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The American Diver: Philadelphia man dies performing a daredevil feat in London

On the 11th January 1841 a shocked crowd were horrified at the death of an American daredevil on Waterloo Bridge. Samuel Gilbert Scott, (known as Sam Scott and to the best of my knowledge not a direct relation of the Gilbert Scott dynasty of British architects) had become well known for his hair-raising feats of diving from the masts of tall ships.

Young Sam was born probably in 1813 in Philadelphia. He joined the United States Navy and became known for his bravery in jumping or diving from the high masts of sailing ships. On leaving the Navy he set himself up as a stuntman where his acts of bravery were rounded off with a passing of the hat for contributions.

Aged about 24 he had left the Navy and sought a self-made career in showbiz and by 1837 had arrived in the UK at the North-West port of Liverpool. Here he was to publicise his next show of derring-do by printing hand-bills that were spread around the good folk of Liverpool. This also attracted the local press of whom at least one correspondent was left seriously underwhelmed by the experience of seeing Scott’s exploits. On the 1st December 1837 the Liverpool Echo wrote; “ Foolhardy and totally useless display”, then went on to predict his early demise.

Undaunted by such criticism Scott continued to entertain the crowds all over England. He leapt off Telford’s Menai suspension bridge in North Wales. As well as high dives in Manchester, and Brighton, he is said to have jumped from the top mast of the captured Spanish warship HMS San Josef, a 114 gun First Rate ship of the line, at Devonport.

HMS_San_Josef

HMS San Josef

Somewhere in Cornwall, it is claimed that Scott had leapt off a 240 foot high cliff into shallow water, which if true would comfortably dwarf the current world record for such a jump. https://youtu.be/-9ox62y4zsE

Scott had by 1840 set up home in the old maritime town of Deptford on the River Thames and it was there that he almost killed himself while preparing to jump from the upper top gallant of a visiting American ship. He would warm the crowd up by swinging from a rope before his jumps first by his feet and then by his neck. Tragedy had almost struck at Deptford as the rope accidentally tightened and began to strangle him, saved only by a quick-thinking sailor who grabbed his feet, taking his weight and allowing Scott to free himself. Then Scott announced to his shocked onlookers “The hemp that is to hang me is not grown yet!”

Then in January 1841 his final act of bravery, some might call it folly, came before the enormous crowd that had gathered around Waterloo Bridge. The figure being put at up to 10,000, which does seem to be rather fanciful amount. However, the following report tells the tale of the day’s tragic turn of events.

The Times of Tuesday January 12th 1841 published this account.

“Yesterday afternoon, shortly after 2 o’clock, great excitement pervaded the western portion of the metropolis by a rumour that Scott, “the American diver,” who had of late become so notorious by his extraordinary feats, had met with his death during the performance of his customary evolutions prior to taking his dive from the summit of Waterloo-bridge into the Thames. It appears that in the morning a placard, of which the following is a copy, had been posted throughout the metropolis:-

‘Challenge to the world for 100 guineas! Monday next, Jan.11th, 1841, and during the week, Samuel Scott, the American Diver, will run from Godfrey’s, White Lion, Drury-lane, to Waterloo-bridge, and leap into the water, 40 feet high from the bridge, and return back within the hour every day during the week, between 1 and 2 o’clock. S. Scott will be in attendance every day at the above house, open to any wager.’

This notice drew, long before the time appointed, thousands of persons to Waterloo-bridge, and at five minutes past 2 o’clock Scott, accompanied by several persons, arrived on the bridge. He was merely attired in a blue striped shirt and white canvass trowsers, and had on neither shoes nor stockings. On his arrival there could not have been less than from 8,000 to 10,000 persons assembled upon the bridge and along the banks of the river to witness his extraordinary performance. Immediately over the second arch on the Middlesex side and nearest to Somerset-house, was erected a species of scaffolding, composed for two upright poles, and three others crossing them at intervals of about four or five feet, the entire height of which above the balustrades being about 10 feet. Scott appeared as usual, firm and undaunted, and made several jocular remarks to those around him. Having ascended the scaffolding, he attached the rope he carried with him, which was about 10 feet long, to the uppermost cross pole, and after placing some tin boxes round the necks of several of his friends who were to collect money for him, proceeded to commence his performance, observing, ‘Why you all appear to be cranky.’   

He first put his head into a noose of the rope, and suspended himself for a minute or two; after which he placed his feet in a similar position, and swung with his head downwards. He again mounted the top beam of the scaffold, and, taking a handkerchief off his head, placed it on the top of one of the perpendicular poles. He then seized the rope, and placing it round his neck, exclaimed at the top of his voice, ‘Now I’ll show you once more how to dance upon air before I dive.’

The unfortunate man again let himself down to the extremity of the rope with his head in the noose, but had scarcely hung more than three or four minutes when a person named Brown observed that he much feared the man had hung himself in reality, as animation appeared suspended. To this one of Scott’s friends replied, ‘Oh, he has not hung half his time yet.’  In two or three minutes after, however, shouts were heard in all directions of  ‘Cut him down.’ Mr. Brown immediately ascended and raised the poor fellow’s arm, which on being let go fell heavily back to its original position by his side. This gave convincing proof of the suspension of animation, and renewed cries were raised from all quarters of  ‘Cut him down, cut him down.’ Some time elapsed before a knife could be procured, and then two persons ascended the ladder, and with the aid of some of the F division of police, succeeded in cutting the man down.

Mr. Havers, surgeon of the York-road, and another medical gentleman who happened to be upon the spot, immediately stepped forward and opened the jugular vein, and also a vein in the arm, but only a few drops of blood followed; and to all appearances Scott was lifeless. A cart was then procured, in which he was conveyed with all possible speed, followed by hundreds of persons, to Charing-cross Hospital. On his admission, it was ascertained by Dr. Golding, the senior physician of the institution, that life was not quite extinct. Under that gentleman’s direction, the unfortunate man was, in the first place, subject to the galvanic process; secondly, cupped between the shoulders; and then, lastly, placed into a warm bath, in which he had been but a few seconds when it was ascertained that the vital spark had fled.

 Scott was a remarkably fine young man, about 30 years of age, and, although he called himself an American, was supposed to be a native of Deptford, where, he, together with his wife, was residing. She was not, as was her usual custom, with him on the present occasion; but information, however, of the melancholy affair was immediately despatched to her on its result becoming known.

The cause of the occurrence is not to be attributed, as it was generally rumoured, to the unfortunate man having indulged in drinking prior to his undertaking his perilous exhibition, but to the mere accidental circumstances of the knot in the noose having slipped from under his chin in such a manner as to produce suffocation. It will be remembered, that a similar accident occurred to the celebrated Blackmore, and which almost terminated fatally, a few years since, whilst performing his evolutions at Vauxhall-gardens.

The body awaits a coroner’s inquest.”

An engraving of the scaffold erected by Scott on Waterloo Bridge

An engraving of the scaffold erected by Scott on Waterloo Bridge

The author of this post, Ray Coggin, is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

10 remarkable 27th Januaries

Well good morning world and welcome to another 27th January in the Gregorian Calendar. The 27th January rather remarkably holds some rather significant anniversaries for humanity. I can hear you wondering, “ What anniversaries?”  Well how about a list of some of the more notable ones, although I am sure there are a lot more.

27th January 1606 

The trial of Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators opened. Accused of attempting to assassinate King James 1st of England by blowing up Parliament.

27th January 1880

American inventor Thomas Edison registers a patent for an incandescent light bulb, despite Britain’s Sir J.W. Swan demonstrating one in Dec 1878. Swan didn’t receive his patent until November 27th 1880.

Эдисон_Томас_Альва_фото_ЖЗЛ

27th January 1924

Having died on January 21st, Russian and Soviet founding father Vladimir Illyich Illyanov, known to the world as Lenin was interred in his mausoleum in Red Square.

Pogrzeb_Lenina1924

The funeral of Lenin

27th January 1945

The Soviet army liberated the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland.

27th January 1948

The first commercial tape recorder went on sale in the U.S.A.

27th January 1967

US Astronauts “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed in a flash fire on board Apollo 1 during a test.

800px-Apollo_1's_Command_Module_-_GPN-2003-00057

Burned out capsule of Apollo 1

The 3 astronauts that perished

The 3 astronauts that perished

27th January 1973

The Vietnam peace accords were signed in Paris.

27th January 1973

This author met Elizabeth Macdonald for the first time in The Fox public house, West Green Road, London. What’s for dinner tonight dear?

27th January 1995

Manchester United’s Eric Cantona received a £20,000 fine and was banned for the rest of the season after drop kicking a Crystal Palace fan in the crowd at Selhurst Park. The incident wiped £3million off the Man Utd share price. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo2aUfwPQvs

27th January 2010

Steve Jobs unveils the Apple iPad.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland

Then maybe at the closing of your day

You arrive in Holyhead to find the Princess

Turn around then come back another day.

TSS Princess Maud

Built at Dumbarton on the Clyde and launched in December 1933 for the London Midland and Scottish Railway, she was completed in 1934. She spent her heyday on the Stranraer to Larne Route, but towards the latter part of her service with British Railways she would spend the summer months as a relief ship on the busy Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire route. Never popular amongst passengers at 2886 tons she was almost half the size of the Cambria and the Hibernia, the two regular performers which dated from 1949. It was regularly standing room only. These crossings were always extremely busy in the 1950s. Apart from her small size probably the main reason for the Princess’s unpopularity was that unlike the larger boats she had no stabilisers and would pitch and roll like a fairground rollercoaster. The Irish Sea with its relatively shallow depth can pitch up fairly interesting seas in blustery weather and life on board Princess Maud was none too pleasant. Passengers crammed in had to put up with their neighbours vomiting in all parts of the ship. I hated the smell of being on board, it just stank of sick. I remember being on board either the Cambria or Hibernia, I don’t remember which, but my uncle Jim pointed out the Princess Maud as we overtook her en route for Dun Laoghaire on a flat calm morning.

Princess Maud wasn’t all that primitive though. She was built with a steam turbine engine that gave her a speed of 21 knots, faster than her bigger diesel engined rivals. Turbines had mainly replaced the older triple expansion steam engines, which were much less efficient. Princess Maud was the first British Merchant ship ever to be fitted with a sprinkler fire extinguisher system.

During WW2 Princess Maud served with distinction alongside many other ships and was part of the DD landing force in June 1944. Attached to the American forces for the invasion, she served as an LSI (Landing Ship Infantry) transporting hundreds of troops to Omaha beach. She anchored off shore transferring troops into landing craft.

Following the war she underwent a refit before resuming passenger duties from Holyhead and worked until 1965. During 1951 she returned to France briefly whilst employed on the Southampton to St. Malo route.

She was sold to a Greek company in 1965, renamed Venus and worked cruises from Cyprus, such a luxurious demise!

Eventually she was sold for scrap in 1973 and was cut up in a yard in Bilbao, Spain.

Cambria and Hibernia at Holyhead

The two mainstays of the route RMS Cambria and RMS Hibernia, built in 1949 for The British Transport Commission.

M.V. Hibernia is thought to have been sold to Greek owners in 1973 and became the Express Apollen (further investigation needed*). She was broken up at Darukhana, India in 1980.

M.V. Cambria, was sold to Middle Eastern owners and is thought to have sunk at anchor in 1980. (unconfirmed*)

*Anybody having further information on any of the ships mentioned  in this post please comment below.

Built by William Denny & Brothers Dumbarton,

Yard No 1265

Engines by Denny & Co.

 

Last Name: NYBO (1969)

Previous Names: VENUS (1965)

Propulsion: 2 screws. Two stage single reduction geared turbine. 750 nhp

Launched: Tuesday, 19/12/1933

Built: 1934

Ship Type: Passenger cargo

Ship’s Role: Stranraer – Larne service

Tonnage: 2886 grt

Owner History:

London Midland & Scottish Railway Ltd.

1965: Lefkosia Compaia Naviera SA.

Cyprus Sea Cruises (Limassol) Ltd.

Status: Scrapped – 1973

 

Remarks:

O.N. 134673.

February 1934: Completed.

1939: Troopship until Dunkirk evacuation.

1944: Deployed as LSI at invasion of Normandy.

1946: Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire service.

1973: Broken up at Bilbao.

The author of this post, Ray Coggin, is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

 

Churchill’s cancelled appointment changes world history

Today, the 25th November 2015 is the centenary of a remarkable event involving none other than Sir Winston S Churchill. This happened a few days after he resigned from the Government following the debacle of the Dardanelles Campaign and Gallipoli. Churchill under immense pressure following his handling of Britain’s disastrous campaign on the Turkish coast, decided to take himself off to the Western Front whilst remaining a Member of Parliament. It was on this day that this seemingly innocuous situation transpired that could have changed world history not only having an effect on the outcome of World War One but more importantly also on World War Two but for a chance of fate.

You can read more about this on our World War One diary blog post which will be published on 7th January 2016 on this link.

William Orpen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Churchill 1916. William Orpen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In The Land of The Green a Bolt From The Blue

In a farmhouse in rural Ireland in the early 1960’s the importance of fuel could not be underestimated. The fuel itself was something of an enigma, a left over from another age, peat! Dug from a piece of allocated bogland that people would cut for themselves. It still remains in some very small way but these days modern Ireland prefers to buy processed turf in clean compressed brickettes from the local shop than spend months working it on the bog.

To a farm smallholding it was needed all the year round. A large stack of turf built beside the house would keep the permanently burning open fire or range glowing. Everything from a cup of tea to the spuds for the pigs and the hens were cooked over the eternal peat fire.

I had spent the day alone, wheeling out turf on the bog. It was a day in late summer in the bog by the foothills of the Ox Mountains in Co. Sligo. That warm summer’s day in 1964 was cooled by the almost permanent breeze that wafted gently over the open landscape. Midges had kept me company most of the day and each time a dry sod of turf was moved they rose to attack yet again. The wheelbarrow I had been given to use was unfeasibly heavy. Made of wood, green with algae and made heavy by the damp conditions, being left out in the open all year. The wheel was an old spoked car wheel off something like a Morris 8 of pre-war vintage. Without a load the wheelbarrow was heavy enough to tax all but the most determined. With a load of wet sods of turf it was something of a challenge. It was a challenge as a fit young lad I was happy to rise to.

The day of toil was broken up by lighting a fire with dry turf and cooking a bit of bacon and egg for lunch, whilst boiling a pan of bog water for tea. It wasn’t until about 6 o’clock in the evening that my uncle Edward appeared in his grey Ford 100e Anglia to collect me.

Photo by Lwkoester via Creative Commons

Photo by LWKoester via Creative Commons

We drove slowly along the bumpy rough metalled track and the early evening late summer sun was still high in the cloudless blue sky. As we bumped along chatting about the day’s achievements, I was quick to spot something that I had never seen before.

I shouted, “look”!

A great burning ball of fire came out of the blue sky, hurtling towards us in a low trajectory. Coming at us at great speed and in what must have been no more than three or four seconds it shot past us to our left before crashing into a wet bog.

We paused in the kind of pregnant silence that awaited our astonished response.

“What was that”? said my 14 year old voice.

There was another pause after which Edward said, “I think it was one of them thunderbolts. I’ve heard about some kind of ball lightning like fork lightning only in a ball, but I’ve never seen it before”.

We were both as amazed as each other, Edward was in his early twenties and I thought of him as a man that knew most things, but clearly he was struggling for an explanation. For a long time afterwards I sort of accepted his offer of ball lightning, but the experience never left me and today, over fifty years later, I can still see that ball of fire hurtling from the sky.

These days I believe that what we saw was probably a very small meteorite that was of significant enough size not to burn up completely on entering Earth’s atmosphere and by the time it hit the ground would have been the size of a pebble.

Why do these things happen on a remote bog in Ireland and not in Trafalgar Square causing mayhem, injury and panic, I ask myself? Remote places like the Antarctic are where you find small meteorites lying on the ice, or large flat surfaces like a salt lake or even a desert.

Meteorites are part of some distant asteroid or possibly even a comet that has broken away after a celestial collision some place out in the universe. They could be part of a distant planet that has been hit in a larger collision possibly thousands of years ago, where the debris has flown off into space. Whatever their origin, most of this interstellar gravel burns up and disintegrates as it enters our atmosphere, but some contain enough matter to survive the entry and make it all the way to the surface of Earth. They make the nightly spectacular that we call shooting stars. Easily visible in the unlit skies of the country, but hidden by the light polluted sky in our cities. The smaller bits burn to nothing in the upper atmosphere.

Photo by jsjgeology via Creative Commons

There have been something like 40,000 finds of these things since someone started counting, but since that unforgettable event a second sighting has eluded me.

Peat is no longer cut in Ireland on a significant basis, although some people still have their own piece of bog to work. Maybe another ball of fire has been seen out in the loneliness of the bog?

No known collisions with a London bus have yet been reported, but who knows? Someday, somewhere, there may be one out in space with your name on it.

Meteorites can be seen in the London Geological Museum, now part of the Natural History Museum which at London and UK Taxi Tours we can recommend as one of London’s great free attractions.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

All aboard the Huanchaco

This coming December we will publish the serialised diary of the movements of Dr. D.C.M. Page M.C following his exploits as a Medical Officer during most of the First World War.  Dr Page was my wife’s grandfather. Whilst serving he kept a detailed diary which contains many fascinating facts previously unknown to military historians.

You will be able to retrace the steps of this remarkable man as he is summoned by telegram to report immediately for duty and travels from his home in Edinburgh to the south coast and is assigned a regiment. Only a few hours after the telegram and the long train journey south he is aboard the S.S. Huanchaco bound for France.

Each day will be the centenary of the event and we follow him through the cold winter rain, snow and ice as he tells us of not only the horrors, but also the more revealing lighthearted moments of the terrible war.

Part of the research around this has revealed a truly astonishing event that could have altered the history of the world involving none other than Winston S. Churchill.

Beginning on this blog  on the 2nd December, don’t miss it!

If you would like to be alerted to our post on 2nd December then sign up to our newsletter here

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

A B&B like no other

The following account is one that I never expected to write, it was never planned, but not much I ever do is. It is an account of one of the most astonishing but equally enjoyable discoveries I have made in my life so far. I hope it excites the reader as much as it did me.

Finding ourselves with a day to kill on our return journey (see previous post) through Brittany and Basse-Normandie, I had to find a camp for the night. We could have stayed in Cherbourg, but I thought why not stay within striking distance thus giving ourselves an easy journey to the port and another chance to explore a bit more of this previously unvisited part of France.

Out of the blue I found Chateau de Pont-Rilly, reasonably priced, looked nice, but I thought well the pics are going to look nice anyway, but I expect we will get a converted stable or such. Who cares it’s just for the night.

What we actually got was jaw droppingly fantastic! We found our way to where we thought it might be as the chateau wasn’t marked on our Michelin road map and the sat nav thought it was somewhere entirely different. We’d sacked the useless English fool the day before anyway for his terrible pronunciation of French. I mean come on, at least try. It’s Fougeres not four gears for God’s sake!

Luckily the owners had installed small direction signs on all the approaches so we just followed them until we came to a very modest looking gate with a small sign declaring Chateau de Pont-Rilly.

We entered the small, unmade drive and stopped to be amazed. There in the distance almost a kilometre away along this dead straight narrow track was the Chateau in all its splendour. We approached at the speed of a horse drawn carriage taking in the beautiful vista.

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

Nearing the building the road changes to large cobblestones flanked by decorative canals and faced with a grander but still modest iron gateway.

As we came even nearer I could see a man painting a window frame in the house and from around the side a woman walked towards us. The lady turned out to be one of the owners, a couple Madame and Monsieur Roucheray, and they directed us to the rear of the building and asked us to park anywhere, before greeting us with an offer of drinks.  Introductions were completed over pots of tea and coffee, as I sat amazed at the scene before us.

M Roucheray

M Roucheray

Madame Annick generously told us that we were allowed to roam as we wished and practically nowhere was out of bounds, before offering a tour of her magnificent palace for the next morning after breakfast, which we hurriedly accepted.

In 1982 Annick and Jean-Jacques had discovered the place in virtual ruin whilst looking for somewhere in the region to live.  They were living and working in Paris and wanted to move away from the madness of city living. Successful in the field of furniture design and interior decoration their skills were to be put to good use in the restoration of Chateau de Pont-Rilly.

Having seen photos of the Chateau when they found it, I thought “what a huge task”. Only a fool or someone with a bottomless pit of money would take that on. Clearly neither of this pleasant French couple are fools and I don’t know how much money they have left now, but the job is done and they are still smiling!

chateau ruin

The chateau during renovation

The story of the restoration of the Chateau is as remarkable as the Roucherays themselves. A large manor house existed here from at least the middle of the 16th century but it was in the 18th century that the Marquis d’Ourville was to have the place transformed into the grand house that exists today.

When Annick and Jean-Jacques stumbled on this crumbling wreck of a building a dream was born. Could they possibly have had any clue as to the enormity of the task they had set themselves? Anyone that has seen the current glut of restoration projects on TV recently would be left in no doubt as to the enormity of the task. The walls were crumbling, plaster had fallen off, leaking pipes caused water to run through the floors and generally the whole place looked like the set of a Hollywood horror movie. I can imagine standing looking at the huge grey edifice with only the wind and the cawing of crows disturbing the silence. The ghosts of ancient nobles and their servants of long ago and the noisy chatter of American troops as they sat around the grounds, smoking and playing cards as they waited for action during the second World War. Undaunted, the Roucherays took the challenge on, bought the property and set about the biggest job of their lives.

Now I like a challenge , but the enormity of this task cannot adequately be described. Not only is there the size of the project, but the time involved in historic research, sourcing authentic materials, rebuilding the roof, the floors, the windows, the plasterwork, the electrics, the plumbing and the myriad small details that had to be right. Imagine all of that and you might begin to get an idea.

Not only did they have to contend with all of this but also the wishes of their close neighbours one of whom wanted to construct a large dairy facility very close to their land.  If that person had had their way the beautiful valley and decorative canals would have been filled in to create the dairy complex.

Luckily for Pont-Rilly the Roucherays found an ally in officialdom. Regional Protection Services librarian Hervé Pelvillain took an interest and set to work constructing the case to convince the Minister of Culture to make the Chateau a classified Historical Monument, which secured its future.

First the job of stopping the commercial development had to be undertaken. Ancient trees had been felled and the building of the dairy complex was already underway, but thanks to the efforts of Monsieur Pelvillain the building permit was reversed and work stopped. Now, over 30 years later the growing vegetation has disguised much of the un-demolished building work and has left no lasting damage.

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

 

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

Work could now resume on the Chateau and the work of restoration could go ahead apace. Jean-Jacques found traces of the original paint on the panelling and would match the colours to recreate the past. His talents would be put to much greater use as the work progressed.

I am certainly no expert, but Jean-Jacques’ talents as an artist must surely rate up there with the best. His work is now on display everywhere you look in this great house. From the authentic colours matched, to the murals painted onto those panels, his skills beam out their talent to the world.  The faux marble fireplaces and columns painted to look like real marble are reminiscent of Wren’s Hampton Court Palace and Barry’s Reform Club, having the desired effect without the undesirable cost. The period furniture blended with the genuine article and magnificent drapery pay testimony to the skills of Annick. The curtains are hand sewn. She proudly showed a complete 12 place cutlery set contemporary of Napoleon Bonaparte along with period French bracket clocks and paintings of characters that seemed to belong there.

On one wall hangs a great naval scene of Cherbourg in August 1858 with Britain’s Queen Victoria’s Royal yacht “Victoria and Albert” centre stage flanked by great French ships like the then new Bretagne, herself a curiosity. She was laid down as a sailing ship and fitted with a steam engine as she was being built.

Napoleon III welcomes Victoria & Albert by Langlois

Napoleon III welcomes Victoria & Albert by Langlois

The scene commemorates Napoleon III receiving Victoria and Albert to show off his impressive navy. It is the work of an artist, himself a native of Normandy, Colonel Jean-Charles Langlois. Langlois was born in Beaumont-en-Auge in 1789 at the outbreak of the French Revolution. He must have been a good school student because he was sent to the Ecole Polytechnique near Paris. It was and remains one of the four Grandes Ecoles set up by the revolution as an elite college for exceptional students. After leaving college he embarked on a military career and fought with Napoleon at the battles of Wagram and Genoa in 1809 and in 1815 took part in the Battle of Waterloo. He fought with such bravery and ferocity that he was made a colonel at the age of 26.

Retiring on half pay from the army due to the injuries he received, he then took up art as a career. For the most part he would paint battle scenes on enormous canvasses to be used in dioramas, a kind of forerunner to the cinema. These would consist of a large two-sided theatre in which these large paintings along with mirrors and magic lanterns would recreate famous scenes and transport amazed audiences to the centre of battle or on a trip to the pyramids of Egypt or any fantastic place that most people could never see. Unfortunately most of these large works were destroyed by fire.

Napoleon III’s PR exercise rebounded on him. Victoria returned home fuming and summoned the Prime Minister Lord Derby to rebuke him at the state of her navy. Within a year Derby had been replaced.

Since Waterloo in 1815 peace had broken out and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Britain had lapsed into a false sense of security. British politics, it could be said was suffering a period of turmoil and indecision during the 1850s and 60s. The office of Prime Minister changed hands no less than six times in the period 1852 to 1868, not a time for stable decisions. Budgets for war had been reigned in and the navy was a casualty. It was also a time when new technologies, not armies were marching forward. The last great wooden battleship, ironically the biggest, was launched in 1844 although it would never be used in battle. Wood had given way to iron cladding leading to all iron vessels and sail was giving way to steam.

Napoleon’s new navy took the wind from Victoria’s sails and put it straight up her government. His new steamships looked impressive but Her Majesty was not amused. In 1859 the Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom was formed and by 1860 under the stewardship of Lord Palmerston a series of forts were begun around Portsmouth at first and added to around the south coast. They were criticised as “Palmerston’s Follies” as they appeared to be built facing the wrong way round. In fact they were built to defend Portsmouth from a land based attack rather than from the sea, but in truth before they were finished their guns were outdated and they only ever served as a curiosity, which remains the case today.

Every part of this great house displays something of great interest, a work of art or an intriguing antique. The furnishings and finished decor are exquisite. Relics of the 18th century bearing the marks of Louis XVI hang as reminders of the house’s heritage.

Mme Annick at the window with its original glass

Mme Annick at the window with its original glass

A drawing room

A drawing room

Outside the house, the stables look ready to house a new generation of horses should they arrive at any time. The chapel is ready to welcome a small congregation or a happy wedding party. The old mill house with its chiming clock has an elaborate wooden staircase that would look more at home in the grand house. The beautifully restored greenhouse is a tranquil and evocative repose for Jean-Jacques to listen to his favourite French composers in the company of its lush vegetation. At the opposite end of the gardens which are stocked with beautiful herbaceous borders with their wild flowers blending with the manicured lawns and flanked with decorative canals is a modern pergola built to complement the  greenhouse. Peacocks roam with the wildfowl to complete the stunning scene.

Chateau de Pont-Rilly is a gem that thanks to this lovely couple is available to be enjoyed by the rest of the world or at least those lucky enough to spend a short but tranquil time here. It’s not a place to be spoiled by families with young children, you won’t even find a TV here, but in truth you wouldn’t want to waste a minute of your time here other than just enjoying it.

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

If you would like more details about this amazing chateau contact us or view their website here.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here or sign up to be kept informed of upcoming events, tours and special offers here.

Les Vacances de Monsieur Coggin

A very British Holiday

A few years ago the current Mrs Coggin and I took our car to Ireland with family and on our return booked on to a fast ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. You know the kind of thing, an aluminium speedboat with two hulls, but big enough to swallow 200 cars and 800 passengers. Powered by 4 high speed diesel engines that provide so much power that it would indeed prove difficult to keep upright should you feel the need to water ski behind it.

We set out on this super ferry safe in the knowledge that our crossing time would be a full two hours quicker than the conventional ferry thus negating the possibility of throwing up the evening meal on the way home. We set off into a blustery wind that made it hard to settle, but were safe in the thought that this wouldn’t take too long and we would be safe on dry land in a short space of time. If you have ever experienced leaping off the top of a wave in a small boat to land with a jolt on the next wave just in time to repeat the process you’re getting the idea. Soon we were within the safety of the breakwater outside Holyhead harbour and slowed to a near stop while the vessel billowed and bobbed about, a not too pleasant sensation. After a while the captain announced that we were to turn into the wind for comfort so the breaking waves would crash over the bow instead of our broadside.

This wasn’t a great piece of news to the current Mrs C who had spent most of our exhilarating journey lying on the floor in a vain effort to retain the steak and chips of earlier. I tried, dutifully to reassure her with comforting phrases like, “you’d better get up were getting off in a minute”.

Then the P.A announced. “At the moment we’re unable to berth owing to the dangerous conditions, so we will give it a little while to see if it settles down a bit, sorry for the delay”.

Mrs C. looked up at me from her preferred position, prostrate, almost Nelson at Trafalgar like.  Her pretty blue eyes streaming tears and leaving rather alarming trails of black mascara running down her now revengeful face.

“If we ever get off this bloody thing alive Coggin, you’re a dead man”!

A little extreme I thought. “Am I responsible for the weather”?

“You put us on this blo……raaaaaalph…..”.

Enough said.

Then another announcement

“Owing to the dangerous conditions and the continuing poor weather forecast telling us it’s not going to abate soon, we are unable to dock at our berth. We have taken the decision to return to Dublin to try later. Sorry for the inconvenience”.

What followed was one of the most miserable experiences of my life. Truly, it was right up there with Arsenal losing at Wembley to Swindon, Ipswich and West Ham.

It was with not a little trepidation therefore some ten years later that I tentatively attempted to re-introduce the idea. Ten years of  “never again”, “you can go on your own then” and “I’ll meet you at the airport on the other side”.  After some subtle coaxing and saying things like, ”it’s different now, this is a big ship and it’s July it will be fine, look at that sunshine out there”.

The weather on the Sunday as it turned out wasn’t too great. Rain and a bit windy for the time of year, to be honest. I looked at the forecast and quickly switched it off! Winds in the channel expected to gust up to 50 mph. No way must she hear of this, so various diverting tactics were deployed like talking to her for instance. An early night was needed for the early start next morning.

I had looked at some British destinations that we could just drive to and maybe stay in an inexpensive hotel if we could get a deal somewhere, but of course this was the high season, the first week of the school holidays. All over Britain local landlords and ladies were sharpening their sheering scissors waiting to fleece us of our hard earned cash, so I was fervently doing my best to hang on to some of it in anticipation of having a great time. Then a light switched on it seemed. Living only a few minutes from a cross channel port we could be on board one of those ferries that we often watch whilst tucking in to fish and chips in the car by the shore in Southsea and land in our own car in France.

I then had a scan to see where we could go or what we could do. People that know me, know that one of my all time favourite movies is the 1953 French movie “Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot”, or as released in Britain and the USA, “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday”.  I had looked at the locations used many years ago and discovered that the hotel depicted in the movie was in fact the Hotel de la Plage, the name used in the film and existed just as it was all of those sixty odd years ago.

We arrived at Portsmouth bright and early on a lovely sunny Monday morning. “That’s a touch”, I thought to myself. “A nice day and not much wind. It was close, but I’d got away with that one”.

Which queue? We wondered.  “None of them mate”, came the reply after enquiring from a port worker.

“Cancelled yesterday, you should have got an email”.

Well we didn’t!

The lovely Liz (she reads this) marched into the terminal to sort things out, returning about 10 minutes later.

“Sorted we’re going to Caen on a ferry that leaves in 20 minutes, get moving! They had no way to contact us. Our one is still in France”.

No email because we had booked online through Ferries Direct and they hadn’t forwarded our contact details to Brittany Ferries who then had no way to let us know. Of course Ferries Direct weren’t open on Sunday so a lesson learned, book direct, instead of Direct! If you get my drift?

Following our last minute diversion we finally arrived in the country of our destination, France. Not the right port but a port nevertheless. We had got up early in eager anticipation of our not meticulously planned week in France and now we were here.

I remember a few years ago reading a review of the hotel and the disappointed traveller revealed that the hotel staff at that time knew nothing of its history and connection with the great Jacques Tati. Tati was a comedy icon in France for more than three decades and thanks to British television periodically airing the very amusing and charming film here, even my children grew up aware of it.

Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot

Jacques Tati as Monsieur Hulot

I searched on Booking.com for Saint Marc-sur-Mer and there it leapt out at me, Hotel de la Plage, now a Best Western group hotel, who claim to have over 4000 hotels in 100 countries. The tiny village of Saint Marc-sur-Mer, a suburb of Saint Nazaire in Brittany, has now totally embraced the heritage of the movie and the lovely beach has been renamed Plage de M. Hulot. A room was available at a modest £380 for five nights with a non-sea view or quite a bit more to look at the sea. Well I know what the sea looks like and thanks to Street View I had a good idea about the non-sea view so went for the cheaper option.

The diversion left us with a longer sea crossing and a little further to drive the other side, but undeterred we battled on. Hotel de la Plage is situated in a very pleasant little hamlet in the area of Saint Marc-sur-Mer, which is completely unspoilt by commercial development. It faces the clean and pretty beach looking out over the estuary of the River Loire as it exits out to the Atlantic.

The staff were friendly and helpful and our room on the second floor had the added bonus of a bathroom with a sea view! Completely renovated in 2008 it benefits from modern, if modest fitments and fittings throughout. Claiming three star status, the hotel is unpretentious, but never the less charming in its superb situation. We opted to eat there the first night and were not disappointed. The restaurant proved to be extremely popular with both the guests and locals and was very busy for a Monday night. We had got off to a good start.

Hotel de la Plage

Hotel de la Plage

The weather for the area was unusually poor for the time of the year, but promised to improve through the week, which it did. Tuesday though was miserable and wet so we made the decision to explore in the car as we hadn’t planned anything else. What transpired was that we went to places that we agreed would have been great to visit on a nice day!

Brittany

Untypical Brittany weather

Wednesday was much improved weather wise so this was the day to explore the World of Monsieur Hulot, Imagine our surprise when he joined us on the beach!

Monsieur Hulot 2015

Monsieur Hulot 2015!

A young French comedian Cyril Guillot has taken on the role of the great Tati and is employed to entertain not only hotel guests but also anyone attending the beach. Tati was famous for his visual comedy and the young M. Guillot has recaptured Hulot’s characteristics very well. You can view the real man here in the whole movie https://vimeo.com/19873779 .

We took up residence on the sun beds at the front of the hotel and M.Hulot later joined us with his tennis racquets and bucket and spade as he made his way to the pier, sadly lacking the small lighthouse it had in the movie. However Hulot managed to catch “two fishes” as he was keen to tell me later.

Cyril Guillot as M. Hulot with Liz

Cyril Guillot as M. Hulot with Liz

Thursday we chose to visit the port town of Saint Nazaire. We had read a review of the town that described it as drab and boring with its only points of interest being the former German U-boat pens, so strong that any thought of demolition was abandoned a long time ago. They survive as a bleak reminder as to their former use. Built to house a flotilla of twenty WW2 U boats they are freely accessible to the public who can roam through them as they want.

U-boat pens at St. Nazaire

U-boat pens at St. Nazaire

One interesting use of the concrete bunkers has been the installation of an exhibition of the great Trans-Atlantic Liners built in Saint Nazaire, Esca l‘Atlantic. You are transported into the interiors of the liners “Isle de France” of 1927 and the “Normandie” of 1935 then the “France” of the 1960’s. A proud reminder of the ships that once competed for traffic to the New World, that were built here in Saint Nazaire. A tradition that continues today with the current construction by STX of the “Harmony of the Seas”, which will be the world’s largest ever cruise liner built so far, at an incredible 227,700 Gross Tonnage. She is due to be completed in 2016. Compare that to the Titanic and its measly sounding 46,328 GRT.

Harmony of the Seas under construction at STX yard

Harmony of the Seas under construction at STX yard

Also in the dock were the two Russian amphibious assault vessels the Mistral Class Vladivostok and Sevastopol. Launched by STX in 2013 and 2014 respectively, they should have been delivered to the Russian Navy following successful sea trials, but owing to the military situation in Ukraine final delivery was held up for political reasons, after intervention from French President François Hollande. Delivery has been postponed indefinitely due to the continuing situation.

Vladivostok at St Nazaire

Vladivostok at St Nazaire

Following Esca l’Atlantic it was a long walk around to the Espadon (Swordfish) a large French submarine now housed in the covered and fortified old lock entrance to the dock.

French submarine Espadon

French submarine Espadon

In service from her commission in 1960 until she became a museum in 1987, Espadon was a non-nuclear, diesel powered sub that saw no action during her lifetime. Here though you can get a feeling of the cramped conditions endured by her crew of 63 that could stay submerged for up to 45 days. One would imagine that farting might be a capital offence. Her two diesel engines gave her a total output of 4.400 hp. Despite seeing no action she was not without incidents. During an exercise in 1963 she was hit by two unarmed torpedoes that damaged her propeller, forcing her to surface. On another occasion she was in an underwater collision with another submarine that caused extensive damage to her bow.

After Espadon we walked the short distance to the museum of economic development of St Nazaire. Showing the history of the area over the last 10000 years or so, with some interesting archaeological finds as well as a few exquisite ship models.

I have to disagree with the review I had read about the town as there are some very pleasant areas and it reminded be as being not unlike Southend-on-Sea in certain parts. Ok, maybe the reviewer had been to Southend, and my view of it does go back to the 1950’s.

Friday saw a trip over one of the great modern road bridges to be found in France. Completed in 1974 and opened in 1975 the Saint Nazaire bridge spans the River Loire from Saint Brevins les-Pins. When built it was the longest bridge in France and at the time the longest cable strung bridge in the world. Toll free since 1994 it negates the need for the long drive through Nantes to cross the river.

Saint Nazaire Bridge

Saint Nazaire Bridge

Saturday was the end of our stay in the Brittany region and due to a cock up on my part over the return sailing I had to find another hotel to stay for the spare night that I had accidentally built in to our holiday. This of course was no problem to an experienced and intrepid traveller such as I. I returned to the internet and simply booked a little b&b near our departure port of Cherbourg. This would give us a brief chance to explore a region of the Basse-Normandie not yet discovered by us. So a place named Pont-de-Rilly was plucked from obscurity for our next stay.

After sacking the guy who had been giving me directions from my iPhone throughout our French adventure, mainly because of his terrible pronunciation of French place names and roads. I had opted for the most volatile method of navigation aids, almost guaranteeing some disruption to the harmony enjoyed so far. My wife Liz was going to read the map and give directions.

After studious scrutiny of the Michelin road map, Liz had worked out a route across country using little using byways and departmental roads. I, now more mature and balanced in my attitude had concluded that whatever the outcome we couldn’t get really lost. There was a coast not far from us in almost every direction that we could simply follow to Cherbourg. What could possibly go wrong?

And so we settled into a relaxing cross country drive with concise and clear directions delivered in Liz’s new French accent, a great improvement on the fool sacked earlier. So after many instructions such as “at the next roundabout take the third exit onto Rue de la Resistance”, often followed shortly by “well we can go this way anyway”, we arrived in the tiny village of Negreville and found our b&b. The tiny signpost led to an equally modest gate and the driveway into our temporary home.

Avenue d’honor Chateau de Pont-Rilly

Avenue d’honor Chateau de Pont-Rilly

Somewhere in the distance was a large 18th century chateau in its beautiful surroundings. Our gobs were well and truly smacked!

On arrival at the main house we were met by Madame Annick Roucheray, the owner with her husband Jean Jacques. No doubt she had been alerted by the man painting a window frame that we were coming down the drive. In truth the drive is so long, he could have written to her to tell her of our approach.

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

Chateau de Pont-Rilly

It turned out eventually that the painter was Madame Roucheray’s husband Jean-Jacques and no ordinary painter!  What was to follow was truly remarkable. So remarkable that I have decided to dedicate it to a separate post altogether. Look for the Chateau de Pont-Rilly post coming next week.

After leaving the grandest house I’ve ever slept in by a country mile, we ambled off with hours to spare to reach Cherbourg our ferry port. “Pick a place on the map”, said Liz. “Errr……. There! Barfleur”.

So again relying solely on the map and read splendidly once more by Liz, we took off quite slowly, but surely along the lovely quiet lanes occasionally crossing a busier national road or two. Now and again we would arrive at a rural crossroads. With Liz strangely silent I would ask, “Which way now”?

“Well, we could try left”?

“Or right”?

“Hmmm, we could be here so I think left”.

OK we proceed again.

“We’re on this number road but it’s not on the map “!

We pressed on, eventually coming to a sign for Barfleur.

We had arrived in historic Barfleur on the day of a festival and it was very busy with revellers. Barfleur, once with a population of over 1200 now has only about 650 residents. It was once the main departure point from France to England. This is where the Normans under William le Bastard embarked for their successful invasion of England in 1066. In 1120 William’s grandson Prince William son of Henry 1st of England was drowned when his vessel the White Ship was dashed against the rocks, not far from Barfleur.

Then in 1194 Richard the 1st of England or Richard the Lionheart, embarked from here after being released by The Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI.

Barfleur

Barfleur

The harbour side restaurants were very busy but we were ready for lunch. At the centre of the festival area, a large queue had manifested leading to a stall selling moules et frites. The chefs engulfed in thick smoke and constantly wiping their watery smoke filled eyes whilst choking in the smoke seemed to battle against the odds to serve their fayre. Through this scene the music of a jolly looking, rotund French accordionist permeated the smoky air and amusingly the seated diners and the standing queuers all began to join in by singing along. Somehow I found it difficult to imagine this scene being emulated anywhere at home.

Following a lovely lunch we decided to make our way on to Cherbourg via the coast road and enjoy the last of the sights on offer. What was on offer was more countryside, similar to the south of England. Not unlike that of the south Kent coastline or Sussex. We passed one of the tallest lighthouses in Europe at Phare de Gatteville, When built in 1835 it was the tallest in the world standing 75 metres (247ft) and like many other tall buildings claims 365 steps to get to the top.

Phare de Gatteville

Phare de Gatteville

At Cherbourg it was ice cream on the beach and an attempt to listen to Arsenal beating Chelsea in the Community Shield, but constant signal interruptions made it painful so I gave up.

We boarded the fast ferry Normandie Express which steadily zoomed its way across the Channel at 42 knots and bringing our brief adventure to a close.

It wasn’t long before we were reminded where we live though. Arriving on time we thought. “home in twenty minutes”. Wrong!

Normandie Express

Normandie Express

The whole of the motorway including the junctions for London and Chichester and along the coast was entirely closed for roadworks. No diversions in place, no information. Was it entirely necessary to close it completely? I doubt it somehow. Luckily, Liz was driving and knows the locality better than me, so she threaded her way around the back lanes until finally getting back on the road two junctions along. Is there any need for this? After a week of hassle free driving, as soon as we get off the boat, bang!  Welcome home.

 Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here or sign up to be kept informed of upcoming events, tours and special offers here.

The Prickly Issue of the Scottish Pillar Box

Now for something that everyone has had the occasion to use at some time or other in their lives. Nothing less than the humble pillar box.

You could be forgiven for thinking that there’s not much exciting about a post box? The most exciting thing you could do with one is to post a letter through its eager aperture, waiting to devour its daily ration of letters and small packets. You would be forgiven for thinking that, wouldn’t you? Of course you would be incredibly wrong. In fact it has something of an explosive history.

Introduced here in the UK in 1853 by Anthony Trollope, then a humble employee of the Post Office, following a successful trial in the Channel Islands.  It had a shaky beginning. Early models leaked rainwater and soaked the contents within. Gradually it evolved into a watertight reliable receptacle and spread throughout the country.

Many of the early examples had been replaced but were kept in store in lieu of being displayed in a museum somewhere. Then the fireworks began. The yard that they were being stored in took a direct hit from the Luftwaffe during the Blitz and the precious cast ironware, rendered asunder was lost forever.

Then in the early 1950’s after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth new post boxes were ordered. Some were made in London and many were to be produced in Scotland at The Lion Foundry in Kirkintilloch and by the Carron Company near Falkirk.

Despite the fact that patterns were made and many people would have been involved in the design and manufacture of these latest pillar boxes no one seems to have picked up on a flaw that would spark anger and unrest among the more fervent nationalist Scots. The cypher of the new Queen Elizabeth proudly displayed on the front of the boxes bore the legend EIIR just as they did wherever they were placed throughout Her Majesty’s realm. Proudly that is until some began to be the victims of vandal attacks and even home made explosive devices.

In Inch, a part of Edinburgh, following the installation of a gleaming new red post box, the box was daubed with tar, subject to attacks with a hammer before being blown to pieces, within three months. Such was the fervour of opposition felt in Scotland that a lawsuit was brought against the Lord Advocate in Scotland. The case was that of MacCormick v Lord Advocate. This case claimed that Queen Elizabeth had no right to use the term Elizabeth the Second within the confines of Scotland as she was indeed the first Queen Elizabeth that Scotland had had and as such contravened the terms of the 1707 Act of Union.

It certainly is true that The Queen is in fact the first Queen Elizabeth of not only Scotland, but the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The result of the case was that the Queen as a matter of the Royal Prerogative can call herself whatever Her Majesty pleases. However, it was decided to move the offending boxes elsewhere and replace them with new ones bearing the Crown of Scotland and omitting reference to the monarch.

The Type C large pillar box first introduced in 1899, has spread throughout what was the British Empire and can still be found doing its work as far away as Hong Kong.

Pillar Box

 

Ray Coggin is both a qualified Taxi Guide and a qualified City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights tours and themed tours) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here or sign up to be kept informed of upcoming events and tours here.

 

 

 

The Angel of Albania?

Whilst rehearsing my Queensway and Bayswater walk a slightly odd occurrence happened. About halfway through the walk I decided to investigate a previously not included monument on Inverness Terrace.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Benton

Photo courtesy of Stephen Benton

After taking a few pics, I had to venture into the undergrowth of the unkempt ornamental gardens surrounding the mounted bust to read the plaque on the wall behind.

Inverness Terrace Garden

Photo courtesy of Stephen Benton

In 2012 this odd looking monument to a man in strange headgear had appeared in this garden to which I had wondered why it was there and who did it represent? Of course I had forgotten about it until now.

It was installed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence.  It is the creation of Albanian sculptor Kreshnik Xhiku who has produced other nationalistic monuments for sites around the world.

Emerging somewhat suspiciously I’ll admit from the bushes, I crossed the road and was heading for the next stop when a stranger approached me. “I saw your interest in the statue”, he said. I was a little startled and said “OK”?

“Do you know about it”? he asked.

“Nothing at all”.

“I can tell you”.

Intrigued I responded, “Please do”.

“I could talk for hours on it,” he said.

“Try five minutes”. I replied.

What followed I found truly astonishing. Here was a smallish, smiling man in his fifties, unshaven, a little unkempt. He seemed to appear from nowhere carrying a small bag of shopping. I hadn’t seen him when I was scrambling around the statue, even though I had looked around to see who would have been watching me as I climbed over the fence to investigate.

“Are you Albanian” ? I asked.

“Yes” he smiled. He then proceeded to give a lecture on the subject and the importance of the man depicted by the statue.

Albanian princes it seems would be captured by the Ottoman Turks and taken back to Constantinople as hostages as insurance against attack. Skanderbeg was a son of one of those princes.

Gjergi Kastrioti or George if you insist on being English was born in Albania in 1405. Then captured by the Ottoman forces and taken to Turkey aged eighteen and remained there for the next twenty years. He became a trusted leader and attained high office in the Empire, but he never forgot his Albanian roots. In 1443 he deserted the Ottomans and returned to Albania where he soon became leader of Albania and Macedonia.

For twenty five years he defended Albania against the Turks, preventing them from reaching Rome and conquering Christendom. Seen as the saviour of the Christian West against the Ottoman Muslims, he became a champion of Pope Pius II for whom he assembled an army to crusade against the Turks. When Pius II died he joined forces with the Venetian army and fought until his death in 1468.

His comparison at the time to Alexander the Great got him the name Skanderbeg from the latinised Alexander.

Had Skanderbeg not prevailed, the Ottoman Empire would have extended through the Balkans and eventually overthrown Italy and Western Europe changing history, possibly forever.

I had felt humbled by the knowledge of this little foreign stranger, but became even more impressed as he then remarked how British History would have turned out completely differently had Prince Arthur Tudor survived to become King instead of his younger brother Henry. Henry VIII would never have existed, Britain may have remained under the influence of Rome and somebody completely different may have been on the British throne today.

I had enjoyed this guy’s astonishingly enlightened input so I thought I would repay the compliment and ask him to accompany me to my next stop. I turned to put it to him, but he was nowhere to be seen.

As the guy once said, “It’s a funny old game isn’t it”?

Skanderbeg

If you would like to discover more secrets of Bayswater then click here to find out about our fund-raising walk which will be taking place on Saturday 25th July at 2pm. We are raising funds for the Magical Taxi Tour more details of which can be found on our recent blog post.

Ray Coggin is both a qualified Taxi Guide and a qualified City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights tours and themed tours) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.