• There’s No Such Thing as Dying With Dignity!

    Just a fairly short one tonight. Inspired by a chat with a friend, I thought I would share a few tit-bits on the subject of a famous funeral that endured a couple of mishaps and all things awkward, that did not discriminate on the basis of class or fame. When Winston Churchill died in January 1965 after suffering a stroke some days before, he was given one of the biggest state funerals ever known, particularly for a “commoner”. The ceremony involved somber journeys on a gun carriage through the streets of London to the service at St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by another procession to the Thames where the bearer party…

  • Military Mishaps

    Major-General Sir William Erskine was born in 1748, becoming 2nd Baronet on the death of his father, Lieutenant-General Sir William Erskine, in 1795. He twice represented Fife in Parliament, in 1796 and then from 1802-1805. Erskine was appointed one of the senior commanders in the Peninsular War, despite having twice been detained in an insane asylum. The Duke of Wellington, upon querying Erskine’s sanity, was reassured that ‘no doubt he is a little mad at times, but he is lucid at intervals’ although this was soon called into question. Left in charge of both the light infantry and the cavalry at the Battle of Sabugal in 1811, Erskine somehow managed…

  • BITE SIZED: The Origins of the Poison Pen Letter

    In 1527 the first known letter to England from North America was received, sent by the mariner John Rut to Henry VIII. The world's first adhesive stamp available for public posting at a single price, the Penny Black, was introduced in 1840, replacing the previous system which saw the recipient pay for postage based on the number of sheets and the distance covered.Post isn't always pleasant to receive, and the term 'poison pen' to refer to malicious and anonymous letters was first use [...]

  • Bite-Size – A timeline of capital punishment in Britain

    1671 - The Coventry Act. Lying in wait with the intention of disfiguring someone's nose became a capital offence1699 - The Shoplifting Act. Theft of goods worth more than five shillings from a shop became a capital offence. James Appleton was hanged in 1722 for the theft of three wigs, and Benjamin Beckonfield was hanged in 1750 for stealing a hat1723 - The Waltham Blacks Act. Designed to combat a rise in poaching, this Act increased the number of capital offences from 30 to 1501782 [...]

  • When Executions Go Wrong

    John Bibby was sentenced to death in 1814 for the crime of sheep stealing. On the day of execution, he ran up to the scaffold with cries of “I am the Duke of Wellington!” and, when the trapdoor opened he reportedly bounced upward shouting “What did I tell you?” until, following a struggle, he was subdued and finally hung. William Duell was sentenced to death in 1740 for murdering one Sarah Griffin. Duell was hanged at Tyburn and taken to Surgeons Hall for dissection, Duell came back to life and within two hours was sitting up in a chair. He was returned to Newgate and his sentence later amended from…