Thursday, November 23, 2017

Grumbolds Ash with Avening wins Ward of the Week

There is a by-election today in the Grumbolds Ash with Avening ward of Cotswold District Council.

And Grumbolds Ash with Avening wins our Ward of the Week Award, given to local government divisions with pleasing names.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The old schoolhouse at Acton Scott

This school was built in the late 19th century to educate the children of Acton Scott in Shropshire.

It now serves as the cafe for the historic working farm tourist attraction there. I photographed it a few summers ago.

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Some silly ass with a hyphen

The old boy lets Chris Heaton-Harris have both barrels.


To the University of Rutland at Belvoir in my capacity as vice-chancellor. This role, I will admit, is something of a sinecure as I generally leave the budgeting to the institution’s famed Department of Hard Sums and concentrate on handing out scrolls to young people in mortarboards.

This morning, however, I find the place in turmoil. Some silly ass with a hyphen who makes the tea in the Conservative Whips Office has written asking about our course in European Studies. That subject is naturally of interest here in Rutland as we have been trading with the Baltic since the Middle Ages, when ships bearing jute and flax crossed Rutland Water to tie up at Oakham Quay. I find this immensely impressive, even if I have never been quite sure what jute and flax are.

Where was I? The letter: what immortal crust! I dictate a reply telling the aforementioned ass with a hyphen that there are many unhappy countries on this Earth where the government does tell universities what to teach and if that is the way he wants to see things done he should go and live in one of them.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Do the Liberal Democrats face "death by fudge"?

Despite what Lord Bonkers would have you believe, his diaries are not the only feature of Liberator.

The November 2017 issue, which has just arrived with subscribers.

In it, Paul Hindley argues that the Liberal Democrats face "death by fudge" if they do not soon offer some more radical and imaginative policies.

You can read Paul's article, and one by Tony Greaves, on Liberator's website. And a debate about them is developing on Lib Dem Voice.

Meanwhile, Liberator's Radical Bulletin feature gives you the inside track on Your Liberal Britain, the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the prospect of further trouble over the deselection of David Ward in Bradford East.

Gladstone features in the Budget Tweet of the Day

Not the Grand Old Man, you will have noticed, but the Treasury's resident cat.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Lord Bonkers' Diary: Confessions of a Cabinet Minister

I wonder how many of my younger readers will get the joke here? The worry is not that Lord Bonkers will get too old, but that I will get too old.


Down at Cowley Street or whatever it calls itself nowadays, I congratulate the bright young things of the use they are making of the electric interweb and wireless Twitter. As I tell them, the Liberal Party, Herbert Asquith in particular, adopted cinematography with enthusiasm in that technology’s early years.

Asquith starred in a rather fruity comedy named Confessions of a Cabinet Minister, which was followed (with diminishing returns, according to the critics) by Confessions of a Privy Councillor, Confessions of a Prime Minister and Confessions of a Statesman Forced from Office by that Bastard Lloyd George.

You can see where Helena Bonham Carter Gets It From.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Previously in Lord Bonkers' Diary

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Leicester music hall where The Elephant Man was displayed

Next to 74a and 74b Wharf Street in Leicester lies a derelict plot with an interesting history. You can find it on the Arthur Lloyd website.

It begins:
The Gladstone Hotel and Concert Hall was built in 1862 for Mr Fred Bakewell, and stood on the corner of Wharf Street and Gladstone Street, Leicester. The building was three stories high of brick construction.
This building changed hands regularly, but was never really a success as a music hall. For a while it was given over to religious missions and a ragged school.

In 1880 it was brought back into use as a music hall, and the Arthur Lloyd site records:
On Monday September 3rd 1883 records show Sam Torr opening the Gladstone Hotel as 'The Gaiety Palace of Varieties' with Vesta Tilley topping the bill. 
A description of the Hall states that there was a bar, with numerous tables and chairs, an area by the chairman’s table for about 50 people, and the body of the hall could accommodate about 200 people. Upstairs a promenade Gallery also could accommodate a further 200 people. 
On May 5th 1885 the Hall was put up for sale again by Thomas Ridge of Nottingham, described as the owner, but was withdrawn from sale. The description of the hall at this time states that the Hall was 45 feet long by 31 feet wide, tastefully decorated, with two refreshment bars and a capacity of 500 people.
Early in the 20th century the building became a cinema, and by the 1950s it had become a motor business with its top floor removed.

You can see a picture on the building in its latter days on the Robert Lees site. It was demolished in March 2009, but by then acquired a blue plaque.

That was because it was Sam Torr who exhibited Joseph Merrick - "The Elephant Man" - at venues around the country, and it is widely assumed (though not proved) that this Leicester venue was one of the first of them.

Merrick was born in Lee Street, which began just across the road from the theatre. It's name survives, but it used for the road that surrounds Lee Circle, the city's threatened multi-storey car park and supermarket.

Arthur Lloyd said in 2011 that the derelict site was:
awaiting the building of a block of flats to be named Merrick House. Some of the Theatre's decorative plaster roses which adorned the exterior of the Theatre have been salvaged, and plans are to incorporate some of them on the exterior of the new block of flats. Until then there is nothing to suggest the rich theatrical history of this sad derelict site.
Nothing came of this and the site now looks very sad indeed. Merrick's blue plaque can now be found Moat Community College in the city, close to the site of the workhouse from which he wrote to Torr asking if he could make use of his infirmities to escape it.

But you can still see where the staircases took patrons to the upper floors of the theatre in the plaster of the end wall of 74a and 74b Wharf Street.

All Eyes on Sharon Tate

Charles Manson died today, but let's not think about him. Let's think about his most famous and most tragic victim.

This film shows Sharon Tate preparing for and acting in her first major film role.

Eye of the Devil had a remarkable cast. As well as Tate, there was David Niven, Deborah Kerr (a late replacement for Kim Novak, who had already shot some scenes), David Hemmings and Donald Pleasence. Further down the cast list were Flora Robson and John Le Mesurier.

Sharon Tate and Hemmings played sister and brother, and you can see them cutting some shapes here..

Darren Grimes, Liberator and Liberal Democrat Voice

Darren Grimes is in the news today. As BBC News says:
The Electoral Commission has re-opened an investigation into Vote Leave's EU referendum spending. 
The campaign paid £625,000 to clear bills allegedly run up by university student Darren Grimes with a digital agency days ahead of last June's vote.
This payment was mentioned in the September 2016 issue of Liberator, which also mentioned his time in the Liberal Democrats:
Turmoil continues in the Young Liberals (who still haven’t finished their rebrand from ‘Liberal Youth’) with yet more resignations from an executive that has now lost well over half of its members in the space of a year. 
One former YL/LY member is self-described ‘classical liberal’ Darren Grimes, who joined the Conservatives last year. 
Though his departure prompted much handwringing from his fellow classical liberals about alleged intolerance towards their views having driven Grimes away, it would appear he has accomplished a remarkable feat of fund raising. 
Press reports in August said his one-man ‘BeLeave’ campaign against remaining in the EU received a donation of £625,000 from the official Vote Leave campaign just days before the referendum.
You can download this issue from the Liberator website, where you can also subscribe to this excellent magazine.

A bit more googling that, during the party's 2015 leadership election, Darren wrote an article for Lib Dem Voice calling for Norman Lamb to be the party's leader.

It turns out to have been assembled from self-regard and prefabricated phrases:
My liberty loving generation cannot comfortably sit within statist parties like Labour or the Conservatives, which is why the Liberal Democrats need to prove themselves to be the party offering this generation a truly liberal voice in British politics. 
We need to be more radical in our thinking, we need intellectual evidence-based liberal policy that grabs the attention of the electorate and exasperates right-wing media like the Daily Mail and Breitbart. 

Lord Bonkers' Diary: The Hinge and Bracket of English pace bowling

The issue of new Liberator is arriving with subscribers, which means - I very much fear - it is time for Liberal England readers to spend another week in the company of Lord Bonkers.



Like every red-blooded Englishman (and, indeed, ever red-blooded Englishwoman), I am looking forward to this winter’s Ashes series Down Under.

How will our touring party fare in the likely absence of Ben Stokes? He is the chap who was filmed engaging in a bout of fisticuffs at chucking out time in the middle a one-day series – scenes reminiscent of the Minor Counties Championship before the recommendations of the Archbishop of York’s Commission were implemented.

Will it prove a tour too far for Anderson and Broad, who have justly been acclaimed as the Hinge and Bracket of English pace bowling? Why has no place been found for the Blessed Liam Plunkett when one of the Overton-Window twins from Somerset has been included?

Should Mason Crane be on the ship at all? In my day a boy of that age who bowled a googly would have been sent straight to the Headmaster, just as surely as if he had used a semicolon in an English composition.

Lord Bonkers was Liberal MP for Rutland South West, 1906-10.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

If I blog less often blame Richard Jefferies

I have started work on a short ebook on Richard Jefferies. Some of the writing will require visits that are now best left until the spring - Worthing, Surbiton, Swindon... Writing is a glamorous life.

So if I post on here a bit less often than has been my habit, I hope that is the reason. (Mind you, I notice this is my fourth post today and I have scheduled one from Lord Bonkers for tomorrow morning.)

There is also the sad fact that neither blogging nor the Liberal Democrats are what they were a decade ago. I have been thinking for a while that I cannot just go on for ever pretending things have not changed.

Quite what to do about it is less clear. Having more quality guest posts sounds a good idea. Beyond that I am not sure.

One thing I may do is finally join Facebook. I have felt for a long time that I should be there, if only to promote this blog.

I suppose I'm afraid a Facebook page might supersede the blog. After all, I was using Liberal England like a Facebook page before Facebook was invented.

And then there is the fact that Facebook is clearly Satan's picture book.

Still, things change. I started writing this blog to promote Lord Bonkers' website - and that vanished years ago, by which time the blog had become far more important to me and my readers.

Nothing may come of all this, but if I blog less often in future, I hope it will be Richard Jefferies' fault.

Philip Hammond's "gaffe" this morning shows what is wrong with political reporting

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What do we want our politicians to be like?

I would rather like it if they were prepared occasionally to raise their eyes from day-to-day politics and talk about the deeper and longer-term questions we face.

That is just what Philip Hammond did this morning:
Mr Hammond was interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show ahead of Wednesday's Budget, where among his announcements he is expected to pave the way for an expansion of driverless cars. 
Challenged on the impact of wider automation on people's jobs, he said Britain had to "embrace change", adding: "I remember 20 years ago we were worrying about what was going to happen to the million shorthand typists in Britain as the personal computer took over. 
"Well, nobody has a shorthand typist these days, but where are all these unemployed people? 
"There are no unemployed people because we have created 3.5m new jobs since 2010."
You may not agree with Hammond's conclusion - we also need to look at the quality and security of those new jobs - but this just the sort of issue we should want our politicians to be addressing,

But what is the BBC's headline on the article?
"Chancellor Philip Hammond's 'no unemployed' remark attacked"
And we are told that:
Labour and the Liberal Democrats both seized on his comment, calling him "out of touch".
Well, the Tories are out of touch and it is hard to resist any opportunity to emphasise that damaging narrative.

But the likely result of such a reaction and such reporting is that politicians go back into their shells and confine themselves to mouthing platitudes like "long-term economic plan".

Is that what we really want?

Incidentally, I find that I wrote this back in 2010:
The BBC is wedded to the idea that politics must be reported in terms of "splits" and "gaffes". It is therefore unable to cope with the sort of discussion you get under healthy cabinet government.

Brighton Hippodrome is threatened with redevelopment

Brighton's daily paper The Argus has revealed that the city's derelict Hippodrome has been bought by a property developer:
In a recent update to his LinkedIn social media profile, Mr Sheikh wrote: “We are pleased to announce the purchase of a [sic] iconic site in Brighton. For the development of a boutique 5 star 70 bed hotel, 25 high end serviced apartments and a concert, theater[sic], conference and banqueting venue.”
This is the old theatre I blogged about in the spring when I was down in Brighton as part of the day job.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, is quoted opposing any such redevelopment:
"Such a move would be a real tragedy, if it meant that it destroyed any hope of returning this amazing venue back to its former glory. 
"If restored, the Hippodrome could be central to the regeneration of the Old Town area which has recently been listed as ‘at risk’ by Heritage Britain.The Hippodrome is still number one on the Theatres Trust’s list of Theatre Buildings at Risk ... for the fourth year running. 
"With that in mind, I have been doing all that I can to support the ‘Save the Hippodrome’ campaign group in their efforts to re-open Frank Matcham’s magnificent auditorium."

The Pirates: I Can Tell

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates has hits in 1959 (Please Don't Touch) and 1960 (Shakin' All Over), before packing it in in the mid 1960s.

Remarkably, The Pirates, sans Johnny Kidd, had a renaissance at the end of the 1970s and sounded very much at home on the pub rock, punk and new wave scene.

I saw them at York in 1978 and here they are a year later

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Six of the Best 744

The six-week delay in paying new Universal Credit claims will lead to evictions by private landlords, says Giles Peaker.

"Demonizing homosexuality is, most obviously, a way for Putin to assert Russia’s superiority over the West. The West’s acceptance of homosexuality is given as proof of its moral and social collapse." Robert Cottrell reviews a study of how totalitarianism has reclaimed Russia.

Joshua Smeltzer reviews Michael Ignatieff's new book The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World,

Jonathan Meades remembers Anthony Burgess: "In person he was very genial, generous, and, among other things which you wouldn’t expect from him, a very good listener. But in private, that’s to say on the page (and one commits to the page things one would never say), he was rancorous and grudge-bearing and full of antipathies."

"I’m pleased to report that it’s been an entirely positive experience rediscovering the series." Tim Holyoake has been watching the DVD release of Shoestring, the TV private detective series from 1979 and 1980 that starred a young Trevor Eve.

Dakota Boo goes for an urban wander around Brentford.

From Jack the Ripper to a lost Leicester cricket ground

I could not sleep the other night, so in the small hours I found myself looking at a discussion forum about the Jack the Ripper murders.

Someone had posted a link to my post about Robert Lees, and that led me to the website devoted to him. (Lees was a Leicestershire spiritualist whose name crops up in some of the more creative conspiracy theories about the Ripper murders.)

There I found this paragraph:
Wharf Street, Leicester is a street with a rich history. This curious building (27a and 27b) served as the area's pawn shop under proprietor Harry Leif, and for some time as a brothel, and most recently as the base for a removal business where a number of Lees family documents and scrapbooks were discovered. The left-hand section of the building was built across the entrance to the original Leicester Cricket Club pitch, hence it's numbering as 27a and b.
First the pawn shop. In my post on Lees I wrote that Lees papers could be bought at “a vanished Leicester shop called Curiotique”.

Could Leif’s shop in Wharf Street be Cutiotique? No, a 1992 guide book to be found on Google Books says it was on the Narborough Road.

More importantly, is there really a lost cricket ground in the centre of Leicester?

There is, and it has an entry on Wikipedia as Barker’s Ground:
Barker's Ground was a cricket ground in Leicester, Leicestershire. The first recorded match on the ground was in 1825, when Leicester played Sheffield. The first first-class match came in 1836, when the North played the South; the South won by 218 runs … 
The North used the ground for 4 further first-class matches up to 1846, including the ground's final first-class match between the North and the Marylebone Cricket Club.  
Midland Counties played a single first-class match at Barker's Ground against the Marylebone Cricket Club in 1843. The final recorded match on the ground saw Leicestershire play an All-England Eleven in 1860. 
The ground stood to the east of Wharf Street and immediately to the north of the properties on Humberstone Road.

There is more about it in the local history book Wharf Street Revisited which tells us the ground was also the site of brass band concerts, hot air balloon ascents and a public dinner to celebrate the election of two Liberals for the city at the 1831 general election.

I found 27a and 27b Wharf Street today – you can see them in the photograph above. They have been converted into flats, but you can see what they looked like as a shop on the Robert Lees site.

It's not clear they are old enough to be connected with the cricket ground, but old maps do mark an isolated building beside the cricket ground at more or less this point.

At the end of 1860 the ground was sold as housing land and was to become part of Leicester’s most notorious slum district, which was cleared after the second world war.

Below are some photographs of what you will find where Barker’s Ground was today. The Musician claims to be the Midlands’ “premier independent music venue” and it stands in a sort of inner-city edgeland.

Having cleared the slums decades ago, Leicester has found nothing to do with the area since.

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Saints, Little Stretton - an Edwardian flat-pack church

Taken, I would estimate, in the first half of the 1990s, this photograph of mine shows the Edwardian wooden church at Little Stretton in Shropshire.

It appears to be a high class version of the corrugated iron mission churches that were sent around the Empire (and to darkest England) in kit form to be assembled.

Indeed its roof was originally made from corrugated iron, but the church was later thatched to give it its current picturesque appearance.

Scenes from the Grantham girlhood of Margaret Thatcher

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The other day I was chatting to someone who grew up in Grantham. He told me two tales he heard from older relatives:

  • When Alfred Roberts, Margaret Thatcher's father, was in charge of the post office counter he would throw the money on the floor if customers came in to cash unemployment cheques.
  • The young Margaret once attended a children's party and illicitly helped herself to a second piece of cake, which she concealed in her knickers.

And then there was Rotten Borough, the 1937 novel about corruption in local government in Grantham, that was withdrawn after threats of legal action.

In those days Alfred Roberts was chairman of the town council's finance committee.

Alan Shearer: Football, Dementia and Me

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He is a bit awkward, doesn’t have Gary Lineker’s ease and wit. But he’s serious, engaged and engaging, and proves he can make the step up from Match of the Day punditry and go it alone.
Sam Wollaston gives a fair verdict on Alan Shearer's presentation of the documentary Dementia, Football and Me.

The dangers of brain damage posed by boxing have long been known, and in recent years more attention has been paid to football, rugby and American football.

These have been highlighted by the news that several members of England's 1966 World Cup team are suffering from form of dementia.

More research is needed - more research is always needed - but the pattern emerging in football is deeply worrying.

And if Shearer's documentary had a weakness it was that he rather backed away from the conclusions to which his investigations were leading him.

One of the saddest things in the programme was Shearer's meeting with Chris Nicholl, the former Northern Ireland centre back. Nicholl is clearly having serious memory problems.

When I lived in Sutton Coldfield for a year after university, I played for the town's chess club in the Birmingham league.

I was always being told how Nicholl had done the same when he played for Aston Villa between 1972 and 1977. In those days all the Villa players lived in Four Oaks, which is the expensive end of Sutton.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Should Jeremy Corbyn be doing better?

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If the Conservatives were trying to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister, it is hard to see what they would have done differently since he became leader of the opposition.

Yet the Conservatives remain neck-and-neck with Labour in the opinion polls. The question “Should Jeremy Corbyn be doing better?” is beginning to be heard.

Some of his supporters will laugh at this. Weren’t they told that Corbyn would be a disaster? And didn’t he surprise everyone at this year’s general election?

They were and he did. In part this was because some of the factors that were supposed to make Corbyn unelectable – such as his proximity to Irish Republican terrorism – turned out to have happened too long ago to concern many voters.

But largely it was because his economic plans went unchallenged because of the unique incompetence of the Conservatives.

Can Labour really discard austerity and pay for all the extra spending without increasing tax for the average voter? It sounds unlikely, but thanks to the Tories we never found out.

Jeremy Corbyn cannot rely on such kind treatment if he fights another election. Nor will he face a Conservative leader so lacking in any of the qualities of leadership.

These are not the only reasons for suspecting that it may all be downhill from here.

There are the Remainers who will have had more years to contemplate Corbyn doing nothing to oppose Brexit.

There are the idealists who will have noticed that Labour is proposing to do more for the middle classes than the poor.

 And there are the voters who have grasped that winning a place in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet says more about your political loyalty than your ability – call it the Burgon Effect.

All of which suggests that it may all be downhill from here. And that means Labour should be worried that they are not in a clear lead in the opinion polls.

Coal Clough with Deerplay wins Ward of the Week

Clowbridge Reservoir is in Coal Clough and Deeplay ward - photo © Pete Chapman
The only high point of the resignation from the party of four Burnley Liberal Democrat councillors is that it has revealed the name of the ward represented by the group's leader.

Gordon Birtwistle, who is also the town's former Lib Dem MP, sits for Coal Clough with Deerplay.

And Coal Clough with Deerplay is our Ward of the Week.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Badgers stop play at Dudley Town FC

Spare a thought for Dudley Town FC: there last two home games have been called off because badgers have damaged the pitch.

The Express & Star quotes the leader of the local council's explanation of what has been going on:
"We are having problems with badgers, who are digging into the surface of the pitch at the Dell to get at earthworms and other insect larvae and causing damage."
While the club's chairman says:
"We have never experienced anything like this before. We have had problems with Canadian Geese and Foxes but we have lost our last games as a result of the damage it has caused."
Despite what Owen Patterson once claimed, there is no evidence that the badgers have moved the goalposts.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Christopher Plummer and James Mason as Holmes and Watson

A short clip from the 1979 film Murder by Decree, which sees Sherlock Holmes taking on Jack the Ripper.

Christopher Plummer and James Mason make a fine Holmes and Watson, and belong in a better film..

Murder by Decree uses the masonic and royal family conspiracy version of the Ripper murders, which was first glimpsed in this interview with Joseph Sickert.

Six of the Best 743

The Liberal Democrats should nurture their young candidates, says Sophie Thornton.

Joe Bourke welcomes the launch of the all-party parliamentary group on land value capture.

"The Today Programme is undeniably an institution - 60 years after Radio 4 broadcast the first edition, over one in ten people in the UK still tune in every morning. Unfortunately, I am no longer one of them." Neither am I, and for just the reasons that Ed Jefferson gives.

"I write, because in doing so, I learn how to articulate my thoughts; indeed, I learn what my thoughts are. I learn to comprehend the world, and to shape my view. I write because writing changes me." jfefleming explains why he blogs.

Garry Kasparpov on Bobby Fischer: "There is no moral at the end of the tragic fable, nothing contagious in need of quarantine. Bobby Fischer was one of a kind, his failings as banal as his chess was brilliant."

Backwatersman reconsiders the cricket writing of Neville Cardus.

The ghost trains from Sheffield to Cleethorpes

The Brigg Line Group, its website says, exists to promote services on the Sheffield - Worksop - Retford - Gainsborough - Lincoln line and on the branch line from Gainsborough via Brigg and Grimsby to Cleethorpes.

Northern Rail operates a daily serviceon the Sheffield - Lincoln route, but the Sheffield to Cleethorpes trains run on Saturdays only.

The Brigg Line Group argues that the Lincoln service needs to be improved and the Cleethorpes service should operate six days a week.

And I find that on Saturday I photographed a departure board showing one of these Cleethorpes ghost trains.

I travelled on this line a couple of times before it lost its daily service in 1993. If it were in the South East of England it would enjoy daily services and probably be electrified too.