Loss of HMS Thetis

  HMS Thetis.

In 1939 the Royal Navy suffered its worst ever submarine disaster less than 40 miles from where it was built in Birkenhead.


Above, Thetis at Cammell Laird shipyard.

The Fateful Launch.

On 1 June 1939, Thetis left Cammell Laird shipyard at Birkenhead on its maiden voyage, a test run and dive in the home waters of Liverpool Bay. Conditions inside the new ‘T’ class submarine were very cramped, carring 103 personnel, twice the number she was designed to carry. Only 53 were crew, the rest mainly engineers, workmen and Royal Navy observers. The 50 non-crew were given the opportunity to leave the submarine, but all chose to stay on board.

The 270 foot submarine, led out to sea by the tug Grebe Cock, reached its diving position at 2pm, 38 miles from the Port of Birkenhead and 14 miles from Anglesey.

The Dive.

Thetis’s initial dive was to last for three hours, but for 25 minutes the submarine struggled to submerge, apparently being too light, when suddenly she went underwater.  On board the submarine the fateful decision was made to allow seawater into the torpedo tubes to add weight.

A few weeks earlier, a painter, working on the other side of the torpedo door, had dripped enamel onto the test cock within the torpedo tube, which solidified, causing the safety feature of indicating if there was seawater in that particular torpedo tube, to be useless.

Without knowing the test cock was blocked, it was believed it was safe to open the rear door of tube number 5, which was in fact full of water, as its outer door was open to the sea, thousands of gallons of water rushed into this forward area and Thetis nosedived and within minutes the bow hit the seabed 160 feet below. Efforts to enter the tube compartment and close the bow cap failed. An S.O.S was sent and the 103 people on board could only wait for help to arrive.

Observers on the Grebe Cock became alarmed by the sudden dive and raised the alarm with the Navy’s Submarine Headquarters in Portsmouth, but it took over three and a half hours for the message to be received.

Eventually a rescue operation was organised and the destroyer Brazen made to the scene and six naval vessels sailed from Scotland to assist the rescue.

A Failed Rescue.

On board, levels of carbon dioxide became dangerously high. Sixty tons of drinking water and fuel were dumped allowing the submarine to rise stern first and the propellor section protrude from the water. Seeing the opportunity, sailors began slipping through an escape hatch at the rear of the vessel, but only four escaped, one at a time. Four other men attempted to escape, but inexplicably opened the outer hatch and the forward door to the engine room at the same time. Seawater rushed in flooding the escape chamber and engine room, pressurising  the carbon dioxide into a deadly cloud.

At first, hopes were optimistic and it was unthinkable that the submarine, partly visible above the water could threaten the lives of the remaining 99 on board, not knowing they had already suffocated.

The Liverpool salvage vessel Vigilant managed to secure cables around the protruding stern as rescuers arrived with oxyacetylene cutting equipment and using winches, an effort was made to pull the submarine further out of the water. The strain on the cable was too much, the hawser snapped and the rescuers could only watch Thetis slowly disappear beneath  the sea.


The Rescue Is Abandoned.

On Saturday 3rd June 1939, the Admiralty announced that there was no hope of the further rescue of survivors. The bodies of the 99 remained inside the Thetis for four months, when a huge salvage operation raised and dragged then grounded the wreck on the beach at Moelfre Bay, Anglesey. It was 3rd September 1939, the same day Britain declared war on Germany.

Human remains that had not already been removed by the salvage team were now recovered. The bodies were interned in a mass grave at Holyhead, with a memorial dedicated to them.

The loss of the 99 crew and personnel remains the worst submarine disaster in the United Kingdom.


Holyhead Memorial.

HMS Thetis beached on Anglesey.

Relaunch As HMS Thunderbolt.

The submarine was successfully salvaged and went through an extensive rebuild at Cammell Laird and in 1940 was recommissioned as HMS Thunderbolt beginning a successful and considerable war record.

HMS Thunderbolt.

On 14th March 1943 Thunderbolt left Malta and headed towards the coast of Sicily and attacked an Italian shipping convoy. A number of Italian war ships began to hunt Thunderbolt. Her position was detected and attacked by an Italian corvette which released twenty four depth charges at the submarine with devastating effect.  All hands were lost and Thunderbolt sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, resting  in 1350 metres of water, where it lays to this day, as a war grave.

All photos courtesy of Google Images.

Sources of reference included, Secrets of the Red Rose County by Kenneth Fields (Sigma Press 1998).


Blackpool and Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson CBE (born 1st July1903) was a world famous pioneering English aviator and the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. She was born in Kingston upon Hull, the eldest of four sisters and graduated from Sheffield University with a Batchelor of Arts degree in economics.

North London Aerodrome.

After a  failed love affair she moved to London and tried a number of office jobs before taking flying lessons.  Amy Johnson proved to be a natural pilot and gained an aviator’s certificate in June 1929 and a pilots ‘A’ licence the following month at the North London Aerodrome. Later that year became the first woman in the world to obtain a ground engineers ‘C’ licence.

Gipsy Moth.

On 5th May 1930 Amy Johnson, flying a second hand de Havilland DH60 Gipsy Moth G-AAAH and named it Jason after her father’s  fishing business trademark, set off from Croydon, London and after 11,000 miles and making numerous pre-arranged fuel stops, landed at Darwin, Northern Territory on 24th May. Flying in an open cockpit, she had no radio link with the ground and no reliable weather forecasts, her maps were basic and some parts of the route where uncharted. The route had been decided by simply placing a ruler on a map and drawing a straight line. Due to bad weather Amy did not beat the record of 15 days set in 1928 by Bert Hinkler, but became the first woman to complete the solo flight.

Fame and Fortune.

For the next ten years Amy was seldom out of the newspaper headlines, achieving one aviation record after another and became a superstar, famous throughout the world. Songs and poems were written about her, she was seen with the rich and famous and modelled clothes for Elsa Schiaparelli. In 1930 she was conferred with the honour of CBE by King George V. In 1932  she married Scottish pilot Jim Mollison and they became known as the “flying sweethearts” but divorced in 1936.

Outbreak of the War.

In 1940, during the Second World War, Amy joined the newly formed Air Transport Auxillary (ATA) whose job was to deliver military aircraft around Great Britain for the Royal Air Force.

Flight from Blackpool Airport.

On 3rd January 1941 Amy Johnson was instructed to deliver an Airspeed Oxford aircraft from Hatfield, Hertfordshire to Prestwich in Scotland. She was then to fly another Airspeed Oxford from Prestwich to Kidlington airfield, Oxfordshire.

Airspeed Oxford, similar to the aircraft flown by Amy Johnson.

She flew out of Prestwich at 4pm Saturday 4th January and landed at Squires Gate airfield at Blackpool to refuel and stop over night. Amy visited her sister Molly and her husband Trevor Jones who lived on Newton Drive, Blackpool.

The following morning Amy chatted with ground staff and RAF personnel at Squires Gate airfield. The Duty Pilot advised her that visibility was very bad and she should reconsider her take off, but she disagreed stating she could deal with the conditions.

Aerial view of modern day Blackpool Airport.

At 11.49am Amy Johnson took off from Blackpool Airport. The flight time to Kidlington airfield was 90 minutes. There was no other person on board the aircraft.

At 3.30pm that afternoon a convoy of ships were approaching Herne Bay in the Thames Estuary when a seaman on board HMS Haslemere spotted an aircraft overhead, spiralling out of control and possibly two people parachuting into the sea.

Conditions were poor. There was a heavy sea, strong tide and snow falling. It was intensely cold. Several sailors reported seeing two bodies in the water and seamen onboard HMS Haslemere threw two lines to a woman wearing a flying helmet and life jacket floating in the sea. This person called for help as they drifted dangerously close to the ship’s propellors before disappearing beneath the stern.

HMS Haslemere 1940




The Captain of the Haslemere.

HMS Haslemere was a former ferry that the Royal Navy had requisitioned and was used as a barrage balloon ship.

Lieutenant Commander Walter Fletcher, captain of HMS Haslemere dived into the freezing waves to rescue the second survivor. He reached the airman and stayed with him, waiting for the lifeboat to reach them but they became separated in the rough sea and the airman, also wearing a flying helmet disappeared from view.

Lieutenant Commander Fletcher was rescued but died two days later at the Royal Navy Hospital at Gillingham from exposure and shock. A search was made but Amy Johnson’s body or the second body were ever recovered. Parts of her plane, a travel bag containing personal papers were later washed ashore.

The Conspiracy Begins.

There was no inquest into Amy’s death as her body was never recovered. She was officially declared dead in  December 1943 and was the first person from the Air Transport Auxiliary to be killed in active service.

The reason for her journey to this day remains a government secret under The Official Secrets Act.

It has been said that Amy Johnson had flown a clandestine mission to France and was returning with a secret agent.

The second airman has never been identified but was referred to by newspapers as ‘Mr X’.

Some historians believe she got lost in the thick cloud and was blown badly off course when her plane ran out of fuel and she baled out. As Amy Johnson, with her substantial flying skills held world records for flying from Britain to Japan, Britain to India, Britain to Moscow and from Britain to South Africa this is considered highly unlikely.

This explanation has also been given by the Air Transport Auxiliary stating Amy Johnson ran out of fuel after overshooting her destination by 100 miles.

An account given by Harry Gould whose father was a Naval reservist on the Haslemere and witnessed her death, claims the ships propellers struck Amy. Mr Gould told the Daily Mirror his father’s account, “A few seconds later she was dragged under the boat. Everyone thought she had been cut to pieces by the propellers” It is alleged this has been covered up by the Royal Navy.

It has since been claimed that Amy Johnson was shot down by anti-aircraft fire as her unidentified plane flew towards the English Channel. According to Tom Mitchell, a former gunner with 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment stationed at Iwade on the Thames Estuary, they were ordered to open fire on an unidentified plane which the pilot failed twice to give the password, known to all British Forces. The next days newspaper headlines revealed who they had shot down and they were ordered to remain silent.

David Luff, an aviation historian, believes Amy Johnson was fired at and brought down by the Royal Navy convoy and the tragedy hushed up by the government to avoid damaging wartime morale.

Whatever happened to Amy Johnson will probably be never known but her take off from Blackpool Airport that dark winters morning led to one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.


All photos courtesy of Google Images.


The Butter Pie

The Butter Pie.

Anyone from Lancashire will know what a butter pie is, but anyone outside the red rose county would scratch their head and ask, “what is a butter pie?”

To put it simply, a butter pie is one of God’s own creations enjoyed for decades in Preston, Chorley and Blackburn.


The butter pie, once known as the Friday pie or Catholic pie came about to accommodate the  Catholic abstention from eating meat on Fridays and during Lent and is believed to have originated in Preston.  Many Catholics are still bound by their faith or voluntarily refrain from eating meat on all Fridays throughout the year.  In 2011 the England and Wales Bishops’ Conference reaffirmed the expectation that all Catholics able to do so should abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year.


Below is a recipe for a homemade butter pie from Lancashire Life in August 1950:


Serves four

For the pastry

225g/8oz Plain flour

50g/2oz Butter, salted or unsalted; you can adjust seasoning to taste at the table

50g/2oz Lard, dripping or vegetable fat (remember, this is from 1950!)

A pinch of salt, if used, and white pepper

Ice cold water

For the filling

3 Large potatoes – a King Edward/Maris Piper type

1 Large onion

50g/2oz Butter, plus 100g/4oz for softening the onions

1. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the butter and lard/fat. Using your fingertips, or a fork, incorporate in the butter until it resembles fine crumbs, then drizzle in just enough cold water to make the pastry form a ball, pop into a plastic bag, press out the air, and leave to rest somewhere cool for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, peel the three large potatoes and the onion, cut the potato into thick slices, a little thicker than a threepenny bit and the onion in to half rings. Parboil the potatoes until they are just soft but still holding their shape, about 8-10 minutes. Saute the onions, over a low heat in the butter until soft, but not browned, as this will spoil the end flavour.

3. Roll out about two thirds of the pastry, to line a pie dish, and trim the edges.

4. Drain the potatoes, let the steam leave the pan, then, in the lined pie dish, layer the potatoes, onions and butter flakes, season with salt and white pepper and top off with the rolled remains of the pastry, ‘stab’ the top to make air vents.

5. Bake at 180 degrees for about half an hour until golden, and serve immediately, with pickled red cabbage/ Lancashire Caviar.

Early Memories of a Butter Pie.

I remember as a young lad over fifty years ago, with two sisters and two brothers, brought up in a strict Catholic home we had either fish or a butter pie for tea on a Friday.  My mum would give my six bob (six shillings old money, five pence new money) and send me out for half a dozen butter pies.  The local pub then was The Wellington on Tulketh Road in Ashton, Preston (the pub is still going strong) and there was a side entrance for ‘off licence’ sales and hot pies.  I now assume the landlord was called Bill, as the pub sold, ‘Big Bill’s Butter Pies’ and I’d run the half mile home with six of Big Bill’s hot pies under my arm.

The Wellington pub and side entrance (near to parked car).

I think butter pies are as popular now as they ever have been.  Local independent bakers in Lytham St Annes and Preston make their own and most supermarkets around here sell them.  Morrison’s bake their own in store, Booths sell Clayton Park Butter Pies and Asda sell Greenhalgh’s Butter Pie.  For some reason Greggs don’t!

Paul McCartney and a Butter Pie.

Uncle Albert / Admiral Halsey

From the Paul and Linda McCartney album Ram, 1971.

We’re so sorry Uncle Albert
We’re so sorry if we caused you any pain
We’re so sorry Uncle Albert
But there’s no one left at home
And I believe I’m gonna rain
We’re so sorry but we haven’t heard a thing all day
We’re so sorry Uncle Albert
But if anything should happen we’ll be sure to give a ring
We’re so sorry Uncle Albert
But we haven’t done a bloody thing all day
We’re so sorry Uncle Albert
But the kettle’s on the boil and we’re so easily called away
Hand across the water (water)
Heads across the sky
Hand across the water (water)
Heads across the sky
Admiral Halsey notified me
He had to have a berth or he couldn’t get to sea
I had another look and I had a cup of tea and butter pie
(The butter wouldn’t melt so I put it in the pie).



Priest Town and a butter pie. 
Extract from Priest Town page 245 as Detective Inspector Albert Meadowbank attempts to explain a local delicacy to retired Chief Inspector Frederick Abberline who has travelled from London to assist a murder investigation:
Meadowbank asked for a butter pie, even though it was not Friday, as reminded by the landlord, William Walmsley taking his order. He was referring to the Catholic day of abstinence and when asked if he fancied a side portion of ‘Lancashire Caviar ‘ he agreed immediately and asked ‘fer a spot o’ red cabbage wi’ it’.
Meadowbank then explained to a curious Abberline that a butter pie was basically meat and potato pie without the meat and ‘Lancashire Caviar’ was in fact mushy peas, not to be confused with parched peas. Abberline was already regretting asking. 
Priest Town is again available as a free download via the link at top of the page.
Priest Town
Preston North End and the Butter Pie Saga.

Butter pies were served on match days at Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium until 2007 when the providers, Ashworth Foods Ltd, ceased trading.  With the new providers, Holland’s Pies not offering a butter pie, two Preston North End fans started a campaign on Facebook calling for the return of butter pies to the matchday menu.  In 2010 the butter pie made a return to Preston North End’s Deepdale stadium after the huge demand for the pie.

Above is an extract from the blog, Meat&Tatty’s.

PNE car sticker below.

 A match day pie!


Finally, How Many Calories in a Butter Pie?
I was once asked this, my answer ‘who cares?’
(There must be thousands though!)
All photos courtesy of Google Images.

Ribble Lifeboat Disaster

The Disaster.

On 5th December 1886, Mexico, a 400 ton Hamburg registered barque (pronounced ‘bark’ and a type of sailing  vessel with three or more masts) left Liverpool bound for Ecuador. Four days later she was caught in a ferocious storm and ran aground on notorious sandbanks at the mouth of the River Ribble, near Southport.

A painting of the German barque, Mexico.

Southport Lifeboat.

Distress flares were fired from the Mexico and the lifeboat, Eliza Fernley was launched from Southport. When the lifeboat reached the stricken vessel, the heavy seas and violent gale capsized her.

Crew of the Eliza Fearnley, 1886

Only two of the sixteen crew survived, John Jackson and Henry Robinson, who became trapped under the boat after it overturned. They managed to swim to the shore and raise the alarm. Two hours later the Eliza Fernley  was found washed up at Birkdale.

Eliza Fernley overturned on Birkdale beach.

St Annes Lifeboat.

Twenty minutes after the Eliza Fernley was called out, the Laura Janet lifeboat was launched from St Annes.

It never reached the Mexico two miles away and was found washed ashore the following morning. Three lifeboatmen where dead in the lifeboat, the remaining eleven crew were never found. The entire crew of fourteen died at sea and it is still mystery as to what exactly happened.

Laura Janet and crew 1886.

Lytham Lifeboat.

A third lifeboat, the Charlie Biggs was launched from Lytham Lifeboat Station on her maiden rescue, to assist the Mexico.

The lifeboat crew rowed for over a mile and a half in horrendous conditions, shattering three oars and filling with water numerous times before reaching the Mexico, which had settled on a sandbank. The ships crew had survived by lashing themselves to the rigging and all twelve were rescued and brought to shore by the lifeboatmen of the Charlie Biggs.

Charlie Biggs and crew.


Painting of the Mexico rescue by Charlie Biggs. Painted by world renown marine artist Edward D. Walker.

The Aftermath.

This is still the worst disaster in the history of the RNLI. Twenty eight volunteer lifeboatmen, all fishermen, lost at sea rescuing twelve complete strangers, leaving sixteen widows and fifty children without fathers. A public appeal was launched and included donations from Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm the emperor of Germany. The money raised went to the widows and orphans and towards memorials commemorating the lifeboatmen lost at sea. Six memorials were erected including St Annes promenade, Duke Street Cemetery at Southport and St Cuthbert’s Church in Lytham. All three still stand today.

Southport Memorial.

St Annes Memorial.

Lytham Memorial.

In 1925 the RNLI withdrew its service in Southport and left the town without a lifeboat. In the 1980’s after a number of sea tragedies, the local community in Southport raised funds and bought their own lifeboat, stationed at the old RNLI boathouse and known as the Southport Offshore Rescue Trust. It is completely independent to the RNLI and like the RNLI it depends entirely on charitable funding to operate.



Photos courtesy of Google Images.

Stone Coffins of Heysham

Ancient Stone Coffins.

With dramatic views across Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland Mountains are a row of six stone coffins hewn out of solid rock on the Heysham headland beside St. Patrick’s Chapel. In 1977 Lancaster University carried out a detailed examination and excavation of the surrounding site and 80 full skeletons were found buried near to the chapel, dating to the late sixth or early seventh century. The bones were re-buried in the churchyard.

In 1993 a further excavation was carried out on land below the stone coffins. No human remains were found but more than 12,000 artefacts were discovered, including medieval pottery and stone carvings, which revealed that the site had been occupied 12,000 thousand years ago.


The stone coffins certainly pre-date the Norman Conquest (1066AD) and are believed to be Viking in origin.

Each tomb is hollowed out in the shape of a human body with a groove to take a stone lid and a square socket to take a cross or headstone. Because of their small size it is unlikely adults where buried here, but it is believed they were repositories for human remains or the burial places for children.

There are two further rock-cut tombs a short distance away.

Black Sabbath.

The Best of Black Sabbath, a compilation album released in 2000 features the stone coffins on their album cover.

St. Patrick’s Chapel.

The Anglo Saxon chapel is a ruined building that stands above the site of the stone coffins overlooking Heysham Sands. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and one of the oldest religious buildings in the north of England.


St. Patrick Lands At Heysham.

St Patrick was a fifth-century Christian missionary who later became known as the Apostle of Ireland.

At the age of sixteen St Patrick was kidnapped from England by Irish pirates and kept as a slave for six years in Ireland until he escaped and fled to the coast. He managed to board a ship for England, which, according to legend, was shipwrecked near to the Heysham headland and once on land St Patrick established a chapel in thanks.

The ruins of the present chapel date two centuries later. Beneath the ruined chapel’s stonework are foundations of an earlier Celtic style chapel of the 5th or 6th century.

It is believed that the existing chapel was built by monks from Ireland as missionaries of St Patrick, to commemorate his return to England.

St Patrick’s Day occurs annually on 17th March in observance of the death of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

The chapel is owned by the National Trust.

All photos courtesy of Google Images.

The Hanging Town

The Hanging Town

The ancient city of Lancaster was once known as the ‘hanging town’ as more people were hanged here than anywhere else outside London. Between 1782 and 1865 around 265 people were hanged at Lancaster, only 43 were for murder, other crimes included burglary, passing forged bank notes, robbery,  cattle and horse theft.

Aerial view of Lancaster Castle.

Gallows Hill

Up to 1800 the executions took place on the moors outside the city’s southern gate, known as  Gallows Hill, where The Ashton Memorial now stands in Williamson Park. As many as nine condemned prisoners and their coffins would be carried in a cart from Lancaster Castle, along Moor Lane and stopping at the Golden Lion public house (still serving pints to this day) at the corner of Brewery Lane so the condemned prisoners could take a last drink with their friends and family.  An execution could bring as many as 6,000 people from all over the county into Lancaster to watch the hangings and the local ale-houses, inns and market traders did a roaring trade.

The Ashton Memorial on the site of Gallows Hill.

From 1800 to 1865 it was decided it would be more convenient to carry out executions  in the grounds of the castle and the spot chosen became known as ‘Hanging Corner’. (Below is a photo of ‘Hanging Corner’. The bricked up doorway on the left is where the condemned where brought from).

The last public  hanging was on 25th March 1865 when Stephen Burke  was executed for the murder of his wife.

The Capital Punishment Amendment Act 1868 ended public executions, requiring that criminals be put to death in private.

The last hanging at the castle was on 15th November 1910. Thomas Rawcliffe was executed for the wilful murder of his wife.




Lancaster Castle.

The castle from across the River Lune. The church to the right is Lancaster Priory, formally the Priory of St Mary.

Lancaster Castle dates back to Roman times and is built on the site of a Roman fort. It was built by Roger of Poitou in 1093 as a hilltop Norman stronghold. Lancaster is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Loncaster, where ‘Lon’ refers to the River Lune and ‘castle’ from the Latin castrum for ‘fort’ referring to the Roman fort.

Duchy of Lancaster

The castle is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster (Her Majesty the Queen is the Duke of Lancaster). The Duchy of Lancaster is an ancient inheritance that began in 1265, when Henry III gifted to his son Edmund Crouchbank lands which had been forfeited by the Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort.

Later that same year, lands taken from Robert Ferrers, Earl of Derby were added to this holding. However, it was not until Edmund was given the ‘county, honor and castle of Lancaster’ in 1267 that it became known as the ‘Lancaster inheritance’.

Duke of Lancaster

The title ‘Duke of Lancaster’ did not come into existence until it was conferred on Edmund’s grandson Henry Grosmont in 1351. At the same time, Lancaster was made a County Palatine for Henry’s lifetime.

This meant that the Duke had Royal powers within the county and could do practically everything that would otherwise be the king’s privilege. The law courts were in the Duke’s hands and he appointed the Sheriff, the Judges, and the Justices of the Peace, as well as all other senior officials.

John O’Gaunt

Henry died without leaving a male heir in 1362, so the title and inheritance became part of his daughter Blanche’s dowry. Through her marriage, Blanche passed on both to perhaps the best known Duke of Lancaster, her new husband, John O’Gaunt. The third son of King Edward III and the younger brother of the Black Prince, this was the ‘time-honour’d Lancaster’ referred to by Shakespeare in his play Richard 11.

Over the next several years, John O’Gaunt added significantly to his wealth and possessions. On 28 February 1377, Edward III recreated the Palatinate for John’s lifetime. In 1390, this grant was extended to include John’s heirs. The Duke of Lancaster had now become one of the most important figures in the country.

When John died in 1399, the young King Richard II was fearful of the power that the Lancaster inheritance gave to his heir, Henry Bolingbroke. Richard therefore banished Henry from England and took the Duchy of Lancaster title, lands and properties for himself. Bolingbroke returned to England at the head of an army and overthrew the King in 1399, reclaiming his historic Lancaster inheritance.

On his accession to the throne as Henry IV, Bolingbroke passed a Royal Charter which decreed that the Duchy should be a distinct entity held separate from all other Crown possessions and handed down through the Monarchy.

The Monarch is always the Duke of Lancaster – hence the historic Lancastrian toast ‘The Queen, Duke of Lancaster!’. The title is always that of ‘Duke’ for both Kings and Queens.

(All photos courtesy of Google images.)

A Christmas Carol

Around this time of December I always read A Christmas Carol, it gives me the feel good factor on the run up to the big day. I’ve several copies of the book but always go for a pocket size edition I bought at Sweetens Book Shop, (now Clintons Cards I think!)  Fishergate, Preston in 1969.

It was written by Charles Dickens at the height of his fame in 1843 and first published in December that year with 6,000 copies sold on the first day.  The full title of the book is A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas. It is a novella and depending which version you read and the number of illustrations, the short story will be around ninety pages.

Above is the cover of the 1843 first edition published by Chapman and Hall. As you would expect a first edition is very valuable and the ultimate possession for a book collector and would worth anything from £12,000 to £40,000.  In 2010 a signed copy was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London for £182,250. If you have a copy get it on eBay!

Very few people on the planet will not know the story of A Christmas Carol, but it is worth remembering that the book was written during depressing times of poverty, starvation and inhuman working conditions. Dickens himself left a harsh boarding school at the age of 12 to work 10 hours a day at a shoe-blacking factory to support his struggling family who were facing financial hardships which resulted in his father spending time at Marshalsea, a debtors prison. This stayed with him throughout his life and his outrage at the social injustice of the poor, particularly children is a recurring theme in his writing.

Dickens at the blacking factory by the Victorian illustrator Fred Barnard.

It is a ghost story but not in the classic British style of a haunted house with maleavolent apparitions, faces at the window and opening doors.  In the story  Ebenezer Scrooge is described as ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!’ He was a miserly money lender in central London who up to a few years previously was in partnership with Jacob Marley, who died on a Christmas Eve. That is the premise for this great Christmas story.

Below is the cover of the MacMillan edition showing Jacob Marley visiting Scrooge.


On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by four ghosts, the first is his old business partner, Jacob Marley followed by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.  In their own way they each show Scrooge how his selfish behaviour has affected those around him throughout his life. At the end of the story (Spoiler alert!) he awakes on Christmas morning to discover that there is still time for him to change his ways.


These are the original illustrations of the three ghosts by the artist John Leech.