Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The strange case of Spring-Heeled-Jack.

The villain, appearing in the guise of a ghost, a bear and a devil, has been, within the last week or so repeatedly seen at Lewisham and Blackheath. So much, indeed, he has frightened the inhabitants of those peaceful districts, that women and children durst not stir out of their houses after dark!
-Extract from the Times newspaper, 11th January 1838.

The Victorian age was a time of great invention, scientific discovery and reform. It was also an age of great interest in tales of Spiritualism and ghosts. Seances were very much in vogue and paranormal research was on the increase.  The Ghost Club, for example, was formed in 1862, the group was set up to evaluate, using a scientific approach, the existence of ghosts.  At the same time they were also trying to expose charlatans and fake mediums. One of the most popular books at the time was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, first published 1818. 

Jack the Ripper had slashed his way to notoriety during the late 1880's. The gruesome murders were splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the land. Some had thought the murders so inhuman that the hand that wielded the knife must have belonged to the Devil himself?
However, some fifty years before 'Jack the Ripper' there was another Jack, a spring heeled version.
Much has been written about the attacks and exploits of this phantom of the night. There is little or no real substantive evidence or satisfactory explanations of who, or indeed, what the perpetrator of several attacks was? There appears to be some confusion here, the attacks appear to be random, but the physical description of the attacker is rather alarming, so much so that the victims were unsure if it was human?

I will now make an attempt to unravel the twisted cords of truth. I will peel back the curtain of time and delve into these seemingly motiveless attacks. I will apply logical deduction, eyewitness accounts, police statements and modern investigative techniques in an attempt to shed some light on the legend that is, Spring-Heeled-Jack!
Early sightings of a strange figure appearing at night across West London began in 1837.  A strange spectre was seen in Brentford, Isleworth, Ealing, Hanwell, Richmond, Barnes, Twickenham, Ham, Kingston and Hammersmith. Many of these early sightings were reported to be of a tall figure of a man dressed in armour, with claw like apparatuses attached to its gauntlets?
The common connection of these early sightings is that the figure was said to appear out of nowhere, and then to almost immediately disappear by taking gigantic leaps and bounds.

April 1837: Barnes, West London. The first 'Jack attack.'

Barnes Common in West London, during the Victorian era, was a place that was unwise to visit during the hours of darkness. The area was notorious for its high number of robberies, or what we would call today 'muggings.'
Before we start I must stress that many of these old stories/cases contain a certain amount of discrepancies in the time and dates of the said occurrences.
According to a police report there was no doubt that one dark night in April of 1837 a man, while taking a short cut through a churchyard in Barnes had encountered something extremely scary. Although the gentleman was not attacked on this occasion, a caped, red eyed, leaping figure had cleared the high railings that ringed the cemetery in one bound and blocked his path. The gentleman immediately turned and ran for his life and told the police of his extraordinary encounter.

19th February 1838: 21-00hrs:

Jane Alsop, a young woman of 18, was about to settle down for the night when she was disturbed by the incessant ringing of the bell at the front gate. It was late for callers and so she was a little reluctant to open the door, but eventually she did, as the man outside had announced that he was a policeman. He'd also said that he needed a light as he had just apprehended Spring Heeled Jack, she opened the door and handed the man a lighted candle.
The figure that greeted her was tall, had red eyes, pointed ears, a cloak and some kind of a lantern strapped to his chest.
OK, this is where things get weird. The strange figure turned toward her and spat blue flames into her face and began to tear at her clothing and hair with metallic claws. Jane had put up a fight and when her sisters heard her cries for help they fought him off. Jack had her in a headlock and was scratching at her face and chest. They managed to wrestle her free of his grasp and slammed the front door on him, terrified they shouted for the police from the upstairs window as the figure bounded away into the night.

28th February 1838 20:30hrs: Limehouse, London: Jack was back.

Two young women, Lucy Scales and her younger sister were walking through Green Dragon Alley in Limehouse East London. A dark figure suddenly appeared before them. Without a word the strange tall figure spat blue flames into Lucy's face temporarily blinding her which induced her to have a violent fit. As the two girls screamed out in terror the figure leaped away without laying a hand on either of them? The description given to the police shortly afterwards matched the attacker of Jane Alsop.

A police investigation was now initiated and these attacks were for the first time being taken seriously and a top detective was dispatched to apprehend the culprit. Detective James Lea was one of the best detectives in London, Lea was an experienced detective and had single-handedly solved the perplexing murder case of Maria Marten in Suffolk. Lea never let up and eventually tracked down the murderer in London and arrested William Corday at a girls' school in Brentford West London.
Lea was now given the task to find Jane Alsop's and Lucy Scales's attacker. He started his investigation by interviewing Jane Alsop, but was not convinced by her account, and believed that this incident was some kind of prank. However, he did continue to pursue the case for some time and interviewed dozens of suspects. But none of them were ever charged with any offences and after having exhausted all possible enquirers detective Lea allowed the investigation to grind to its inevitable halt.

The interest in these attacks had become popular with the public who simply couldn't get enough of old Jack's antics. This was mainly due to the newspapers who fuelled the fires of fear and gave the reports of further sightings of Spring Heeled Jack prominent headlines, which kept up the mythical status. Also, a popular publication at the time called 'Penny Dreadful' serialised Jack and his exploits, further cementing his folklore status. Another popular publication, which featured Jack's exploits, was called the Illustrated Police News.

12th November 1845: Jacobs Island London: Jack the killer.

On the south bank of the river Thames a place called Jacobs Island once existed. It was by all accounts a dreadfully run-down area. The place was occupied by the downtrodden and lower elements of society. Living conditions were some of the worst in the country and the place was affectionately referred to as 'the capital of cholera.'
Maria Davis, a teenage prostitute, was a resident of the Island.  Maria was plying her trade one cold, dark evening when she was approached by a strange tall figure. According to eyewitness accounts she was suddenly and violently attacked. The attacker was said to begin the attack by spitting blue flames into her face and then proceeded to tear at her clothing with claw like appendages. And then in one movement, and with seemingly little effort, he lifted the terrified girl above his head and tossed her into the putrid river and then bounded away at great speed.
Maria Davis drowned in the filth of the river. No one was ever arrested for her murder. This one leaves a bitter taste, and I have to say that up to this point I was indifferent to old Jack's capers. Jack was not seen again for over 20 years.

August 1877: Aldershot Barracks, South East England.

The most famous sighting of Spring Heeled Jack occurred at Aldershot Barracks of all places. The Barracks are still in existence and are the HQ of the British Army, where thousands of soldiers are billeted. Late one warm August night back in 1877 a hooded figure was spotted by a sentry on guard duty. The sentry was alerted to the figure not only by its strange hooded appearance, but also by a distinct metallic sound as it moved, as if it were wearing armour? Later that month a sentry was said to have been slapped by a hand that felt like ice which came out of nowhere. On another occasion a sentry spotted Jack approaching. The soldier ran to the nearest sentry box to hide, only to find Jack standing next to him reaching out for his throat in the darkness.
The sightings and physical encounters at the Barracks continued. Jack would suddenly appear and then quickly slap a sentry in the face and then leap over the wall. He was once seen to leap over the heads of two sentries and onto the roof of their sentry box, and then escapes by bounding across the fields. These attacks were taken very seriously, as they were not only incredibly strange but were serious breaches of security. The soldiers were therefore given the order to shoot Jack on site, which they did on the next occasion. However, their musket balls either missed or were not able to penetrate Jacks armour, and he once again escaped. These were the last real sightings of Spring Heeled Jack.


So, could all of this be the work of some kind of drunken prankster, who simply decided to dress up and frighten a few locals out of their wits for a bet. Maybe?

But that doesn't explain the ability to leap over high railings, walls and fences, out run pursuers and dodge bullets with ease. I don't believe that a person under the influence of alcohol would be able to leap around at speed without injuring themselves or for that matter have the ability to make numerous successful escapes. At no point had any of the victims said there was a smell of alcohol on Jack's breath.  As for the fire breathing and amazing jumping ability, could Jack have been linked to some kind of side show act, a circus performer, an acrobat perhaps? Circuses were very popular during the Victorian era. But that still doesn't explain the why?

Having studied much evidence in this case I am driven to the conclusion that some of the sightings are without doubt that of pranksters, copycat Jack's. However, the 'close encounters' the seemingly random attacks themselves are definitely not the work of a joker.
Jane Alsop, Lucy Scales, poor Maria Davis and the soldiers at the Aldershot barracks were attacked by this creature, that is a fact. The attacks caused injury, much distress and in one case death. And why play around at an army barracks? Risking your life by being shot at by soldiers who were under orders to shoot to kill? There's got to be more here, more than just a search for cheap thrills, surely?

I believe this is something else, something that is beyond reasonable comprehension.

And so, in conclusion, it does seem that the real Spring-Heeled-Jack and his/it's motives and identity are likely to remain a mystery forever.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Who is your favourite book villain?

Who is your favourite book villain?

Love them or loathe them villains make the most memorable characters. Here are some of my personal favourites.

Vic Dakin. Villain.

Hi all, just wanted to add a new favourite villain to the list.  One of my favourite films is an early 70's film called Villain. In it we have the main character, the psychotic gangster, Vic Dakin, played by the wonderful Richard Burton.

I acquired the original book some time ago, which is called, The Burden Of Proof. The book is a tremendous read.  The main character, Vic Dakin, is a ruthless, psychopathic, sadomasochist who is the head of a violent underworld gang.

The story is set around casinos and shady bars. The places are frequented by politicians who become trapped by the gang due to their sexual indiscretions.  The gang meanwhile, are planing a big wages snatch and Vic needs an alibi. This is where a powerful politician is 'asked' to provide the alibi,  if he refuses, Dakin will release the damning evidence he has on him. If you get a chance to grab a copy of the film or the book, then do so, you won't be disappointed. Vic Dakin goes to the top of the list as my favourite film and book villain.

Odd Job.  

The bodyguard of super villain Auric Goldfinger takes some beating; he is a Korean killing machine and built like the proverbial brick shit house who uses a steel rimmed bowler hat like a Frisbee to take you out. In the book, Goldfinger instructs Odd Job to demonstrate some Karate techniques to James Bond as a warning, he does this by smashing through an oak banister on the staircase with his bare hands and then kicks the crap out of the mantelpiece, he then eats Goldfingers cat for his dinner. The film version is good but the book is so much better.

Doctor No.   

In the book of the same name the character Doctor No is an extremely complicated, weird and sadistic creature that lives under the sea in a huge secret complex, and of course is getting up to no good whatsoever down there. His interests are many but one in particular is to discover the pain threshold of human beings. He has black eyes which are made of glass, has had extensive plastic surgery on his face, has an elongated spine, and his hands which were cleaved off by Chinese gangsters have been replaced with steel pincers. Forget the film read the book.  

Doctor No brought the steel claw delicately in front of each eye and tapped the centre of each eyeball. Each eyeball in turn emitted a dull ting. “These,” said Doctor No “see everything.” Extract from Dr No by IanFleming

Nurse Mildred Ratched.

The cold character from Ken Casey’s 1962 book One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest Nurse Ratched would not be everyone’s first choice as a villain, but she certainly scared me. She is a formidable manipulating authoritarian who is basically a power-crazed head nurse at a mental institution. She carries out her duties knowing full well that the mentally ill patients who she rules with an iron fist are totally helpless under her command.  Brilliantly played I might add in the superb film version by Louise Fletcher.

Annie Wilkes Dugan. The Dragon Lady.

The character from the Stephen King novel Misery Annie Dugan is truly terrifying, a sick psychotic manipulating murdering ex nurse who rescues her favourite author from a car crash and keeps him prisoner at her house. She uses her skills as a nurse to bring him back to health. However to stop him escaping she decides to chop his foot off with an axe. She kills her dad, kills the neighbours, kills a cop, kills her friend, and kills kids too.  And to top it all believes that she is a Christian?
There is an excellent film version of the book by the same name and the characters are superbly played by Kathy Bates and James Caan.

Those are some of my all time  favourite book villains; I wonder who your favourite villains are?  Feel free to post your own preferences, thoughts and comments. Don't forget to leave your email address at the top of the page.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up.

The first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and first printed in 1887, and then published in book form in 1888.
The T V adaptations with the brilliant Jeremy Bret as Holmes, and the more recent blockbuster Guy Ritchie films with Holmes being played by the talented Robert Downey Jr have given this fascinating character a new lease of life. The character has been portrayed in films more than any other in the history of stage and screen. But where did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle draw his inspiration from? I don't believe that Holmes was solely a figment of his imagination, through my research I am now convinced that the character is based upon a real person, or persons.
My deliberations and astute logical deductions have led me to conclude that there are four main suspects to consider in this case. The accused are, Dr Joseph Bell, Sir Henry Littlejohn, Jerome Caminada and Francis 'Tanky' Smith.

Arthur Conan Doyle was a student of the renowned lecturer Dr Joseph Bell. Doyle based the look of Sherlock Holmes upon him, in the first book Holmes is described thus: a narrow nose, high forehead and grey eyes. Bell took part in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders. After a week of intense investigation, he wrote his detailed findings on the murders, and is said to have actually named a chief suspect! The mysterious disappearance of the entirety of his notes on the case would be worthy of a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

There is little doubt that Bell influenced Doyle, but so had another. Sir Henry Littlejohn was a medical man, a forensic expert, and a lecturer. He also served as Edinburgh's police surgeon and was involved in many police investigations. He advocated a combination of forensics and methods of logical deduction in crime solving. No doubt Littlejohn had an influence on Doyle's fictional character, these influences however are well documented.

Throughout my extensive investigation into this perplexing case it had slowly emerged that there were too many similarities between Holmes and two of the four suspects in the dock to be a coincidence. I will now immediately release two of them from the investigation, even though they are both connected with the case I fear that they are not the prime suspects here and I will waste no more time upon them. Two suspects now remain in the case to find the real Sherlock Holmes.
The eye of suspicion is now firmly upon Jerome Caminada and Francis 'Tanky' Smith.

Jerome Caminada was a Victorian detective who was well known for his unorthodox case solving methods. He was at the height of his notoriety in the mid 1880's. Which was 3 years before the first Sherlock Holmes book was published.
He was skilled in solving difficult cases and used early forms of forensics to help him solve them. His methods of detection were so successful that he was given the title 'the terror to evil doers.' He frequently wore disguises and prowled the mean back streets looking for villains. He spent hours studying the body language of criminals in prison, and was able to spot villains simply by the way they walked. And just like Holmes he had a nemesis, a real Moriarty, Bob Horridge. Bob was a criminal of high intelligence, low morals and a quick, violent temper and became an arch enemy of Caminada.

The feud between them lasted 20 years, beginning with Caminada arresting Horridge for petty theft. Due to his previous convictions Horridge was handed an unusually stiff sentence. Horridge swore revenge against Caminada and seven years later he was back on the streets, and back to his old ways. The feud ended when Horridge became involved in a shoot out in which he shot two policemen. Caminada was immediately dispatched to bring him to justice. Disguised as a down and out Caminada found Horridge holed up in Liverpool, he surprised Horridge and with his trusty revolver in hand he arrested him. Bob Horridge was sent back to prison where he would spend the rest of his days.

Caminada had built up a huge network of informers, he would secretly arrange meetings with them in the dead of night in the church's dotted about the city of Manchester. These informers would offer information for money and in doing so Caminada had formed a detailed knowledge of criminal activity.  He used this knowledge to infiltrate the gangs working in his area. He would patrol the streets in disguise, bravely stepping in like some kind of Victorian super hero and arrested villains caught during their heinous acts. His disguises were so authentic that even his own men would fail to recognise him. Caminada is a strong suspect for the title of the real Sherlock Holmes.

Francis 'Tanky' Smith was born in Leicester in 1814 and lived in a poor part of town in a small terraced house. The new Leicester Constabulary was formed in 1836, Francis Smith and his friend Tommy Haynes joined soon after its inception. The two were quickly noticed by the hierarchy and were promoted to the rank of sergeant. Not long after their promotion they became the districts first ever detectives. The crime rate in early Victorian Leicester was high, drunkenness, pickpocketing and even the odd riot was not uncommon. Like Caminada, Francis had made numerous arrests by employing an array of disguises to infiltrate the criminal gangs. He would be in the taverns and the inns, in disguise and eavesdropping on conversations and following rogues and vagabonds back to their hideouts.  

Francis Smith never seemed to relax, and even when sleeping he was thinking about solving crimes and catching criminals.  It is said that he even solved a jewellery theft after having a particularly long sleep, and dreamt of how to solve it. And solve it he did.
One case cements his reputation, the case had perplexed the authorities and the family needed a specialist to solve it. Smith was called upon to investigate. James Beaumont Winstanley, the high sheriff of the county, had simply disappeared. Winstanley, after a family dispute, had left the country. Smith gathered as much as he could from the family, and the game was afoot, the search was now on. The detective had tracked Winstanley to Paris and then on to Germany, where the trail came to an abrupt halt.

Smith had found him, or should I say, he found where he was buried. Winstanley had apparently fallen overboard and drowned while travelling on a ferry, and was buried in Coblenz in Germany. Tanky Smith had the body exhumed, and immediately sent a telegram to the family. Their butler was henceforth dispatched to identify the body. Identification was difficult and Winstanley was recognised only by his unique gold cufflinks. The detective was rewarded handsomely by the Winstanley family and he invested the money into a plot of land where some fine houses were built. 

His son being the architect on the project incorporated 16 busts of Tanky Smith into the facade of the buildings in his various disguises. The Victoria Villas as they were known are still there today.
Francis Tanky Smith retired from the police force in 1863 and became the first private detective in Leicester, he lived in a house in Victoria Terrace and spent the rest of his days under the ever watchful gaze of his own effigies.
Based on the clues that I have uncovered and with the application of much logical deduction.  My deliberations have finally brought me to the conclusion that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, was heavily influenced by the exploits of all of the aforementioned suspects.
Therefore, it could be suggested that there is a case for all four? I believe that Doyle has taken elements from each of these characters and skilfully moulded them into one man.

I now believe that it is proven beyond a shadow of all doubt that the main suspects have been found. 

Will Jerome Caminada and Francis 'Tanky' Smith please stand up for you are guilty as charged. 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Jack The Lad

The Greatest Escaper. 

Long before Harry Houdini, a hundred-and-seventy-two years to be exact, a man called Jack Sheppard was picking locks and escaping from seemingly escape proof prisons. Jack, or 'Jack the lad' as he became known within his inner circle of associates was the real deal. His escapes were not meticulously planned side show acts, his escapology exploits were performed solely to elude the hangman's noose. 

Jack Sheppard had perplexed, befuddled and thoroughly annoyed the authorities for quite a while with his criminal activities. He had developed the ability to remove leg irons, squeeze through the smallest of gaps, able to pick locks with bent nails, scale roof tops and high walls. This young man had daring in abundance, he was fearless, highly intelligent with a never say die spirit.

Jack Sheppard was born in 1702 in Spitalfields in London. At the time this area was notorious for thieves, robbers, highwaymen and prostitutes. Infant mortality in London was high, Jack's mother, like many mothers at that time, had her child christened the day after he was born, fearing sudden death. Jack survived infancy, but times for the family were hard, and at the age of six he was sold into an apprenticeship for the princely sum of 20 shillings.

Jack's master had died soon after, and Jack was sent to a chair maker's workshop where he was ill treated by a cruel man. Jack, was thankfully thrown a lifeline and was given a job as a shop boy by William Kneebone, a draper with a small shop on the Strand. Jack's mother also worked there. Mr Kneebone was good to Jack and taught the boy how to read and write. He also secured a carpenter apprenticeship for Jack working with the appropriately named Mr Owen Wood.

At 20 Jack stood five feet four and was of a slender build, but he was strong and wiry. He was pale faced, with dark hair and eyes, a cheeky smile and quick witted. Jack had natural charm, and because of it became very popular in the taverns and inns of Covent Garden. His natural joviality and zest for life had secured him the nickname 'Jack the lad.'
Secretly Jack had disliked the mundane servitude of his current job for quite a while, and with only a short time left as an apprentice he began to err from the path of respectability. He became rebellious at work, and most evenings he could be found in the arms of prostitutes, and drinking heavily in the rough taverns of London.

Jack's local was The Black Lion tavern on Drury Lane. The pub was very popular with the apprentices in the area. Unfortunately, it was also one of the place's where the infamous Jonathan Wild ran his criminal empire from. Young Jack would be rubbing shoulders with thieves and murders such as Joseph 'Blue Skin' Blake.

Jack was befriended by Blake and was now also in a steady relationship with a prostitute called Elizabeth Lyon. Jack had decided, no doubt encouraged by his new found friends, to embark on a life of crime. Jack's first recorded arrest was in 1723. Jack, whilst still working as an apprentice, was out on an errand for his master and decided on a little shoplifting on the way home.  A pair of silver tea spoons had found their way into Jack's pocket.  There was no established police force in England, and private citizens formed themselves into ‘lawgiver gangs’ and certain individuals were called upon to apprehend criminals and policed the streets from 1674-1829. They were encouraged by the large rewards on offer, £40 was the going rate for the apprehension of thieves and murderers, the average wage for the less well off would be around £10 a year.

Jack was sent to the St Anne's Roundhouse in London after a spree of pickpocketing. The roundhouse was a small prison, and more of a holding centre for those suspected of criminal acts. While incarcerated, he decided he was now finished with his boring, safe life, and in August of 1723 he decided to leave his master and concentrate on being a career criminal. On the 5th February 1723 Tom Sheppard, Jack's older brother and convicted thief, and Elizabeth Lyon burgled a property and Tom was caught. Tom had a long rap sheet, and with the hangman's noose looming over him, he reluctantly informed on his brother to save his own skin.

A warrant was hastily issued for Jack's arrest. Jonathan Wild, known as the 'Thief Taker General', led a double life and was a magistrate, and simultaneously ran a vast criminal empire. Wild only recruited former convicted thieves and used them as informers. Once indoctrinated into his gang he could manipulate and blackmail them. As ex convicts they were not permitted to give evidence in a court of law. Wild was London's first gangland boss, and had built up a network of specialised gangs of burglars, pickpockets and informers. If you were a thief in London in the mid eighteenth century you had to fence your stolen goods through Wild, if not you would incur his wrath. Jack Sheppard decided not to work with Wild and fenced his ill gotten gains elsewhere.

It was widely known that Wild had a dislike for the young upstart, he hated Jack's popularity and his blatant disrespect for his authority.  Wild decided on a ruse to trap Jack, and in the process claim the reward money on offer. He instructed one of his men, James Sykes, to find Jack and ask him to meet for a game of skittles in a pub in Covent Garden.  The simple trap was set and as Jack walked in he was arrested and imprisoned on the top floor of the Roundhouse, oblivious to the nature of the circumstances. Sheppard took three hours to make his escape, he smashed through the ceiling of his cell and then got onto the roof, where he lowered himself to the ground using knotted bed sheets.

The previous escape was in April, and in May Jack was in trouble once again and arrested for pick pocketing. And found himself in a cell in St Anne's Roundhouse in Soho. His lover Elizabeth Lyon, AKA Edgeworth Bess, visited him the next day and was immediately recognised as one of his accomplices and promptly arrested. A few hours later they were both transported to the New Prison in Clerkenwell.  That night, from the same cell they hatched a plan of escape. A few days later the plan was executed and Jack slipped out of his irons, removed some bars from the window and the pair escaped using blankets tied together. They scaled a twenty foot perimeter wall and disappeared into the night.

Wild demanded that Jack and his gang only fence their goods through him, where he would then take the lion's share. Jack refused, and began to intensify his activities with Blueskin Blake. The pair hatched a plan to burgle the premises of Jack's former employer Mr Kneebone.  Blueskin and Sheppard fenced their items through a man called William Field, however, Field was secretly one of Wild's closest cronies. 

Wild had now made Sheppard his number one priority, he simply couldn't allow this kind of disrespect to continue, as it may give others the same idea.  Wild set off to find Elizabeth as he knew she would know where he was holed up. He plied Elizabeth with copious amounts of Brandy and while blind drunk she let slip Sheppard's whereabouts.

One of Wild's henchmen, Quilt Arnold, was waiting for him and the trap was set. Sheppard was sent to Newgate Prison on a charge of the burglary of Kneebones house, and was sentenced to death in August. The execution date for Jack Sheppard was set for the 31st September.
Jack decided that he was not going to keep the appointment. He spent all day secretly loosening an iron bar in the window of the door used for talking to visitors. Elizabeth and a friend, the unfortunately named Poll Maggott, distracted the guards long enough for him to slip the bar out of its housing, creating a gap. The second part of the plan was now put into action. Elizabeth had smuggled in a disguise, and, dressed as a woman Jack walked out of the prison gates.

At this point Jack decided that it might be wise to disappear for a while and visited some family members in Northampton. After a couple of weeks he became restless and bored, so he headed back to the streets of London. Disguised as a beggar, he broke into a pawnbrokers shop in Drury Lane.  He stole a black silk suit, some gold pocket watches, rings and a sword.  Dressed in the height of London fashion, he brazenly strolled around his old haunts buying drinks and the favours of prostitutes. It was, however a short lived hedonistic trip, the word soon reached the ears of Wild. Jack was found drunk and promptly arrested.

Jack Sheppard was sent to prison five times between 1723 and 1724 and escaped on four occasions. This time they were determined that he face justice. Jack was becoming a big problem for the authorities, making them a laughing stock. The famous author and journalist Daniel Defoe found him a fascinating character and took an interest in his case and wrote a detailed account about him. He was fast becoming a folk hero, the people simply loved his 'up yours darling' attitude toward the authorities. However, this time they were determined to make sure that Jack Sheppard was going to meet his maker on the due date. He was incarcerated in The Middle Stone Room of Newgate prison.  

He was monitored night and day and loaded down with three hundred pounds of iron weights. He had become so popular that the jailers began to charge a fee of four shillings to visitors wanting to see him. His portrait was painted by the Royal portrait artist James Thornhill, there was a petition sent to the King, which contained many prominent names, asking the King to have his sentence commuted. 

Apparently Jack always seemed cheerful during these visits from the public. Jack could have saved himself, and was repeatedly asked to inform on his associates in return for a stay of execution, he refused.  There was now no way he could avoid his date at the Tyburn tree. However, was there going to be one more sting in the tail and another embarrassment for the authorities?

In the condemned cell on the morning of his execution, Jack drew a penknife that he’d kept hidden in his clothing and tried to pick the locks of his leg irons, but he was discovered in the act.

On the morning of 16th November 1724 the route along Holborn and Oxford street was jam-packed with mourners, it is said that there were around 200,000 people. The prison cart stopped at the City of Oxford tavern along the way, and Jack was given a stiff drink or two.
At this stage it looked as if this really was the end of Jack The Lad.  However, unbelievably  there was one last eleventh hour attempt to save him. Sheppard's friends were waiting to implement their last ditched desperate rescue plan. This was going to be a long shot by any stretch of the imagination. 

In those day's deaths by hanging were induced by strangulation and not a broken neck. If you were a lightweight like Jack it would be a prolonged and painful death. But the theory was that due to the strangulation of the victim a doctor might be able to revive the person. If they could get Jack to a doctor quick enough, they may have a chance of the greatest escape of all. Speed was of the essence and they had to spirit the body away as soon as it was cut down. Jack was hung for the prescribed 15 minutes, as he was cut down the huge crowd surged forward and smothered his body. Jack’s friends simply couldn't get to him.

Jack Sheppard was buried in the churchyard of St Martin's-in-the-Fields that evening. I wonder if anyone has ever checked the contents of that coffin? 

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dear reader, pray come follow me as I draw back the curtain of time, and eavesdrop upon a now forgotten race to reveal to thee the life and times of a most extraordinary fellow.


In late seventeenth century England the average life expectancy was around 35, even less for the poor. The population of England and Wales at that time was incredibly small, by today's standards, and was estimated to be between 5-6 million. Disease, debauchery and drunkenness was rife. Day to day living was so different from ours, so different in fact that it is almost impossible for us to comprehend. Imagine a world with no electricity for instance, street lamps hadn't been invented, basically after sunset everywhere became as black as hell.
Times were dreadfully hard and many poor families lived and worked on small plots of farmland. There were no schools for the poor. As soon as you reached the age of eight or nine you were sent out to work in the fields. Throughout the country many families were crammed into wooden huts consisting of 2 or 3 rooms.

Glass, for example, was tremendously expensive, and windows, for the less well off, had to be covered with a sheet of canvas soaked in linseed oil, and to have a chimney was a real luxury. It had only been a few years since people first began eating with knives and forks!  Your toilet was a bucket, and when full the usual manner of disposal of the contents was to throw it out of the window, firstly giving a suitable warning to those who may be passing by at the time.

If you were unlucky enough to fall ill, you would be at the mercy of someone who had virtually no real idea of human anatomy or medicine, due to this ignorance many had suffered at the hands of these primitive medicine men. There was no social services safety net, and no National Health Service.  If you were poor and ill you either got better or died.
The country had suffered a bloody civil war, 1642-1651 ending with the execution of King Charles 1 and the rise of the Parliamentarian. Plagues were still very much around, political radicalism and religious rebellion was on the rise, and the hunting and hanging of witches, though in decline, was still a popular pastime, contrary to popular belief witches were hanged and not burned, most of the time, the last witch was hanged in England in 1685.

However, 'the times they were a changing,'  and the world was being slowly shaped by visionaries and geniuses who began to push the boundaries of human intelligence to its limits, their works still remain unsurpassed to this day. Men like Sir Isaac Newton with his formulas on the laws of motion and gravity, and in 1687 his incredible work, Principia Mathmatica, was published. Newton's impact on the world was probably greater than any other scientist in history thus far. Nicholas Fatio de Duillier, a colleague of Newton said that he was 'frozen stiff' by Newton's genius."

The great philosopher and physician John Locke's 'theory of the mind' was published which challenged the concept of human consciousness. He states that we are born without any preconceived ideas, we start with a clean slate, and only gain knowledge through experience. This theory was radical at the time and contrary to the belief that we were born with hereditary notions.
The famous artist, and arguably the greatest satirist William Hogarth was at the height of his fame during this period.  Edmond Halley the famous English astronomer who studied reports of a comet approaching Earth in 1531, it appeared again in the same area of the night sky 1607 and 1682. He established that these sightings were actually the same comet returning from its endless elliptical orbit. The comet was then named after him. The genius and great architect Sir Christopher Wren unveils his astonishing building St Paul's Cathedral in 1710, which is still a wonder to behold.

England was on the cusp of becoming the most powerful country on earth and was building an Empire which would become the largest and most powerful in history.
Into this world, one cold February morning in 1684 in the village of Thame, Oxfordshire England one James Figg was born. James Figg became England's, and therefore the worlds, first boxing champion and in doing so became a household name throughout England and beyond.  Figg's early life is sketchy and not too much is known. However, It seems that young Figg's first experiences of fighting came via the local fairs where he would take part in bare-knuckle boxing matches, taking on veterans of the prize ring and beating all comers. This was where he learned the noble art that would eventually propel him to riches beyond his wildest dreams. In his teens he decided to leave Oxfordshire, and seek his fame and fortune in London, this is his story.

The regular bare-knuckle fights at the fairground boxing booths combined with the arduous farm work had forged Figg's body into a hard as rock fighting machine. He was by all accounts shaven headed with a muscular physique. At 20 James Figg stood six feet tall and he weighed in at 185 pounds. He was an expert with the sword, quarterstaff, cudgel and fists.
It was the journalist and sports writer Pierce Egan, who said of Figg, in his 1812 book 'Boxiana ', Figg was more indebted to strength and courage for his success in the battlefield than to the effects of genius.'
I think that was a little unfair as Figg was a quick learner and recognised as one of the first fighters to introduce a modicum of science to the manly art by using angles of attack and parrying methods, no doubt gleaned from his fencing experience.
The first mention of Figg fighting in London came from an advert placed in a publication called The Daily Courant in June 1713, which stated that he was being trained by Timothy Buck of Clare Market The Strand.
The training methods of eighteenth century fighters consisted mostly of wrestling, running, and walking great distances, some going up to 50 miles a day. Walking backwards was said to be a common practice as well.

The fighters tended to concentrate on building stamina as some bare-knuckle fights could exceed 50 rounds. And therefore could go on for hours, in some cases a fight would have to be resumed the next day as it became too dark to continue. The fisticuffs of the eighteenth century is nothing like the modern boxing of today. The fighters back then rarely punched to the face, they preferred to attack the soft areas like the side and back of the neck, the kidneys and the stomach. This would limit the damage to their hands. The hand is a delicate instrument made up of many small bones, which can become damaged beyond repair.  That's why boxers wear gloves to protect their hands. Their heads were shaven, which was to negate hair pulling, and the hard edges either side of the skull were used for butting.

Figg knew what it was like to be poor and surrounded by the well off members of society. Sometimes in life there comes a moment when everything can change, it's just a matter of recognising and seizing that moment. James Figg seemed to have had an instinctive sense of his own future. He had acquired the services and friendship of the aforementioned great artist William Hogarth, who designed a superb advertising flyer for the amphitheatre. The flyer is a splendid little work of art in its own right and reads:
'James Figg master of ye noble science of self defence on the right hand in Oxford Road near Adam and Eve Court teaches Gentlemen the use of the small backsword and the quarterstaff at home and abroad.'

Hogarth had put Figg on the map, and also in a number of his paintings and etchings. You can see Figg entering from the right in the famous etching by Hogarth called Southwark Fair. The picture is a depiction of life, shown in all its forms, in London. Some nobles are there, a famous actor and playwright Colly Cibber can be seen, and amongst the bawdy mayhem the rather strange, menacing figure of James Figg arrives on a black horse brandishing a backsword, and challenging all comers to join him for a belly-full in the ring at his amphitheatre. Figg would stand outside the entrance and cry out 'I'm jemmy Figg and I'll fight any man in England'.

He was a visionary and saw an opportunity to make something of himself, and with the help of some investors like the Earl of Peterborough he grasped the lightening rod of an idea and opened a huge 1,000 capacity amphitheatre in Marylebone Fields, which was situated north of Oxford Street in London. The place was known as 'Figg's Amphitheatre' and sometimes referred to as the Boarded House. This is where Figg would make his mark and forge a formidable reputation. In the 1720's Figg was at the height of his fame and handing out regular brutal beatings in front of large blood thirsty crowds.

The fights were held in a fenced off, raised wooden platform, the first round was fought with swords! Each fighter coming out to do battle wielding a backsword, a single edged razor sharp weapon. The combatants were bare chested when they fought, and Figgs torso is said to be 'covered in a lattice work of battle scars like spider webs.' The next round was a bare-knuckle boxing match which included grappling, gouging, kicking, wrestling, strangling, and throwing techniques.
The match concluded with cudgel fighting, the heavy wooden staffs were topped with a large nodule on the business end. Understandably, many fighters were forced to retire quite early in their careers due to the excessively cruel punishment of the old prize ring.

Throwing your opponent to the ground with a judo like throw called 'a cross buttock' was a technique that was frequently used. Many fights, careers and sometimes lives were ended this way as the opponents would often land on their heads. There were no soft canvas or sprung floors in those days, just rock hard floorboards. Figg's record is said to be between 270-300 fights. His only recorded loss was to a man called Ned Sutton a pipe maker from Graves End. Figg avenged the loss quite quickly and another match was hastily scheduled for the decider.

The popular poet John Byrom was ringside, and wrote an account of the fight soon after the event. His account was published in the Spectator and The London Journal. Here is an extract.
The match started with a round of backsword fighting during which Figg- after breaking his own sword with a stroke, so brutal it would have 'discarded' Suttons head had it not been deflected. Figg soon found himself wounded in the side, an injury that he discarded with 'sullen disdain' and smart-mouthed banter with the crowd.
Figg rallied in the next round and after an exchange of blows with cudgels Sutton's knee was shattered which ended the bout and set the record straight for good this time.


Boxing and fencing were not the only entertainment on offer at Figgs amphitheatre. Dog fights and bear baiting were regular occurrences, one account taken from a newspaper at the time describes 'a pack of dogs being set upon a bull which was painted green and covered in large fireworks. The crowd had taken great delight as one of the dogs was said to explode!  Women fighters were also very popular and drew huge crowds. Figg, now a part time promoter, acquired a top woman fighter to his stable, the formidable Mrs Stokes, who was known as the 'Invincible Championess.'

Figg, the ever evolving entrepreneur, did not make the mistake of some past and present boxing champions and knew that he couldn't go on fighting forever. And so as he got a little older he was seen less frequently in the ring and eventually decided on a teaching career.  Clearly Figg must have made an impression on people, and not just with his fists, royalty and the great and the good could regularly be seen under his instruction in the manly art of self defence at his amphitheatre. A number of good fighters were persuaded to train at his amphitheatre as well, where he promptly took over their affairs. Jack Broughton was arguably the best fighter to come out of Figg's training camp. 

So the hands that once smashed faces and bashed in skulls were now being used to count the takings instead. James Figg retired from the prize ring in 1730 and then relied on his stable of fighters to provide the pugilistic entertainment. He went on to train gentlemen and nobles in the manly art up until his death on 7th December 1734. He died at his home in London aged 50, leaving a wife and several children behind. James Figg was buried at the Old Parish Church of Saint Marylebone in London, the cemetery was bombed during the Second World War and most of it was demolished in 1949.  However a small part of the cemetery was saved. A plaque on the wall of the little courtyard denotes some of the famous people that had been buried there, including one James Figg. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992. A blue plaque was unveiled at The James Figg Pub (formerly The Greyhound Inn), in his honour at his home town of Thame.

Figg was boxing’s first heavyweight champion, and paved the way for others to follow.  He was the first to really embrace the manly art and bring it out of obscurity and turn it into a business, in doing so he left the boxing world a legacy that is thriving to this day.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

                       Safety tips when using an ATM.

I'll start with an obvious but very important tip, and that is to use the ATM's that are located inside a bank or building society, withdraw all you need in one visit.


When approaching an ATM have a good look around and maintain your awareness while withdrawing your money. Be wary of people trying to help you at an ATM. 

Be aware of anyone sitting in parked cars or hanging around nearby. Try to find ATM's that are situated in well-lit busy areas. Quickly check the cash machine over before using.
Many ATM criminals put false fronts over the card slot to skim, your details.  If anything looks stuck on or dodgy,  it probably is. So steer clear and call the police.

Avoid using an ATM when you've been drinking. 

Try to withdraw all the cash you need at the beginning of your evening out, rather than halfway through a pub crawl. Alcohol clouds your judgement and makes you less inclined to spot a dodgy cash machine or notice suspicious characters hanging around.

Alcohol consumption can also make you more trusting of any 'helpful' strangers (muggers) who will be on the look out for victims that have had too much to drink.

Do you need to use an ATM in the street?  
Many places such as bars and shops have ATM's. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Be smart be safe!

Common  sense/self-defence tips for  women.

As the party season draws ever nearer I thought it might be an idea to share a few safety tips with you all.  At around this time last year I tweeted a number of safety tips for women.  After having received some very positive responses about those tweets I have decided to put them out again this year. This time I have compiled them into a list so that you can cut, paste, copy and keep.  They are in no particular order of preference as I believe each one holds equal status of importance.
    These concepts are pretty much what you already know, however it doesn't hurt to have a little reminder, especially now that the Christmas and New Year celebrations are rapidly approaching.  I don’t want you to get paranoid I just want you to think a little differently when you girls are out and about.


When you are out walking alone walk briskly, keep your head up and look around in a confident manner and keep your body erect as you are walking. Most street robberies will be perpetrated against people who look like suitable victims, your body language can give you away, for example being hunched over and moving slowly with your head down looking at the pavement.  Muggers will be looking out for these signs, so don’t make yourself look like a victim, switch on as soon as you close that front door and stride out with confidence and purpose.
  •      Always go out with a crowd, you are far less likely to be attacked when in a group. People who are out and about on their own make the easiest targets for muggers.
  •      When out walking alone take the occasional glance over your shoulder to see if there is anyone behind you, if your gut instinct tells you something is wrong cross the street or go into a house that has its lights on and knock on the door.
  •      If you have to walk down a side street alone at night try to keep away from dark doorways and entrances to alleyways, stay to the edge of the kerb/sidewalk.
  •      If a car were to suddenly pull up beside you when out walking alone, never ever go over to it, do not speak to the occupants, increase your walking speed and keep moving. If necessary find a public place and call the police.
  •      When out walking alone face the traffic flow if possible.  If someone were to try and force you into the car run across to the other side of the road this will make it difficult to turn the car around to come after you. Run as quickly as you can and find the nearest public place and again call the police.
  •       If you are coming home alone late at night to an empty house take a moment to look for obvious signs of a break in, if you do notice something suspicious do not enter the property, back off and go to a friend’s house if possible and phone the police immediately.


  •      It is in my opinion best not to accept drinks from strangers, and it’s also a good idea not to leave your drink unattended. It’s better to buy your own drinks that way you know what you’re drinking and how it should taste. It’s worth remembering that the drug most commonly used to spike drinks is in fact alcohol.
  •      If drinking from a bottle a simple and effective technique to combat drink spiking is to put the tip of your thumb over the top of the bottle.  If drinking from a glass and you become suspicious just keep your hand over it.  It’s also a good idea not to drink something you didn't open or see being opened or poured out by the bar staff.
  •      If you’re in a bar and feel light-headed, dizzy or that you are about to throw up ask someone you trust for help. If you’re alone tell the bar staff or the bouncer, don’t be afraid to approach the bouncer’s that’s what they are there for.  
  •      If you’re alone or waiting for a friend in a bar and someone you don’t know is becoming a little creepier than usual make an excuse and go to the ladies toilets and use your phone to call your friends to come and rescue you.
  •      Always make sure you are picked up by a licensed cab that you have ordered. When ordering a cab make sure you are not overheard by strangers, someone could be listening in to your conversation and obtain your name and address.
Be smart be safe!

Please feel free to drop me a line, if you would like some more self defence advice just leave your email address at the top of the page and I’ll get back to you. 

If you want to find out more about self defence check out

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