Wood carving, lying, rock ‘n’ roll, Lord Tennyson, swimming the Channel for a car and being attacked there, watching the birds and Crowning a King – all happened between 3rd & 9th August in days gone by.

Sunday 3rd August 1721 saw the death of Grinling Gibbons – arguably the most famous woodcarver of all time; and certainly in Britain. Born in Rotterdam in 1648, he ‘arrived’ in England in 1670/1. The diarist John Evelyn first discovered Gibbons’ talent by chance in 1671. In his diary for 18 January 1671 he wrote: “I this day first acquainted his Majestie with that incomparable young man Gibson (sic) whom I had lately found in obscure place, and that by mere accident, as I was walking neere a poor solitary thatched house in a field in our Parish: I found him shut in , but looking into the Window, I perceiv’d him carving that large Cartoone, or Crucifix of Tintorets, a Copy of which I had also my selfe brought from Venice.’ Later that same evening he described what he had seen to Sir Christopher Wren; the pair soon introduced him to King Charles II. That first visit to the King yielded nothing but frustration for Evelyn and Gibbons but soon after King Charles gave Gibbons his first commission. Horace Walpole later wrote: “There is no instance of a man before Gibbons who gave wood the loose and airy lightness of flowers, and chained together the various productions of the elements with the free disorder natural to each species.” That conversation between Evelyn and Wren also led Gibbons to becoming a favourite of Wren, who used him to supply decorative carving for many of his country house commissions. The genius of Gibbons is not simply that he had a remarkable ability to mould and shape wood, but that he evolved a distinct style that was all his own. Working mostly in Lime wood, Gibbons’ trademark was the cascade of fruit, leaves, flowers, foliage, fish, and birds. These cascades could be applied to panelling, furniture, walls, or even chimneys. Gibbons produced a cravat made of Lime wood in a perfect imitation of Venetian needlepoint. It is said that “That Cravat” was so lifelike that a foreign visitor was fooled into thinking it was the standard dress of the English country gentleman! The cravat is now on display in the Chapel at Chatsworth. At Burghley we have three lovely over-door pieces of his work. William III commissioned Gibbons to redecorate his State Apartments, and was so impressed by the result that, in 1693, he gave Gibbons permission to use the title “Master Carver”. Gibbons’ work had an enormous influence on interior design and decor during the Golden Age of the English country house. Later craftsmen such as Thomas Chippendale are known to have been heavily influenced by his work. Gibbons’ work very often includes carvings of peapods. There is a story that he would include a closed pod in his work, only carving it open once he had been paid. If the pea pod was left shut it supposedly showed that he had not been paid for the work. I have not been able to verify this.
Saturday 3rd August 1991: this day’s Independent newspaper has, in its ‘Quote Unquote’ column, the following: ‘The trouble with journalists and psychiatrists is that they want to delve and find out things. With me there is nothing to find out. What you see is what there is’. Who said that? Jimmy Savile

Friday 4th August 1989 saw the death of another influential person – a person that, in some ways, had a touch of Gibbons about him: influencing and creative – and in other ways very different. He was Laurence Maurice Parnes, pop music impresario and entrepreneur in London. For those of us of a certain age he was the force behind our music. At a time when we all thought rock ‘n’ roll performers just had to come from the USA he presented us with Marty Wilde, Billy Fury, Vince Eager, Tommy Steel, Duffy Power and the like. All had, what would now be described as, ‘power names’. Marty Wilde said of Parnes that ‘He brought the whole British scene to life.’ Many magazines called him ‘Mr Parnes Shillings and Pence’. That was not too far from reality. He negotiated a heck of a lot of lucrative tours – I went to many of them – and big record deals; but he also looked after his young performers. He said that he ‘liked them to live in a good home, get three square meals a day, get to bed early and have plenty of fresh air.’ He also told Joe Brown off for ‘over-tipping a cabby’ and his failure to provide receipts for ridiculously trivial sums! Can you imagine this happening today?

Monday 5th August 1844 – On this day Thomas Carlyle provides us with a fascinating picture of Alfred Lord Tennyson in his diary: ‘Alfred is the son of a Lincolnshire Gentleman Farmer, I think; indeed you see in the verses that he is native of ‘moated granges’, and green, fat pastures, not of mountains and their torrents and storms. He had his breading at Cambridge, as if for the Law of the Church; being master of a small annuity, he preferred clubbing with his mother and some sisters, to live unpromoted and write poems. In this way he lives still, now here, now there. I think he must be under 40, not much under it. One of the finest looking men in the world. A great shock of rough dusty-dark hair; bright-laughing hazel eyes; massive aquiline face, most massive, yet most delicate; of sallow-brown complexion, almost Indian-looking; clothes cynically loose, free-and-easy; smokes infinite tobacco.” For many Tennyson was regarded as the pre-eminent spokesman for the educated, middle-class, Englishman. His poetry often dealt with the doubts and difficulties of an age in which traditional assumptions about man’s nature and destiny were increasingly being called into question by science and modern progress. His poetry often addressed these misgivings as the intimate personal problems of a sensitive and troubled individual. Yet, through his poetic mastery, he conveyed to sympathetic readers a feeling of reassurance and serenity. He is often viewed as the first great English poet to be fully aware of the new picture of man’s place in the universe as revealed by modern science.
Sunday 5th August 1945 – Picking up on the piece above on the ‘new picture of man’s place in the universe’: on this day Nella Last comments in her diary that ‘This war has taught us that man is finished as the deciding factor in future. The V bombs (used in the last year of the war) showed us a dawn of horror, weapons that no country could leave out of future developments. Just a few people could smash civilisation in the future, it will not need marching armies’. How terribly right she was.

Friday 6th August 1926 – The Sunday Post of 8th August carried a very descriptive report of Gertrude Ederle’s swim across the English Channel the previous Friday. The following is a full transcript of their report – there are no pictures of any kind of the event or the people involved in the paper. All that has been changed is some of the pagination and sub-headings that are repeated in the text. I just wonder how the modern press would present this story. The Post’s headline grabs the reader’s interest:
Miss Gertrude Ederle, the 18 year old American girl who swam the channel in the record time of 14 hours 42 minutes was today running about her hotel at Dover in the highest spirits.
It was worth doing to see how pleased poppa is’ she declared gaily. ‘He promised me a motor car when I did it, and I’m going to get that car. I am sure I could swim back to Boulogne, but I’m not going to attempt it. I am feeling very fit, not a bit lame and not the least the worse for my experience.’ Miss Ederle was in the water shortly after mid-day today (Saturday), this swim being to prevent any stiffness in her limbs. No sooner did she appear in bathing costume than a crowd of 1000 or more surrounded her. So dense was the crowd when she left the water that Helmy, the Egyptian giant, had to take her on his shoulders and carry her to her hotel.
Miss Ederle had a great reception when she appeared. American flags were waved over her, and there were dozens of callers to congratulate her. There was a continuous stream of telegrams. ‘I am perfectly happy,’ were her first words, ‘and I guess my father is the proudest man in Dover to-day.’
She was wearing a blue dressing gown over her bathing costume. Two Channel aspirants – Mr T W Perks the Birmingham champion, and Mrs Carson the American swimmer, shook her warmly by the hand. As she sat on the settee in her bathing costume, her arms and face tanned to a uniform tint, she looked the physical embodiment of young womanhood. Seated by her side were her Sister, Mrs Margaret Deuschler, and an American woman friend. She is 100 percent American in her speech and mannerisms.
‘My sensation,’ she went on, ‘is that I don’t know what it is all about. You bet I am tickled to death to take back the honours to America.’ Asked how she felt during the swim, she replied – ‘I did not mind. I made up my mind to get there. I didn’t want to give up this time. When I started off I was determined to stay in until I planted my foot on the English shore.’
‘What was the worst part of it?’ she was asked. ‘None of it’, came the reply. ‘I just went along fine all the time. I never felt the least bit bad until last night when I lay in bed.’
‘And now you have achieved the ambition of your life, what are you going to do next?’ ‘I don’t think I can go any higher,’ she replied. ‘I shall rest on my laurels. But I do not want to swim the Channel again. I reckon I shall go back to Gris Nez that’s sure easy. ‘Yes, last year I had a jazz band with me, but that was terrible. This time we had a phonograph. But the best thing of all was my pals on the tug cheering and singing. ‘Don’t give up!’ they kept shouting. ‘Don’t you worry,’ said I, ‘I don’t give up this time.’ Butwhat spurted me most were the old time songs they sang – “Rosy O’Grady” and “After the ball was over” – but my favourite was ‘Let me call you sweetheart.’ “Sure, I heard them singing all right. I reckon they are more stiff this morning than I am.”
“I am sure we are,” said her sister.
“When I finished my swim I was doubled up with cramp for an hour. And just imagine, when I landed at Dover a British policeman told me I must be at the passport office at 10.00a.m. Saturday morning. I said ‘Gee, have I got to get up at nine o’clock just for that?’ The policeman laughed.”
Miss Elderle’s prize for swimming the Channel is a motor car promised to here by her father. “That was my dearest ambition – to swim the Channel for a Buick roadster,” she added. “One time when we had five more hours to go I said to myself five hours are worthwhile for a Buick roadster.” Pop Ederle, who is a butcher, was full of his daughter’s success. “I don’t know anything about Channel swimming,” he said, “but I’ve sure got the greatest little girl in the world.” Just then a telegram was handed to Miss Ederle. “Why!” she exclaimed, “it is from Jabie Wolf. That is a fitting finish.”
Among the callers at the hotel were Helmy, the seven-foot Egyptian, and Miss Clarabelle Barratt, the American giantess who failed by two miles earlier in the week. The latter went up to Miss Ederle, who looked very small and girlish in comparison, and shook her warmly by the hand. It was the first time they had met. “It is great,” said Miss Barratt, ‘You were marvellous. I might have done something if it had not been for the fog.” “You certainly did very well,” replied Miss Ederle.
Burgess, her trainer, summed up the swim in one sentence, “She was too good for the job.” During one ten minutes of the swim he would have given one hundred to one against her, but shortly after the tide changes she was really marvellous. Mr Ederle, the swimmer’s proud father said – “We are going back to Cape Griz Nez to-day. Trudie has had a flood of cablegrams from the United States and telegrams of congratulation from London and all parts of the country.
Most of the cablegrams from America offer banquets, parades, and other public demonstrations in her honour, but we have definite arrangements as yet.“ Her manager, Mr Dudley Field Malone has already sailed for New York from Cherebourg in the liner France to make arrangements for the theatrical films ,&c.
“I never thought my girl would do it,’ Mr Ederle added, “On the last two miles when we got a little anxious and thought she was getting tired we stopped. She cheerily asked for some pineapple, and when I asked her how she felt she said “It’s going to be to-day, pop, or never.’ ‘To-day, kiddie-O’ I replied, ‘finish it.’ It was one of the most exciting Channel attempts on record. At one stage it looked so hopeless that some friends on the boat entreated her to leave the water. But the American girl, with a confident smile said she would do it, and she continued her course in a leisurely manner.
‘The achievement shows that nothing is impossible to a young woman’, says the French paper Auto to-day. The New York Herald (Paris edition) adds – “Women’s rights have scored another advance.”
The Mayor of Boulogne has notified Mr Ederle that he desires to extend a civic welcome to Gertrude on Monday.
The paper closed off this report with ‘Previous Successes’: The six people who have performed this feat of swimming the Channel are:- Captain Webb, August 25th 1875, 22 hours 35 minutes; T W Burgess, September 6th 1911, 21 hours 45 minutes; H Sullivan, August 1st 1923, 26 hours 50 minutes; E Tirraboschi, August 12th 1923, 16 hours 25 minutes; C Toth, September 9th 1923, 16 hours 55 minutes; Gertrude Ederle, August 6th 1926 14 hours 42 minutes

Friday 7th August 1778 sees an entry in the journal of Gilbert White that could easily be me today – he was watching birds fly. His words are better than mine so this is what he says: ‘Kites and buzzards sail round in circles with wings extended and motionless. The kestrel, or windhover, has a peculiar mode of hanging in the air in one place, his wings all the while being briskly agitated. Hen-harriers fly low over heaths and fields of corn, and beat the ground regularly like a pointer or a setting-dog. There is a peculiarity belonging to ravens that must draw the attention even of the most incurious – they spend all their leisure time in striking and cuffing each other on the wing in a kind of playful skirmish; and when they move from one place to another, frequently turn on their backs with a loud croak, and seem to be falling to the ground. When this odd gesture betides them, they are scratching themselves with one foot, and thus lose their centre of gravity.”

Thursday 8th August 1940 – Last night a convoy sailed from the Thames. At dawn this morning the most determined attack on a convoy so far happened. The first attack was by German E-boats; at noon 50 or more Stukas dive bombed the convoy near the Isle of Wight and in the late afternoon another 80 or so Stukas caught the convoy near Swanage. By the end of the day the Luftwaffe had lost 31 aircraft while the RAF lost 19. Seven of the merchant vessels had been sunk and six badly damaged. Six of the armed rescue vessels were also damaged. Roosevelt sent a telegram to Churchill asking to be reassured that, if Britain should be overrun, the fleet would not be surrendered or sunk but would fight on, perhaps from Canada. This, to say the least, irritated Churchill. For some time now he has been trying, without success, to get around 50 old destroyers from the US. As far as he was concerned Roosevelt’s suggestion was defeatist. He said that he would only consider such an undertaking in return for an Anglo-American alliance. To back this up he signalled Lord Lothian, the British Ambassador in Washington to: ‘Pray make it clear at once that we could never agree to the slightest compromising of our full liberty of action, nor tolerate any such defeatist announcement, the effect of which would be disastrous.’
Thursday 8th August 1963 saw the Great Train Robbery – the story has been told too many times to be told again here – but I just thought you should know that I hadn’t forgotten it!

Saturday 9th August 1902 saw the coronation of King Edward VII. Albert Edward had been born the first Heir Apparent for 101 years and had been made Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester one month after his birth. On Victoria’s death in 1901 he acceded to the throne as Edward VII. His coronation day was set for 26 June 1902 and guests were invited from all over the world. However, the King suffered appendicitis a few days beforehand and then developed peritonitis. Unless he postponed the coronation & had an immediate operation he was told he would die. The King, though hugely reluctant, finally relented and 9 August was chosen as the new date. By then he was pretty much recovered and the service proceeded as planned. The ageing and almost blind Archbishop of Canterbury had the prayers printed in large letters on card so he could see them. He still misread some of them though and, at the moment of crowning – after he had appeared to drop the crown he placed it on the King’s


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