk at home as a memento of my time working on the Thames Tunnel, two of the most interesting and happiest years of my working life.

A Rebel in the Family

Lewis Valentine – Welsh Patriot and Pacifist

Llanddulas is a small village along the North Wales coast of about 1,500 people, midway between Abergele and Colwyn Bay. It derives its name from the River Dulas, which winds its way through the village, bound for the Irish Sea. In past times you would have driven through the village and perhaps tarried a while, on your way to one of the tourist destinations such as Llandudno, Conwy or Angelsey. These days the North Wales Expressway, the A55, bypasses and ignores Llanddulas, cutting off the village from the beach, which is also hidden by a seemingly unending row of caravan parks. However, if you travel about a mile inland to the neighbouring tranquil and beautiful hamlet of Rhyd-y-Foel, you get a glimpse of what Llanddulas was like before modern life came along with its wrecking ball.

River Dulas at Rhyd-y-Foel

One of the most momentous events in British history occurred in Llanddulas just over 600 years ago, but appears to be almost unknown locally. In 1399, Richard II was ambushed by Henry Bolingbroke on his way back from Ireland, at Penmaen head, a rocky outcrop just outside Llanddulas. He was forced to surrender and was deposed as king, thus ending 300 years of the Plantagenet dynasty and sowing the seeds for the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the mid 15th century. Strangely enough, there is no commemoration anywhere in the area to mark this turning point in British history.

However more recently, it is celebrated as the birthplace of the Welsh patriot, Lewis Valentine, who infamously was involved in the arson attack on a controversial bombing school in Penyberth in 1936 and later became one of the founding members of ‘Plaid Cymru’, the Welsh Nationalist Party.

Lewis Valentine in his early 40s taken about the time of the Penyberth attack

He also happens to be a relative of mine, albeit a distant one and this is his story, which is closely intertwined with my own family history, due to the fact that he was born in the house where my family later lived, a house named ‘Hillside’, situated on the small lane of ‘Clip Terfyn’ on the eastern outskirts of the village.

Llanddulas and ‘Hillside’ hold a special place in my heart and I spent many happy holidays there as a young child, while my ‘Nain’ (Grandma) and ‘Taid’ (Grandpa) were alive, roaming free on the large limestone hill (Cefn-yr-Ogof) overlooking Clip Terfyn.

Clip Terfyn c1910, Hillside is the furthest house on the right hand side of the road, one of two large semi detached houses

Limestone is the key to this part of North Wales, it was the lifeblood of the village and provided employment for its men for 200 years. Limestone was first quarried in Llanddulas in 1696, but during the 19th and 20th centuries, became a major industry with the limestone being transported by a specially constructed railway line from the quarries to a jetty on the beach, where it was shipped off to many places around the world. The extent of the devastation to the area can be seen below, in this aerial photograph from the 1930s, which shows three enormous craters on the outskirts of the village and the jetty can also be clearly seen. In 2021, the glory days of limestone quarrying are now in the past and many of the quarries have been filled in and returned to nature.

However, in the past, everyone in the area seemed to have had some sort of connection to the limestone quarries, both my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were quarrymen, although my grandfather managed to escape the quarry by starting his own own taxi and haulage business.

Life for the limestone quarrymen was hard and relentless, with long hours in appalling conditions and many people died before their time. My Great Grandfather, Thomas Roberts, dropped dead at the age of 38, leaving my Taid having to find work as a farm labourer at the age of 14, in order to bring money in for the family.

Group of Llanddulas quarrymen circa 1900

The other main driving force in the area was religion, which came in two forms of Protestantism, Methodist and Baptist, which although different in many ways, were both of a fundamentalist nature and emphasised the rewards of hard work and a strict obedience to the Gospels. This meant that for most people in the village, there was church several times on a Sunday and the majority of the population were strict teetotallers.

My Mother’s side of the family were Methodist and had worshipped in Welsh at the Salem Wesleyan Chapel in Rhyd-y-Foel for several generations, whilst the Valentines were strict Baptists and attended the Bethesda chapel in the heart of Llanddulas.

Lewis Valentine was born in ‘Hillside’ in Clip Terfyn in 1893 to Samuel Valentine, a lay preacher at the Bethesda Chapel and a checkweighman at one of the limestone quarries, and Mary Roberts, who was the sister of my Great Grandfather, Thomas Roberts, hence the family connection.This meant my ‘Taid’ was first cousin to Lewis Valentine.

Bethesda Chapel in Llanddulas in the early 20th century

My grandparents lived a few doors down in Clip Terfyn from the Valentines in a small cottage called ‘Mountain View’ and my mother clearly remembers regular Sunday tea visits at ‘Hillside’ with Uncle Samuel and his family, but by that time, Lewis was married and was an ordained Baptist Minister in Llandudno. In about 1933, ‘Taid’ purchased ‘Hillside’ from Samuel , who was moving away from the district, which was how my Mother grew up in the house that Lewis had once spent his childhood.

The Bethesda Chapel was of enormous influence on Lewis as he was growing up and although he studied Welsh and Semitic languages at University, it was his intention to become a Baptist Minister once he had graduated. However, the First World War got in the way and although he already had strong pacifist leanings, he volunteered in the Royal army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer.

His role as a stretcher bearer meant he witnessed some terrible sights in the worst battles of the war, including the Somme, Arras and Ypres, culminating in the living hell of Passchendaele, where in 1917 he was subjected to a gas attack, which left him blind and unable to speak for several months. These experiences, plus the loss of his closest friend Frank Carless, left an indelible mark on the young Lewis Valentine and left him with a visceral hatred of war, which stayed with him for the rest of his life..

A typical stretcher division in the First World War

The war convinced Lewis that his calling was as a Minister of the Church and in 1921 he was ordained as a Minister in the Welsh speaking Tabernacle Baptist Chapel in Llandudno, the largest Baptist chapel in North Wales. Over the next few years he established a reputation as one of the great preachers of his generation and his fame spread throughout Wales.

It is hard to imagine in this day and age, when religion plays such a small part in people’s lives, how much these preachers were hero worshipped and were almost the rock stars of their day. There is a unique Welsh word for this called ‘Hwyl’, which was a special characteristic of traditional Welsh revivalist preaching, which led to a surge of intense emotional and spiritual fervor between the preacher and the congregation. The ‘Hwyl’ is sometimes induced by chanting the attributes of God in a rhythmic sequence.

The upsurge in religious fervour, especially in North Wales, can be traced back to what is known as the Welsh Revival of 1904 -1905, when Joseph Jenkins, Evan Roberts and other charismatic preachers toured Wales converting thousands of people. This mass movement had an enormous impact on people’s lives and continued well into the middle of the 20th century.

Bethel Chapel, Dre-fach, Preaching Festival 1910

During this period Lewis had married Margaret Jones in Llandudno and started a family. Meanwhile, his growing brand of Welsh Nationalism, a heady mix of religion, language and nationhood, was being fuelled by his passionate love of the Welsh language, which he felt was in danger of being subsumed by English.

Language gives a nation its unique identity and the Welsh language is no exception. For centuries, beginning with Henry VIII, the English had tried to suppress and destroy the Welsh language, by banning Welsh in schools and in workplaces, often through corporal punishment with the barbaric use of flogging, named the Welsh Not or Knot

This and other systematic tools of oppression was bound to lead to a renewed independence movement and by the early part of the 20th century, many Welsh patriots were looking to form a new political party. In 1924, Lewis met other like minded colleagues in Caernarfon, who launched Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru (The National Party of Wales) in 1925 and Lewis Valentine was elected as the first president, a post which he held for a year until he was succeeded by Saunders Lewis, one of the other founders. It is not so well known, that he was also the party’s first parliamentary candidate in Caernarfonshire in the 1929 general election, where he polled 609 votes. It was not until after the 2nd World War , that Plaid managed to elect its first MP, Gwynfor Evans.

And then we come to the action that has gone down in legend as ‘Tân yn Llŷn’ (Fire in Llŷn) which ignited the Welsh Nationalist cause and earned Lewis Valentine both notoriety and eminence in equal parts, depending on your viewpoint. In the 1930s, the Ministry of Defence had announced their intention to build an RAF Training school on the Llŷn peninsula at Penyberth, after two English sites had been rejected due to protests from Naturalists and Historians. However, despite widespread objections from all walks of life including many distinguished Welsh academics, Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister at the time, pushed through the decision without any local consultation.

To the leadership of the newly formed Plaid Cymru, it felt like an act of pure vindictiveness and the decision was made to strike a blow for Wales and the Welsh language, by a symbolic act of arson. For Lewis Valentine, it was also a means of protesting his hatred of war, which came out of his experiences in the first world war and to gain publicity for the Nationalist cause.

The three men who carried out this attack, all pillars of society in their respective professions, Lewis Valentine, a Baptist Minister, Saunders Lewis, a University Lecturer and D.J. Williams, a schoolteacher, were the unlikeliest of saboteurs, but on the 8th September 1936, they calmly drove to Penyberth and set fire to sheds and offices on the site, which were in the process of being constructed. They then drove to the nearest police station and handed themselves in, their work accomplished.

The three men can be seen the photograph below, taken in 1936. Lewis Valentine is on the left towering over his two compatriots, Saunders Lewis and D. J.Williams.

At the trial in Caernarfon, a Welsh jury could not come to a verdict, so there was a controversial decision to hold a retrial at the Old Bailey in London, which angered many people in Wales. At the retrial, Lewis enraged the Judge by refusing to engage with the court in English and he gave an impassioned speech on behalf of his beliefs from the dock in Welsh.

Needless to say, all the men were convicted and were sentenced to 9 months imprisonment in 1937 in Wormwood Scrubs. They returned home to Wales as heroes and were met by a cheering crowd of 12,000 people in Caernarfon. My mother, who was 13 at the time, remembers how proud the people of Llanddulas were, including my own Taid, of their most famous son. His job as a Minister had been kept open and he recommenced his life in Llandudno, preaching to large congregations.

From this time onwards, Lewis settled back into the life of a Baptist Minister and withdrew from the centre stage of Welsh politics, but this one defining act had ensured his place in the mythology of Plaid Cymru. He also became a respected poet and writer, magazine editor and literary critic.

Throughout his life, he continued to push the case for the Welsh language, which he saw as being in crisis and in 1962 he gave an address, where he stated that ‘the great call for the Welsh-speaking Christians of Wales today is to save the Welsh language as a medium to promote the Kingdom, and as a medium to preach the Word’

At this time, he also wrote the words of a patriotic hymn, which he decided to set to the tune of ‘Finlandia’. Lewis was a serious admirer of both Sibelius and Finland and felt their situation in respect of independence, in many ways, mirrored that of Wales. Choosing to set his words to one of the most achingly beautiful tunes ever written was an act of genius and ensured that this hymn became so well known, that today that it is now regarded by many people as Wales second National Anthem. This is the full text below in the original Welsh and in translation:-

Dros Gymru’n gwlad, O Dad, dyrchafwn gri,
y winllan wen a roed i’n gofal ni;
d’amddiffyn cryf a’i cadwo’n ffyddlon byth,
a boed i’r gir a’r glan gael ynddi nyth;
er mwyn dy Fab a’i prynodd iddo’i hun,
O crea hi yn Gymru ar dy lun.

O deued dydd pan fo awelon Duw
yn chwythu eto dros ein herwau gwyw,
a’r crindir cras dan ras cawodydd nef
yn erddi Crist, yn ffrwythlon iddo ef,
a’n heniaith fwyn a gorfoleddus hoen
yn seinio fry haeddiannau’r adfwyn Oen.


For Wales our land O father hear our prayer,
This blessed vineyard granted to our care;
May you protect her always faithfully,
And prosper here all truth and purity;
For your Son’s sake who bought us with his blood,
O make our Wales in your own image Lord.

O come the day when o’er our barren land
Reviving winds blow sent from God’s own hand,
As grace pours down on parched and arid sand
We will bear fruit for Christ by his command,
Come with one voice and gentle vigour sing
The virtues of our gentle Lamb and King.

There are many versions of this hymn, some excellent, and some frankly dire. I have chosen below my two favourite versions. In the first version, it starts out with the single tenor voice of John Eifion with piano, moving onto a small group of singers and finally to full blown choir with a stirring organ accompaniment.

The second version, by Dafydd Iwan, a well known folk artist in Wales and himself a former President of Plaid Cymru, is more restrained, but has a simplicity that I found very appealing. You can make up your own minds, which version you prefer.

Lewis Valentine had left Llandudno in 1947, to be the Minister of a chapel in Rhos, a mining village and he stayed there until his retirement in 1970 when he and his wife moved back to Llanddulas. They felt, however, that the village had changed for the worse and they soon moved again to nearby Old Colwyn, where Lewis spent the rest of his life, dying in 1986 at the age of 92.

In 1996, a memorial to Lewis Valentine in the shape of a pulpit in local stone and slate was built in Llanddulas. On top it states ‘Righteousness exalts a Nation’ and ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ and below it reads ‘To the Glory of God, in memory of the Reverend Lewis Edward Valentine MA DD, 1893 -1986, Minister of the Gospel, Nationalist, Pacifist’

A fitting tribute and in a supreme irony it sits on land directly opposite the local pub, aptly named the Valentine Arms. What Lewis, a life long teetotaller, would have made of this can only be guessed at, but I would hope that he would have been wryly amused.

What of his legacy? I’m sure he would have been delighted that Wales has more autonomy and its own Parliament and of course it would have been a great source of comfort to him to know that the Welsh language has enjoyed such a great renaissance and its survival now seems assured well into the future. His views on modern life, however, might have been more mixed, in particular the godlessness that he would have perceived around us. He would, no doubt, still have wished for full independence for Wales, especially in today’s uncertain climate, following the political and social upheavals of recent years.

And how do I feel about my first cousin twice removed? He was a man of his time and his world is not my world and his religion is not my religion. Looking at his life though, even through the lens of today, it can be seen that he was a man of principle and conviction who believed in the fellowship of man and the desire for world peace. In contrast to most of the self serving public servants and politicians in office today, he comes across as a towering figure of integrity and the conclusion has to be that his was a good life, well lived.

In researching this article, it made me think deeply about what it means to belong and about my own cultural heritage. In one of my recent articles I wrote about my father’s family that could be traced back centuries to Nottinghamshire, now I am writing about by Welsh heritage and in truth, like everyone, I am a mongrel. If anything, I am a European and to use that much maligned expression, a Citizen of the World. However, I realise there is a part of me that will be forever Welsh and whenever I go back to the hills and valleys of Wales, my heart sings that I am in ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’.


Ar gyfer fy mam, Gwyneth Mary Roberts

Sacrifice in a Bog

Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

Extract from the Tollund Man by Seamus Heaney 1972

In 1983 I was living and working in Denmark; I did go to Aarhus or rather I went to Silkeborg Museum; I saw his peat-brown head and his pointed skin cap; I also saw the serene look on his face and I felt a kinship that is still with me today. My then girlfriend, now my wife, and I were on a trip exploring Jutland and when I entered the museum I knew so little of the Tollund Man, but he has been in my thoughts many times since that day nearly 40 years ago.

When you walk into the small room and up to the cabinet housing ‘Tollund Man’, all conversation dries up as you gaze in awe upon this man with a leather skull cap and stubble on his chin, lying in gentle repose. He has a face that seems vaguely familiar and you almost expect him to suddenly open his eyes, smile at you and enquire how long he had been asleep. Then suddenly you are drawn to the rope around his neck and, with a shock, you realise that this seemingly peaceful face masks a violent and traumatic death in the desolate fens of Jutland 2,300 years ago.

The reason for his death is still open to discussion and dispute, but one theory keeps returning and refuses to go away, that this man and countless others, found in the bogs of Denmark and beyond, were willing victims, who were sacrificed to appease the ancient pagan gods and goddesses and to ensure fertility and prosperity for the year ahead.

A few months after my first meeting with Tollund man, I was chatting to a work colleague about my visit and he introduced me to the definitive book on the subject, written in 1971, which not only covered the man from Tollund but numerous other bodies that had been discovered in the Peat Bogs of Denmark and elsewhere. It was called appropriately ‘The Bog People’ and was written by P. (Peter) V. Glob, a renowned archeologist and director of the Danish National Museum. My colleague lent me the book which I devoured and when he left the firm a few months later, I am ashamed to say I forgot to return his dog-eared paperback. I have it still to this day, even more well thumbed; I hope I am forgiven.

In the book, Professor Glob tells the stories of the bog people of Northern Europe in the Iron Age, their beliefs, how they lived and speculation on how they died. Throughout the centuries there have been dozens of bodies discovered in peat bogs throughout Scandinavia, the British Isles and elsewhere, but somehow Denmark seems to have had its fair share of discoveries. The earliest finds have not survived, but from the 19th century finds were better documented until at last in the 20th century many of these bodies were preserved for posterity.

The unique conditions in peat bogs means that bog bodies often retain their skin and internal organs, as well as hairs , nails, teeth, wool and leather. A combination of the acidity of the soil and a lack of oxygen preserved the skins, whereas the bones are dissolved by the acidity in the peat. The bodies are all a red, brown colour as a result of the tannins in the soil. There is also large amounts of spagnum moss in the bogs which aids the preservation process.

Spagnum Moss in typical Peat Bog

Tollund man was discovered on a spring day in 1950 by two farmers, who were cutting peat as fuel for the following winter. When they first uncovered the face , it seemed so fresh that thought that they had found a recent murder victim. It was only later that the more astonishing truth was discovered. There is a atmospheric and poetic description of this event in ‘The Bog People’, as follows:-

“An early spring day – 8 May 1950. Evening was gathering over Tollund Fen in Bjældskov Dal. Momentarily, the sun burst in, bright and yet subdued, through a gate in blue thunder-clouds in the west, bringing everything to life. The evening stillness was only broken now and again, by the grating love-call of the snipe. The dead man, too, deep down in the umber-brown peat, seemed to have come alive. He lay on his damp bed as though asleep, resting on his side, the head inclined a little forward , arms and legs bent. His face wore a gentle expression – the eyes lightly closed , the lips softly pursed, as if in silent prayer. It was as though the dead man’s soul had for a moment returned from another world , through the gate in the western sky.”

 © P.V.Glob 1965

Of the numerous bog bodies, Tollund man was unique in that his face was intact and in perfect condition. In fact, it is the best preserved human head, to have survived from antiquity in any part of the world. Unfortunately, a decision was made to concentrate on the preservation of the head, which was detached from the body and as a result after initial analysis the body disintegrated. It was subsequently reconstructed by experts and the replica of the body attached to the original head is what can be seen today in the museum. The photograph below shows Tollund man as he looked shortly after he was excavated.

A close up of 2000 year old stubble
The Tollund Man after excavation

But how and why did these people die? Most people during pre-Christian times in Northern Europe were cremated on pyres, so there was obviously a particular reason why the bodies in the bogs were buried in a ritualised way. They were killed in a variety of ways, either bludgeoned, strangled, hanged such as Tollund man, stabbed or a combination of all of them. They were also laid in the earth in a special manner on their side with their legs drawn up to their stomach (see photograph above). Glob argues very persuasively that these were votive offerings to the gods and he uses as evidence the many artefacts found in the peat bogs, which show a deep allegiance to the Nordic pagan gods, including the famous Gundestrup cauldron, which was found in a bog north of Silkeborg.

Gundestrup Silver Cauldren c 150BC with representations of Gods and Goddesses (By Rosemania –

Since Glob’s time other theories have arisen that bog people were social outcasts, witches or enemy hostages killed over broken treaty arrangements, although many archeologists still believe that the most likely explanation is still that of human sacrifice .

That day in Silkeborg has been etched in my memory, as in addition to the Tollund man, we also visited the nearby Silkeborg Art Museum (now renamed Museum Jorn), where I was introduced to the art of that great Danish modern artist Asger Jorn, founding member of the CoBrA group, whose wildly expressionist and primitive art, echoed ancient cultures and seemed somehow apposite after visiting Tollund Man.

In the Beginning was the Image 1965 – Asger Jorn (Copyright – Fair use)

However, it was only in the course of researching this article that I discovered, much to my surprise that Peter Glob and Asger Jorn were associates and had collaborated on a number of projects, the most important being the delightfully named ‘Scandinavian Institute of Comparative Vandalism’ , whose stated purpose was to throw new light upon the Scandinavian culture in the age of migrations and Vikings. My initial instincts on a connection between the ancient and modern were perhaps not that wide of the mark.

Of course, I am not the only person to be drawn into the web of the Bog people and the Tollund man. The greatest Irish poet of his generation and Nobel Prize winner, Seamus Heaney, became obsessed after reading Peter Glob’s book and in his 1972 collection ‘Wintering Out’ he wrote one of his most famous poems ‘The Tollund Man’


Some day I will go to Aarhus
To see his peat-brown head,
The mild pods of his eye-lids,
His pointed skin cap.

In the flat country near by
Where they dug him out,
His last gruel of winter seeds
Caked in his stomach,

Naked except for
The cap, noose and girdle,
I will stand a long time.
Bridegroom to the goddess,

She tightened her torc on him
And opened her fen,
Those dark juices working
Him to a saint's kept body,

Trove of the turfcutters'
Honeycombed workings.
Now his stained face
Reposes at Aarhus.


I could risk blasphemy,
Consecrate the cauldron bog
Our holy ground and pray
Him to make germinate

The scattered, ambushed
Flesh of labourers,
Stockinged corpses
Laid out in the farmyards,

Tell-tale skin and teeth
Flecking the sleepers
Of four young brothers, trailed
For miles along the lines.


Something of his sad freedom
As he rode the tumbril
Should come to me, driving,
Saying the names

Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,

Watching the pointing hands
Of country people,
Not knowing their tongue.

Out here in Jutland
In the old man-killing parishes
I will feel lost,
Unhappy and at home. 

© 1972, Estate of Seamus Heaney
From: Wintering Out 
Publisher: Faber & Faber, London, 1972

In his 1975 collection ‘North’, Heaney’s meditation on the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, he wrote many more bog poems including ‘Bog Queen’, ‘Grauballe man’ and ‘Punishment’ amongst others, where he uses the Bog bodies as a metaphor for the violence, punishment and terrible sacrifices being made in his home country.

Of course, when Heaney wrote ‘The Tollund Man’, he was well aware that he was housed in Silkeborg and not Aarhus, but he used poetic licence to fit in with the rhythm of the poem. Also, at the time of it’s composition, Heaney had not been to Denmark and his poem was solely inspired by Glob’s book. He remedied this several years later by visiting the Museum and meeting Glob in person and he made number of subsequent trips to Denmark.

Poetry is at its best when read aloud and even more moving and affecting when spoken by the Author himself in his soft, lilting Irish accent, as can be heard in the following link to the Poetry International Archives. The Tollund Man read by Seamus Heaney

After all this time, Tollund Man still fires my imagination; was he a willing sacrifice, an enemy combatant put to death or just a common criminal paying for his sins? We shall never know, but this I do know; very soon when the world is back to normal, we will go on a pilgrimage, retracing our Jutland trip and we will once again greet Tollund Man, lying there in his eternal slumber, just as he was nearly 40 years ago.


  1. Header Photograph – A small part of the remaining bog, where Tollund Man was found on Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. Photograph courtesy of Robert Clark , National Geographic.
  2. The Bog People by P. V. Glob – For anyone wishing to discover more about the lives and deaths of our Iron Age ancestors, this is essential reading.
  3. Visiting the Tollund Man – Silkeborg Museum
  4. The Art of Asger Jorn – Museum Jorn, Silkeborg
  5. Peter Glob’s daughter Lotte Glob is a celebrated ceramicist living and working in a remote area up in the North-West of Scotland. I can see a clear influence in her work in the wild landscape in Scotland, but also the spirit of her father and Asger Jorn are present in her ceramics. Lotte Glob, Ceramic Artist