I Don’t Want To Belong To Any Club That Will Accept People Like Me As A Member – Part Eleven


The Calves’ Head Club

We English had a brief flirtation with republicanism in the mid 17th century when the roundheads chopped off Charles I‘s head. Alas, the experiment only lasted eleven years and Charles II was restored to the throne. Still for those of a republican disposition January 30th, the date when the regicide occurred, has a certain resonance and it is not surprising to find that a club was formed to keep the memory of that moment of republican spirit alive. The Calves’ Head Club was just such an association.

It is thought, although it cannot be proven conclusively, that it was formed during the Commonwealth (1649 to 1660) and the poet John Milton, whose Eikonoklastes was a justification of the execution, could well have been a leading light. What is clear is that the club had a rather elaborate ceremony replete with symbolism when they congregated for their annual meeting and dinner on January 30th.

An axe was either hung from the ceiling or placed on the table, representing the instrument that delivered England from tyranny. The menu consisted of calves; heads, representing the king’s royal office and his supporters, a cod’s head representing Charles Stuart, a pike representing tyranny and a boar’s head, representing the king preying on his subjects. The club members drank republican toasts from cups made from the skulls of calves, their principal one being “to those worthy patriots who killed the tyrant”. After their meal they would go on to burn a copy of Eikon Basilike which was seen as royalist propaganda and swear an oath in praise of Milton’s retort.

Naturally, the restoration of the monarchy caused the club some difficulties and the members had to keep their heads down, as a history of the club published in 1703 records , “after the Restoration the eyes of the Government being upon the whole party, they were obliged to meet with a great deal of precaution but now they meet almost in a public manner, and apprehend nothing”. The first definitive record we have of the Club meeting is in 1693 when the anthem for that year was published in their Anniversary Thanksgiving Songs on the 30th of January.

Although in Queen Anne’s reign the club felt secure enough to become more open in their activities there still were grave risks and, indeed, a significant outbreak of public opprobrium against them in 1735 ultimately did for the club. According to contemporary reports, “Some young noblemen and gentlemen met at a tavern in Suffolk Street, called themselves the Calves’ Head Club….” They dressed up a calf’s head in a napkin, threw it on a bonfire and waved napkins dipped in red wine out of the window. Not unsurprisingly, this behaviour excited the interest of a mob who “having strong beer in them” staged what we would now call a demonstration outside the building.

The mob’s feelings were further inflamed by the nature of the toasts being proposed by the Club members and eventually they “broke all the windows, and forced themselves into the house”. Damage caused ran into the hundreds of pounds and guards were stationed on the streets to protect neighbouring properties.

The Grub Street Journal recorded some verses about the furore, “Strange times! When noble peers, secure from riot/ Can’t keep Noll’s(Cromwell’s) annual festival in quiet/ through sashes broke, dirt, stones, and brands thrown at ‘em/…/forced to run down to vaults for safer quarters/ and in coal-holes their ribbons hide and garters”.

An ignominious end to the club indeed!

App Of The Week


Ever felt the time spent sitting on the carsey straining to produce a number two was rather wasted? Me neither, but stick with me. For those who do, help is at hand with an app which came to my attention this week called Pooductive.

Apparently, using location services, it links up users who are sitting on the bog with others in a similar position world-wide. You can then exchange messages either one-to-one or anonymously and, I presume, exchange pictures.  I looked for an Android version in order to road test it but it is only available as an iOS app.

Why anyone should feel the need for this sort of app is beyond me. What’s wrong with an old-fashioned newspaper or a book if you feel the need?

Art Critic of the Week


Art should provoke a reaction but perhaps it shouldn’t be quite as extreme as punching a hole in the canvas. But this, it seems is what a 12 year-old Taiwanese lad has done to Paolo Porpora’s inoffensive Flowers, valued at around £1 million. Of course, he is claiming that all he was doing was walking past the picture and he caught his foot, stumbled and in an attempt to break his fall put his fist through the canvas. A likely story!

It’s The Way I Tell ‘Em (20)


Here are the best jokes from the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Festival for your delectation:

I just deleted all the German names off my phone. It’s Hans free – Darren Walsh

Kim Kardashian is saddled with a huge arse … but enough about Kanye West – Stewart Francis

Surely every car is a people carrier? – Adam Hess

What’s the difference between a hippo and a Zippo? One is really heavy, the other is a little lighter – Masai Graham

If I could take just one thing to a desert island, I probably wouldn’t go – Dave Green

Jesus fed 5,000 people with two fishes and a loaf of bread. That’s not a miracle. That’s tapas – Mark Nelson

Red sky at night: shepherd’s delight. Blue sky at night: day – Tom Parry

The first time I met my wife, I knew she was a keeper. She was wearing massive gloves – Alun Cochrane

Clowns divorce: custardy battle – Simon Munnery

They’re always telling me to live my dreams. But I don’t want to be naked in an exam I haven’t revised for – Grace The Child

I never lie on my CV, because it creases it – Jenny Collier

If you don’t know what introspection is, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself – Ian Smith

I usually meet my girlfriend at 12:59 because I like that one-to-one time – Tom Ward

Whenever I get to Edinburgh, I’m reminded of the definition of a gentleman. It’s someone who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn’t – Gyles Brandreth

And finally, let me tell you a little about myself. It’s a reflexive pronoun that means “me” – Ally Houston

Forty Days And Forty Nights – Part Eleven


The Mississippi Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878

One of the most feared diseases to strike the United States and for which the cause was a complete mystery at the time was yellow fever. Of course, we know now that the fever was transmitted by mosquitoes and the spread and the rapidity with which it travelled was a consequence of improved communications, particularly between the Caribbean areas where the disease was endemic and the eastern United States where it wasn’t.

Infected mosquitoes would travel over on ships and feast on the flesh of people who had no immunity to the disease. The symptoms were terrible – it got its name from the jaundiced colouration of the skin of a victim –  vomit that was black and was the sign that your end was nigh, bleeding gums and noses, stomach pains, tarry stools, severe headaches and a temperature that hit 105. Because the cause of the disease was unknown, the symptoms so extreme and your chances of survival so poor, the very mention of a yellow fever caused panic and hysteria.

In 1878 the conditions for a major yellow fever outbreak were optimal – the unusual climatic conditions were ideal for an explosion in the number of mosquitoes and the aftermath of the war of independence in Cuba (from Spain) meant a larger influx of refugee from areas prone to the fever than usual. To minimise the disease’s potential impact our old friend the quarantine was introduced to control shipping coming into New Orleans.

But, of course, a quarantine is only as effective as the diligence of those who enforce it. When the steamship Emily B Stouder pulled into the quarantine station on May 23rd there were no reported cases of the fever in the States. The quarantine doctor noticed that the purser, Clark, was ill but put it down to neuralgia and a hangover. Inevitably, Clark had yellow fever, was dead by the 25th and that was all that was needed for the fever to gain a foothold on the mainland.

News that the fever had hit New Orleans caused panic and around a fifth of the population up sticks and left, inevitably taking the fever with them. Many of those who were left succumbed to the disease and the doctors, whose futile attempts to cure them with bloodlettings, carbolic acid and doses of quinine, were worse than useless. An epidemic was declared on August 10th when there had been 431 reported cases and 118 deaths.

The railway system facilitated the spread of the disease and maps of outbreaks and their timing show its inexorable journey along the main railway and transportation routes of the Mississippi region. The first recorded death in Memphis was that of Kate Bionda on August 13th. Kate was a restaurant owner and contracted the disease when an infected man visited her gaff.

As with New Orleans news that the fever had reached Memphis caused panic and around 25,000 of the 47,000 fled the city, travelling to rural areas or places away from the river. Train tickets were at a premium – the superintendent of the Louisville and Nashville railroad reported that between August 12th and 16th tickets were selling for the modern-day equivalent of $750,000! Inevitably, many of the fleeing residents took the disease with them, outbreaks being reported as far away as Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. Some towns would accommodate the refugees whilst others set up gangs of armed men to enforce their local quarantine arrangements.

It was only the arrival of the autumnal frosts which killed off the mosquitoes that ended the epidemic by which time around 20,000 had died.

The Streets Of London – Part Twenty Five


Southwark Street – SE1

One of the unanticipated benefits of being forced by the recent tube strikes to forsake my normally troglodytic mode of transport for a tramp across the mean streets of London is having the opportunity to (re)acquaint myself with some of the landmarks of our metropolis which, otherwise, would pass me by. What particularly caught my attention was a splendid edifice on Southwark Street called the Hop Exchange, now a venue for corporate entertainment.

Hops are a staple ingredient of English ale, giving it its distinctive bitter taste and acting as a preservative and antibiotic. Kent was the principal area for growing hops and the only land route into the metropolis until as late as 1750 was via Borough High Street and over the old London Bridge. Inevitably, Southwark, handily placed on the south side of the Thames, became the epicentre of the hop trade and until the early 1970s there were many hop factors and merchants operating there. Even in the railway age trains conveying hops would terminate at nearby London Bridge station.

The hop factors used their showrooms to display their wares, usually in the months of February and March, and the hops would be bought by hop merchants who made their purchases on behalf of their brewer clients. April was the month for the settlement of accounts.

Warehouses were substantial and following the development of Southwark Street in 1864 the largest hop merchants, Wigan’s, commissioned a local architect, R.P Pope, to build a warehouse at no 61 capable of holding 10,000 sacks or pockets of hops and space for four wagons to be unloaded simultaneously under cover. Even that wasn’t enough and when the Hop Planters’ Joint Stock Company went bust in 1868 they took over their premises at no 15 and extended it towards the Charing Cross railway viaduct. To give you a sense of the trade, annual crops regularly reached between half and even three-quarters of a million hundredweights.

The Hop Exchange, which is at no 64,  opened in 1868 provided hop dealers with a single and central trading forum. The enormous glass roof was designed to enable trade to be conducted with the considerable benefit of natural light. According to near-contemporary reports, “the hall is approached by a short flight of steps and a vestibule with large iron gates. The business of the Exchange is transacted on the ground floor, while all round and in the three galleries are the offices of merchants and others”.

Unfortunately, on 20th October 1920 fire broke out at the Exchange, destroying the roof and upper two storeys which were never replaced. The building then sustained significant damage during the Blitz and whilst the restoration is sensitive and the building impressive, retaining the sweeping curve that made the original vaguely reminiscent of the Coliseum in Rome, it has lost the majesty and grandeur of the original. Above the main entrance is a statue of an eagle but more germane to the building’s history are the three carvings on the tympanum of the picking and transportation of hops.

Judging from the publicity shots of the interior the galleries and the central open space where the trading was transacted are extant, making the building a fascinating reminder of a vibrant trade that was conducted there.