Happenings in times gone by 7th to 13th April

7 April 1739 Richard (Dick) Turpin – followed by his mourners and accompanied by horse thief John Stead – was taken through York by open cart to Knavemire; York’s ‘hanging place’. An account in The Gentleman’s Magazine for this same day notes that “Turpin behaved in an undaunted manner; as he mounted the ladder. He spoke a few words to the topsman then threw himself off, and expir’d in five minutes.” After his death many more ‘alleged crimes’ were attributed to him – almost certainly most were false but, as I have heard many times, ‘One should never spoil a good story by the truth’.
On this day in 1903 Max Beerbohm wrote to one Olivia Truman – described as a ‘fervent 14-year-old admirer of Herbert Beerbohm Tree’ – who was trying to approach him through Max: “Dear Madam, I do not know where my brother is going to spend Easter and you really must excuse me for not trying to discover the place and informing you of it. You see, I have not the pleasure of knowing you. Nor do you tell me what is your motive (or your anxiety). In this ill-regulated world one has to be careful; and, for all I know, you may be an anarchist, eager to throw a bomb (skilfully disguised as an Easter egg) at my brother, as being a representative of ‘things as they are’.

8 April is celebrated by Buddhists across the world as Buddha’s birthday. It is, however, just the same as 25 December to Christians – no one knows exactly when Buddha was born. It is known that he was born Gautama Siddhartha, the son of a tribal leader around 563 years before the beginning of the Christian era. He is said to have attained enlightenment sitting under a banyan tree at Buddh Gaya at Bihar in India – hence his name. There are no written contemporary records of his life – oldest surviving manuscripts have been dated to the 400 year period between the 1st century BCE and the 3rd century CE. In celebrations of his birth a statue of the infant Buddha is sprinkled with sweet tea, commemorating his baptism by pure water from the heavens.
On this day in 1986 Clint Eastwood was elected mayor of his adopted hometown, Carmel in California – described as a small, wealthy village and artists’ community on the Monterey Peninsula. During his two-year term, he supported small business interests, advocated environmental protection and was responsible for the construction of a library annex, along with public restrooms, beach walkways, and a tourists’ parking lot! There is no record of him challenging anyone with You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk? Dirty Harry seems to have been banned from Carmel!

9 April 1865 was the day that the American Civil War ended when the Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Exactly 12 months later, on this day in 1866, the US Civil Rights Bill was passed allowing black people the rights and privileges of US citizenship. It would take another 100 plus years for Martin Luther King, Jr; and the many many others that picked up his cause; to make this an actual reality.
In 2003 the Government of Canada declared April 9 as “Vimy Ridge Day”; a day to honour and remember that First World War battle. The attack began at 5:30 a.m. on that Easter Monday when every artillery piece at the disposal of the Canadian Corps began firing. An hour later three divisions reported the capture of their first objective.

10 April 1917 Vimy Ridge saw three fresh brigades in place to support the advance. By 11 a.m. the town of Thélus had been captured. By nightfall the only objective not yet achieved was “the Pimple” – a fortified highpoint. That took until the 12th to capture when the Canadian Corps took firm control of the ridge. Over 9,000 men lost their lives in the taking of this ridge.
Many years earlier, in 1633 the first Bananas were to be seen on display in an English shop. The shop keeper/owner was herbalist Thomas Johnson, and the shop was in Snow Hill in London. It was not until the late 19th century, though, that Bananas started to become a commonly available fruit in England.

11 April is the Feast Day of Saint Guthlac, a 8th century hermit linked very firmly to the foundation of the great monastery of Crowland in Fenland Lincolnshire. Guthlac was of the royal blood of Mercia and became a solider from the age of fifteen. After nine successful years he turned to religion, becoming a monk at Repton, a great double monastery. Around the year 700 he was allowed to leave Repton to live a solitary life in the Fenlands – which he followed for some 15 years until his death. A year after his death his grave was opened and, it is reported, his body was ‘found incor¬rupt’. From that time forward a Guthlac cult began, centred on his shrine. The building of the first abbey at Crowland began in 716AD when King Ethelbald laid the foundation stone. Here is not the place to explore this story further, but watch for some future Blogs that will tell the story of the great buildings that followed.

12 April 1989 saw the death, in Culver City U.S.A., of one Walker Smith at the aged of 68. For most people this fact is likely to provoke a ‘So what? Who’s he?’ To others, your scribe included, it was a sad day because it was boxer ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson that was no more. ‘Sugar’ Ray has been described, and acknowledged, as one of the greatest boxers of all time. Boxers are often compared on a ‘pound for pound’ basis. That phrase was created by sportswriters to help them compare boxers of different weights to see who they felt was the best. It is now used to world over – and ‘Sugar’ Ray remains in its top echelon. Turning professional in 1940 after winning all his 85 amateur contests, ‘Sugar’ Ray won 128 of his 131 fights up to 1951. He was world welterweight champion from 1946 to 1951. He then won the middleweight title; retired for two and a bit years; came back and won back his title; lost it; won it; lost it; won it back; lost it; won it back and then lost it again. His whole professional career totalled 198 fights with just 19 losses and 6 draws. Oh – and he was regarded by most – including his opponents – as a ‘gentleman’ as well!

13 April 1821 saw the execution in Bristol of 18 year old John Horwood. His story is a strange one. He and his girlfriend Eliza Balsom split up in 1820 but when he saw her with another man in February 1821 he got upset and threw a stone at them. It hit her on the temple. It was a minor injury but she was taken to the Bristol hospital where a Doctor Smith diagnosed a depressed fracture, operated, caused an abscess and, four days later, Eliza died. Smith gave Horwood’s name to the police and, during the subsequent trial testified against him. John Horwood was found guilty of murder and was hanged on this day two days later. Horwood’s body was handed back to Smith for dissection. Smith then had the body skinned, tanned, and used to bind the papers of the case. This document is now kept in a Bristol museum – embossed with a gallows motif. The skeleton was retained, and was kept hanging in a cupboard at Bristol University with the noose still around its neck. John Horwood was finally buried, alongside his father, at 1.30pm on 13 April 2011, exactly 190 years to the hour after he was hanged. The funeral was arranged by Mary Halliwell, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Horwood’s brother. The coffin was draped in velvet and carried on a wheeled bier in the manner of funerals of the period of his death.


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