I am out of the closet (or should that be the crypt?) as a self-proclaimed taphophile. Graveyards have long held a fascination for me and many hours over my fifty plus years have been spent in cemeteries both here in the United Kingdom and across Europe.

On occasion, on my forays into these tranquil spaces, a particular grave will pique my curiosity. This may be for a variety of reasons, an association with local history, an intriguing epitaph or a family connection.... it doesn't take much. The online availability of censuses, official registries and newspaper archives have in recent years made it possible to learn something more about the lives lived by those remembered only as fading names carved in stone. These resources provide an opportunity to put 'flesh on old bones' as the turn of phrase goes, hence the title of this blog 'Beyond the Grave'.

If anyone reading these posts has anything to add please feel free to contact me at adrianandrews@myyahoo.com.

Friday 15 September 2023

Remembering J.E.R. Young and C. C. Taylor 37 (Home Defence) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps Killed in Action on 7th July 1917

As mentioned in the previous post, two airmen of 37 (HD) Squadron were killed in action against the enemy. Second Lieutenant John Edward Rostron Young and Air Mechanic Second Class Cyril Charles Taylor lost their lives when engaging a large force of Gotha bombers during a daylight raid on Saturday 7th July 1917. Both men died in the same aircraft, a Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter 2-seater. Taylor was the observer and Young the pilot. This aircraft was one of many that were sent up from several aerodromes across Essex and Kent (nearly 100 machines were reported were reported as attempting to engage the enemy aircraft). Planes from all three sections of 37 (HD) Squadron (A Flight (Rochford), B Flight (Stow Maries) and C Flight (Goldhanger)) were airborne that morning. Young and Taylor's aircraft took of from Rochford on the fateful morning.

The raiders on that day consisted of 22 Gotha bombers, a huge force participating in a second attack on the capital. 

A Gotha heavy bomber

The fate of the two young airmen's Sopwith is described in the following contemporary newspaper report that appeared in the 13th July 1917 edition of the Streatham News, Balham and Tooting News and Borough of Wandsworth Chronicle.

What rather surprised me about this account was the level of detail provided to the father of the pilot, John Young, that alluded to the fact that at the time that his strickened aircraft plummeted into the sea, poor John's body would have been 'riddled with bullets'. My guess is that these words, provided to grieving parents, in a letter from the young officer's Commanding Officer would have been intended to convey the fact that in the face of such overwhelming enemy fire power, John Young's death would have been quick, clean and painless. That a newspaper printed such detail is perhaps more surprising given the potential negative impact that such detailed reporting could have on the readership. Note also that the reporting journalist refers to the account being that of a 'thrilling story of a young Streatham airman’s attack...'. I'd like to think that after more than a century of warfare subsequent to The Great War, modern writers would steer clear of Victor comic book style reporting. But that is just my opinion. 

Streatham News, Balham and Tooting News and Borough of Wandsworth Chronicle
13th July 1917

It is with feelings of profound and justifiable pride, tempered unfortunately by keen and sincere regret that so noble and gallant an officer should have won renown at the expense of his life, that our readers will read the following thrilling story of a young Streatham airman’s attack on a whole squadron of enemy airmen.

The Spartan fortitude and unselfish patriotism with which the sorely bereaved father of so heroic a son has braced himself to pen a modest tribute to his boy, and at the same time a brave and inspiriting message of emulation, will, we are sure, make a strong appeal to the sympathy and respect of all who read his introductory letter as follows:-

SIR, - At a time like the present, when the feeling of insecurity and indignation regarding our foul enemy and his infernal methods runs strong in the City and elsewhere, the circumstances attending the death last Saturday, the 7th inst., of my dear son, 2nd Lieut. John E. R. Young, R.F.C., in the performance of his duty, will be read with interest and – speaking for myself at any rate – with profound gratitude. The enclosed letter I received today from the Commander of his squadron, entirely unsolicited, will serve to assure us all that our splendid boys, who from their point of view have the privilege, have also the will and the pluck to put up noble efforts for our protection and for the defeat of the vilest enemy in all history.

Many other equally brave boys have been taken from this district, and I should not intrude upon the public with a personal letter regarding my poor son were it not that I think that it will be appreciated and do good at this time. Believing, as I do, that we have lots of the same material, and that my son was just one of many willing to face certain death in order to help stamp out the enemies of civilization, the subjoined letter from my son’s commander may help to inspire confidence and the hope that our defences will soon be complete and the enemy’s atrocious methods frustrated. – Your, etc..


76 Mitcham Lane, Streatham.
July 10th, 1917


A Town in Essex


It is with the deepest regret and sympathy that I have to write and inform you of your son’s death, which took place on Saturday during enemy aircraft attack on this country.

Your son, as you know, had only been in my squadron a short time, but quite long enough for me to realize what a very efficient and gallant officer he was, and what a tremendous loss he is to me. He had absolutely the heart of a lion, and he was a very good pilot.

Your son has been up on every raid of late, and has always managed to get in contact with the enemy machine. The last raid, which unfortunately resulted in his death, shows what a very gallant officer we have lost. Almost single-handed he he flew straight into the middle of the 22 machines and both he and his observer at once opened fire. All the enemy machines opened fire also, so he was horribly outnumbered. The volume of fire to which he was subjected to was too awful for words. (To give you a rough idea. There were 22 machines. Each machine had four guns. Each gun was firing about 400 rounds per minute). Your son never hesitated in the slightest. He flew straight on until, as I should imagine, he must have been riddled with bullets. The machine then put its nose right up in the air and fell over and went spinning down into the sea from 14,000 feet. The machine sank so quickly that it was, I regret, impossible to save your son’s body, he was so badly entangled with wires etc. H.M.S. ___________ rushed to the spot as soon as possible but only arrived in time to pick up your son’s observer, who, I regret to state, is also dead. He was wounded six times and had a double fracture of the skull.

I cannot speak too highly of the magnificent behaviour of your son, all that I can say is that he was a most gallant officer, and I am proud to think that he was in my command. 

I hope that you and your family will accept my sincerest sympathy of all his brother officers, in your great loss. ---- Yours sincerely,

___________, Major.

Sec. Lieut. John Edward Rostron Young, who was 19 ½ years of age, was educated at Streatham Grammar School.

John is memorialised in Southend-On-Sea's (North Road) Cemetery.

(Photo: Jacqui Roberts)


But let us not forget the other 37 (HD) Squadron fatality on that day, John's observer, Air Mechanic Second Class Cyril Charles Taylor. 

I have no other newspaper references concerning the death of Cyril other than the mention the recovery of his fatally wounded body from the sea by the Royal Navy vessel. So the information that follows are the result of research by the Stow Maries' volunteers.

Cyril was born in June 1897 in the Hampstead area of North London. Prior to joining up he worked as an apprentice plumber. In uniform he served a year as a bandsman with the 3/9th Middlesex Regiment, prior to enlisting with the Royal Flying Corps on 8th March 1916. 

Although the date of his being stationed with 37 (HD) Squadron is not known it is believed that me may have been part of the unit's orchestra. As described by his Commanding Officer, Cyril's body was recovered from the crash site with terrible injuries. The recovering vessel has been identified as H.M.S. Wolfe.

Cyril's body was returned to North London and he lies in Hampstead Cemetery. Cyril was 20 years of age.

Air Mechanic Second Class Cyril Charles Taylor

Both John and Cyril are commemorated side by side on the Stow Maries memorial to the fallen of 37 (HD) Squadron.

There is a footnote to this story that for obvious reasons was not raised at the time of Mr Young's correspondence with the Streatham News. It has been postulated that Second Lieutenant's Young's Sopwith was not downed in a hail of Gotha machine gun fire but rather by a shell fired by a Royal Navy vessel, an early example of so-called 'friendly fire'. 

A thread on the excellent The Great War (1914-1918) Forum concerning the response to the 7th July 1917 Gotha raid on London gives a number of reasons why this may be so: 
  • The Gothas were at a height of at least 14,000 feet and Young would not have attained this height until 10 to 15 minutes after the Gothas had crossed the coast (making a crash into the sea impossible).
  • No 37 (HD) Squadron personnel reported a colleague going down.
  • Young’s aircraft fell near the Maplin lightship and observers on the ship believed that it had been hit by an AA shell burst.
  • A signal of “obscure origin” amongst the day’s reports mentioned a belief that a shell had shot down a defending aircraft.
  • A 37 (HD) Squadron pilot reported that the AA fire had been a considerable hindrance.
  • The Germans reported just one defending aircraft being shot down, presumably Salmon (the other British fatality in the raid). Second Lieutenant W.G. Salmon of No. 63 Training Squadron took off in a Sopwith Scout from Dartford Aerodrome.
  • General Henderson reported to CIGS on 14 July that the RFC could not continue to take the risk of being shot down by our own guns while attacking the enemy.
With approaching 100 British fighter aircraft and 22 Gotha bombers blazing at each other, not to mention the skyward projectiles being launched from vessels below, the situation as viewed from sea level or the air must have been bewildering to say the least. 

With the passage of 105 years since this early 'dogfight' over the Essex/Kent coast it is highly unlikely that the true fate of Young's Sopwith will ever be known. But, 105 years down the line such detail is rather irrelevant, a detail in one of many thousands of Great War unknowns. The important fact that is as clear today as it was on 7th July 1917 is that the young men of 37 (HD) Squadron were prepared to tackle superior hostile airborne forces against great odds in order to protect the civilian population of London and the coastal towns of the East Coast. Many paid the ultimate price.

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome - A Step Back in Time


Artists impression of the Stow Maries Aerodrome in use
(Artist: Chris French FGAvA)

My wife, Gunta, and I live on the Hertfordshire-Essex border. In fact such is the position of Bishops Stortford that we are in fact surrounded by the county of Essex on three sides, to the north, east and south. It is then perhaps surprising that having lived in the town for 29 years were are pretty ignorant about the Essex countryside (my journeys to the office in Harlow do not really count!). So it was a couple of weeks ago that we decided on an Essex day out.

The plan was simple, first a visit to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Hyde Hall (located close to Chelmesford). They have an annual craft fair that Gunta wanted to visit. She, knowing full well that a visit to a garden/garden centre location ran the risk of inducing in me an episode of surliness she did some further homework on the area and established that just a stone's throw from Hyde Hall is Stow Maries aerodrome and museum... a bit of Great War history to redress the balance.

The satnav app on my phone told us that the aerodrome was just four miles away from the gardens. What the phone app did not tell me, but the museums web site did... had I bothered to scroll down that far was that the directions provided by satnav take the hapless, history hungry sightseer to the wrong entrance. There followed something of a slow progress down country lanes and farm tracks until eventually we reached the correct gate and were able to park up.

A volunteer by the gate welcomed us onto the site and informed us that we were welcome to wander around under our own steam or we could take the guided tour at one o'clock. Well, since we initially were unsure of how long we would be around, we paid in and took ourselves around the exhibitions that ultimately culminated in the original Airman's mess building which has been carefully restored such that one of the pilots of 1916 would not think anything was out of place.... except perhaps for an electronic till and a card reader proffered by the lady behind the counter. It was at this point that the heaven's opened and we resolved to stay a little longer and do the tour.

For all of my interest in the First World War, the existence of Stow Maries aerodrome was unknown to me... unlike the rash of Second World War airfields that exist all around where we live, even though many of them only exist as traces and a keen eye is needed to spot the military buildings that have long been repurposed to agricultural use.

Whilst aerial warefare had precedence in many battles in antiquity, the first use of aircraft in aerial attacks was by the Italian Army Air Corps against Turkish troops in Libya in 1911. In the run up to The Great War, as Europe tied itself up in Ententes and Treaties that made war an inevitability, it was well understood by military High Commands on all sides that for the first time the experience of warfare could be brought to the civilian population of the waring nations with the explicit aim that the resulting terror and demoralisation of attacks from the skies would very likely lead to one or other side suing for peace.

Since aviation was such a new and thrilling innovation, in the immediate pre-war years the military powers that would soon be at war were keen to show of their latest flying machines, both in public displays and in military exercises. So when war came in August 1914, the British public were familiar with the massive Zeppelin and I dare say could imagine what they could do if and when they appeared over British towns and cities.

And indeed the aircraft came, not only the fearful Zeppelins but also the first dedicated bomber aircraft in the form of Gothas and Giants. The dread prophesy that the age of warfare played out on distant battlefields would be replaced by aerial bombing of civilian cities was quickly realised after the announcement of hostilities between Britain and Germany.

The British response was slow, the supposition being that any major conflict involving Britain would reach a victorious conclusion through the efforts of the Royal Navy and the superiority of the British fleet. However, within weeks it was apparent that this 'scrap' would not 'be over by Christmas' and aerial defence against German air raids had to be tackled.

Stow Maries aerodrome was established in September 1916 as part of No. 37 (Home Defense) Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. Established as B Flight, other 37 HD squadrons were located at Roachford (A Flight) (now the site of London Southend airport) and C Flight at Goldhanger, close to Malden. The locations of these aerodrome stations was carefully considered. Placement took into account the range of the enemy aircraft and their navigational capabilities to reach their intended targets once they crossed the English coastline. At this point it is worth remembering that the task of reaching airspace over the intended target was no mean feat. The Zeppelin was essentially a 160+ meter hydrogen filled balloon that was, despite the best efforts of whatever horse power engines that propelled it, ultimately at the mercy of the weather conditions that prevailed at 20,000 feet! That said, with London as the gold medal target it was the estuaries of the rivers of Essex and Kent that provided the required navigation to the capital.

To the north Goldhanger (C Flight) protected the approach from the River Blackwater, Stow Maries (B Flight) covered the approach from the coast along the River Crouch and Roachford (A Flight) protected the approaches up the Thames estuary.

Military staff posted to Stow Maries from the late summer of 1916 were originally accommodated in canvas quarters before increasing budgets saw a progressive solidification of site constructions from canvas, through timber to the brick buildings that remain today.

The Home Defence (HD) squadrons were established in the aftermath of the public outcry that followed the Zeppelin raids over an ill-defended London and the loss of civilian life. Stow Maries HD Squadron, B Flight, Royal Flying Corps was operational between September 1916 and early 1919, when the site was decommissioned. 

For the young airmen of Stow Maries the odds were significantly stacked against them. Aviation as a phenomenon was barely in its teens in 1916. The aircraft designated for the home defence role were in relative terms both outdated and poor in performance. The aircraft manufacturers of the day produced model after model, each (usually) a slightly improved over predecessors, but these were destined for service on the Western Front... the boys attempting to stop the German bombers had to make do. Engagement with a Zeppelin (or a Gotha or Giant bomber for that matter) was fraught with practical difficulties. Detection of the enemy was the first challenge in those pre-radar days (wireless radio communication was also in its infancy during the First World War and tested out at Stow Maries in conjunction with the Marconi Company who were based in nearby Chelmesford during the aerodromes operational lifetime). With a typical ceiling altitude of 20,000 feet, Zeppelins were not visible despite their massive size, as most attacks occurred at night. With luck spotter ships located off the east coast may hear the engines and this information would be telegraphed to the War Office who in term would then alert the HD aerodromes. This inefficient chain of communication meant that it would not be unusual for more than an hour to pass from first detection of an incoming raid to a having plane in the air to try to intercept then. Which brings us onto the next problem. Pilots would have to take off into a void of blackness and then climb to get as close as possible to the incoming Zeppelins. The BE2e, a two seater observation aircraft would take 45 minutes to climb to 10,000 feet. Once at a fighting height, the pilot would either have to be almost on top of a Zeppelin to attack it or rely on the ability of searchlight  crews to pinpoint a craft in their beams.

A Zeppelin pinpointed in searchlight beams over London

Whether successful or not in an interception, the pilot would finally have to bring his aircraft back in and land successfully. This was a manoeuvre of particular danger since all of the weight of the aircraft was in the front which lead to an inherent instability and a tendency to pitch forward on landing. It is extremely telling that of the ten airmen who served at the three aerodromes of 37 (HD) Squadron, only two were killed in action, the other eight lost their lives in training. So temperamental were these aircraft and so rudimentary the training available at the time, that many inexperienced pilots were killed on take off and landing. Many suffered horrible deaths as their fuel laden aircraft would engulf them in flames upon a crash landing. 

A crashed Sopworth Pup

After decommissioning in 1919, the site returned to its original agricultural use when reacquired by the Turner family (the original owners of the site at the time that the aerodrome was established. Some of the buildings e.g. the motor transport shed was adapted for large agricultural machinery, but many of the other original aerodrome buildings were left untouched and fell into a state of disrepair over the years. Eventually, through local public funding the site was acquired in December 2013 and placed in the hands of a Charitable Trust, Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome Limited (SMGWA). Prior that, earlier subscription funding in 2010 resulted in the raising of a memorial to the men of 37 (HD) Squadron who lost their lives in the conflict. In 2012, the twenty two surviving buildings were assured further protection by having Grade II listed status conferred upon and in the same year the site was added to English Heritage's 'Buildings At Risk' register.

Stow Maries' distinctive water tower

The Airman's Mess

Interior of the Airman's Mess, restored to its 1917 appearance.

The Airman's Mess still serves as a place of refreshment and entertainment housing a cafe and library.

Interior of the Pilots' Ready Room

Here pilots would be briefed and await the 'Ready to Patrol' command that would send them running to their machines in order to intercept raiding aircraft.

One particularly unassuming, yet highly poignant, building is the mortuary which doubled up as an ambulance station. 

Mortuary/Ambulance Station

Above is the ammunition store, built mostly underground and covered by a thin corrugated iron roof, the idea being that in the event of an explosion, the force of the blast would be in upward direction, through the roof, thereby causing less damage to surrounding buildings and personnel.

The site has a couple of hangers (there are future plans to rebuild the hangers as they were during the war) where there can be found some forensically accurate replicas of the models of aircraft that operated out of Stow Maries.

The Royal Aircraft Factory's BE2e

The Memorial

It is all too easy when visiting a site such as Stow Maries to sample the tea and ice cream and get lost in the information panels of the exhibitions, but I took a moment away from all that and removed from others to reflect for a moment on what actually happened here. Standing in a field surrounded by these old functional buildings I looked across the flat Essex landscape then looked up at the grey clouds scudding overhead in the direction of London and thought about the young men who spent two or three years in this same field over a hundred years ago. They were so young, significantly younger now than my son, and whilst they were every bit in the mold of fighter pilots as we view them today, high spirited, eager for adventure and perhaps rather gung ho, they also died here and are remembered solemnly for their bravery and sacrifice.

If you find yourself in the Chelmesford/Malden area with a couple of hours to spare you could do a lot worse than pay the site a visit.


Sunday 19 March 2023

Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go - The Catacombs of Paris March 2023


Just where does a taphophile head to for his holidays, why underground of course. The planning was perfect, an itinerary constructed with a teutonic eye for detail, baggage drop off arranged, traverses across the Metro system mapped out and guided tours booked.

The top level plan was as follows:

Paris catacombs
Pere Lachaise Cemetery ghost tour
The flea markets of Paris
The Stranglers

A full schedule for our first return to Paris since 2019, prior to the period of suspended animation, so we were determined to take in as much as possible in our short two night visit. Unfortunately, our planned tour of the cemetery was cancelled due to high winds and the associated risk of injury to the public from falling boughs.

On a positive note, nothing in the way of gales, rain, snow or plagues of frogs dropping from the sky can interfere with a tour that takes place sixty feet beneath the Parisian streets. It has long been my wish to pay a visit to one of the many catacomb complexes that exist in several European cities. A planned trip to Palermo in Sicily never materialized but Paris is a good substitute. In fact the Paris option was if anything more of a draw given the history of the site and the reasons why it was created as an ossuary.

The history is as complex as it is rich. To take it to the extreme, the history of the catacombs is to be measured on the geological timescale, when the land that Paris now occupied formed part of an ocean bed. The deposition of trillions of sea creatures on the ocean floor created over time rich seems of limestone rock. The very rock from which the city has been constructed, so-called Lutetian limestone which was extracted from the Middle Ages to 1776 when a decree ordered the closure of the quarries.

Initially, the young Parisian conurbation did not encroach upon the land undermined by the quarry chambers, since the residential area was confined to the Île-de-France. However, in time and common with all major developing cities, the footprint of Paris grew as the population mushroomed. By the 1700’s, construction had extended across the land under which the chambers and tunnels of the limestone quarries  ran. In 1774, the inevitable occurred when a significant section of Rue D’Enfer disappeared into a sink hole created as unsupported mine works collapsed. Seven residents fell eighty feet to their deaths. Paris was outraged and the quarries were closed in 1776 as a result of such instability.

The King’s State Council of Louis XVI hired an engineer, Antoine Dupont to map the quarry system and to reinforce the chambers as required to ensure that no further collapses threatened the well-being of the Parisian population.

Plaque marking the first supporting structure built in the mines. The upper stone bears the inscription 'D 1783' informing the observer that this wall was built under Antoine Dupont in 1783'.

Somewhat closer to the surface, Paris was experiencing a similar distasteful dilemma that many other European metropolises were faced with, not least London. Citizens laid great significance to being buried within the consecrated ground of the churches in which they had worshipped in life. This is of course understandable in a society far more connected to a secular way of life than we are today. However, internments in small urban churchyards over a period of hundreds of years had resulted in dramatic overcrowding. Only the wealthy could afford the luxury of burial in a single occupancy grave plot. For the majority eternal rest was something that had to be spent in close proximity with many others! The burial practice of the day meant that mass graves would remain open until such time that there were sufficient corpses interred to fill the space available and this could be a matter of weeks for each communal plot. This situation was much to the detriment of the local population who lived cheek by jowl with their departed relatives and friends.

The problem that the living had to contend with does not require too much detailed explanation, other than to say that the air in the environs of the overflowing churchyards was foul, so fetid that local folk were given to vomiting and fainting in the surrounding areas. Fayre in the local markets would rapidly go moldy or turn rancid and milk would turn sour. Beneath the ground too things were not well either as the effluent of putrifaction seeped through the earth and into the water course which in turn lead to localized outbreaks of cholera as contaminated water was drawn up through pumps for consumption.

The greatest contributor to this combined airborne and waterborne miasma was the cemetery that served the church of Saints-Innocent. As well as providing burial space for the churches own parishioners the church also served a local hospital, where at the time a high proportion of patients went into the ground rather than home after treatment and 20 other churches. The annual body count was 1,800. This demand upon a limited and confined space resulted in the level of the ground within the churchyard rising to some two and a half meters above the level of the neighbouring street.

Painting of the cemetery of Saints-Innocent in Paris c.1550. To the right can be seen a burial into a communal grave in progress whilst in the foreground clusters of skulls can be seen on the surface.

The problem was not new. In fact the State had previously prohibited further burials in the vicinity of heavily populated areas of the city. However, scant regard was paid to this ruling by the clergy who believed that they had a right, through their life’s work, to be buried within the grounds of their own churches. Likewise, wealthy patrons of a church also exercised this right. And so the overcrowding problem continued unabated. 

In 1765 Parliament moved to ban church burials stating that from that time on, burials should occur in the outskirts of the city i.e. away from heavily populated areas. This was the solution adopted by the London authorities in the 1830’s and 1840’s with the creation of garden cemeteries that would, and still do encircle the City of London. However, in Paris, the clergy objected to the plans since they did not wish to foot the bill for the creation of these new cemeteries. Thus burials continued at a phenomenal rate until one Thiroux de Crosne, the General Lieutenant of Police for Paris (1785-1789) instructed Charles Axel Guillaumot, head of the ‘Inspection Unit for the Quarries Below Paris and the Surrounding Plains’ since the Rue D’Enfer street collapse, to prepare the quarries for receipt of the dead of the Saints-Innocents churchyard.

Clearance and transfer operations commenced on 7th April 1786 with much ritual and rite. Priests offering prayers and chants processed through the streets with the remains on carts draped in black funerary sheets. 

Initially upon arrival at the catacombs the bone remains were dropped into service shafts to form large disordered piles. It was only later that attempts were made to ‘beautify’ the ossuary by arranging the skulls and long bones in an ordered fashion in cruciform arrangements and such.

In time other overpopulated cemeteries were cleared and the remains transferred to the catacombs.
With the coming of the French Revolution in 1789 any ordered planning relating to the ossuary evaporated as the new republic established its grip over the France. Greater attention was given to the creation of the corpses than to the safe disposal of those already dead as Madame Guillotine set to her bloody work during the ‘Reign of Terror’. Under these circumstances the original ruling that the catacombs would only contain historic mortal remains was overlooked. Many victims of the Revolution also lie in the chambers.

For a long period of time the catacombs were private and inaccessible to the public. However, in March 1809, an engineer by the name of Louis Etienne Hericart de Thury was appointed as head of the Department of mines and quarries. His remit was to bring some order to the mass of skeletal remains that were scattered throughout the catacombs. This ordering was with a view to opening the site to members of the public. Under him, the bones were sorted and arranged in wall-like structures that are visible today. Poorly organized tours that saw members of the public getting lost in the tunnels and allowed desecration of the momument, including the removal of skulls as souvenirs, saw the site closed once again as early as 1830. 

In the years of public access there is a famed event that took place. One of the engineers responsible for the renovation of the quarry organised a masque ball to take place in one of the chambers. Well-heeled Parisian professionals from Doctors to lawyers dinned in candlelight with accompaniment from a stringed orchestra playing ‘Danse Macabre’ whilst the skulls looked on through sightless orbits. Unfortunately, among the guests was a journalist who lost no time in reporting the event to the city’s public who were outraged by such revelry in the catacombs. These days, the authorities take a more relaxed view when it comes to the ways in which this most unusual of spaces can be used. Photoshoots are common and there are even ‘Night In A Museum’ style sleepovers that can be done for the fearless! Nevertheless, irrespective of use, the remains are to be respected.

Perhaps unsurprisingly within such a bizarre site there are surprises, one being the sculpture of Port Mahon. Carved out of a single block of limestone, a quarry worker named Decure, spent his available free-time in the catacomb engaged in producing, from memory, a depiction Port-Mahon Palace where he had been imprisoned for many years. Between 1777 to 1782 he toiled at these artistic endeavors before being killed in a tunnel collapse in the area. 

With the current, and understandable, focus on mental health the former owner of the skull below serves as a potent reminder that mental issues are not a construct of our modern era. This unfortunate has a hole in the front of the skull that cannot be assigned to post mortal trauma. Unlike the multitude of damaged skulls, this hole is perfectly spherical and intentional. This individual underwent some manner of early brain surgery (lobotomy?) presumably to relieve some form of psychosis. Look around and there are other skulls of other patients that would appear to have been undergone similar procedures.

Whether accessible or not, these ancient mines have continued to feature in the big historical events that have so shaped France.

After the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, a socialist movement utterly opposed to the excesses of the previous as well as the current ruling regime established the ‘Paris Commune’ a revolutionary government that seized power in the city between March and May 1871. Crushed by the French Army, fugitive Communards sought refuge in the catacombs to no avail as they were slaughtered in the tunnels by the soldiers who entered the site in pursuit of the rebels.

More recently, the catacombs were utilized as covert headquarters by both the French Resistance and the Nazis (albeit at different times during the Second World War).

From a personal perspective, I found my time in the catacombs to be very poignant indeed. Certainly, they amply satisfy my long held fascination with the human skeleton, estimates put the body count to around six million…. that’s a lot of bones! One thing that for me was very striking is the fact that, as a result of why and how they were established, amongst this throng of departed Parisians there is no hierarchy. In this vast tomb beneath the streets of Paris, death is the absolute leveller. There is nothing here to distinguish one individual from another. The lawmaker, law enforcer and law breaker in death lay side by side (both horizontally and vertically!). Clerics, shopkeepers, craftsmen, artists and writers, in fact all of the people that over many hundreds of years shaped Paris are here…. somewhere. 
This absence of indicators of status pleased the socialists as much as it angered the class conscious living of the city.

It is also impossible when looking upon these massed remains not to wonder to an extent about the lives led or dreams and aspirations held by these Parisian forefathers.

As morbid and 'creepy' as the very idea of visiting a catacomb may be, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to anyone with an interest in how our metropolitan areas have developed over time and to understand how the common problem of explosive urbanisation of European cities was managed at the outset of the industrial revolution.

There's a good gift shop to boot!

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Remembering Private 29387 Fred Brisco 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers


Extract from the 'Leigh Journal' reporting the death of local volunteer Private Fred Brisco.

It was a different sort of pilgrimage that took us to the town of Leigh on a Saturday morning last December. Leigh forms part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wigan and was the birthplace of the musician who went by the name of Pete Shelley. His band, Buzzcocks, were a major player in the UK punk scene of the late 1970s. Following Pete's premature passing four years ago, family and friends funded a mural of him on the gable end of a property close to the Town Hall. We came, we saw, we took pictures. Since the bus journey to Leigh from central Manchester is quite a trek we decided also to take the time to also view the small museum located within the Town Hall. 

Now if you find yourself in Leigh, to say 'Hi' to Pete or whatever, I would recommend you to spend 20 minutes within the museum. It has such a warm sense of civic pride and it was a pleasure to view the panels and exhibits that describe the proud industrial past upon which Wigan and Leigh grew.

Not far from an area dedicated to Pete and his band I spied a cross.... that's always going to turn my head. It was clear that this corner of the museum was intended, by way of one individual, to commemorate the huge sacrifices that the men and boys of the many Lancashire Regiments made during The Great War. 

The exhibit consisted of a reproduction of the piece that appeared in the local newspaper that reported the fact that Private 29387 Fred Brisco had been killed in action on 1st July 1916, a date seared into the minds of the British for more than a century... truly the 'blackest day in British military history'. It was the opening day of what became known as The Battle of the Somme, a British offensive that together with the efforts of the French fighting to the south would finally break the German lines and bring the war to a swift conclusion, or so it was believed. Only it wasn't decisive at all and the fighting ground on until November with very little achieved. But of 1st July 1916, it was a day that goes down in infamy as British losses were close to 60,000, killed, wounded or missing. Amongst the casualties were thousands of young men that formed Kitchener's Army, volunteers that in most cases had not been in France for more than a few weeks. Fred arrived in France just a month before the battle. The second exhibit was the makeshift cross made to mark his grave. When a permanent headstone to his memory was erected in Auchonvillers Military Cemetery, at the families request, the wooden cross was sent back to Leigh.

The cross is simply carved, bearing the words:

'In Memory Of
Pte 29387 Fred Brisco
Killed In Action
1st July 1916'

On that fateful day thousands of individual tragedies were played out across the battle's 25 mile front. Fred as a soldier of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers was to be engaged in one of the better known engagements that took place on 1st July. The fighting that took place in the area in front of the village of Beaumont Hamel carries all of the hallmarks what 'The Somme' has come to mean in the intervening years. A lack of understanding of the enemy positions and their ability to endure the most ferocious and prolonged artillery bombardment, the effectiveness of the shelling in fragmenting the thickets of barbed wire that protected the front line and of course the resultant slaughter of thousands of men. 

1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers formed part of 86th Brigade of the 29th Division. The objective of the 1st Battalion on the morning of 1st July was the fortified village of Beaumont Hamel a small cluster of buildings around a church. Whilst the settlement was/is nothing to write home about, it occupies higher ground on one side of the Beaumont Hamel valley. For this reason the village was heavily fortified.

On the map above the section of the front line occupied by the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers ('1/LF') can be seen in red at the top. The 16th Battalion Middlesex Regiment and the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers were located on the Lancashire Fusiliers right flank, facing the Hawthorne Redoubt. On the map, the British front line is marked in red with the German front line in green, forward of the village. No Man's Land separated the two lines. On the Lancashire front, between the opposing lines there can be seen a geographical feature that was to play a significant part in the day's fighting. Circled in blue on the map, this was known as the 'Sunken Road' (or 'Sunken Lane' in some accounts) and was a medieval banked track. This otherwise unremarkable track is also the location of some of the most famous images from the Western Front, but I will come back to that shortly. 

On the eve of 'Big Pushes' those at the top of the military hierarchy would visit the troops destined to go over the top to deliver speeches intended to remind the men of their duties to King and Country and to uphold the fighting traditions of their respective regiments.

One such speech was delivered to the men of 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers by G.O.C. of the 29th Division, General Sir Henry de Beauvoir De Lisle.

General Sir Henry de Beauvoir De Lisle addressing the soldiers of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers ahead of the assault on Beaumont Hamel.

'I cannot allow the battalion of which I am so proud to enter this great battle without coming to wish you good luck, and to give you the general situation.

We are now taking part in the greatest battle in which British troops have ever fought. At this great time all the previous engagements during this and former wars sink into insignificance. The forces that are engaged in this Fourth Army are five times as large as the whole of the original Expeditionary Force. We came out in August, 1914, with 4 Divisions, and here we have 21 Divisions.

All that military thought and science can do to make this a great success, has been done. For the first time, we have got into place as many guns as we can, and with unlimited ammunition. In this Corps alone we have just short of 600 guns. I say ammunition is unlimited. Dumped by the side of each gun is 1,000 rounds, and what they expend during the day is made up at night. We are firing away 40,000 tons of artillery ammunition; in other words, one and a half million rounds. In this Corps alone, if all the ammunition were placed in lorries they would occupy 46 miles of road.

Now, the importance of this battle cannot be exaggerated. On the eastern theatre the Russians have had a great success. They have already captured 200,000 of the enemy as prisoners. Our Allies in the West have destroyed thousands of the enemy, and now we hear that the Italians are moving forward. Now, this is the chance for British troops to show that they too, can be successful.

As you go into this great battle I want you to remember what you are fighting for. You are not only fighting to add to the glories won by past generations of the Lancashire Fusiliers. You are not only fighting to maintain the honour of the 29th Division which won its laurels on the Gallipoli Peninsula. You are fighting for your country. More than that, you are fighting for humanity. We are fighting against oppression; fighting for truth, honour and justice. We are fighting against slavery for liberty, and we are going on fighting until we have gained our object.

I would like to tell you that if we are successful during the next week, we hope to gain that object before the winter. Much depends on success, and our higher Commanders know - and I know - that all their arrangements cannot win victory. Victory must be won by the infantry, and only by the infantry.

Officers and men: Of all the battalions I have in this Division, you give me the greatest confidence of any. To you has been set the most difficult task - that of breaking the hardest part of the enemy's shell, and I expect you to break that shell in the German first system of trenches.

Officers and men: I wish you the best of luck, and I leave you with the highest confidence, that what any man could do, you will do, for your country.'

Rather than describe the events of the day, I have reproduced the official account of the fighting as it appears in the Battalion's War Diary. Written just hours after the events that are described occurred, the contemporary description of the action I think conveys something of the confusion and horror that is lost in secondary accounts.

All I need to say is that the preparations for the assault started as 3 am when soldiers of the Battalion passed through a tunnel that ran out into No Man's Land from the British Front line trench. This tunnel lead into a communication trench that ran into 'Sunken Road'.

The war diary account that follows picked up the events from 7 am on the morning of 1st July:

'Account of action 1st July 1916
Attack of 1st Lancashire Fus on BEAUMONT HAMEL.

At 7 am Battn H.Q. moved from White City to Sunken Road and at the same time the enemy began to shell the Sunken Road with 77 cm guns and inflicted about 20 casualties. They had probably spotted the communication trench leading from the end of the tunnel into the road.

0720. The mine under HAWTHORNE REDOUBT was fired and although it was not visible from the road, all felt the ground shake. B & D Coys (Companies) were lining up in position for the assault. D Coy had to be careful not to expose themselves as the Northern end of Sunken Road is shallow, and B Coy had to carefully select their exits, as the bank is overhung & lined with trees at the Southern end. 86th Stokes gun battery opened hurricane bombardment on German first line. 

0730. The leading sections of B, D and bombing Company dashed forward in extended order, D Coy being led by 2 Lts CRAIG, GORFUNKLE & SPENCER, B Coy by 2 Lts PRESCOTT, EDWARDS & KERSHAW. At the same moment 1 platoon B Coy under Lt WHITTAM & 2 platoons bombers left our trenches S of BEAUMONT road. A Coy began to leave front line trenches in support of B & D Coys.

The leading 2 lines of B & D Coys had a few moments grace and then enemy M.G. (machine gun) opened & a storm of bullets met the attack. The third and fourth lines of B & D Coys were practically wiped out within a few yards of Sunken Road though some wounded, including Caps NUNNELLY & WELLS the two Company Commanders managed to crawl back.

‘A’ Coy had also suffered in their advance to Sunken Road, the three subalterns all being hit & many men. Capt MATHEY reached the road and dashed on with the men who entered the Northern End.

C Coy caught the M.G. fire as soon as they left the trenches. Capt DAWSON and C.S.M. NELSON being hit on the parapet, when giving orders to Coy to advance. 2 Lt CASEBY and about 60 OR (other Ranks) reached the Sunken Road, but one platoon under Lt Jones got blocked in the Communication trench by wounded.

The bank into the Sunken Road is a steep drop of about 15 feet & men encumbered with coils of wire , mauls etc rolled down this to the bottom.

There now ensued some delay whilst C Coy & remainder of A Coy who had entered down steep bank were collected & sorted from the 100 wounded who had by now collected in Sunken Road, preparatory to further advance.

Sgt CAULFIELD a Lewis gunner had located a M.G. behind some debris in the village, and he pointed this out to CO. Two Lewis guns were established towards it. Planned to put it out of action, but the German artillery and observation was very quick and they were immediately shelled by 77 cm guns & 1 gun was hit, still the M.G. ceased firing from that position.

It took nearly half an hour organizing the further advance & at 0815 the CO ordered the Stokes guns to open a rapid burst under cover of which 2 Lt Caseby led forward about 75 OR who had been collected.

This reinforcement was launched from the N end of the road to try & gain a footing towards Northern end of the village, where the ground is higher.

All ranks dashed forward bravely, but on topping the crest, just 10 yards from the Sunken Road, they were met by the same heavy M.G. fire & only Lt Caseby and about 10 OR reached the German wire.

It was now 0830, and no reports had come from the front, & it was not possible to see from the Sunken Road what was happening on the flanks, so CO returned to our trenches to get news there.

Major UTTERSON reported that besides the 10% reinforcements, who were holding front line system there were about 30 men, who had not gone over the top owing to being blocked by wounded. These were collected.

Very little movement could be seen in the German lines & the village was certainly not occupied by our troops & fire had died down. Around HAWTHORNE REDOUBT about 25 Germans under an officer could be seen working round the crater. One of our M.G.s opened on them, but had to cease almost at once as enemy artillery blew in the parapet by them in under 3 minutes.

Returning to the Sunken Road there was nothing to be done, as we had no reinforcements. At about 0945 there was a sudden retirement on our right or Southern flank, presumably Royal Fus & Middlesexs. Everyone thought for the moment the Germans were counterattacking, (illegible) seemed to more possible from our point of view. We had over 100 wounded in the Sunken Road & they tried to make a rush for the tunnel. This was soon quelled & about 50 fit men were made to line the bank at either end. 25 under Sgt Green began digging at the Southern end & making a barricade & about 35 did the same at the Northern end. 

11.45. Time passed & at 1145 GS43 from GOC 86th Battn was received. GM17/1 sent in reply*. There was no time to receive an answer to GM17/1 & orders were given to Major UTTERSON that at 1230 he was to advance with his 25 men with all that was available in our front trenches, exclusive of the 10% who were not under our orders.

The remaining men in Sunken Road were got ready to advance, if Major Utterson’s reinforcements reached the road.

Although there was no chance of achieving anything on our own front, there were about 700 men in our trenches opposite the Hawthorne Redoubt, & to help them it seemed necessary to attract as much M.G. fire as possible on ourselves.

Unfortunately only Major Utterson and 4 OR reached the road, and the troops on our right never moved, so our sacrifice was in vain. Still it showed us that the enemy still held the village and that his M.G.s were intact. 

There was now nothing to be done except to hold on to the Sunken Road.

Further steps were taken to improve entrenchments already begun, & the wounded who could move by themselves were allowed to crawl back to White City via the tunnel.

1 pm. Received BM & reply CM15/1.
1.50 pm. CM16/1 despatched.
2.10pm Capt FULTON (attached to Brigade Staff) arrived and talked over situation & informed me that Sunken Road must be held at all costs.

Nothing else changed the situation for the remainder of the day, except the German shells which dropped into Sunken Road caused a few more casualties, & the Germans sniped and killed a load more of our wounded whenever they moved or tried to put on their field dressings.

At 6 pm remainder of men except 1 officer and 25 withdrew from Sunken Road , that night all available stretcher bearers and men searched the field for wounded.

The day had cost the battalion many valuable lives. Casualties were 7 officers killed, 14 wounded & 500 ORs. The battalion fought well, but the enemy was ready for us & had plenty of M.G.s & against them no troops with a strength of only 1 ½ men per yard can hope for success.'

* Messages stating that the Sunken Road must be held at all costs.

So there you have the story of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in front of Beaumont Hamel, one of the British units more or less annihilated on that 'blackest day in British military history'. Post battle, more accurate casualty figures were established, the widely accepted numbers being 165 killed, 312 wounded and 11 missing presumed dead.

Private 29387 Fred Brisco aged 21 years was one of the 165 fatalities. His headstone in Auchonvillers Military Cemetery bears the inscription 'HE NOBLY ANSWERED DUTY'S CALL HE GAVE HIS LIFE FOR US AND ALL'.

Presenting this information, so intimately connected with the death of Private Fred Brisco in the form of contemporary records prepared only a day or so either side of the 1st July 1916, does I feel strip away much of the tragic romanticism that has become part and parcel of the Somme story over the intervening decades. These are the facts, unencumbered by the analysis of the battle and its extraordinary aftermath. I think that the account is all the more shocking for that.

I mentioned that the battle would be the location of some of the most well known images of the war. 

Geoffrey Malins of the Gaumont British Picture Corporation and John McDowell of British & Colonial Films were sent by the British Topical Committee for War Films to record a documentary of the activities of British troops on the Western Front. Some of the footage was shot between the 26th June and 7th – 9th July and as such captured some of the preparation for and the opening of the Somme offensive. Malins captured the men of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in the Sunken Road just prior to the start of the attack.

Still image from Geoffrey Malin's footage showing the men of 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers at around 0700 on 1st July 1916 ahead of 'going over the top'.

In contrast here's a photograph of the lane that I took about 20 years ago.

Malin's also witnessed the detonation of the mine under the Hawthorne Reboubt, a fortified German stronghold, mentioned in the account of the battle.

And this is a view into the creator in the early 2000's.

Malin's footage was used in the newsreel presentation 'The Battle of The Somme' which when shown in the UK in August 1916 attracted an audience of 20 million. This film marked the beginning of a new chapter in war reporting.

This photograph depicts a view towards the German lines from the British position in the Sunken Road (itself in the middle of No Man's Land). The wooded area centre left is Beaucourt Ridge where another German stronghold, The Berkwerk, was located. Machine guns from this area took many casualties. The spire of Beaumont Hamel Church can be seen on the right of the picture. Piognantly, in the centre of the photograph about half way between the Sunken Road and the Beaucourt Ridge the portland stone topped brick entrance pillars of Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery are just visible. A number of Lancashire Fusiliers and Middlesexes are buried here. This is as far as they got.


Saturday 11 June 2022

'The Lost Girls' of Highgate Cemetery West


Within the Highgate Cemetery complex lie the mortal remains of many thousands of people, all lovingly remembered in tender words or bold proclamations of their worldly achievements and deeds. However, for me the most heart rending plot was pointed out to our small party by the tour guide in the last few minutes of our 90 minute amble in the grounds. And a good job too that it was pointed out as there is in fact absolutely nothing to see. Immediately in front of a buttress of the perimeter wall there is a plot no marker, or even any indication that it is in fact a burial plot.

This unremarkable patch of sparse greenery sits on top of earth that conceals a terrible and highly poignant reminder of the inequalities that existed within Victorian Society. Surrounded as it is by thousands of tons of masonry and marble raised in the memory of eminent Victorians, this particular hole in the ground is more crowded than many of the grand mausoleums close by. No fewer than ten females, young girls and women. In life they would have been described as 'fallen women', those whose actions were considered to have contravened the strict moral codes of the age. Some would have been engaged in prostitution whilst others were condemned as such for having engaged in sexual relations outside of the sanctity of marriage.

In the mid 1880's (the heyday period for Highgate Cemetery), in London alone it was estimated that some 20,000 people were involved in prostitution, many were very young, barely teenagers. It was as late as 1885 when the age of consent was raised in the UK from 13 to 16 years of age. Prior to 1875, this had stood at just 12 years of age!

In an era before the existence of the Welfare State, the options open to the poor and destitute were very limited, with entry into the dreaded workhouse being an action of last resort. In the absence of a centralised welfare system it was down to religious organisations, temperance groups and wealthy philanthropists to offer relief for the plight of the poorest and least respected members of society.

One such organisation was the London Diocesan Penitentiary (LDP) which was formed in 1853 through a generous financial gift. It's raison d'etre was the 'reception and reformation of penitent fallen women'. In 1855, the LDP had obtained a lease on a property known as Park House in the Hillcrest area of Highgate. In 1861, the building and some surrounding land were acquired. The mansion was originally a family passed into the 'care' sector upon becoming an 'Asylum for Idiots' under a Reverend Andrew Reed. Under the LDC the institution also became known as the Highgate Penitentiary or the Highgate House of Correction.

Park House, Highgate

Upon referral from a cleric or another institution of refuge women could be accepted into the House of Mercy if they were penitent of their former sins and able to give 'practical proof of their desire to foresake the ways of evil'. If a woman successfully passed a two month period of probation, she would be accepted as an inmate of the Penitentiary for a period of two years. This period of habitation was divided into four periods of six months during which time she would be involved in the initiatory, the laundry, the domestic and the kitchen. During the six month initiatory period, inmates would be engaged in activities such as needlework and where.... 'habits of self-restraint - ever the great difficulty in cases of this kind - are inculcated' (the patricentric language applied here is not of my choosing but rather from a published funding drive by the LDP itself, which is reproduced below). In addition to the practical and heavy domestic work that the women were expected to engage in daily, the penitentiary staff, Anglican ministers, such as the Reverend John Oliver, and live in ladies of independent means, strove to improve the reading, writing and arithmetic skills of the inmates. All of this training over the two year period was intended to give the women the means of living a life free of sin and vice after leaving the penitentiary. Some women married after passing through, whilst the aim for the majority was to attain a good position in service. In this respect, it would seem that, at least according to their own published appeals for charitable donations, Highgate Penitentiary, enjoyed considerable success, with the demand for Highgate trained domestics outdoing the supply.

All in all, it seems that the Highgate Penitentiary a good institution in an age when alternatives were few. The regime was said to be strict but fair. The stated fact that after leaving the house several of the girls contributed monies earned from their paltry wages from their domestic service positions do suggest that the institution was benign.

The plot in which the women are buried is unmarked and yet the names of all of those interred are known. This information was published I believe in the Ham & High (the newspaper serving the Hampstead and Highgate areas) in 2014.

The aforementioned Reverend John Oliver purchased the plot in 1862, when Emma Jones, the youngest inmate of the Penitentiary according to the property's 1861 census entry when her age was recorded as 10 years, died. She was just 12 years old. 

The plot contains the remains of the following women:

Emma Jones, 12, died 1862
Anna Williams, 15, died 1869
Caroline Harriet Rhodes, 19, 1874
Emily Potter, 21, died 1878
Harriet Smith, 17, died 1880
Frances Iliffe, 14, died 1881
Maude Clabby, 18, died 1882
Rosetta Edwards, 20, died 1900
Ada Rebecca Ingram, 40, died 1907
Agnes Ellis, 29, died 1909

I find it sad that there is no headstone to mark the loss of these ten young lives, given the fact that their names were known. I am happy to be corrected here but this would represent a private grave plot as it had been purchased by Reverend Oliver in 1862. This is as opposed to a 'common grave' that is not allowed a marker. Maybe the rules were different because the cemetery was owned by a Cemetery Company rather than by the Church. Maybe it was decided that the money spent on a headstone to remember the departed would be better spent on the living inmates of Highgate Cemetery? 

Perhaps, the time has come to fund some manner of marker to these unfortunate women....

Below is an article published in the London Mirror of September 1873 that describes the purpose, structure and management of the Highgate Penitentiary as part of an appeal for charitable donation.

On the summit of Highgate Hill-one of the most pleasant and salubrious of London suburbs- is a substantial looking and commodious house, which might almost be dignified by the name of a "mansion," standing in its own grounds, some fifteen acres in extent, and known as ”Park House.” It was originally a gentleman's residence, but the turning point in its history may be said to date from the time when the Asylum for Idiots, founded by the late Rev. Andrew Reed,
D.D., and which has since acquired a Europeanreputation as "Earls wood," was in occupancy
there. For the last eighteen years, however, it has served the purposes of a penitentiary- that of St. Mary Magdalene for the Reception and Reformation of Fallen Women. It is a House of Mercy, whose gates are freely open, as far as means permit, to all who have committed that one false step which so often leads to a life of shame and sin, who are penitent, and who give a practical proof of their desire to forsake the ways of evil by voluntarily submitting themselves to the firm but kindly discipline imposed on all who enter its walls, and which, as experience shows, offers the surest means for their restoration to Society. Anyone who visits this institution, as we have done, will see that a great and Christian work is there quietly and unostentatiously carried on under the direction of the warden- the Rev. John Oliver, M.A.-for a
class who assuredly stand in need of sympathy and help-the "unfortunates" who were once virtuous and respectable girls and women, but who, yielding to the temptation, or caught in the snares so carefully spread for them, have prejudiced their claim to the world’s respect, and, in the depth of their misery, know not where to turn unless the band of Mercy points the way.

Before we enter further into our subject it may be well if we just glance at some of the leading principles of the constitution of the London Diocesan Penitentiary, as adopted by the council, and duly embodied in a deed. The bishop of the diocese is the visitor, and for each penitentiary that is established there are required the services of devoted women as "sisters," under the government of a lady principal selected out of their own number. In the Warden, who must be a member of the Church of England, licensed by the Bishop and subject to his approval, is vested the management of the whole teaching and discipline of the house. The Warden of St.
Mary Magdalene is, as we have already intimated, the Rev. John Oliver, M.A., who has filled that honourable and responsible office for the past seventeen years, and who, besides discharging the duties of chaplain, is one of the honorary clerical secretaries in conjunction
with the Rev. Henry R. Wadmore, M.A., and has a seat on the Council. The sisters - some
of whom are ladies by birth, while others; although not of the same rank of life, are well educated-consist of two classes, namely, "approved sisters" and "probationers." They not only receive no stipend but they contribute to the institution according to their means - the personal service of the poor sister being accepted in lien of payment for board, &C. In addition to these a few ladies are admitted as "associate sisters," whose duty it is to promote by every means in
their power the interests of the institution. In the several spheres of life and society to which
they belong.

Now, as to the rules which govern the admission of the "Penitents" and their mode of
life while in the Home. The Warden thoroughly examines into the case of every applicant., and
refuses none (when there is room in the institution), provided he be convinced that the woman is in earnest and has a sincere desire to be reformed. She is taken in for two months on probation, and if at the end of that time she wishes to remain, and her conduct has been satisfactory, she becomes an enrolled inmate, and is retained for two years. There are four classes in which the women, as a general rule, remain half a year-the initiatory, the laundry, the domestic, and the kitchen. In the initiatory class needlework is taught, and habits of self-restrain t- ever the great difficulty in cases of this kind - are inculcated. The laundry, in which the work is hard, and calculated to try the temper, effectually tests this preparatory training
which leads up to that fitness for domestic service completed by the remaining classes, and at which the institution aims - the industrial work being supplemented by instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion by the sisterhood. The inmates are also taught plain needlework and knitting, and some beautiful examples of both may be seen at the Home. No small test of the efficiency of the work is found in the fact, as stated by the Charity Commissioners in one of their Parliamentary returns, that "the demand at this penitentiary for servants is seven or eight times as great as the supply.” This may be in part accounted for by the great care exercised in the selection of the situations, so that the good done in the past may not be undone when they again mix with the world. The fullest inquiry is made as to the nature of the "place," and in no case must the wages be less than £8 a year. The woman, on entering
service, is furnished with a box of excellent clothing, worth from £7 to £ 8, upon the understanding that the mistress is to return the articles to the institution if the woman quits her service at the end of the year. Arrangements are, moreover, made with the employer that the wages shall be paid partly in clothing, so as to keep up the stock, and not wholly in money. Nor does the protection which the penitentiary of St. Mary Magdalene throws over its former inmates stop here. If a woman leaves a service in which she has conducted herself well refers to the warden she is sent to a servants' or private home until provided with another situation and, again, if any serious indisposition has prevented her from continuing in service, arrangements are made for her residence in the neighbourhood of Highgate until restored to health. It is not too much to say that the kindest supervision is exercised on these poor women long after they have left their old asylum, and it is to their credit that they are as a class most grateful for the benefits they received while there, not unfrequently sending their little contributions to the institution which afforded them a shelter in their hour of trouble. That they are a cheerful,
healthy, and happy family while at Park House anyone who sees them engaged at their various labours will admit. Indeed, the discipline, so essential in an establishment of this kind, would seem to be tempered down so as to meet the cravings of even the most crushed hearts. The service rendered to these poor penitents by the sisters is one of the purest love. These ladies -  and some of them are high-born - not only personally superintend the labours of these castaways, but are participators in their meals. And this brings us to the arrangements of the Home, which are of a most perfect character throughout. There are sitting-rooms for the warden and the lady principal, a chapel, a dining-hall, class-rooms, a common room for the sisters, and the dormitories so arranged that each penitent has a separate compartment to herself, and each dormitory is under the surveillance of a sister, whose sleeping chamber commands it. The basement is devoted to the kitchens, with all the necessary culinary apparatus  for so large a family, the store-rooms, &c., and out of doors, in what were originally stables, is an excellent laundry, into which all the modern improvements have been introduced. We should add that Park House, which was only rented at first is now the property of the institution, the Council having, on the expiration of the lease, been enabled to purchase the building and its extensive grounds at a total cost of about £ 17,000.

During the past year the number of inmates has been increased from forty to fifty, and it is
only the want of funds which prevents the Council from admitting ten more, and so making use of all the available accommodation in the house. In proportion to the increase of the numbers the necessity for a larger chapel is more and more felt. Tee chapel, already begun, and which is to replace the original little edifice, which was far too small for its congregation, is all that could be wished in point of arrangement and architecture, but a considerable sum of money is required to make it suitable for the wants of the institution. There is we should add a Refuge, called the "Westminster Refuge,'" which is under the direct care of the warden, who adds to his
customary labours by holding a service there on Sundays and visiting the house as occasion
requires, and which, useful in various ways even now, would, if pecunary arrangements could be made for its proper management and development, become a truly valuable appendage to the Penitentiary. The plain truth is, that more money is needed in all parts of the work. Fewer donations were recorded last year than usual, and the deaths of several old friends and
supporters diminidhed the subscription list. A kind anonymous friend, "G. S. T.," however, gave his third contribution of £1,000 to the institution, and the offertory collections devoted to it were greater in 1872 than in 1871. This is most gratifying, as showing that the clergy of the diocese are becoming more and more interested in the work, and more disposed to commend it to the bounty of their parishioners, who often liberally respond to such appeals, both at the time and by subsequent gifts. While on this point we may show that the penitents considering what their former lives have been, set a considerable value on Christian ordinances. Three were
baptised last year, twelve, after diligent preparation, were confirmed by the Bishop, and the average number of communicants was twenty. Then, as to the moral conduct of these women, after they have left the Penitentiary, we have it on the authority of the Charity Commissioners, after the strictest in investigation of all the cases discharged in four years, that 50 of the 64 per cent. discharged in credit were behaving well.

Looking at this work in all its aspects we know of none which we can more honestly commend to the sympathies and support of our Christian readers. And the more so that, carried on without outward display in a quiet suburb, it can be known but to the very few out of the great phalanx of givers to the works of mercy. We earnestly trust that the remarks which we have made may be the means of attracting some additional attention to this most Christian effort, and in this hope we would add that subscriptions and donations will be thankfully received by the Treasurer, Richard Twining, Esq., 215, Strand, W.C., or by the Rev. John Oliver, M.A., Warden of St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary, Highgate.