Saturday, January 23, 2010

They Burned for Their Beliefs!

Some may think that religious extremism and intolerance is a modern day phenomena born out of the troubles in the Middle East.....

In a bleak disused cemetery on East Hill, Dartford stands a stark monument to three Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake for their beliefs in 1555.

The burnings took place at the behest of Queen Mary - Bloody Mary!

The staunchly Catholic Queen was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. She was crowned Queen of England and Ireland on 19th July 1553 following the early death of her Protestant half brother King Edward VI from tuberculosis and a failed attempt at placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne by the Dudleys.

Initially Mary was a popular Queen but her decision to marry Prince Philip of Spain, who later became King Philip II, was widely distrusted by her English subjects and lead to uprisings in various part of the country which were ruthlessly suppressed.

Despite the disquiet, the marriage went ahead on 25th July 1554.

The Queen made it her mission to zealously reverse the Protestant policies introduced by her father King Henry VIII during the Reformation and continued by her half brother Edward, and return England to the Catholic faith.

Protestants from all walks of life, not only the clergy, were heavily persecuted and tried for heresy if they refused to recant their beliefs.

In total nearly three hundred Protestants were executed, mainly by burning, during Mary's short reign of just over five years. Protestants in Kent suffered particularly with more than sixty perishing in the so called the Marian Persecutions.

The Dartford memorial commemorates the names of three of the Kent martyrs - Christopher Waid, Nicholas Hall and Margery Polley.

In June 1555 Christopher Waid, a linen-weaver, and Nicholas Hall, a bricklayer, both from Dartford, were arrested and charged with heresy due to their Protestant beliefs and failure to recant.

They were tried by the notorious Bishop of Rochester, Maurice Griffiths. Both men were found guilty and sentenced to be publicly burnt at the stake.

Christopher Waid's execution was fixed for the 17th July 1555 and Nicholas Hall for the 19th July (coincidentally the second anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne). Hall met his fate in Rochester.

Christopher Waid was taken early in the morning of the 17th July to the Brent (in Dartford) - at that time an area of heath land - and put into a gravel pit which was often used for the execution of common criminals.

Waid and Margery Polley, the third person commemorated on the Dartford memorial, had been placed in the charge of the Sheriff and his men.

Polley was a widow from Pembury near Tonbridge who had earlier been tried and sentenced to death by the Bishop of Rochester, Maurice Griffiths. She was the first women to be executed in the Marian persecutions.

Polley was brought to the Brent on the way to her own execution in Tonbridge which took place the next day.

Margery Polley said to Christopher Waid, on seeing in the distance the large crowd assembled to witness his execution : " You may rejoice to see such a company gathered to celebrate your marriage this day,".

Waid and Polley then sang a psalm together.

(Incidentally, it is recorded that "divers fruiterers came with horse loads of cherries and sold them to the many people who had come to witness the martyrdom". )

Waid was stripped of his clothes and dressed in a long white garment. He was then led to the stake, which he embraced. A pitch barrel having been placed near him, he was fastened to the stake with a metal hoop by a local cooper.

As soon as this was done, he looked up to Heaven and, with a loud and cheerful voice, said :

"Shew me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed : because Thou, Lord, hast helped me and comforted me "

Near the stake was a raised mound with a platform on which stood a friar holding a Bible.

Christopher Waid saw the friar and urged the watching crowd to " heed the Gospel and beware of the errors of Rome."

The Sheriff interrupted Waid, saying : "Be quiet, Waid, and die patiently."

Waid said : "I am quiet, thank God, and so trust to die."

Faggots (bundles of branches) were then piled around Waid, who is said, with his own hands to have opened a space for his face to be seen, and so that he could see the crowd.

His voice was heard repeatedly saying : " Lord Jesus, receive my soul ! "

With no sign of cowardice, no longer able to speak, he finally put his hands over his head and towards Heaven before perishing in the flames.

Mary's reign of terror ended with her death on 17th November 1558. She had not produced an heir from her marriage to Philip and the crown passed to her Protestant half sister Elizabeth (daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn).

If you have found this post interesting, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always very welcome.

Further reading.....

Day trip to Rochester

Sir Cloudesley Shovell

Milton Church, Gravesend - Porcupines and Masons

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter Walks in Kent 1 - Nurstead and Camer Park

On New Years Day, the weather was fine and crisp with a dusting of snow on the ground.

Although it was bitterly cold outside, we decided it was too nice a day to stay cooped up indoors, wrapped up warm and went for a drive out into the North Kent countryside.

Just off the A227 road between Gravesend and the village of Meopham is a turn off for Nurstead and an historic church called St Mildred's which was built around 1340.

We had been past this turn off many times before but had never actually got around to visiting the church. Unfortunately the church was locked and there was no-one around so we had to make do with taking a few pictures of the outside.

Sadly gone are the days when a church's door is always open!

All going well, we will be able to make a return visit later this year and have the opportunity to look inside.

After having a quick whizz around the churchyard, we decided to go on for a walk at nearby Camer Park.

The park takes it's name from Camer House which was built in 1716 and was the home of local landowners the Smith-Masters family. When the last member of the Smith-Masters family passed away in the late 1960's, the park which formed part of the estate, was sold to the local authority.

In 1971 Camer Park was opened to the public as a country park. There is a small free public car park, toilets, which were spotlessly clean the day we visited, a children's play area and snack bar.

The park is very popular with dog walkers - and moles!! Despite his best efforts, little man did not succeed in enticing any of our subterranean friends to the surface....
There are some very spectacular mature trees in the park which, I imagine, would have been planted back when the Camer estate was in it's heyday.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you may also like.....

A walk around Grenham Bay

The Saxon Shore Way

A day trip to Rochester

Please feel free to leave a comment. They are always very welcome.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Viscount Northcliffe (1865 - 1922) - Pioneer Press Baron

During a recent stroll around Gravesend, I came across a memorial tablet dedicated to Viscount Northcliffe at the entrance to a building called the White House.

Not to be confused with it's famous namesake across the pond, this White House formerly served as the offices of the now defunct Imperial Paper Mills (IPM).

In it's heyday the IPM occupied a large swathe of the Thames riverfront at Gravesend and even had it's own internal railway network and wharf for unloading wood pulp.

In the mid 1980's, the mill was demolished and the site is now occupied by an ASDA superstore and retail park. The wharf continued to operate for several years after the closure of the mill but has now been mothballed and it's fate remains uncertain.

Anyway getting back to the story of the Viscount.....

Being curious, as ever, and having not previously heard of him, I decided to see what I could find out.

Viscount Northcliffe was born Alfred Charles William Harmsworth on 15th July 1865 in Chapelizod, Dublin he moved to London at the age of two. The son of an English barrister, he was the eldest of an eventual fourteen children. Alfred's father died at a young age leaving the family in dire financial straights.

In around 1875, Alfred Harmsworth attended the Henley House School in Hampstead which was run by a Mr J V Milne, father of A A Milne (later creator of children's favourites Winnie the Pooh, Tigger & friends).

Another famous contempory of Alfred at the school was H G Wells. In 1934 Wells wrote the following about his fellow pupil....

"He made a very poor impression on his teachers and became one of those.... unsatisfactory, rather heavy, good-tempered boys who in the usual course of things drift ineffectively through school to some second-rate employment. It was Mr Milne's ability that saved him from that. Somewhere about the age of twelve, Master Harmsworth became possessed of a jelly-graph for the reproduction of MS. in violet ink, and with this he set himself to produce a mock newspaper. Mr Milne, with the soundest pedagogic instinct, seized upon the educational possibilities of this display of interest and encouraged young Harmsworth, violet with copying ink and not quite sure whether he had done well or ill, to persist with the Henley House Magazine even at the cost of his school work"

The first edition of the Henley House Magazine was issued in 1878 with contributions from Wells amongst others and in 1881 the first printed version appeared - edited by one Alfred Harmsworth.

The school magazine set Alfred on his career in publishing. After leaving school he worked as a freelance journalist contributing to publications such as the "Illustrated London News" and most signifcantly a weekly called "Tit Bits" which was very popular with the public and had made it's owner very successful.

Alfred carefully studied the layout of "Tit Bits" and resolved to start an
improved publication of his own. He remarked to a friend....

"The Board Schools are turning out hundreds of thousands of boys and girls annually who are anxious to read. They do not care for the ordinary newspaper but will read anything that is simple and is sufficiently interesting."

This was in reference to the Education Act of 1871 which guaranteed a minimum level of edcuation for all children and meant that literacy levels had climbed rapidly.

The only problem was raising the finance to get his venture off the ground.....

Eventually, after several years of failed attempts, through a contact at the Daily Telegraph he was put in touch with an investor which enabled him to launch "Answers to Correspondents" on the 12th June 1888.

Initial sales were disappointing but rather than give it up as a bad job, Alfred completely revamped the publication, shortening the name to "Answers". Gradually sales began to climb and his younger brother Harold (later Viscount Rothermere) joined the business.

Unlike Alfred, Harold had a very keen eye for figures and got the business into a sound financial position.

In October 1889, Alfred had a brainwave that would transform the business into a great success and lay the seeds for the growth of his eventual media empire.... Amalgamated Press.

The bright idea? offer a prize to one lucky reader of a pound a week for life.

It may not sound earth shattering now but at the time it was unheard of. The prize was to go to the reader who made the nearest estimate of the amount of bullion in the Bank of England upon a certain date.

It captured the imagination of the public and people talked about it on the trains and omnibuses, in the pubs and on the streets.

The editors of the traditional papers frowned upon the idea and demanded the intervention of the State. Literally by leaps and bounds the circulation rose and reprints had to be ordered to keep up with demand.

A few months after the first competition was launched, a second prize was announced but this time stopped by the authorities at the eleventh hour. It is estimated that "Answers" was making a profit of nearly thirty thousand pounds a year.

Around this time, Alfred and his new wife Mary bought a house called Elmwood near the village of St Peter's on the Isle of Thanet in Kent. Elmwood became the best loved of all his homes. He built a billiard-room, extensive stables, which were subsequently used to house his collection of cars, and a series of outhouses.

The Harmsworth brothers had money to invest and in 1894 they took over the ailing newspaper, the "London Evening News". It was totally revamped with special columns added for female readers who had been neglected by the traditional papers. It's circulation increased rapidly and it was returned to profit.

Two further newspapers were purchased in Glasgow and merged to form the "Glasgow Daily Record".

On 4th May 1896, the first ever edition of the "Daily Mail" was published. It was another overnight success billed as "the penny newspaper for one halfpenny” and “the busy man’s daily journal". It eventually held the world record for the highest newspaper circulation.

The new paper had it's critics. Lord Salisbury sniffily described it as "written by office boys for office boys".

The class system was still very entrenched at this time and many in the establishment looked down on the Harmsworths who they considered to be "new money".

The near bankrupt "Weekly Dispatch" was added to the stable and transformed into the "Sunday Dispatch", the largest selling Sunday paper in the UK at the time.

In 1903 the "Daily Mirror" was launched (initially for female readers) and in 1905 the "Observer" joined the long list of titles. In the same year, Alfred Harmsworth was elevated to the peerage and made Baron Northcliffe of the Isle of Thanet.

1908 marked the pinnacle of Alfred Harmsworth's publishing career when he took control of the "Times" one of the world's most respected newspapers which many overseas States considered to be a quasi official mouthpiece for the British Government.

At this point, it is estimated that the Baron's media empire held up to 40% of the morning, 45% of the evening and 15% of the Sunday total newspaper circulation in the UK. Furthermore, his papers were read by people of all classes - the "Times" and "Observer" for the upper classes, the "Daily Mail" for the middle classes and the "Daily Mirror" for the working classes.

Politicians who had previously shied away from the press began to recognise the influence that the press barons could wield over all sectors of the British electorate.

Northcliffe was always interested in the latest new technologies. He was one of the first car owners in the UK (around 1894) and in 1906 he met the Wright brothers and was immediately taken with the aeroplane.

The "Daily Mail" offered a ten thousand pound prize for the first mechanical flight from London to Manchester in twenty-four with not more than two stops and a further a prize of one thousand pounds for the first flight across the English Channel.

The British Government at that time regarded aviation as a silly fad of the "Daily Mail". One rival London newspaper even offered to pay ten million pounds for a flight of ten miles by mechanical power!

On July 25th, 1909, the Frenchman Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel in his aeroplane, landed in Dover, Kent and claimed the one thousand pound prize.

On April 28th, 1910, the "impossible" was achieved, and the ten thousand pound prize was won by another Frenchman, Louis Paulhan.

The Amalgamated Press decided to set up their own papermaking operations to ensure their continued supply of newsprint - they were using up to 2000 tonnes per week for their various publications.

They entered into a long term agreement with the Government of Newfoundland to lease an area of 2300 square miles of spruce forest which would be used to make woodpulp.

I found an interesting web site which details some of the operations in Grand Falls, Newfoundland. where the Anglo Newfoundland Development Company, as it was known, set up their pulp mill.

In 1912 the Imperial Paper Mill was founded in Gravesend, Kent and pulp was shipped from Canada to the mill's wharf for manufacture into newsprint. The Amalgamated Press had already set up a printing works a short distance away from the IPM some years previously.

In the years running up to the First World War, Northcliffe had used his newspapers to criticise the British Government's lack of readiness for what he perceived to be the German threat.

His criticism continued after the commencement of hostilities with Germany. He was fiercely opposed to Winston Churchill's plan to capture the Dardanelles from the Turks, which later ended in disaster.

On 21st May 1915, the "Daily Mail" published a leading article entitled -"The tragedy of the shells: Lord Kitchener's grave error" - which lambasted the Secretary of State for War for sending to the front shrapnel shells, useless in trench warfare, instead of the urgently needed high-explosive shells.

Initially the British public were outraged by the article and the Mail's circulation dropped by a million copies. However, Northcliffe was soon vindicated leading to the collapse of the unpopular Liberal Government and the appointment of Lloyd George as munitions minister.

The new British coalition Goverment asked Baron Northcliffe to head up a British War Mission to the United States with the aim of lobbying them to enter the war against Germany.

On 25th February 1917 a German warship shelled Northcliffe's country house Elmwood located near the Kent coast in an attempt to assassinate him.

In 1918 Northcliffe became the British government’s director of propaganda and was elevated to 1st Viscount Northcliffe of St Peters in the County of Kent in recognition of his service to the war effort.

Following the war, Northcliffe took up the promotion of several new causes which he favoured including Irish independence and the Group Settlement Scheme in Western Australia.

This scheme involved the assisted emigration of British citizens to develop remote regions of Australia. Northcliffe was fearful that Australia would be colonised by Japan unless radical action was taken.

Here is an extract from a controversial speech he made during a visit to Australia in 1921...

" I leave lovely Australia, haunted and saddened by thoughts of your weakness. ... I am amazed at your indifference to the events in the outside world and especially in Asia. One can almost smell the East in your northern winds and yet I have met scarcely a score of men and women in Australia with any sense of the imminent danger in which the country stands. . . . The world will not tolerate an empty and idle Australia , . . Tens of millions will come to you whether you wish it or not.... I am staggered by the indifference of the Australian people to the vital question of immigration. . . . Why not a bold, constructive immigration policy ? Where is the obstacle ? Why not at once take steps to establish within two or three years a flow of at least 100,000 people a year to the Common wealth with a rapid increase to 250,000 ? The outstanding fact is that Australia must have people."

Viscount Northcliffe became the victim of a megalomania that led to a nervous breakdown shortly before his death on 14th August 1922. The cause of death was attributed to a longstanding heart condition. His funeral was held at Westminster Abbey and he is buried in Hampstead, London.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment. They are always appreciated!

Further reading....

Interesting Kent Personalities

The story of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell

More posts about the Gravesend area of Kent

W T Henleys / AEI Cable Works Northfleet

Milton Church Gravesend - Porcupines and Masons!