This week’s blog 24th – 30th August with a Saint and a Medieval Fair; long distance swimming; diary pieces; a French artist’s view of Americans; air raids; cricket; merchant banking

24th August is the Feast Day of St. Bartholomew. A long-standing rhyme tells us that:- ‘If St. Bartholomew’s Day be fair and clear, then a prosperous autumn comes that year.’ Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
St Bartholomew was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, though he is usually identified as Nathanael (sometimes spelled Nathaniel). His feast is June 11th in Eastern Christianity, and August 24th in both forms of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. By association with his own fate – he was flayed alive – he is regarded as the patron saint of tanners and all that work at skins. His most usual symbol is the flaying-knife – and this is seen in the emblem of St Guthlac of Crowland. Here, the story goes, Bartholomew gave a flaying-knife to Guthlac so that he could defend himself against the demons that were carrying him to the gates of Hell. There were over 160 ancient churches in England dedicated to St. Bartholomew. This had a mercenary spin off in London where the St Bartholomew Fair was one of London’s greatest summer Charter Fairs. The charter for the fair had been granted to fund the Priory of St Bartholomew and, from 1133 to 1855, it took place within the precincts of the Priory at West Smithfield each year beginning on 24th August. That location is now the site of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

25th August 1804 saw Alicia Meynell become Britain’s first woman horse-race jockey. I thought this would make a good story but as soon I started researching I found it had already been posted. It’s a fascinating story and you’ll find it on ‘’
So let’s move on to 25th August 1875:-
I’ve told the story of Gertrude Ederle’s cross channel swim on Friday 6th August 1926 – this 25th day of August in 1875 is when Captain Matthew Webb became the very first person to swim the English Channel. It took him just under 22 hours. Can you imagine that – swimming for 22 hours, non-stop, across an expanse of cold water? The idea started in 1873 while Webb was serving as captain of the steamship Emerald. He had read an account of J. B. Johnson’s attempt to swim the Channel – the first individual to attempt it – in 1872 (he gave up after 1 hour 3 minutes); became inspired to try himself, and left his job to begin training, first at Lambeth Baths, then in the cold waters of the Thames and finally in the Channel itself. He made his first attempt on 12 August 1875 but strong winds and poor sea conditions forced him to abandon the swim. He began his second attempt by diving from the Admiralty Pier at Dover. Smeared in porpoise oil, and supported by three escort boats, he began his swim into the ebb tide. He swam breaststroke, got stung by Jellyfish and reached Cap Gris Nez in about 16 hours. However, strong currents there held him up for some five hours but he finally made land-fall near Calais after 21 hours 45 minutes in the water. In completing the swim he had followed – not by his own choice I suspect – a zig-zag course across the Channel which meant that he actually swam over 39 miles (64 km) to reach his goal.
The papers across the country were full of the story from start to finish. The Edinburgh Evening News of Friday 27th described how he arrived back on the steamship Castalia, with colours flying, the previous afternoon. Mr Joseph J Grylls, secretary to the Mercantile Marine Service Association based in Liverpool stated that… ‘in recognition of his previous praiseworthy deeds, as well as his last act of unprecedented endurance and daring, and also with a view to encourage others to qualify themselves to be useful to their fellow creatures in the time of danger, the president of this association has contributed £25 towards a testimonial to Captain Webb and I shall be happy to receive any further amounts to be applied to this purpose.’ The paper also noted that ‘last evening Captain Webb was entertained at the mess of the 25th Regiment at Western Heights, Dover and it is proposed to give him a public luncheon before he leaves Dover’.

26 August 1934 – Every now and then one gets a mental block as to what to record. On other days a story is found but it has already been published – yesterday’s lady jockey is a classic case in point. Today’s search falls into the frustration category – lots of bits but nothing that really fits. Then I came across the following piece in Alan Taylor’s compilation ‘The Country Diaries’ written on this day in Perth by William Soutar: ‘If you ask me why I deem it worthy to fill up a page such as this day by day – shall I not reply, ‘Worth-whileness hasn’t very much to do with it’? The most natural reply might be, ‘Because I cannot go out and chop a basket of firewood or take the weeds out of the garden path.’ Yet that wouldn’t be a wholly honest answer. We are all sustained at time by the thought that whatever we may be we are certainly a solitary manifestation of creation; not a single other creature in all the history of the world has been just as our self – nor another will be like us. Why not put on record something of the world as seen by this lonely ‘ego’: here and there perhaps a sentence may be born whose father is reality.’

27 August 1854 – In his journal for today, the French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix – writing in his native language of course – notes: ‘They are going to launch a large vessel called a clipper at noon today. Another of those American inventions to make people go faster and faster. When they have managed to get travellers comfortably seated inside a canon so that they can be shot off like bullets in any given direction civilisation will doubtless have taken a great step forward. We are making rapid strides towards that happy time when space will have been abolished; but they will never abolish boredom, especially when you consider the ever increasing need for some occupation to fill in our time, part of which, at least, used to be spent in travelling.’ These words come from L Norton’s translation in 1951 for Phaidon publishers but I just could not miss the chance to include them here.

28 August 1940 was a day of heavy and persistent air raids. The Portsmouth Evening News reports that after a night of dispersed and indiscriminate bombing attacks in many districts, including the London area, raiders again approached the coast in the morning but were scattered with losses after fierce battles with R.A.F. fighters. It said ‘It is learned authoritatively in London that a force of enemy aircraft came over the south Kent coast, and shortly after another and larger force came over the north coast of Kent. Both forces flew inland. They were engaged by our fighters and the engagement ranged from the middle of Kent to the Thames Estuary. The enemy forces were split up and driven back and the Germans sustained some losses. No details are yet available in London of the losses, but it is known that the engagement lasted about half an hour’. Later details tell us that the first wave of attackers, comprising bombers with fighter cover, targeted Eastchurch in Kent and RAF Fighter Command lost eight aircraft – probably Defiants – in the dog fights. The second attack was also a mix of bombers and fighters, this time hitting Rochford aerodrome near Southend – four more of the Defiants of 264 Squadron were lost and two were damaged. The third raid was by fighters only. There was a general order that ‘our’ fighters should not engage enemy fighters coming in without bombers but this order was ignored and the attackers were engaged. In total over the morning some 30 German bombers and fighters were shot down. In addition to the Defiants a total of 20 Hurricanes and Spitfires were lost.

29 August 1882 – On their tour of England this year the Australian cricket team played just one Test – at the Oval in London. It was a low-scoring affair on a difficult wicket and the Aussies were all out for 63 in their first innings; England scored 101 in reply. In the second innings the Australians managed 122 leaving England needing just 85 runs to win. They failed by 8 runs. That defeat on this day was widely recorded in the British press, which praised the Australians for their plentiful “pluck” and berated the Englishmen for their lack thereof. On 31 August, in Cricket: A Weekly Record of The Game, there appeared a mock obituary:
On 2 September a more celebrated mock obituary, written by Reginald Brooks under the pseudonym “Bloobs”, appeared in The Sporting Times. It read:
In Affectionate Remembrance of ENGLISH CRICKET, which died at the Oval on 29 August 1882. Deeply lamented by a large circle of sorrowing friends and acquaintances R.I.P. N.B.—The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.
A wicket had been burnt and the ashes placed in a small pot. To this day ‘winning the Ashes’ is the key to England vs Australia cricket matches.

30 August 1800 The Industrial Revolution and growing international trade had increased the number of banks in England, especially in London. These new “merchant banks” made trade growth possible and in doing so profited from England’s emerging dominance in seaborne trade as a result. Two immigrant families – the Rothchilds and the Barings – had established merchant banking firms in London in the late 18th century. Many other merchant banks were established outside of London, especially in growing industrial and port cities like Manchester, Birmingham etc. By 1784 more than 100 provincial banks had opened for business. The great impetus to country banking came in 1797 when, with England threatened by war, the Bank of England suspended cash payments, and Banks as we know them began to ‘arrive’. It was on this Saturday in 1800 that the Northampton Mercury carried the following front page notice – it is transcribed here as printed:
‘NORTHAMPTON BANK. Mr BUTCHER respectfully informs the Public. That he intends Opening a BANK at his Office in the Town, on MONDAY the FIRST of SEPTEMBER next; when he hopes to meet with Encouragement from the Public, and particularly from the Town and County of NORTHAMPTON, as he shall have the Pleasure of continuing his Account with Messrs. DRUMMONDS, Bankers, in London, (well known for their Punctuality and Responsibility); and to discharge his Duty with such Honour and Integrity as to merit the Confidence and Support of the Public in general.
Mr. B. will consider himself very much obliged to those who will honour him with a Bank Account, and Interest will be allowed for Deposits according to the Time specified for their Repayment. All Business relating to the Bank, India and South Sea Stocks, and the different Kinds of Government Securities, will be transacted by Commission.
N.B. The Bank Hours will be from Nine in the Morning to Two o’Clock, and from Three to Five in the Afternoon.’


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