On this day in history….31st May 1838

On this day day in history : 31st May 1838 – The Battle of Bossenden Wood takes place between a group of agricultural labourers and armed soldiers…. It is the last battle to be fought on English soil….

Scene at Bossenden Wood drawn by an eyewitness – Public domain

Self-proclaimed Sir William Courtenay was a Cornish wine merchant; his real name was John Nichols Tom – and he was born in 1799 to inn-keeper parents…. Tom received a good education in which he stayed until he was 18 and then he was apprenticed to a solicitor…. Deciding Law was not for him he left after 3 years and tried his hand as an inn-keeper…. Later he went to work as a clerk for a wine merchants and when the owners retired took over the business…. He married Catherine in 1821….and everything in life should have been rosy – only this was not how it was to work out….

Courtenay – public domain

When Tom was in his late twenties his mother was sent to a lunatic asylum – where she died…. Around the same time, in 1828, the premises of his wine merchants business was destroyed by fire…. In 1831 Tom had a mental breakdown, for which he received treatment…. Believing himself sufficiently recovered he left Truro with a consignment of malt, bound for Liverpool…. From there he wrote to his wife; he travelled to Birmingham and wrote again that he was going to France – that was the last she heard from him….

In September of the following year Tom turned up in Canterbury, dressed in flamboyant finery, with long flowing red hair and beard…. He called himself ‘Sir William Percy Honeywood Courtenay, Knight of Malta, heir to the Earl of Devon and the Kentish estates of Sir Edward Hales’…. Most people realised he was an imposter – but he was an amusing larger-than-life figure and soon became very popular in Canterbury…. Having being persuaded by local dignitaries and politicians to stand for parliament, in the December 1832 General Election, he gave some colourful speeches – and actually gained respectable results, even if not enough to get him into government….

In March 1833 Tom found himself on the wrong side of the Law…. He gave evidence in the defence of some smugglers from Faversham; they got off – but Tom was charged with perjury…. He was found guilty and sentenced to 3 months imprisonment and 7 years transportation….

News reached Cornwall of the goings on of this man who called himself Sir William Courtenay – and Catherine travelled to Kent to find out if this was indeed her missing husband…. Tom denied knowing her – but she managed to convince the authorities and told them of his mental breakdown…. After being examined by two doctors Tom was declared of being ‘not in sound mind’ and was admitted to Barming Heath Asylum in October 1833…. He was the perfect patient….and 4 years later Queen Victoria granted him a pardon – on condition he returned to his family in Cornwall….

Barming Heath Asylum – now St. Andrew’s House, Oakwood Hospital…. Coutenay would have been one of the first patients admitted when it opened in 1833…. Image : Moriarti01 CC BY-SA 3.0

But of course, he didn’t…. instead he spent the next few months wandering through eastern Kent rousing agricultural workers, small holders and artisans…. A New Poor Law had recently been introduced; all unemployed, able-bodied men were required to enter the workhouse…. Tom promised a better life….inciting them to rise-up against low pay, lack of work and poor conditions…. Gradually he built up a band around him….and together they roamed through the Kent countryside and drummed up support….

Wealthy landowners began to get agitated and on the 31st of May 1838 a warrant was issued for Tom’s arrest…. The local constable of Boughton-under-Blean, his assistant and brother, Nicholas Mears were despatched to find him…. Tom and his followers were staying at Bossenden Farm, near to to the village of Hernhill and when the constable’s party arrived Tom shot Nicholas Mears dead…. The constable and his assistant beat a hasty retreat – and a detachment of the 45th Infantry was called out from their barracks in Canterbury…. Under the command of Major Armstrong, 100 men and 3 junior officers tracked Tom and his 30 or 40 followers to a clearing in Bossenden Wood…. Tom and one other carried guns….the others were armed only with sticks….

Bossenden Wood

As the soldiers advanced Tom shot dead Lieutenant Bennet, one of the junior officers…. A battle commenced, that lasted for around 10 minutes…. Tom and 8 of his men were killed….and a young special constable helping the soldiers was caught in the crossfire and died…. One soldier got slightly injured by a stick….

Commemorative plaque, Hernhill Churchyard CC-BY-SA- 3.0

Over the following days most of Tom’s men who had managed to escape were rounded up….including 2 women…. They were all tried for murder and were either transported or imprisoned….

John Nichols Tom – image via Youtube

On this day in history….30th May 1842

On this day in history : 30th May 1842 – Would-be assassin John Francis attempts to shoot Queen Victoria – for the second time in two days….as she rides in an open carriage….

Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

The first attempt had been on the 29th of May; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had attended a Sunday morning service at the royal chapel, St. James’s Palace and were returning to Buckingham Palace…. As they travelled down the Mall, in their open carriage, Prince Albert saw ‘a little swarthy, ill-looking rascal’ point a flintlock pistol in their direction…. The man pulled the trigger but the gun failed to fire…. He tucked the weapon back into his coat and disappeared into the crowd towards Green Park…. It seemed as if nobody else had noticed what had happened….

Prince Albert informed the police of what had occurred …. Any doubts he may have had at what he had seen were soon dispelled – as a young lad, who had been in the crowd, came forward to say he had witnessed a respectably dressed man in his early twenties aim a pistol at the royal carriage….

Queen Victoria refused to be confined to the Palace whilst the police hunted for the suspect…. The following day, on the 30th of May, she and Prince Albert went out for an evening ride in an open barouche – although feeling nervous they thought this may flush the villain out…. Plain clothed police offices circulated amongst the crowds – and at around 6pm, as the carriage moved down Constitution Hill, a shot suddenly rang out nearby….

fair use

Police Constable Tanner had been one of those surveying the crowds, when he saw a man raise a pistol – he rushed to knock the gun from the man’s hand and in the process the weapon had fired…. Thankfully the shot missed and the man was apprehended…. He turned out to be the same gunman from the previous day – one John Francis….

Following trial at the Old Bailey Francis was found guilty of high treason and sentence was passed….

“It now only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you, John Francis, be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, that you be drawn from thence on a hurdle to the place of execution and that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead; that your head be afterwards severed from your body, and that your body be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of in such a manner as to Her Majesty shall seem fit. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

~ [Sheffield Independent, Saturday 25 June 1842]

However, luckily for Francis, Queen Victoria intervened and his sentence was commuted to banishment…. He was transported for life with hard labour….

A broadside on the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, conducted by John Francis on 30 May 1842, with a wood-engraving showing an open horse-drawn carriage with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert inside – Image credit: The British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

On this day in history….29th May 1968

On this day in history : 29th May 1968 – Manchester United win the European Cup Final….making them the first English club to do so….

Image via Pinterest – fair use

Over 92,000 spectators packed Wembley Stadium on a highly charged emotional night to watch Manchester United play Benfica of Portugal – whilst another 250 million viewers watched on TV around the World….

It was the 13th season of the European Cup and came ten years after eight members of Manchester United’s team had been killed in the Munich air disaster of 1958….which also left Manager Matt Busby fighting for his life…. The crash had happened a day after the team had earned a place in the semi finals of the 1957-58 European Cup…. Two of the 1968 team, Bill Foulkes and Bobby Charlton, had survived the crash….

Portugal’s Benfica had won the Cup in 1962 and Celtic had lifted the trophy the previous season in 1967, making them the first British team to win the title…. But now it was Manchester United’s turn….

Because both teams had red as their colour Man United had opted to play in their blue away strip…. The first half remained goalless – but 8 minutes into the second half Captain Bobby Charlton headed a goal into the net…. However, 22 minutes later Benfica equalised….the score remained 1-1 until the end of normal time, forcing extra time…. Three minutes into extra time George Best scored….and a minute after that Brian Kidd, who was celebrating his 19th birthday, added a third goal…. Just to make sure it was a done deal Bobby Charlton scored his second goal of the match to make the final score 4-1….and he as Captain lifted the trophy….

Image via Pinterest – fair use

A fortnight later George Best was named European Footballer of the Year…. Manager Matt Busby later received a Knighthood…. Bobby Charlton became Sir Bobby Charlton in 1994 – during his career he scored 49 goals for England….

On this day in history….28th May 1907

On this day in history : 28th May 1907 – The first Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Motorcycle Races take place – ten laps of a 15 mile 1,430 yard course; a total distance of 158.125 miles….

Motor racing had begun on the Isle of Man in 1904, after an Act of Parliament imposed a restriction of 20 mph on mainland Britain’s roads…. The Secretary of the Automobile Car Club of Britain and Ireland approached the Isle of Man authorities as to holding races on public roads…. Permission was granted for a 52.15 mile Highlands course for the 1904 Gordon Bennett Trial; races were to take place on the open highway but the roads closed to the public for the duration….

Initially the races were for cars only – but in 1905 it was decided to trial motorcycles with a view to forming a British team for the International Motor Cycle Cup Races…. The following year the Cup Races were held in Austria – but amid claims of foul-play and cheating…. As a result an idea was formed for motorcycle races based on the same principle as the car races held on the Isle of Man…. It was proposed the races, in time-trial format, would run in two classes:- single-cylinder with an average 90 mpg and twin-cylinder 75 mpg fuel consumption….

1905 Matchless Motorcycle – image credit: sv1ambo CC BY 2.0

The very first TT race started at 10am on the 28th May 1907 over the ‘St Johns Short Course’ – a total of 158 1/8 miles….25 riders on road-legal touring motorcycles…. From the off the race was peppered with mishaps and dramas; the first lap saw a fall and a puncture, in lap 2 a rider had to stop and adjust a drive-belt, only to retire in lap 3…. During a compulsory 10 minute replenishment stop rider Oliver Godfrey’s Rex motorcycle caught fire….

The race was won by Charlie Collier in the single-cylinder class, on his Matchless motorcycle, in 4 hours, 8 minutes and 8 seconds….his speed averaged at 38.21 mph…. Charlie from Plumstead, London raced Matchless motorcycles along with his brother, Harry – which were manufactured by their father’s company H.Collier & Sons…. Harry also took part in the 1907 race but had to retire in lap 9 with engine problems…. Charlie was to take a second TT victory in 1910….

Charlie Collier – Fair use

The twin-cylinder race was won by Rem Fowler on his Peugeot-engine Norton motorcycle…. Rem, a skilled toolmaker from Birmingham, had nearly given up during the race after suffering problems with drive-belts and spark-plugs…. Then on lap 7 he crashed at almost 60 mph after bursting a tyre…. It was only because a spectator informed him he was leading the twin-cylinder race by half an hour that he decided to carry on…. He won his class in a time of 4 hours, 21 minutes and 52 seconds….

Rem Fowler on his Peugeot-engine Norton – public domain

On this day in history….27th May 1919

On this day in history : 27th May 1919 – Oil is struck at Britain’s first on-shore oil well, at Hardstoft, near to Tibshelf in Derbyshire….img_3247

In 1911 Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty….and it was under him that the decision was taken to change the fuel used by Royal Navy ships from coal to oil – giving ships more speed, range and greater efficiency….

At the time Britain had to rely on importing oil from the Empire, such as Burma and Trinidad – and then later mainly from Persia…. When World War 1 broke out obviously demand for oil increased considerably – but there was a problem, in the shape of German submarines….who posed a great threat to the supply….

Panicking the Government commissioned S.Pearson & Sons, a company owned by Lord Cowdray – of the Cowdray Estate in Midhurst, West Sussex – to do a study of potential areas in Britain where oil might be found…. Lord Cowdray also owned the Mexican Eagle Oil Company….

Weetman Pearson, Viscount Cowdray – Public domain

Three areas were identified; the Lothians in Scotland, the Potteries Region of Staffordshire and the Derbyshire Coalfields…. It was decided that the Government would fund 11 exploratory wells; 2 in Scotland, 2 in Staffordshire and a further 7 in Derbyshire….

The first drill site was to be at Hardstoft in Derbyshire, on land belonging to the Chatsworth Estate and owned by the Duke of Devonshire…. It took three and a half years before an agreement was signed on the 10th of September 1918 – by now the War was coming to an end….

Britain had no experience of oil drilling and certainly did not have the equipment to do it – so it had to be brought over from the United States…. Hardstoft No.1 was finally ‘spudded’ (meaning drilling commenced) on the 15th of October 1918….using a cable drill rig….

It was on the night of the 27th of May that oil was struck, at a depth of 3,070 ft and the first oil flowed on the 7th of June 1919…. It was proudly announced in the House of Commons that the well was producing 11 barrels a day…. Nowadays some 250 operating wells in the UK can produce up to 25,000 barrels per day…. (based on 2015 statistics)….

Oil well gusher in 1922 – Public domain

Legal difficulties and political differences held up production in the early days; a dispute arose over who owned the oil….the landowner or the Crown? The first oil produced had to be stored in a tank on site until the decision was made…. A Petroleum Production Bill was defeated in Parliament after Labour objected to royalties being paid to landowners…. Lord Cowdray was most put out – he told the House of Lords “I had expected a Rockefeller fortune”….

Between June 1919 and December 1927 the Carboniferous Limestone yielded some 20,000 barrels of oil, roughly 50 a week…. It was said to be of a quality to rival the high grade oil of Pennsylvania….img_3248

Lord Devonshire took over the drilling operations….a nodding donkey was installed…. Eventually the oil flow began to decline before the well ceased to produce oil commercially in 1945…. The disused well is now situated within the grounds of a plant nursery – aptly named ‘The Oilwell Nurseries’….just a short section of rusty pipe in an oily puddle can be seen….

Ironically the current Lord Cowdray has recently been involved in a dispute when he refused an oil company permission to carry out oil exploration on his land…. Nowadays, oil extraction methods are often very different to the old traditional ways – fracking has become a very controversial topic…. It is a debate I’m afraid many more of us are likely to be dragged into in the near future as the oil companies identify new potential drilling sites across the Country…. It is an issue that has presented itself in this little village of Dunsfold only in the last few years…. Needless to say we are opposing it….