Forest Gate and 20th Century Penny Dreadfuls

Thursday, 20 July 2017

This article is the second of two looking at how the Independent Police News covered serious crime in Forest Gate during its existence (1867 - 1938). The paper was a salacious page turner - almost the classic Victorian 'Penny Dreadful' that entranced its readers with its lurid accounts of crimes and sensationalist illustrations of them,  

For a full account of the periodical, see the previous post on the publication, and Forest Gate, including details and illustrations of the first four of 10 cases it covered in illustrative depth, here.

5. Serious attack on a wife and suicide in Forest Gate - 8 April 1905

This is the full report from the IPN from a story which occupied less than half the space of the very graphic illustration accompanying it:
On March 28 a man named Lee, a baker of Oakhurst Road, Forest Gate, attempted to murder his wife and afterwards committed suicide by hanging himself. Mrs Lee was washing up the dinner things, and suddenly felt herself struck heavily on the back of the head and rushed out of the scullery, followed by her husband, who gave her two more blows, before she could get up into the street.
She ran into a neighbour's house with her head streaming with blood. She said that her husband had suddenly attacked her with a chopper and tried to murder her.

Illustration from 8 April 1905
 Illustrated Police News
The police, upon entering the house, found Lee hanging by a clothes line from the banister of the stair-case. He was promptly cut down ... Lee, however was past help, and gave his last breath as the doctor raised his head.
Mr Lee, who was an epileptic, had been in receipt of poor relief, and there is no doubt that want brought on the attack of frenzy in which he attacked his wife with his chopper. He was thirty-one years of age and leaves six children.
The story was accompanied by a grisly and graphic illustration, see above. As with other cases, the IPN reported the drama, with no follow up of the inquest or Coroner's Court proceedings.

6. Ghastly tragedy at Forest Gate: husband returns home to find his daughter murdered and wife injured - 4 February 1911

This story and headline was dramatic enough to produce a centre-fold, double page spread illustration of a story that was only half a column long. It is reproduced in its entirety.
Returning home late in the evening, a Great Eastern Railway employee named Charles Thomson Wilkinson, residing in a self-contained flat of three rooms, at Sherrard Road, Forest Gate, made a tragic discovery.
His suspicion that something untoward had happened were aroused when he found both front and back doors bolted. When, however, he went to the front door a second time, he found to his horror that his wife was lying on a bed in the front room with a wound to her throat.

Illustration from 4 February 1911 Illustrated Police News
In the same room, on another bed was his daughter, Dorothy, who was only sixteen last November. She was the only child, and her mother had always been passionately fond of her. On the distraught husband speaking to his wife, Mary Ann Wilkinson, she replied, so it is alleged: 'Oh, I have killed her.'
Dr Thomson of Romford Road was at once summoned and he found that the skull of the child had been beaten in by the blows of a mallet. The girl was bright and intelligent and rather good looking.
The family had only occupied the house for a few weeks and during part of that time, it is said, Mrs Wilkinson, who was aged fifty-seven, had been away after having been under medical observation at Whipps Cross Infirmary. ...
The wound in the woman's throat was not very serious, and her recovery is probable. She was taken to Whipps Cross Infirmary.
No sounds of blows or any other noise that might have attracted notice was heard by the people living next door on either side.
Much sympathy has been extended to the father who has been an employee of the GER company, as a fitter, for thirty-eight years."
Once more, having given salacious details and provided a gory illustration, the IPN lost interest in the case and did not follow this report up with details of the court case, or its outcome.

7. Forest Gate Horror: man confesses to killing his wife and child - 17 February 1912

Once more, we reproduce the whole of the article that accompanied the illustration.
A double tragedy, the murder by a man of his young wife and little son, was discovered at Forest Gate early on Sunday morning.
Soon after seven o'clock a newsboy, delivering newspapers in Stork Road, a little street not far from Romford Road, saw a man, half dressed, rush from a doorway into the street, screaming for the police and flourishing a hatchet, smeared with blood. Snatching up his papers, the boy took to his heels.
The man was James Limpus, a motor mechanic, thirty-three years old.
Running back to his house in Stork Road, Limpus threw the hatchet from him, and dashed out again, up the road and into the shop of a Mr Fred Pretty, a newsagent of Knox Road, nearby. Here he was detained until the arrival of a constable, who entering the man's house, found lying across the bed, the bodies of Mrs Limpus and her little son, Stanley, aged two and a half years.
Mrs Limpus was unconscious; the little boy was dead. Both were terribly battered about the head, and the woman died before medical help could be obtained.

Illustration from 17 February 1912
Illustrated Police News
Mrs Pretty, in whose shop Limpus gave himself up said that ... her husband had opened the shop 'when suddenly I heard him running upstairs to me saying 'What shall I do?' when the man dressed only in his trousers and shirt and with blood splashes still on his hands, came into the shop, and said to my husband 'I have murdered my wife and boy. Will you come with me?'
He was quite calm; and my husband had little difficulty in coaxing him out of the shop and bolting the door. I tried to blow a police whistle, but my nerve failed me and I could not; so I sent our news boys off in different directions to find policemen. Meanwhile, my son kept watch on the man outside.
Mr Pretty went back into the house with Limpus, and there found the two poor bodies. Besides the little boy was a bag of sweets. ...
When assistance came he (Limpus) submitted without a struggle to being taken to Forest Gate Police Station.
Although a skilled mechanic, Limpus had been out of regular work for some little time. He is believed to have been born in Calcutta, and to have lived some time in India, where most of his relations are.
To neighbours he had often said that if he could get the money to pay his passage back to Calcutta he would be certain of regular work; but his wife had always declined to entertain the idea on account of her child's delicate health.
The bodies of the woman and her boy were taken to Stratford mortuary.
The "drama" of the story merited a whole front page illustration for this relatively brief report. And, once more, there was no follow up in the IPN of the trial or fate of Limpus.

8. West Ham murder: husband's startling confession to a constable - 23 July 1914

Cycling up to West Ham police station, Evan Davies, sixty, a stonemason of Heyworth Road, Forest Gate said to a constable 'Have you heard the news? - you will soon; I have shot my wife!' He produced a magazine pistol and was detailed. Police officers found Mrs Sarah Jane Davies, fifty-eight, lying in the kitchen at her house with a bullet wound in her neck. She was removed to West Ham hospital. X-rays were applied and the bullet located. She died, however, the next day.
When accused came before the magistrates, the evidence showed that the prisoner had been to Canada for some years, and returned in November last.
Lily Janet Davies, his daughter said that when she last visited her parents they were on good terms. Her father had, however, frequently made allegations about his wife. He was a very excitable man.

Illustration from 23 July 1914
Illustrated Police News
Mrs Blanche Dare, the occupier of the lower part of the Davies' house, in evidence, said that after Davies had left his apartment in the morning that she went upstairs and found Mrs Davies lying on the kitchen floor moaning and bleeding from her mouth.
The arresting police constable said that when Davies showed him the pistol, he said 'Be careful, there are some more in there. I meant to pop off four. This has been premeditated for some time.' Davies then appeared to be labouring under great mental stress.
Dr J Youle of West Ham hospital said that the women was admitted in a state of collapse and gradually got worse. At night an operation was performed but the deceased never rallied. The bullet entered the back of her head and cause cerebral hemorrhage, which resulted in death.
Verdict: "Wilful murder". The accused was committed for trial.
Once more, there was no follow up by the IPN, so the outcome of the trial was unknown to its subscribers.

9. Forest Gate crimes - soldier's callous confessions of four hideous murders - 8 May 1919

This is their IPN's account of the Forest Gate murders we have previously covered, here. Their account of them is much more salacious and descriptive than that given in other papers we have seen - and as with all IPN cases, no details were given of the outcome of the trial.

Illustration form 8 May 1919 Illustrated Police News
10. Forest Gate tragedy - domestic quarrel ends in murder and suicide - 18 September 1919

Below we reproduce the entire account from the IPN of this case. It is short, blunt, to the point and  graphic. It has everything a piece of salacious reporting could require, blood, gore, infidelity and painful testimony:

The full story of a double tragedy at Forest Gate was told at West Ham Coroner's Court, when inquests were held on the bodies of William Davey, aged fifty-six, an ex-munitions worker and Lily Allum, aged forty-four. The man and woman were found dead with their throats cut, at a house in Upton Avenue, Forest Gate.
Mr R Davey, brother of the dead man, said that his brother and Mrs Allum lived in rooms in his house. Mrs Allum was a married woman separated from her husband. On Wednesday morning (September 10), when he returned home from work, he, his brother and Mrs Allum and two other lodgers - Mrs Allum's married daughter and son-in-law - sat down together to breakfast.

Illustration from 18 September 1919
 Illustrated Police News

During the meal a slight quarrel occurred between his brother and Mrs Allum and the latter said she was going back to her husband. His brother replied: 'Go, then.' Nothing more was said at the time, but after breakfast, while he was shaving, he heard his brother call out to Mrs Allum to bring him a collar.
She replied: 'All right' and went up to him. A few minutes later he heard a woman cry 'Oh, God'.
'I rushed upstairs' said the witness 'and found my brother kneeling on Mrs Allum on the bed, and I saw that there was a wound in her throat. I carried her downstairs into the hall and ran for a doctor, and when I returned I found my brother lying in the passage with his body towards the door and his throat cut'.
Dr PJ Dufty said that the wounds on Mrs Allum's throat were the results of three separate attacks. On making a post-mortem examination, he found that the covering of the man's brain was adherent, which might indicate some mental malady.
The jury found that Davey murdered Mrs Allum and afterwards committed suicide, whilst temporarily insane.

The Independent Police News, as described in the first part of these two articles, was clearly a publication of its time. It would have played to the Victorian sense of melodrama and survived by lurid accounts and sensationalised images of hideous crimes.

But, changes in technology - newspaper photography and perhaps most of all the movies - whether newscasts, such as Pathe News, or fiction and drama would soon be able to out-do the IPN, in terms of sensation and actuality. The surprise is, perhaps, that the paper managed to last so long - until almost the outbreak of World War 11.

As we have mentioned throughout the two articles, the IPN was clearly more interested in the drama than the outcomes of cases, or justice - so it is very rare that verdicts or sentences are given - just lurid court reports, or police statements.

It is impossible to take any sensible conclusions from the outcomes of just 10 cases, covered in a magazine with its own lurid agenda, but it is clear from the cases covered in these blogs that the overwhelming number of murders and suicides were, in modern parlance, "domestics" and most were explained away, in the IPN reports as being connected either with mental breakdowns, or poverty.


Access to the entire contents of the Independent Police News can be gained via the British Newspaper Archive website, see here 

It is a subscription service, but invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in researching almost any aspect of modern British history. It is continuously expanding its coverage, but currently covers over 760 publications and has 20 million accessible pages - which can be searched via a very powerful search engine. 

A special bit of pleading to them , in exchange for this plug: Please digitise the entire back catalogue of the Stratford Express, ASAP!

Forest Gate, and Victorian Penny Dreadfuls (1)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Illustrated Police News was a strange, weekly, newspaper, which lasted from 1867 until 1938, and for a while was described as "the worst newspaper in England". It was nothing to do with the police, officially, instead, it almost epitomised the Victorian "Penny Dreadful", providing lurid copy to a readership with a thirst for scandal and the salacious. 

Despite its title, it never produced a photograph, but relied entirely on graphic and sensational sketches for its illustrations. Equally, regardless of its claim to cover crime and punishment, it was more interested in quoting lurid witness statements at trials and from police interviews, than informing readers of the outcomes of those trials.

Forest Gate crime featured over 100 times during its 70 years of publication, and in 10 cases the crime was spicy enough to merit an illustration.

Divided, chronologically, over two articles, we look at those cases, reproduce the illustrations and provide quotes from the supporting commentary. By modern standards, far from being "Racy" much of the coverage seems rather quaint - perhaps an illustration of how "tame" Victorian tastes for gore were, compared to those of the modern era.

But first, a rather lengthy description of the IPN from the people who should know more than anyone else - the publishers of the British Newspaper Archive. We are grateful to them for the entire contents of this article.

Details of how to access and subscribe to the archive can be found in the footnote to this article.

British Newspaper Archive description

The British Newspaper Archive is packed with weird and wonderful stories of every description. However, of all the historic titles in this collection, no publication reported the bizarre and shocking in quite the same way as the Illustrated Police News.

A typical front page of the
 Illustrated Police News

The Illustrated Police News was one of Britain’s very first tabloids and one of the first periodicals to tap into the British public’s morbid appetite for crime and sensation. The paper was founded in 1843 and was partly inspired by the success of The Illustrated London News.  It was originally priced at one penny and did remarkably well with a weekly circulation of around 175,000 copies, most sold in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
Gruesome and grisly news stories from around the UK

The Illustrated Police News reporters would scour through vast quantities of newsprint from across the Empire, Europe and the United States in order to bring their readers news of the latest assaults, outrages, tragedies and murders. All of which were delightfully described in lurid detail with vivid illustrations to match.
It was considered a workingman’s newspaper and was frequently condemned for appealing to lowbrow tastes yet it was not the stories printed that attracted the most criticism, it was the lewd and graphic illustrations of blood spurting from wounds, women’s faces twisted in terror as they were attacked by cruel husbands and hosts of scantily clad sleepwalkers who always happened to be attractive young ladies.
In fact, an 1886 article found in our (The British Newspaper Archive) collection of historic newspapers reveals that The Illustrated Police News was once voted the ‘worst newspaper in England’ by readers of the Pall Mall Gazette.
 The proprietor, George Purkis claimed to have half a dozen accomplished artists on his permanent staff in London and somewhere between 70 and 100 free-lance artists spread out across the country who provided “the best portraits published by any journal, not excluding The Illustrated London News and The Graphic“.
Accuracy was of high importance and Purkis described how artists would be deployed to the scene of “terrible murder or extraordinary incident” the second news reached the London office.
Purkis appeared unfazed at being voted the worst newspaper in England and “received the verdict of the jury with great good temper, not to say complacency” and answered the complaints made against him.

Chief amongst these was that The Illustrated Police News was “a bad paper, which encourages the commission of crime, and generally tends to the demoralization of the people into whose hands it falls.”
"I acknowledge it to be a sensational newspaper," said Mr Purkis, but he insisted that: "barring the sensational illustrations, there is nothing in the paper to which objection can reasonably be taken."
He argued that rather than glorifying crime, his paper prevented it by warning of its horrors and terrible consequences. He even argues his paper may act "as an encouragement to a good life" and explained how criminals would go to great lengths to prevent their likeness appearing in its pages.
“I know what people say,” concluded Mr. Purkis, ‘but as I replied to a friend who asked me why I did not produce some other paper than the Police News, ‘We can’t all have Timeses and Telegraphs, and if we can’t have the Telegraph or the Times, we must put up with the Police News.'”
 Purkis died of tuberculosis in 1892 but The IPN continued reporting on the strange and grotesque until 1938.

Forest Gate reports 

1. Burglar caught in Forest Gate - 9 September 1882

Henry James Brady was charged with:
Burglariously breaking and entering Lawn House, Sidney Road, Forest Gate and stealing a copper coal scuttle and scoop and a tea caddy and canister.
The occupant was disturbed during the night and called the police who: 
Not knowing how many other persons were behind the door, put his left hand through the partly opened door and with his truncheon struck the man on the head, when he fell to the ground. ... The prisoners hands were tied with a rope.

The illustration from 9 September 1882 edition
Brady was taken to the police station and charged, but having got some tasty morsels of scene of crime activity, the Illustrated Police News lost interest and did not report the outcome of the incident.

2. Attempted murder of a sweetheart - 26 January 1884

On Tuesday night at Forest Lane, Forest Gate a young (21 years) fellow named Reginald Slaughter, living at Channelsea Road Stratford fire two shots out of a five-chambered revolver at a young lady named (Kitty) Pole (20 years) and then a chamber at himself.
The parties, it seems, had been keeping company for about three months, but have had significant quarrels now and again and it is stated that Slaughter had threatened Miss Pole.
The incident took place at 9.30 pm in Albert Square, Forest Lane.
After Slaughter had fired the first two shots, The Illustrated Police News reported: 
(Miss Pole) was not struck, but fell into a fit of hysterics ... Slaughter pointed the revolver at himself, but the bullet went into the air, and just as he was about to fire again, a gentleman named Newton .... (of) Maryland Point ... snatched the revolver from his hand. Slaughter fell on the pavement, insensible.

Illustration from 26 January 1884
Illustrated Police News
The police were called, Slaughter was arrested and taken to West Ham police station.

In giving evidence to the police, Kitty Pole's mother, Catherine, told them:
(Slaughter) has been keeping company with my daughter. He has deceived her so often, and told her such a load of falsehoods, that on my advice she refused to go out with him.
She said that at one time she had told Slaughter "I have an umbrella in my hand, if you molest my daughter, I'll lay this about your head".

The arresting officer, PC Lampard said "I found a photograph of (Kitty Pole) on Slaughter, on which was written 'This young woman is mine. R.S. I am her lover.'".

The divisional police surgeon said when called to examine Slaughter at the police station:
I found him lying apparently insensible, in the reserve room. His appearance was that of a person in a genuine fit. In fact he was shamming. I threatened that I would use the galvanic battery (electric shock treatment) and he got up. He was perfectly sober.
Reginald Slaughter (a failed case of nominative determinism?) was charged with attempted murder and attempted suicide. Once more, having provided some salacious copy, The Illustrated Police News lost interest in the case, and did not report the outcome of the trial.

3. Awful calamity at Forest Gate - fire at a school - 11 January 1890

This was the Illustrated Police News' account of the fire at the Industrial school in Forest Lane, which we have previously covered here and here.
The written account of the fire is quite graphic, and like a modern day tabloid report of a catastrophe, focuses on dramatic witness statements, mainly from the children and staff of the school.

Illustration from 11 January 1890
 Illustrated Police News
The front page illustration, above, was suitably action-packed, and doubtless proved a good selling point for that week's edition of the paper.

Unlike other cases reported by the newspaper, it was actually followed up, two weeks later, with coverage of the inquest and the verdict. This, again, provided the paper with plenty of opportunity for colourful reporting.

4. Fearful domestic tragedy at Upton Park - alleged murder of two children and an attempted suicide - 30 April 1904

This case had everything as far as salacious reporting was concerned, and the illustration of the case covered the whole of the front page of the newspaper.

The story was, indeed a tragedy and concerned William Folkard of 214 Queen's Road, who was accused of murdering two of his four children: Grace, aged eight years and Thomas, aged seven months.

The family occupied the top two floors of the house (of three).
In the front room of the first floor slept Folkard and his wife, the back room was used as the kitchen, while the children's bedroom was the attic.
 Twelve months ago Folkard had the misfortune to lose two of his children, one dying two days after the other. Since then he has been afflicted by bouts of depression and has had, it is said, frequent drinking bouts.

Illustration from 30 April 1904
 Illustrated Police News
Folkard had been absent from his home a week before the killings - hop-picking, he said. When he returned, he cut the throats of the two children and then attempted to cut his own. He was found alive and taken to West Ham hospital.

The police found a note on his body:
Will and Freddy (his two surviving children) will be able to keep their mother in ten years' time. Girls are not much good, but Grace has been a good girls. Tommy is so young (the latter two being those he murdered).
Again, like other IPN dramatic case, having reported the gore, the paper did not follow the case up with details of the trial and its outcome.


Access to the entire contents of the Independent Police News can be gained via the British Newspaper Archive website, see here

It is a subscription service, but invaluable to anyone with a serious interest in researching almost any aspect of modern British history. It is continuously expanding its coverage, but currently covers over 760 publications and has 20 million accessible pages - which can be searched via a very powerful search engine. 

A special bit of pleading to them , in exchange for this plug: Please digitise the entire back catalogue of the Stratford Express, ASAP!

The Forest Gate roots of controversial lesbian author, Mary Renault

Saturday, 1 July 2017

This article is published to co-incide with the first Forest Gayte,  the local LGBT Festival, on 1 July 2017.

Mary Renault (1905 - 1983) was a controversial lesbian author who was born in Forest Gate. When she died, she was one of the most popular historical novelists in the English language, with her works translated into every major tongue.

A youthful Mary Renault

According to her major biographer, David Sweetman (see footnote, for details):
She told a good story, with enough adventure to satisfy the common reader, and her fastidious attention to historical detail made classical scholars some of her greatest fans, but it was also true that several of her leading characters were unashamedly homosexual at a time when many of those same readers would, under other circumstances, have considered the subject repellent.
This is her story.

She was born, Mary Challans, in Dacre Lodge, 49 Plashet Road (see photo of the house, today). She was the eldest (of two) daughter of Frank Challans and Mary Clementine Newsome Challans, nee Baxter. Her mother was daughter of a Yorkshire dentist who met the twenty-four year old doctor Frank Challans in 1899, two years her senior. Challans came from Lincolnshire Huguenot stock and trained in medicine at the London hospital, Whitechapel.

Dacre Lodge - 49 Plashet Road, today

Frank's father died when he was a child and his mother, with relatively modest means, was unable to afford to buy him into an expensive, West End, medical partnership. So, after he graduated, he bought a small practice in Forest Gate, in a moderately large Edwardian house. in Plashet Road.

Frank Challans - Mary's father - outside
 the London hospital, where he qualified, a little
 before moving to Dacre Lodge
Back to the biography:
The house, blessed with the rather grand title of Dacre Lodge, was double fronted and, although it did not look large when viewed from the street, it stretched back some distance and had four bedrooms, a reception room and dining room. It also had a consulting room and small dispensary, though in the absence of a proper waiting room patients sat in the dining room until called.
Forest Gate was an area of respectable, modest folk, many of them retired, living in neat, terraced houses, bordering tree-lined roads, though behind this facade was another reality of meaner streets which housed poor Jewish immigrants who eked out a living in the East End rag trade.
Although described at the time as a modest household for a doctor, it was well supplied with staff, which included a "cook general", a housemaid, a" tweeny" (between the stairs maid) for fetching and carrying and a young boy, who worked in the dispensary cleaning bottles and delivering prescriptions. As Mary's birth approached, the family hired a night nurse, who would share Mary's bedroom and look after her during the night.

Mary's mother, Mary Clementine, in old age
In a further description of Mary's home, David Sweetman says:
To the side of the house was a wooden stable, but as they could not afford a horse and carriage, it was always empty and quickly became dilapidated.
Mary was born on 4 September 1905 and christened Eileen Mary - to be affectionately known as Molly. She told her biographer:
If the weather was fine, (I) was allowed to play in Upton Park (ed: she probably meant the very close-by West Ham Park) with its splendid rhododendrons; if not, (I) spent hours at the nursery window watching horse drawn trams rattle down Plashet Road towards the City or trundle back to the Stratford Depot.
Sometimes there was the pungent smell of the manure cart heading towards Aldgate, its driver dozing over the reins, his horse sure of the route. More pleasant was the scent of the elder tree in the back garden, so that ever afterwards the smell of elder blossom brought back memories of (my) childhood.
Mary's parents' marriage was not a happy one, although they maintained a semblance of middle class respectability by being regular attendees at St Peter's CofE church (demolished 1968), on Upton Lane, facing West Ham Park. Molly felt unloved and detached from both of them, which she reflected on greatly in her later life.

The veneer of middle class respectability
 secured by regular attendance at
 St Peter's Upton Cross
She was an imaginative and precocious child and sent to a dame school run, according to the biography, by the Misses Levick in their mother's house about a mile from Dacre Lodge (no further details given, unfortunately). Mrs Levick senior took morning prayers and hymn singing, while her daughters, Edith and Maude supervised classes, with some help from a French woman, always known as "Madaam", who gave elementary French lessons.

Reading, apparently was all that Molly cared for and she escaped to a loft, above the deserted old stable to get away from the rest of the family and consume vast quantities of books.

She had few other outside interests and, when at play, was happiest in the company of young boys. As a result, her family regarded her as being "something of a tomboy".

At the age of eight she announced to her family that she conceived her ambition of becoming a writer. Her first literary effort, a Western that she composed in the family's grocery order book, was abandoned after one chapter. It was at about this age that she began her life-long love of the theatre, through visits to the Stratford Empire.

When German air-raids began to hit East London, in 1917, Molly and her younger sister were sent to Buckinghamshire until the war ended. On her return from there, Molly was promptly despatched to a boarding school in Bristol, for the remainder of her schooling (she was never told why).

She gained a scholarship to study English St Hugh's College, Oxford - then an all women's college -against the wishes of her parents, who stumped up less than a quarter of the costs of educating here there. The rest being contributed by an aunt.

And that was pretty much Mary Challans' last recorded experiences of Forest Gate. 

In 1988, three years after her death, David Sweetman, her biographer, contacted Mary's long time partner Julie Mullard and invited her to accompany him on a visit to places of note from her childhood.  He writes this of Dacre Lodge:
Dacre Lodge, Mary's birthplace in East London had been bought by the local council's immigrant welfare division to use as a refuge for battered Asian wives. The dilapidated stable in whose loft Mary had first begun to write still stood, though not for long, by the look of it.
So - what of the 55 years between Mary Renault's departure from Forest Gate and her death in 1983? For this we are deeply grateful to her Wikipedia entry, here.

She graduated in 1928 and in 1933 she began training as a nurse at the Ratcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. During her training she met Julie Mullard, a fellow nurse with whom she established a lifelong romantic relationship.
She worked as a nurse while beginning a writing career, treating Dunkirk evacuees in Bristol and working in Radcliffe Infirmary's brain surgery ward until 1945.

Mary, as a nurse at the Ratcliffe hospital, Oxford
She published her first novel, Purposes of Love, in 1939: it has a contemporary setting, like her other early novels, and the novelist Linda Proud has described it as "a strange combination of Platonism and hospital romance" Her novel The Friendly Young Ladies (1943), which is about a lesbian relationship between a writer and a nurse, seems to have been inspired by her own relationship with Mullard.

In 1948, after her novel Return to Night won an MGM prize worth $150,000, Renault and Mullard emigrated to South Africa, where they remained for the rest of their lives. There, according to Proud, they found a community of gay expatriates who had "escaped the repressive attitudes towards homosexuality in Britain for the comparatively liberal atmosphere of Durban.... Mary and Julie found themselves able to set up home together in this new land without causing the outrage they had sometimes provoked at home.

Mary and Julie on voyage as
 they emigrate to South Africa
However, both Renault and Mullard were critical of the less liberal aspects of their new home, and participated in the Black Sash movement against apartheid in the 1950s.

Mary, wearing the Black Sash
 on an anti-apartheid
 demonstration in 1950's
South Africa
In South Africa Renault was able to write forthrightly about homosexual relationships for the first time. Her sympathetic treatment of love between men won her a wide gay readership, but it also led to rumours that Renault was really a gay man writing under a female pseudonym. Renault found these rumours amusing but also sought to distance herself from being labelled a "gay writer".

Her historical novels are all set in ancient Greece. They include a pair of novels about the mythological hero Theseus and a trilogy about the career of Alexander the Great.  The Charioteer (1953), the story of two young gay servicemen in the 1940s who try to model their relationship on the ideals expressed in Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium, was a warm-up for Renault's historical novels.

By turning away from the twentieth century and focusing on stories about male lovers in the warrior societies of ancient Greece, Renault no longer had to deal with homosexuality and anti-gay prejudice as social "problems". Instead she was free to focus on larger ethical and philosophical concerns while examining the nature of love and leadership.

The Charioteer could not be published in the US until 1959, after the success of The Last of the Wine proved that American readers and critics would accept a serious gay love story.

Book cover of the
Last of the Wine
Although not a classist by training, Renault was admired in her day for her scrupulous recreations of the ancient Greek world. Some of the history presented in her fiction and in her non-fiction work, The Nature of Alexander has been called into question, however. 

Book cover of a novel about
 Alexander the Great
Her novels about Theseus rely on the controversial theories of Robert Graves, and her portrait of Alexander has been criticized as uncritical and romanticized. Renault defended her interpretation of the available sources in author's notes attached to her books.

Though Renault appreciated her gay following, she was uncomfortable with the "gay pride" movement that emerged in the 1970s after the Stonewall Riots. Like Laurie Odell, the protagonist of The Charioteer, she was suspicious of identifying oneself primarily by one's sexual orientation. Late in her life she expressed hostility to the gay rights movement, troubling some of her fans.

David Sweetman remarks in his biography that her novels generally portray mothers in a poor light and that, particularly in her later novels, this is extended to women in general. Her generally negative depiction of women has also been noted by the critic Carolyn Heibrun.

Mary in 1982, a year before her death
Among the honours that Mary Renault received were the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature in 1959, the Silver pen award in 1971 and in the year before her death, Honorary Fellowship of St Hugh's College, Oxford.

Footnote. Thanks to the Wikipedia entry (cited above) and David Sweetman's Mary Renault - a biography, published by Chatto and Windus, 1993 for the information upon which this article is based.

First motor fire engine tested on Wanstead Flats

Monday, 19 June 2017

In 1908/9 West Ham Fire Brigade made the momentous decision to move from horse power to the internal combustion engine. Wanstead Flats it turned out played a key role in testing the new appliance.

Fire engines used to look like this:

Forest Gate fire station
7 March 1908 (Newham Archives)
The Council’s Watch Committee placed an order for a new fire tender with Lloyd & Plaister of Wood Green. They were one of many small motor manufacturers then based in London in the early stages of motor production. London at that time was still a great manufacturing centre as well as the world’s largest port, and biggest financial/banking centre. There were many factories producing manufactured goods.

The new tender had the registration mark AN 898.

November 1910, advert for Allen-Liversidge
 brakes from FIRE magazine, showing AN 898
 Lloyd and Plaister escape carrier, the first
 motorised appliance for West Ham fire
brigade. In the early 1900's there were many
small motor manaufacturers in London and
Lloyd and Spicer of Wood Green, being one 

(photo: John Murray and David Spicer)


Commercial Motor magazine 29th July 1909 devoted a whole article to this new fire tender:


At the beginning of this year, the Watch Committee of the Borough of West Ham awarded a contract to Lloyd and Plaister, Ltd., of Wood Green, for a motor vehicle which in all respects should fulfil the usual fire brigade requirements, and which should be capable of transporting a full-sized escape, five men, and a quantity of hose, stand-pipes, and other equipment at a speed of 15 m.p.h. on the flat, and 5 m.p.h. up any hill in West Ham. We are not familiar with anything that can properly he called a hill in any part of West Ham, but it is a fact that the new machine will .safely and comfortably travel out the flat at 30 m.p.h., whilst it can do all that is necessary in the matter of hill climbing. On test, it has been stopped and started on a gradient of 1 in S. near Muswell Hill.
It continues:
Other characteristics of this new machine, which became evident &firing the test-run, were the comfortable springing of the chassis, the smoothness with which the " L. and P." clutch picked up its work, and the ease with which it was possible to steer a machine of such unusual dimensions ; at the full speed, a perfectly-straight, over poor roads on Wanstead Flats, was maintainable while the steering wheel was only held between one finger and a thumb. The exceptionally-wide track, the long wheelbase, the low centre of gravity of the chassis, the inclined stub axles, and the excellent design of the steering gear all make for results such as this. It is important to note that the application of the front brakes does not in any way interfere with the movement of the steering wheel. Anyone who has ridden on a horsed escape-cart, at full gallop, will have noticed, not, perhaps, without a tremor of anxiety, the manner in which the escape will, on occasion, swing from side to side ; not so, however, with a well-designed motor-escape equipment, for its progress is quite steady, and free from objectionable swaying, even while travelling over an open space like Wanstead Flats when a high wind is blowing. The braking and steering gear of a motor fire-engine must, of necessity, be entirely above suspicion, on account of the machine's considerable weight and its frequent high speed in congested thoroughfares. The gross weight of the West Ham motor is 3 tons, 6 cwt., 3 qrs., and of this the escape itself weighs 11 cwt. This escape-wagon is a thoroughly workmanlike job, and it has the appearance of having been designed and built throughout for fire-brigade requirements.
(the escape refers to the wheeled ladder it carries)

The machine was placed in service at the long disappeared sub fire station in Balaam Street, Plaistow and its photograph has appeared in a number of local history books and websites (see here).

Balaam Street sub fire
 station before World War 1

Lloyd & Plaister soon disappeared as a motor manufacturer though Southgate ordered a fire engine from them a couple of years after West Ham. Dennis and Leyland started to dominate the fire engine market. Dennis started small as a London based manufacturer of bicycles and lawn mowers!

The author local historian Peter Williams is working on a history of West Ham Fire Brigade.