On this day in history….25th June 1953

On this day in history : 25th June 1953 – John Christie is sentenced to hang for the murder of his wife and then hiding her body under the floorboards of their Notting Hill home, 10 Rillington Place….

John Christie – Fair use

Before his own trial Christie had been a key witness for the Crown in another murder trial – that of Timothy Evans, another resident at the Notting Hill address…. Evans had stood trial, accused of the murder of his wife and child – and although the murder charge for his wife was not pursued he was convicted of killing his daughter and was sequently hanged….

Christie himself was no stranger to the criminal world…. Throughout his adult life he had committed a string of petty crimes and had spent time in prison…. He had served a three month sentence for stealing postal orders whilst working as a postman, nine months for theft, six months for assaulting the prostitute girlfriend he had briefly lived with and another three months for stealing a car from a priest he had befriended….

Christie had a troubled childhood and grew up with some abnormal ideas on how a healthy sexual relationship should be conducted…. He married Ethel in 1920 but because of his sexual hang-ups was impotent with her – he could only perform with prostitutes and so he continued to use their services…. After four years the marriage broke up – but in 1933, after his last prison sentence, they got back together….

In December 1938 the Christies moved into the ground floor flat of 10 Rillington Place in the Ladbroke Grove area of Notting Hill…. Ten years later, in the April of 1948, Timothy Evans and his pregnant wife, Beryl, moved into the top floor flat…. She gave birth to a little girl soon after, who they named Geraldine – and then in the November of 1949 Beryl discovered that she was pregnant again…. The couple were worried as they could not afford to have another baby – and so Christie said he could help them, by performing an abortion…. Only, what he actually did was strangle her and because his depraved sexual gratifications now included necrophilia – he then raped her….

When Evans arrived home Christie claimed she had died during the termination procedure…. As abortion was illegal he managed to convince Evans that they had to hide Beryl’s body and he also persuaded him to leave Geraldine with him and to go to relatives in Wales to lay low for a while…. When Evans returned to London and wanted to see his daughter Christie refused….

On the 30th of November 1949 Evans went to the police and explained he had accidentally killed Beryl by giving her a potion to end her pregnancy…. He said that he had hidden her body in a sewer – but after a search the police could not find a body…. Evans then told the truth – how Christie had offered to help them and how he, Evans, had found his wife dead on returning home from work…. He explained how Christie arranged for the disposal of her body and somebody to look after Geraldine while he disappeared to Wales….

But this late admission of the truth only added to the tangled web that had already been woven…. A search of 10 Rillington Place revealed the bodies of both his wife and child hidden in an outside wash house…. Evans was then tried for murder, the jury took just 40 minutes to find him guilty…. After a failed appeal Timothy Evans was hanged on the 9th of March 1950….

Timothy Evans, 1949 – Fair use

Ethel Christie was last seen on the 12th of December 1952…. Christie told people that he had been offered a good job out of the area and that his wife had gone on before him…. He eventually moved out of Rillington Place on the 20th of March 1953, booking seven days lodgings in King’s Cross…. However, he had only been there four nights when Beresford Brown, the new tenant at 10 Rillington Place, discovered the remains of three women in an alcove which had been wallpapered over…. When the news broke Christie left his lodgings and took to wandering London, sleeping rough…. The police eventually caught up with him on the 31st March 1953, on the Embankment near to Putney Bridge….

A total of eight female bodies in all were found at Rillington Place…. Those of his wife, Beryl and baby Geraldine Evans and five others:- Ruth Fuerst, a 21-year-old Austrian prostitute – Muriel Amelia Eady, a work colleague of Christie – Kathleen Maloney, prostitute – Rita Nelson, who was six months pregnant – and Hectorina MacLennan, who Christie had befriended, along with her boyfriend, Alex Baker….

At first Christie only confessed to the murders of the three bodies that had been found in the alcove and that of his wife…. He eventually admitted to Beryl’s murder – but not that of Geraldine…. He went on trial for the murder of his wife – in the same court that Evans had been convicted in – on the 22nd of June 1953…. He pleaded insanity but the jury rejected this plea – and after just 85 minutes of deliberation found him guilty…. There was no appeal….

Christie was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, who had also executed Evans, on the 15th of July…. Two-hundred people people waited outside the prison to see the execution notice…. After being restrained for the procedure to take place Christie had complained that his nose was itching – only to be told by Pierrepoint that it wouldn’t bother him for much longer….

10 Rillington Place was demolished – in the 1970s the whole street was redeveloped…. Timothy Evans was granted a posthumous pardon in 1966….

Memorial garden on the approximate location of 10 Rillington Place

On this day in history….24th June 1825

On this day in history : 24th June 1825 – The birth of William Henry Smith, who expanded the family business ‘W.H.Smith’ – and was the first to sell newspapers and books at railway stations….

Preserved W.H.Smith stall (Horsted Keynes branch) at the Bluebell Line – Image credit : Dan Davison CC BY 2.0

William was born in London and was educated at grammar school before joining the family business in 1846 to work alongside his father; the company became W.H.Smith & Son…. The first newsstand was opened at Euston Station in 1848 and was followed by others at Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool stations in 1850…. W.H.Smith & Son was to become a household name….

The company had originally been formed by Henry Walton Smith and his wife Anna in 1792, as a small newsagents in Little Grosvenor Street, London…. Henry died soon after his son William Henry was born – Anna joined forces with a business associate, Zaccheus Coates, to continue running the business…. After the death of Coates William and his older brother helped their mother run the company – and when she died it was William, with the better business sense of the two brothers, who took over the running…. It became W.H.Smith, the ‘Son’ being added when William Henry Jr joined hm….

As well as its railway station outlets the firm had a publishing business based in Cirencester and from 1860-1961 it ran a library service….

William Henry Jr married Emily in 1858 and they had six children, two sons and four daughters…. Now a family man with a well established business William Henry was to launch a highly successful political career…. He was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Westminster in 1868 and then in 1874 he was appointed Financial Secretary to the Treasury…. In 1877 he was made First Lord of the Admiralty; there are those who claim he was the inspiration for the character of Sir Joseph Porter in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera ‘HMS Pinafore’….

In 1885 William became Chief Secretary for Ireland – and he served twice as the Secretary of State for War…. He was appointed First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons in 1887 and became Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1891…. He died not long after, in the October of 1891, at the age of 66 – whilst at Walmer Castle in Kent….

William Henry Smith – Public domain

On this day in history….23rd June 1314

On this day in history : 23rd June 1314 – The death of English knight Sir Henry de Bohun – who was killed at the Battle of Bannockburn by Robert the Bruce….

The earliest known depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn, from a 1440s manuscript – Public domain

Bohun was the grandson of the Earl of Hereford – he was young and keen to make a name for himself…. There was probably no better way to do so than on the battlefield….

On the 23rd of June 1314 he proudly rode at the front of King Edward II’s army as it approached the Scottish troops led by Robert the Bruce…. The Scottish King had been crowned in 1306, after killing his rival for the throne, John Comyn…. For the next 8 years Bruce was to simultaneously fight a bloody civil war against his own opponents and a guerrilla war against the occupying English forces….

The killing of Comyn in Greyfriars Church, Dumfries – as imagined by 19th century illustrator Felix Phillippoteaux – Public domain

In 1314 Bruce’s brother, Edward, made a deal with Philip Mowbray, keeper of Stirling Castle…. This was to lead to direct confrontation with the army of King Edward II….

Bruce knew his army was no match for the English when it came to fighting on open land – they would have a far better chance if they planned an ambush…. As Edward II’s troops marched towards them Bruce’s spear men, who had been waiting in the woods, emerged and lined up to confront them…. Mounted on a horse among them was Robert the Bruce – and all he was holding was an axe….

Bohun saw his chance of fame and glory…. He lowered his lance and charged at Bruce – who saw him coming and took up the challenge by charging in return at Bohun…. At the last second Bruce swerved to the side and brought his axe crashing down on Bohun’s helmet – splitting it in two – along with his head….

Robert the Bruce killing de Bohun in the Battle of Bannockburn – Public domain

Spurred on by their King’s victory over Bohun, Bruce’s men surged forwards – killing Bohun’s squire, who was standing over his master’s body…. Confusion followed and the English fled….

Bruce was not entirely convinced that they should risk another day’s fighting – even after their victory…. However, word was received that morale was low in the English camp and so Bruce decided to chance it…. The next day he led his men to a triumphant victory over the English….

Finally in 1328 the English recognised Bruce as the King of the Scots….

On this day in history….22nd June 1959

On this day in history : 22nd June 1959 – Shareholders are urged by the directors of Harrods to vote for a merger with the Debenhams department store chain in a £34m deal….

Harrods was started by Charles Henry Harrod as a grocery business in 1849…. His son, Charles Digby took over in 1861 and started to sell a varied range, including furniture, china, cosmetics and perfumes…. Since the 1920s it has become one of the most famous and prestigious department stores in the world….

Fashion plate, 1909 – Fashionable Londoners walking in front of Harrods – Public domain

Over the years Harrods and Debenhams had become informally linked – an official merger would provide a way of cutting overhead costs, resources could be pooled when purchasing stock…. However, as it was Harrods was in the position that two merger possibilities were available to them – the one with Debenhams and a further unofficial one, as yet, with House of Fraser…. Harrods directors began to hold meetings to discuss the options…. The Debenhams deal included an offer of £34m – and would allow Harrods to continue to operate under its own name, with Sir Richard Burbridge as chairman…. Whereas the House of Fraser offer was for £32.5m and the deal would give Harrods directors far less power in the running of the merged company…. It was thought that a merger between Debenhams and Harrods would provide much improved services for the shopping public – the board urged its shareholders to vote for the Debenhams deal….

A third bid of £36m then came in from United Drapery Stores….but was later withdrawn…. The bidding war raged on with House of Fraser raising its bid to 37m and on the 24th of August 1959 it had acquired enough shares to see off the competition from Debenhams…. The battle was over….

In 1985 House of Fraser was bought by Mohammad al Fayed and his brother for £615m and Harrods returned to private ownership…. In 1994 all House of Fraser stores were floated on the Stock Exchange – with the exception of Harrods….

Image credit : Diliff – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….21st June 1919

On this day in history : 21st June 1919 – In the biggest act of self-destruction in military history German sailors scuttle 74 of their own warships at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands….

SMS Derfflinger capsizes – C.W.Burrows – Public domain

One of the terms of the November 1918 armistice, which brought World War 1 to an end, was the handing over of the German naval fleet to the Allies…. The details of the surrender of the fleet were worked out between Admiral Sir David Beatty on behalf of the Allies and German Rear-Admiral Hugo Meurer – along with other senior naval officers….

On the 21st of November 1918 seventy German battleships, cruisers and destroyers, under the command of Rear-Admiral Ludwig Von Reuter, arrived at the Firth of Forth, off the Scottish coast…. They were escorted to Rosyth, to the north-west of Edinburgh, where they anchored…. The order was given for all German flags to be lowered….

HMS Cardiff leading German fleet into Firth of Forth – Royal Navy official photographer – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain

At this point the Allies had not yet decided what to do with the German fleet…. The French and Italians were hoping to get their hands on a few to replenish their own depleted fleets – whereas the British and Americans favoured destroying the lot…. In the meantime the fleet was moved to Scapa Flow where it would be held until a decision had been made…. Over the following few weeks four more ships arrived, now making a totally of seventy-four, along with 20,000 German sailors…. Gradually these were returned to Germany – leaving just skeleton crews to man the vessels…. The Germans were forbidden to leave their ships – food and provisions were sent from Germany on a fortnightly basis…. For months the men were kept like this whilst the negotiations continued – they were bored, restless and undoubtedly mutinous….

German sailors fishing over the side of a destroyer – Royal Navy official photographer – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain
Scapa Flow, November 1918 – Royal Navy – Public domain

Eventually the talks in Versailles broke down…. Britain began to make plans to destroy the fleet, with a date being set for the 23rd of June 1919…. Somehow Von Reuter learned of this and began to put his own plan into action….

Emden, Frankfurt and Bremse entering the Scapa Flow – Royal Navy official photographer – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain

The 21st of June dawned a perfect Summer’s day – and the British fleet had decided to take advantage of the good weather and had left the harbour early to go out on exercise – leaving just a minimal guard behind to oversee the German fleet…. Technically the ships still legally belonged to the Germans, as they had not officially surrendered them – this explains why there was no physical Ally presence onboard….

At 10.30am Von Reuter set the wheels in motion to prevent the British from seizing the ships…. He had already managed to get messages to the commanding officers of all the other ships and as his flagship ‘Emden’ sent out the obscure message “Paragraph eleven, confirm”, using searchlights and semaphore, they knew it was their signal to scuttle….

SMS Bayern sinking – Royal Navy official photographer – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain

The crews hoisted their German flags, opened water tight doors, the seacocks, portholes, hatches and torpedo tubes – and smashed pipes, deliberately flooding the ships…. It was done so that each vessel flooded from one side, causing it to capsize – it took the British a couple of hours to realise what was happening….

Hindenburg – Royal Navy official photographer – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain
Seydlitz on her side – Copyright free use

The Germans left the sinking ships in their lifeboats – while at the same time the British boarded some of them to try and prevent the scuttling…. They towed some to shallow water to beach them – skirmishes broke out between the opposing sides….9 Germans were killed and a further 16 wounded….

In all 52 of the 74 ships sank….the rest stayed afloat or were beached…. The islanders helped themselves to anything worth having…. Any surviving ships were then divided up among the Allies….

Salvage work on Baden – Royal Navy official photographer – from the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain

As for the sunk ships, some of them still remain there…. In the 1920s salvage attempts were made…. British scrap metal dealer Ernest Cox had managed to salvage over 30 by the early 1930s – he became known as ‘the man who bought a navy’….