Wednesday 28 February 2018

History, Europe And Jeremy

Doing a search around the Isle of Wight in 1851 trying to find families that had moved came across Corbyn's. Whether they are anything to do with Jeremy Corbyn's lot is another matter. It is one of those names with varied spelling down the decades so great care is needed.

What did make the eyebrows raise a little was that they were in the Parish of Whippingham, which is good for a giggle. But they were close to Osborne House, the favoured retreat of Queen Victoria where she spend a good deal of time.

It was said that she was kind and considerate to the local peasants, so I wonder if those Corbyn's, decidedly of the lower orders, were ones who benefited. If taken on as servants when The Royals were visiting did they ever polish boots, tug forelocks and stand respectively aside when the carriages came down the road?

The Parish Church was named St. Mildred's after the ancient saint of the past who was one of those holy ladies venerated in her time and for centuries after. Apparently, she was a Gaul and related to the rulers of the Merovingian Empire, see Clovis above.

A Corbyn took in lodgers, one being a William Dashwood. This was the surname of several families on the Island with relations in Hampshire. Which brings us to another famous lady, almost a saint to some, Miss Jane Austen. In "Sense and Sensibility" there is a Dashwood family.

So was that name taken from Hampshire or Isle of Wight locals, or from the Francis Dashwood of the Hellfire Club and the landed ones who lived interesting lives? We shall never know because so many of her papers were destroyed.

The ideals of the Merovingian rulers may be the ones that Jeremy Corbyn follows in his new found desire to be at one with Europe. So is St. Mildred one that he has special feeling for?

Taken with Queen Victoria and Jane Austen, there might be unplumbed depths there.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Snow Joke


Sunday 25 February 2018

Let Us Consider

It was a long time ago, the 70's, when in local government and education as well as others there were endless and difficult wages and salaries negotiations with the unions and professional bodies over pensions, staffing and the rest. It meant a lot of deals done in a hurry and compromises everywhere and by everybody.

Next time round we were all back at the starting gate again. The rate of inflation meant that the race was re-run at shorter and shorter intervals. Lewis Carroll's Caucus Race in his book "Alice In Wonderland" was a model of rationality compared to what went on behind closed doors in the committee rooms.

The great question was that did all the extra wages and conditions of service costs play a major part in the inflation much of it being part of government spending, or was it other factors, such as oil prices etc. that were the problem? The argument still rages.

The universities were an interesting case. They were not public sector despite the government holding the whip hand over most of their functioning. Yet they were well removed from the private sector in staff matters. What they did have for their academic staff was a pension scheme that was very generous.

When the universities were small in number they had devised the scheme and funding arrangement which worked very well. One aspect was some carried on past the age required. As academics had work schedules which allowed many to totter on until a late age, you do not give up on all that research, sense of identity and status easily.

The expansions of the 60's and later, new universities created, older ones expanding and institutions changing status all taking in more and then younger staff skewed the average academic employee age etc. downward, which meant that contributions to the fund went up at a time when retirements were relatively few.

Playing my role of Mr. Misery, I tried and failed to point out  that in a distant future the figures would begin to turn and when they did at first it would not seem to be a problem but then suddenly it would and the implications were nasty. Nobody wanted to know.

They all wanted a deal now so OK to all the concessions etc., especially early retirements, the sine qua non of any reshuffles or reorganisations. Also by the time it went bad most of us would be long retired and of course enjoying the relevant benefits. This was an interest never declared nor admitted all those years ago.

The number of people who disagreed with me was far greater than those that did, what any, well hardly any. The few that took the figures seriously preferred to say nowt, hang on and get theirs first before it was blancmange in the fan time.

In that case the longer the potential problems were left, disputed, disregarded and denied the more difficult they would become, especially if the solutions suggested then would be more fudge, compromise or escapism of the financial kind.

So here we are there in the present never never land of university pensions. A new scheme has been imposed and the academics of the present who are blameless of the past do not like it and want was in the time before. They have gone on strike and the students are unhappy.

As they would be, with student fees to curse the lives of many them for decades to come, subjects of study unrelated to anything much either academic or practical and allegedly only half of them at best getting a job requiring degree status there are more questions.

Even then it is worth recalling that once most teachers did not have graduate status, their teacher training certificate said to require more work and study than a degree but for lesser pay (and pension). A raft of other occupations had routes to qualify which were testing over several years of part time study, again at a high level.

The universities, once academic establishments now more resemble business operations where the churn rate, return on "investment" and financial figures matter most. But in effect they are a nationalised fractured business with dodgy hit or miss management and a clientele who have a debt problem.

One thing the staff and students are agreed on is that the government should pick up the bill, which is a very big one and a major commitment for the future.

Most of those paying the taxes are likely to be people who never went to university or migrants who never will.

Friday 23 February 2018

Up The Down Staircase

There have been items in this blog about property in the past and a recent one on leasehold and freehold which mentioned CDO's and their role in the general property markets. Tom Brammar in CapX says that UK welfare is a CDO with property as its junior tranche.

Here is the article. referred to above. Considering that this a very difficult and intricate area of finance he does well to keep it readable and relatively simple, note the word relatively, and does tell you  what a CDO is and for.

It is claimed that there are ways and means of dealing with the issue of parents or grandparents property that manage or minimise tax liability. You need to have the right lawyers for this and the set up they recommend. This may not be to everyone's taste. And the tax hawks will be hovering over every clause and footnote.

At one stage he says:

"To put it another way, let’s imagine a significant house price correction happens. (I know, it’s not possible, houses only ever go up in valuebut just humour me.) Taking the example I outlined above the implication for UK government’s liabilities for the welfare system would be horrendous."


And counting....

Thursday 22 February 2018

I Spy

Many decades ago I was interrogated by experts who had been flown in from London. A crucial file had gone missing and all, albeit less than a dozen of us, high or low in rank, shared the experience. Still a teenager, inevitably I had an opinion, telling them to look down the back of the safe and there it was, intact but very dusty.

There was great relief among those concerned, especially the officer on the hook, because I had explained it was not his fault but very easy to do. As they had to blame somebody it was my chief who took the hit, not just for ignoring suggestions to that effect, but for having the safes too far from the walls.

One thing I came away with from that and other matters that arose among our happy band, was some idea of what the intelligence was all about and its complexities. It explains why at present watching TV, what passes for comment etc. on all this raises a giggle often and laughter a few times as well.

So what of young Jeremy Corbyn when he were a lad and wandering the wilder shores of politics in the 70's and 80's? It was a lot more exciting than the boring old Conservative and Labour Party ward party meetings endlessly arguing about protocols and who should stand in the next local elections.

There were a lot of Jeremy's around. To be one of them you needed the right accent and social status. Working class rebels might have been the stuff of fiction, but they were not really wanted in the action groups. Like Jeremy the parallel Jeremy's were anxious to talk to and help anyone who hated the Brit's.

One evident truth for them was that East Germany was the vision for the future for European states. Their sports persons were winning medals and the BBC liked their media set up, it suited their ambitions. Stalin was a sort of St. Peter to the gods of Lenin and Marx, and don't mention Trotsky the Left's Judas.

WW2 had bequeathed large intelligence etc. organisations to the Cold War in the East and West and by Jeremy's 21st birthday they were much bigger, very active and prodding about anything and everything. They needed to make work to justify their ramblings. At the time, I wondered if they even checked out birth certificates never mind the marriages.

In particular they were chasing about and interacting with each other. I suspect the flow of information was immense, a great deal of not very good analysis, a lot of opinions claimed to be facts and all sorts of spurious and inaccurate information relevant and irrelevant. It kept them in work and on track for a public service pension.

My security problem was my sense of humour. When my rugger mates, who included a former Intelligence Corps man, and I had a few jars nearby one December, it seemed a good one to go and sing Christmas Carols outside the HQ of MI5, I think it was "It Came Upon The Midnight Clear" that really wound them up.

Personally, I have a sneaking suspicion that Jeremy was and is not all be seems to be. Could he in fact be a tried and true British agent himself, long ago required to gain entry into all those enemy strongholds? By a twist of fate he was elected an M.P. unexpectedly and has had to carry on the charade ever since.

He is more George Formby than George Smiley and as in the song hoping to get to the top. But when Big J, as he is known, is playing darts in the public bar of the North London Oddfellows up by Highbury and Islington Underground Station and is asked how are you going to pay for all the spending he promises, he will have a ready answer, if not a ukulele.

His inspiration would be Karl Marx. In the New York Tribune of 25 August 1852 he had a long article on The Chartist Movement in Britain. This was a populist movement for the franchise for all, annual parliaments and radical changes in taxation and government spending.

Marx did not like The Whig Party at all and quoted a leading Chartist to the effect that they should be swept away together with all their policies and proposals being the neoliberals of the time. One of their ideas was to abolish the Window Tax, a reform that had been accomplished.

This had been law from 1696 to 1851. It was " An Act for granting to His Majesty several Rates or Duties upon Houses for making good the Deficiency of the clipped Money [Chapter XVIII. Rot. Parl. 7&8 Guil. III. p. 5. n. 4]".

The Whigs, an upper class party who lived in large houses for the most part claimed that the purpose of the Act no longer applied so it should go. With it went a tax income that was relatively reliable from the property owning class.

Jeremy, I think, looking at the possibilities of the various forms of property taxation, will be proposing a window tax any day now. Keep looking in the foreign pages of the Prague Business Journal.

You read it here first.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Waist Matter

In the matter of food and drink I am a self appointed expert. This is because I have consumed so much for so long that it might be opinion but there is a very large sample of meals to draw on.

This one deals with sugar and is from Science Daily and titled "Researchers Challenge Claims That Sugar Shifted Blame To Fat" related to the squabbling about responsibility for the weight problems of humanity.

It is a common place that a high proportion of the population is carrying more weight than we did in the past. Look about you and consider also that few people walk anywhere and spend more time sitting down.

Humanity, as ever, when faced with something not quite right is quick to find somebody or something to blame and often a lack of reason is involved. At one stage we were blaming fats in the diet and it seems that sugar may be the big one.

Along with this came the idea that the makers of sugar products somehow conspired to blame the fats because they knew all the time it was sugar. Historians who have investigated find that this is not the case. I am not surprised.

I have had a taste for sugar ever since I can remember. My many dentists will confirm this. Because of rationing and price there was not much to be had in my early years. But when supply increased and prices were less then my demand was there.

Breakfast cereals, three spoons of sugar in the mug of tea, afters for all meals and occasional treats and snacks in between. I toured the chocolate factories of the land, was loyal to old products and avid to try the new. Inevitably, it all had to end.

I was not alone and seem to have been at one with the huddled masses all at it in the same way. We all liked the stuff, wanted it and thought it good for us and nobody said any different.

We were supported by the marketing men who told us it gave the energy for the day and comfort to allow us to sleep. A Mars bar a day etc. see the advert's on youtube. As for fats, if you ate a lot of fat you got fat, obvious wasn't it?

Anyone for rhubarb?

Sunday 18 February 2018

Breathe In Cough Out

In the media, especially the "news" papers, a good many items these days are sourced from web sites that often are not attributed. Science Daily is one favourite to be raided.

This is one I picked up when checking it out entitled "Consumer and industrial products now a dominant urban air pollution source".

"We've reached that transition point already in Los Angeles,"  It might explain some other things.

The conclusion is:

McDonald said. He and his colleagues found that they simply could not reproduce the levels of particles or ozone measured in the atmosphere unless they included emissions from volatile chemical products.

In the course of that work, they also determined that people are exposed to very high concentrations of volatile compounds indoors, which are more concentrated inside than out, said co-author Allen Goldstein, from the University of California Berkeley.

"Indoor concentrations are often 10 times higher indoors than outdoors, and that's consistent with a scenario in which petroleum-based products used indoors provide a significant source to outdoor air in urban environments."

The new assessment does find that the U.S. regulatory focus on car emissions has been very effective, said co-author Joost de Gouw, a CIRES chemist. "It's worked so well that to make further progress on air quality, regulatory efforts would need to become more diverse," de Gouw said.

 "It's not just vehicles any more."


There is another thing, how many people are paying a good deal of money out for stuff they do not really need?

Thursday 15 February 2018

Little And Big Bangs

The next bust is a subject for all those who like to comment or predict about the what, when, where, who etc. and think they have the answer.  The fact is that some do, many don't, some nearly get there and most of us just sigh wearily and are left to pick up the pieces.

This is complicated by the chances of the bust not being confined to one part of the government and financial world but hits several sectors hard and a real big bang multi bust can hit the lot. All that money you saved for a rainy day is washed away by the rain.

A sector that looms large in the UK at present is the property where a lot has been going on and there are suggestions of much of it being unstuck and hitting the big hitters hard and where it hurts, in the wallet. We will all get hit but who bothers about us?

The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act of 2002 was said to be one that would sort out the many and various problems in the owning of property, especially in the Leasehold sector. It did not succeed being the legislative equivalent of putting lipstick on a the face of a pig.

In the years since things are not better they are at least just as bad and arguably sometime as lot worse. Clearing up after the Grenfell disaster for example is made more difficult because of complexity of the holdings of the development.

Builders of new houses have taken to using leasehold again which is increasing the problems. Many of those empty properties, especially in London, have complicated ownership tied into business structures with several levels of ownership usually ending up in a tax haven were information cannot be accessed.

For those with leaseholds wanting to know who exactly owns their freehold this can involve a grand tour of the world only the cruise ship all too often sinks before making port. A common feature is a front office firm doing the freehold necessary, this owned by another entity, say a Limited Liability Partnership, owned in turn by a family trust or perhaps something else.

A great many retirement developments, for example, are not aware that the listed owner of their freehold is Deutsche Bank. Yes, that big German one that is hopelessly in debt and whose problems could trigger the next world multi bust. It is the implications of these that are the nastiest threat.

Because among the financial traders there are financial gizmos called CDO's or Collateral Debt Obligations which are bought and sold by all sorts of other traders, almost all working out of computers located here or there and tracking through tax havens.

Our freeholds are among the securities packaged into these things. Which means that if they get lost, disappear into the ether or simply vanish from the records then we may never know who owns the properties concerned. Those recalling the US sub prime crash will know what happened next when titles to property were lost never to return.

The gloom mongers already point to the UK property market as being a high risk sector and ready to go down. If the ownership to properties is not sorted out it will never go up again.

Tuesday 13 February 2018

History Sweet And Sour

The Britain bashers have having another go on the subject of slavery referring again to the 1830's compensation of the former slave owners. The £20 million (from one source) is said to be 37 plus billions in modern money. It was and is a lot of money whether you think the comparative 21st Century equivalent is more or less, given the intricacies of comparing money values for two very different periods in history.

We are all to blame apparently and should grovel. I have a problem with this in that none of my known ancestors owned slaves being of the lower orders in the UK of that time and before. I suspect that they did not eat much sugar, if only because of price. The sugar tax of the early 19th Century was one reason and an important item in the government budget.

The Abolition Act of 1833 to end slavery in the colonies came at one of the most turbulent periods of our history. Between 1829 and 1841 there were six general elections. Governments came and went and in 1832 Earl Grey put through the Great Reform Act which preceded it. Because of the crisis relating to the Great Reform Act the Abolition Act came in its train.

The electorate, despite reform was still only a small proportion of the male adult population and far from being representative. The Act itself in detail was not a good one, political compromise and fudge are always with us. The former slaves became indentured apprentices for six years and for them it did not seem much of a difference. The slaves wanted wages and it simply led to further unrest.

The troubles and the decisions in terms of the indentures and compensation seem to be illogical and inexplicable to us in the 21st Century. But the saying " follow the money" has a real meaning in this case. Only the money was difficult to follow as there wasn't much to be had, sometimes none at all at times when hoarding was rife.

In looking at the subject one of the surprises I had was the returns submitted by plantation owners stating their wealth for the purpose of taxes and death duties etc. The figures put on the slaves for market value seem to be far higher than the reality of plantation life would allow as well as the mortality statistics.

The answer lies in the levels of borrowing by very many of the plantation owners and at rates of interest that were high, which is not surprising given all the risks. Crops might be good or bad and often the latter. A great many owners failed and their bankers took over the property, usually to sell, but some kept the better ones.

The compensation was to allow the write off of slave values on the books to be matched by created funds. We are back now with the familiar sight of a money go round and to find out who were turning the wheels takes you to Threadneedle Street and the streets around it in the City of London. This was not the only problem.

If the plantation workers were to be paid that meant hard cash and it was hard to find and sometimes not to be had. This was a period when the supply of specie, the actual coinage based on silver and gold, was often short of demand, trouble enough in itself.

When spasms of hoarding or severe shortage occurred the economy would crash and revolutionaries would take the streets. The 1830's was the age of "Captain Swing". With population increasing and people coming down from the hills to the towns the situation was becoming much worse.

Who would a serious financial crash in the West Indies affect as well as the plantations?  Well, most of the House of Lords, quite a few in the House of Commons and in the government itself. If £20 million went out to the owners of slaves, it might not go to paying wages but it went a long way to propping up the estates of many of the aristocracy etc. and their banker associates.

Meanwhile back in Hampshire the landed class Magistrates were transporting the relations and friends of our families to the new colonies as convict labour for offences against the game laws, stealing a sheep or punching the estate foreman on the nose.

And in our case for burning the local workhouse down.

Monday 12 February 2018

Casting The Vote

The marking of 2018 centenary for when the first women were eligible to vote has been dominated by the claims that the Suffragette group of women devoted to violent action etc. are the ones to thank. As so much of the "history" is drawn from the media of the time it is not surprising, it is easy to source and to deal with.

One large group of women who were felt to deserve the vote were those who between 1914 and 1918 went into the factories and service industries to take the place of men who had joined the Army and Navy. There were others as well who deserved it.

When young I knew a number of people born in the period 1860 to 1890 who were adults during the time of the Suffragettes. In those times past people used to talk to each personally about all sorts of things. It was always interesting to hear of their pasts. It does not make me a primary source perhaps but it does give some insights.

One lady I knew well, see above, from an ordinary working family was highly convent educated, multi lingual and a governess to families of high standing. She was stranded behind the German lines on the invasion of 1914 and during the war worked for French intelligence. Other women in her family were educated and became head teachers of elementary schools etc..

In their communities they became active in the advancement of the young in education and learning and in reform in general for the betterment of the labouring class. In 1940 they were responsible for working to help the French stranded in England and were thanked by De Gaulle.

The Liberal Government coming to power in 1906 had a lot to deal with. The Lord Salisbury Conservatives had made some reforms but there were too many problems to be dealt with in too little time, given the difficulties in the mining and other industrial areas, rapid economic change, the imbalances in the constitution, the radical changes in foreign policy and the demands of Empire.

In 1882 Gladstone on taking office said that it was his mission to pacify Ireland. He failed to and by 1914 the problems had increased and become more complicated. He also fudged The Egypt Question that led the UK into more liabilities. The 1884 Electoral Reform Act had been a compromise that created more problems than it solved, none of which has been dealt with by 1914 when this may have been on the long list to be addressed; not least because of the reform of local government.

There were high level pressing issues especially in Ireland. Before 1911 the Liberal Government had real problems. In the Tory House of Lords about two hundred peers could paralyse the Liberal Government. They attempted this with Lloyd George's Peoples' Budget of 1909. The reality before then was that the Lords would block a franchise bill giving the vote to the labouring class of men and to women, even the highly educated and property owners.

It took a lot of time and politics to deal with the problem of the House of Lords and in the meantime the activist and violent suffragettes fouled the nest. In attacking the government and members of the House of Commons they were alienating people who might have wanted to give the votes to women.

Similarly, out there in local communities, sensible, responsible and educated women working and housewives, busy in their churches and home areas and some at national level who wished to vote but under no circumstances wanted to be tarred with the Suffragette brush and its violence. They became a silent majority.

One reason is clear. The open London of the day had become home to numbers of extremists, anarchists and others. There is the famous coverage of Churchill at the Siege of Sidney Street in 1911 (see Wikipedia) as police and army fought on the streets to deal with anarchists in alliance with criminals who defied law and order.

By 1911, Lloyd George had finally managed to have his budget passed, and the House of Lords had been taught a lesson. So what new reforms could have been put forward that year? The extension of the franchise might have been one of them. It would be difficult to give it to the men labourers while excluding women entirely.

But this was no longer a simple matter of right or justice or fairness or a straightforward next step in progress. In the minds of most people, the Suffragettes had become linked to the anarchists from Eastern Europe, revolutionaries and the criminal gangs that had come to take over some of the poorest districts of the large cities.

Did Lenin when in London in 1908 ever take tea with the Pankhurst's or any of their friends? Look at the "Workers Socialist Federation" in Wikipedia for some interesting reading on this part of political history that seems to be forgotten.

Saturday 10 February 2018

Read All About It

BBC News
Saturday 10 February 2018 

John McDonnell: Labour public ownership plan will cost nothing

From text:

Earlier, Mr McDonnell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme taking services into public ownership would not ultimately increase the burden on taxpayers because government bonds could be swapped for shares in a revenue-producing company.

Mr McDonnell said utilities could be managed more efficiently under public ownership, because they would no longer have to fund dividends for shareholders.


You might also be interested in:

"I want to break the stigma of painful sex"

Times Past Present And Future

This is a repeat of a post from February 2010 and may still be of interest.

Something cropped up which sent me round the web again in search of the past.  The locations involved and the period meant that William Cobbett’s “Rural Rides” was worth re-reading. In 1823 when riding in Sussex and Kent he observed a number of oddities.

It was that the roads were much improved but the farmers were poorer.  Moreover, many of the fields and gardens were not as well tended as he would have expected. It was explained to him that the farmers could not afford to pay the labourers.

Cobbett realized that the local property and other taxes imposed on the farmers to provide Parish Relief for unemployed labourers was the major factor. The men on relief were then obliged to work on the local roads to earn their pittance.

This was the infamous “Speenhamland” system of the period the problems of which led to the creation of many workhouses and the Poor Law Act of 1834 extending the workhouse system across the country.

Another matter caught his attention.  It was that the plump rosy cheeked young women talking of “getting a house” rather than finding a husband. This was their way out of their parent’s family, which meant unpaid service and avoiding either domestic service elsewhere or low paid employment.

But to get a house you had to get a man.  It seems from other sources that the conventional means was to get with child by a likely lad from which marriage would often but not always follow.

In 1821/22 the Rev. J. Monkhouse wrote in the Parish Register of Bramshott, “Of 72 marriages in the last 10 years ending 1820, not less than 69 females have been unchaste before marriage. Those who gain husbands are more fortunate than those who bear bastards, but not more virtuous."

Even those with bastards might get another man if one was willing and so a house and the parish relief. Bramshott is a little way from the Selborne of Gilbert White where the later Fitt family at the Priory Farm supplied a number of bastards.  Also, it is near to the Chawton of Jane Austen.

In 1825 during yet another of the recurrent financial busts of the period, the Duke of Wellington observed that the nation was only days away from barter; that is where the money supply had disappeared from circulation altogether, neither quantity nor velocity were to be found.

The essential problem was that with a system depending on the quantity of gold and silver a rate of population increase in excess of the increase in their supply meant inherent deflation; much as a rate of population increase higher than the rate increase of real GDP today engenders low wages and unemployment. This was relieved only by local credit systems and banks issuing their own notes, leveraging their gold holdings.

When too much of this paper fiat currency had been issued a lot of banks went wrong or bad and when that happened everyone wanted gold and there was nowhere near enough to be had. This might happen after a bad harvest which sent corn prices up.

Because the money system did not allow too much in the way of rises the effect was then deflation for the prices of other goods, services, and labour. Work was hard to find, food was at higher relative cost, poorer and even middling families crowded into the available buildings and welfare systems all but collapsed.

All this culminated in considerable disorder and political upheaval around 1830 in Britain and Europe.  Captain Swing was about the country. Near Bramshott at Headley men from there and Selborne were given free passage to Australia after burning their local workhouse down.

King George IV and his fellow Royal Dukes did their best for the economy in an early form of quantatitive easing on the basis of large sums of unfunded debt underwritten by the taxpayer. The Brighton Pavilion and other arts ventures are their heritage, as are the maintenance and repair costs.

Their efforts were little appreciated by the population at large who had begun to develop a healthy contempt for the upper classes and were beginning to demand an end to corruption and rule by a self regarding elite using the system for their own benefit.

The lifestyle, greed and lack of moral compass of their rulers offended both those with serious religious convictions and those attempting to keep their farms and businesses functioning.

Some figures from the USA are interesting in this context.  During the American Rebellion 1776-1783 it is calculated that around 20% of Americans were Loyalist, that is believing in the Crown and British Government.

Recent polls now suggest in the USA that only around 20% of the present population believes that the Federal Government truly represents them and their interests, the future could be interesting. What is the equivalent figure for the UK?  In my view a figure of anything under 30% believing in our system and falling means we are headed for problems.

In the last couple of generations we have been persuaded to believe we could have ever improving lifestyles, access to bigger and better consumer goods and housing space, cheap fuel and food and all of us can fly anywhere and everywhere for pure fun.

If few of us now have much confidence in our system what happens when all the lifestyle fuses blow?  I can recall a very different world for the mass of the people and that is where we are headed now in real wealth terms.

It does not take much scratching round census returns and available information about the pre 1914 generations to tell us that our present Western world would have been incredible to them as it is to most of the world’s population at present.

In some respects we are already close to the world of William Cobbett. In his time neither government nor the economists had any real answer.

Things are going to change, but how, why, and to what effect we shall just have to see.

Wednesday 7 February 2018

The Last Of The Line

The Royal Collection has in addition to a great deal of great and not so great art, etchings and drawings, but from the early years of photography, expensive enough in the late 19th Century to be an art form, and a number of items that caught the Imperial eye of HM Queen Victoria.

The picture above is a striking example. Taken on 7th June 1880 it is of the five living veterans of the 1815 Battle of Waterloo who were "in pensioners" of the Chelsea Hospital. Probably also there were "out" ones living here and there and other veterans, not pensioners and doubtless a few unknown at the time.

It is difficult to know which to look at first, but perhaps starting with the saddest story, Benjamin Bumstead, from Kent born 1797, of the 73rd Regiment of Foot, this would have been the 2nd Battalion. Wikipedia says that " The battalion fought in the Battle of Quatre Bras on 16 June 1815 where they lost 53 men killed and wounded.

Two days later at the Battle of Waterloo on 18 June, the regiment was charged by French Cavalry no less than 11 times during the battle and bombarded by French artillery. It remained in square without breaking. The battalion lost 6 officers and 225 men killed and wounded."

By 1841 he is back in Kent married to a Jane and a labourer, and they have two children. Two years later she moves in with a William Edwards, has more children and by 1851 Benjamin is in the Workhouse. In 1861 there is no record of him, but in 1871 he is again in the Workhouse. He says he is unmarried but there has never been a divorce. It is not difficult to imagine that by his late 40's he was a broken man.

For Robert Norton, the picture creates a problem. He is shown as having served with the 34th Regiment of Foot, when in fact it was the 54th West Norfolk Regiment of Foot. His death on 28 July 1881 was widely reported in the local press in Norfolk. The shifts and reorganisations of regiments during the 19th Century could lead to confusion later.

The regiment seems to have had a relatively minor role at the battle and perhaps the lack of a real study of its history in the 19th Century means that not enough is known. By 1841 Robert is back in Norwich and working as a silk weaver. He seems to have been a political activist. The Norwich Mercury in 1881 says that he was an ardent politician and never failing attendant at political meetings. The weavers in that day and age had a reputation for militancy.

Sampson/Samson Webb, who served with the 3rd Foot Guards, the Scots might be thought to be Scots, but regiments could pick up recruits anywhere in their travels and did. He was born in Ludlow, Shropshire and returned to Shrewsbury after his service.

He married a Wiltshire girl, Rachel Attwood, and their first son was born at Westminster around 1831 suggesting that his battalion was on public duties. The second son was born three years later at Ludlow. In 1851 he is listed as a Sergeant in the Militia, still Army. By 1861 he is a furniture polisher and Chelsea Out Pensioner. Rachel died in 1869 and not long after becomes an "In".

There was a Scotsman in the picture, however, John McKay of the 42nd Regiment of Foot. Better known as The Black Watch this was one of the finest regiments of the British and for that matter any army in history. I confess a slight prejudice, an ancestor served with them in the Peninsular War, but did not make it to Waterloo.

This article deals with him:

A Waterloo Man - Private John McKay, 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot by Andrew Thornton

John McKay attested for the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot at Caithness on 25 February 1810, aged 15. He fought at Quatre Bras and was wounded at Waterloo. John continued to serve with the 42nd Foot until he was discharged on 22 November 1837, having also seen service in France, Gibraltar, Malta and at home stations.

He married in 1831 and he and his wife Harriott had two sons. Later admitted as an In-Pensioner at the Royal Hospital, John was one of the last surviving veterans of Waterloo. The Edinburgh Evening News published the following article about him in their 12 April 1886 edition: A WATERLOO VETERAN: “The last survivor of Waterloo in Chelsea Hospital, John Mackay (sic), who fought in the ranks of the 42d Highlanders, enjoys excellent health and is generally in good spirits.

There is, according to the Army and Navy Gazette, little reason to doubt that this sturdy Scot is actually 103 years old. He is a broad-shouldered, big-chested man, below middle height, and is still fairly erect. The old boy seldom gets up now, not from debility, but because he is getting fat and lazy. He likes his pipe and his glass, and occasionally sings a little song after a fashion.

His memory is rather “mixed,” but otherwise he is wonderfully well.” John’s good health was not to last and he died on 7 July 1886. His death was widely reported, this article being printed in The York Herald on 10 July 1886: A WATERLOO VETERAN. “An old Waterloo veteran, John McKay, late 42nd Highlanders, died on Wednesday last at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

He was in his 102nd year. He was wounded in the hand, in the leg, and in the face at Waterloo. He was a cheery old man and was well up to a few days ago, when he was struck by paralysis.” John McKay was buried at the West London and Westminster Cemetery in Old Brompton on 9 July 1886.


The Army and Navy Gazette of 10 July 1886 has a major item on his death and points out that there were three of that name with the 42nd at Waterloo and he was certainly one, and injured in the hand and leg.

He was five foot five and three quarter inches tall and described as big. One source says he was attested, that is signed on in Caithness, but if he was a labourer after leaving the army it would be difficult to track him through the Census returns, possibly in Scotland.

An irony of the Gazette report is that after the McKay piece a couple of items down it lists regiments that are going to India for a tour of duty. One is the 7th Hussars, see Hannay next.

Last and not least is Naish Hannay, or Nash Hanney etc. for whom there is a full run of Census Returns from 1841 to 1881. He was a boy from Bath in Somerset, in 1808 apprenticed to Thomas Halliday to be a joiner. Soon after he joined the Army instead, the 7th Dragoons/Hussars needing to do some active recruiting. He was not long in the Army marrying Susannah Daw in 1818, a local girl.

Their locations are Walcot and Lyncombe, then villages on the edge of Bath, but by the end of the 19th Century becoming suburbs. In 1841 he is a porter, 1851 a cabinet maker, in 1861 again a porter and in 1871 up a notch to be an auctioneers porter. Susannah died in 1864, he was granted an out pension in 1867 and then became an in pensioner in 1877 and died in 1881 being buried at Brompton. It seems ordinary but it is the Bath that has interest.

Because when he was growing up in Bath and its area the Austen family were there as was Mrs. Piozzi. She had been Mrs. Hester Thrale and was born a Salusbury. She was a leading light in the world of literature and the arts, close to Dr. Samuel Johnson and all his circle. As for the Austen family, did Jane ever bump into that scruffy little boy destined to be a cabinet maker? Did Mrs. Piozzi ever send him on errands?

The question in my mind is the surname. One of the heroic figures in John Buchan's works is the Richard Hannay of "The 39 Steps". How did he come by that name? GB Shaw famously borrowed his gardener's name for "Pygmalion". Can there be a connection?

The difficulty with a study of this kind, is once some links are found in turn they lead to other links in a complex web. There was time when the Austen's visited Kent and were just along the road from where Benjamin Bumstead was born.

My last comment is that John McKay and Sampson Webb were both at the Battle of Salamanca in Spain. This was a crucial battle and possibly the turning point of that campaign and some think the beginning of the end for Napoleon. Wellesley, the victor of Waterloo and later the Duke of Wellington was up on the hills watching the counter marching of the armies.

Then he saw a gap open up in the French line of march and seized the moment for the British to attack. Without that moment there might never have been a Waterloo.