Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Battle of Jena-Auerstadt 1806

King Frederick William of Prussia had remained neutral during the War of the Third Coalition because Napoleon had promised him that a French victory would see the Kingdom of Hannover being ceded to Prussia. In August 1806, however, Frederick William heard that Napoleon had offered Hannover to Britain as part of a proposed peace treaty. The Prussian monarch was furious and declared war.

The Prussian army was over 200,000 strong, but was equipped with old fashioned weapons and used equally outdated tactics. The army commander, Ferdinand of Brunswick, was aged 71 and had failed to study the new style of warfare. By late September, the Prussians were massed near Amberg, while Napoleon was in northern Bavaria just to the south. Brunswick divided his army into two leading the western force himself while Prince Hohenlohe commanded the eastern column.

Napoleon did not realize the Prussians had divided. He led four corps against Hohenlohe’s force thinking this was the entire Prussian army. Meanwhile two French corps, those of Davout and Bernadotte, were sent to march around the rear of the Prussians. Napoleon with 56,000 men and 70 cannon met Hohenlohe with 50,000 men and 120 guns at Jena. After a lengthy battle, Hohenlohe’s force retreated in disorder pursued by French cavalry.

Meanwhile, Davout with his 20,000 men and 40 guns had run into Brunswick with his 54,000 men and 230 cannon at Auerstadt. Davout fought a skilful delaying action, managing to frustrate the Prussian attacks. Brunswick was killed during the fighting and his deputy, Scharnhorst, then pulled back, opting for an orderly fighting withdrawal. The Prussians had lost 40,000 men and 200 cannon, while French losses totaled 11,000 men.

Napoleon moved to occupy Berlin, stripping the city of food and horses for his army. 


Monday, 24 January 2011

Battlefield Walks in Devon - the video



The Battlefield at Otford, Kent

Teashop:            Ellenor Tea Shop, 11a High St, Otford, Sevenoaks, TN14 5PG
Tel: (01959) 524322

Distance:            4 miles

Map:                OS Explorer 147

Parking:            There is on street parking around the village green.

Public Transport        Otford is on the rail network

Conditions:            This walk is over fairly level ground, so the going is generally easy. However the early stages cross riverside meadows and can be muddy after rain.

This walk starts in the High Street car park, just a couple of doors along from the Ellenor Tea Shop. Before leaving the car park it is worth taking the time to view the famous Otford Solar System, built in 2000 as a project to mark the Millenium. The monument is a scale model of the real solar system on a scale of about 1:4.5 billion. The Sun is represented by a brass dome mounted on a stone pillar in the recreation ground. The planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are also marked by pillars in the recreation ground. The more distant planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus and Pluto are indicated by pillars elsewhere around the village and are linked by a marked walk - it takes about 45 minutes if you are feeling energetic enough. They are not part of this walk, but feel free to do it if you like.

1) From the car park in the High Street head west along High Street. Immediately before the bridge over the River Darent turn right along a footpath signed as being the Darent Valley Path, one of several long distance footpaths in Kent.

Although the river has been deepened, channelled and the surrounding meadows drained over the years, it is fairly certain that it was at this spot that the great Battle of Otford was fought in the year 776.

At this date what is now England was divided into a number of different kingdoms, some more powerful than others. Kent had always been relatively rich, but it was small and by 776 was under the domination of King Offa of Mercia. The exact nature of this overlordship is unclear, but a dispute broke out when King Egbert of Kent granted some royal lands to the Bishop of Rochester without asking Offa’s permission first. There then followed further quarrels, the details of which have not been recorded. In the spring of 776 Offa seems to have had enough. He sent Egbert an ultimatum that was refused. War broke out.

Offa mustered the Mercian army and sent it marching to London. In Canterbury people saw a vision of Christ’s cross in the sky bathed in blood. Nobody knew what it meant, but it cannot have been good news. Archbishop Janbert announced that he had studied the details of the dispute and decided that Egbert was in the right. Offa ignored him.

The Mercian army passed over London bridge without incident, then swung southeast to enter Kent by crossing the River Darent at the ford at Otford. The reason why the Mercians had to use a bridge or ford was because of their supply train. At this date an English army would have carried with them a fair amount of camping equipment, cooking gear, food and spare weaponry. The baggage would not have been as cumbersome as it would become later, but even so an army would have needed a large number of pack horses, ox carts and the like. 

Offa did not march with his army, he seems to have sent only a part of the force that Mercia could muster  – perhaps around 3,000 men or so. Even so the army of Kent would have been seriously outnumbered. It would have made sense to Egbert to try to halt the invasion at a bottleneck in the supply system, and so he came to the ford at Otford.

At this date, the fighting men of both sides would have been infantry - though some may have ridden on ponies when on the march. They were equipped with shield, spear and a  sidearm such as a knife or axe. Only the richer men would have had coats of mail or metal helmets. Most men had two or more lightweight javelins as well as their heavy, thrusting spear. These would be thrown toward the enemy in the opening stages of a battle.

The main tactic at the time was the shieldwall. This involved the front ranks closing up and locking shields to produce a solid wall. The rest of the men formed up six or so ranks deep behind. This solid mass of men would then advance on the enemy. It was usual to place the more experienced men at the front to ensure that the face of the formation remained tightly knit and as straight as possible. It is thought that formations usually advanced at a trot so as to combine momentum with the ability to keep formation - though some forces of veterans could run. Once the two sides were locked in combat, it was a matter of spear thrusts and counter thrusts to kill and injure the opposition. Eventually one side or other would begin to lose formation, and often the shield wall broke up completely as an army turned in rout.

Egbert and his men presumably lined the eastern bank of the Darent in shield wall formation. This would have forced the Mercians to splash over the river in order to get to grips, no doubt losing a lot of cohesion in their formation as they did so. It is possible that Egbert held his men back from the ford, luring the Mercians to start crossing, then attacking when the enemy was disordered. Either way the fiercest fighting would have raged about here.

Whatever happened, the battle ended in a stunning victory for the outnumbered Kentish army. The Mercians were chased back to London in defeat. Egbert had won complete independence for Kent and enjoyed that status for the rest of his life.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Supernatural Swale

Start: The Aviator, Queenborough Corner, Queenborough, Sheerness, Kent, ME12 3DJ

Finish: Oad Street Tea Room, Oad Street, Borden, Kent ME9 8LB

Unlike most of the “isles” to be found around the coast of Kent, the Isle of Sheppey is still an island surrounded by salt water. The island lies just east of the mouth of the Medway on the southern side of the Thames Estuary and is about ten miles long and five wide. It is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water called the Swale. This is now used only by yachts and small pleasure boats, but in the past was much used by small merchant ships heading for the Medway or for London from the North Sea. The name Sheppey means “Island of Sheep” in Old English, making this a clue to the basis of the island’s economy in centuries gone by.

Strictly speaking Sheppey should be called the Isles of Sheppey as there were originally three islands here. The largest was Sheppey itself, but the islands of Harty and Elmley once stood off its southern shore. Both of these smaller islands have now been joined to Sheppey as the tidal flats and marshes that separated them have been drained and reclaimed.

The island can be approached only by the Kingsferry Bridge that carries the A249 across the Swale north of Sittingbourne. Find The Aviatorat the junction of the A249 and A250.

Leaving the pub, drive northeast along the A250 to the junciton with the B2008. Take the B2008 east for about 4 miles, then turn left along the lane signposted to Warden Point. The coast here is eroding fairly rapidly and you will eventually find the lane is blocked off to traffic. If you continue on foot you will come to the spot where the road ends abruptly in a cliff. The wreckage of the parts of the road that used to continue on to the east can be seen on the beach below and scattered over the face of the cliff.

The first of the ghosts and spooks to be encountered on this drive roams the fields and shoreline around Warden. This is the ghost of Sir John Sawbridge who lived in Warden Manor in the 17th century. He was widely rumoured to have led the gang conducting the smuggling which was then prevalent in the eh area. He was never caught, but justice caught up with him in grisly form. He was riding out late one night - allegedly to inspect an incoming cargo of smuggled French brandy - when his horse bolted and he was thrown. Sawbridge was badly injured, and was not found until well past dawn, by which time his injuries had become fatal. He died later that day. Ever since, his angry ghost has been seen riding around this area on a terrifyingly large black stallion.

Drive south through Warden to Leysdown on Sea. Turn right along the B2231 toward Eastchurch. Turn left up a lane to the Isle of Harty. This road winds over a hill before dropping down to cross flat levels and a tidal stream named the Capel Fleet. This is all that is left of the tidal flats that once separated Harty from Sheppey. In the days before the marshes and tidal flows were drained This was a lonely, eerie place. When the chill wind blew through the reeds and dank vegetation the area seemed almost other worldly. Perhaps that is how the place got its name. In Old English, the name derives form a phrase which, in modern parlance, might be loosely rendered as “The Marsh of Monsters”.

Intriguingly, the name is fairly close to the name Heorot, the great hall plagued by a man-eating monster in the ancient English poem Beowulf. The topography of the Heorot in the poem closely matches that of the area around Harty. The cliffs on the east coast of Sheppey shine when wet, as do those in the poem, and it is possible to ride a horse down them - though only just. Other similarities are numerous, and the history of this region makes it likely that Harty was an off-shore English stronghold off a Romano-British mainland about the time the poem was composed.

It is an intriguing possibility that the Marsh of Monsters in this isolated area of Kent might have been the inspiration for the most ancient literature in the English language. Whatever the truth of this, the monsters have not been seen since the marshes were drained some generations ago.

This is an extract from
Teashop and Pub Drives in Kent by Rupert Matthews.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Pub at Bosham, Sussex

Start at         The Anchor Bleu,
High St, Bosham West Sussex,  PO18 8LS.
Tel: 01243 573956

End at         Highdown Tea Rooms
Littlehampton Rd, Goring By Sea, Worthing, West Sussex BN12 6PF
Tel: 01903 246984

Bosham (pronounced 'Bozzam') is signposted off the A27 about 3 miles west of Chichester. Once in the village, park in the car park, then walk the 100 yards up the High Street to find the Anchor Bleu on the left.

In Bosham you should have a look at the church, about 40 yards further along the High Street from the pub. It is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and is a rare survivor from the Bayeux Tapestry. The church today is mostly of 13th century date, but the chancel and several columns in the nave date back to the time of the Bayeux Tapestry. The church contains two tombs of note. The first is that of a daughter of King Canute. The second is that of Herbert of Bosham, a monk who was with Thomas a Becket when that Archbishop of Canterbury was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

According to a local legend, some time around 870 a fleet of Viking ships came into Bosham. The villagers fled, so the Vikings were able to pillage freely but without the customary orgy of rape and killing that went along with it. For some reason they took a fancy to the great bell that hung in the church tower. They hacked it free from its wooden cradle and tossed it down to the ground, then rolled it to their ship and lashed it to the rowing benches. As the Viking fleet put out to sea the villagers returned. The priest began ringing the remaining smaller bell in thanksgiving.

Instantly the great bell tore itself free from its lashings and rang out an answer, then it smashed its way through the Viking ship, drowning the luckless crew. The bell came to rest in a deep spot near the harbour mouth still known as Bell Hole. There it remains. When the bells of the church ring out, the long lost bell answers with a mournful, dull boom.

In 1064 Earl Harold Godwinsson, who owned Bosham and surrounding lands, attended a service here before setting off on a mysterious mission to northern France. Speculation as to what England's most powerful earl was up to has been endless because neither the Bayeux Tapestry nor any written source explains. It is possible that he went to get his younger brother Leofwine who may, or may not, have been in France at the time. Whatever his intentions, Harold ended up as an enforced guest of William, Duke of Normandy. William took the opportunity to demand that Harold took an oath before he was allowed to leave for England. The form of that oath is as disputed as anything else about the visit. William later claimed that the oath bound Harold to support his claim to the throne of England if the then king, Edward the Confessor, should die childless. Harold said that it had been a much more vague protestation of friendship. In 1066 Edward died childless and the English nobles, as was their right, chose Harold to be king in his place. William organised an invasion and ended up facing Harold at the Battle of Hastings - featured in the Battlefields Trail of this book.

Just past the church is a patch of green land named Quay Meadow, now owned by the National Trust. According to legend it was here that King Canute taught his courtiers a lesson by having his throne placed on the beach so that he could command the tide not to come in. Of course the tide continued to come in so that Canute and his men got wet feet -thus proving that he was not as powerful as the flatterers had been saying.

In summer months a small ferry takes foot passengers across Chichester Harbour to West Itchenor. If it is running while you are here it makes for a pleasant trip.

Leave Bosham heading north to join the A27. Turn right toward Chichester. Just past Fishbourne, famous for its Roman Palace, turn right down a lane signposted to Dell Quay. At a T-junction turn right to reach Dell Quay.
An extract from Teashop and Pub Drives in Sussex by Rupert Matthews

Friday, 14 January 2011

The English Heritage of St George

As flags go, it is stunning. A blood red cross on a white background is instantly recognisable, easily produced and clear enough to be spotted a mile away. It is a flag that England has made its own.
These days, you can see St George’s flag almost anywhere. When England is playing in an international football competition, they are everywhere. They flutter from cars, being carried on plastic struts that attach to the car windows. Larger versions are nailed to wooden poles lashed to builders’ vans and trucks. Houses have flags flying from windows, garages and garden fences. Shops are festooned with them and pubs are swathed in St George’s flags, St George’s buntings and St George’s posters.
The imagination of modern marketing men has been let loose on the once simple flag of St George. Breweries put their logos into the white quarters of the flag to link their product to the ubiquitous flags. Other flags are decorated with a silhouette of a mounted knight in armour piercing a fierce dragon with a lance. Some combine the coat of arms of England with the flag of St George by displaying three lions on the flag. Advertisements show jocular knights in armour and a surcoat displaying the flag enjoying a wide variety of products seeking to gain sales by being linked to the patron saint of England.
St George and his flag have entered the public life of England in a big way. Fully grown men dress up as St George to go to football matches or to slip down the pub to watch English cricketers take on foreign rivals on giant television screens. His flag is emblazoned on supermarket packs to show that the apples, steaks or lager within was produced in England.
In part this modern obsession with St George has got a lot to do with the marvels of modern manufacturing. Time was when flags were expensive things to buy. Coloured dyes that would remain true in sun, rain and wind were pricey to make and costly to fix on cloth. Now with new synthetic fabrics and artificial dyes, a pound or two will buy you a colourful flag that would previously have set you back half a day’s wages. Flags, costumes and outfits are cheap enough to be bought, used and discarded without much cost.
But there is also something about St George himself that captures the English mind. In the public imagination, St George is a bold, fearless and hearty chap. He thinks nothing of grabbing sword or lance to rush into battle against a ferocious dragon to save a pretty damsel. No doubt he would be just as ready to hurl himself into battle to slaughter foreign enemies of England. And nobody can be in much doubt that he would celebrate his victory with a vast platter of sausages, steaks and chips washed down with a beer or two, while belting out a singalong chant with his mates.
St George’s image is decidedly male and working class. In these days when politicians tell us that “we are all middle class now”, submerge England into a bureaucratic European Union and seek to embrace a touchy-feely empathy with the world, St George gallops out on his white horse to remind us of a very different England. When the football World Cup comes around it is Council estates and areas of smaller houses that are festooned with red and white, and it is white vans that carry the largest flags.
Big, bold, brave and determined to enjoy himself while cheerfully slaughtering his enemies, St George is seen in much the same way as the English like to think of themselves.
But what was the real St George like? How has he come to embody the more robust virtues of the English? To find the answers we must set out on the trail of the real St George.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Birth of the Great Western Railway GWR

Of all the lost railways of Berkshire none was so magnificent in conception or design as the original Great Western Railway, so prestigious and impressive that it soon acquired the nickname of “God’s Wonderful Railway”. Although the GWR was to survive, it did so only in greatly modified form and function. That which remains is still impressive, but is but a shadow of the original vision that drove the company on.

The GWR was born in Bristol in the autumn of 1832 when a group of merchants in the city got together to discuss their transport problems. These were considerable. Bristol was a major port for the Atlantic trade with hundreds of ships each year putting in to load cargoes to be distributed throughout southern England, or to pick up cargoes for export over the world’s oceans to the British Empire. To make their money, the merchants had to be able to guarantee that the goods could move cross country with speed and reliability. That was where the problems set in.

The bulk of the goods landed at Bristol went east to London and southern England. In 1832 the main route was on barges that were pulled by horses up the Avon to Bath, then along the Kennet and Avon Canal to Reading, thence down the Thames to London. Unfortunately the Avon was notoriously prone to floods in autumn and the canal was often closed in winter when the water froze. Meanwhile the Thames was prone to run so low in the summer that the barges grounded on the shallower sections. A journey that in theory lasted a week could often last more than a month. The only alternative was to transfer goods from barge to cart, but carters typically charged three times as much as the bargemen.

One of the Bristol merchants, sadly history does not record which one, brought to the meeting the second Annual Report of the Liverpool and Manchester Railways Company. The report stated, with numerous charts and tabulations, that the railway moved goods twice as fast as the swiftest cart but cost only half as much as moving goods by canal. The merchants were quickly convinced that what they needed was a railway from Bristol to London. A committee of senior merchants was set up to investigate the matter.

The committee did not delay for long. In March they hired a promising 26 year old engineer who was in Bristol at the time designing a bridge over the Avon at Clifton. His name was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and he was destined to become the greatest engineer Britain has ever produced. Brunel hired a team of surveyors and quickly set about finding a route suitable for a railway.

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Best Dressed Highwayman in Surrey

Jack Rann at his trial

Perhaps the best dressed highwayman active in Surrey was Jack Rann, nicknamed Sixteen String Jack because he wore 16 ribbons about his knees - then a great fashion among gentlemen. Officially Rann was a self-employed coachman who hired out himself and his coach to whoever had need of it, but few people ever saw him work. The act was merely a cover for his criminal activities. Like Whitney before him, Rann ostentatiously adopted fine clothes and fine manners, especially when at work on the roads. In 1773 he appeared at the Barnet Races in a blue silk three piece suit trimmed with lace woven from pure silver thread and created a sensation. When he was finally arrested in September 1774 he called for a tailor to make him a new suit of pea green wool trimmed with sliver lace, and he bought a selection of ruffled linen shirts so that he could have a fresh shirt for each day of his trial. After being found guilty he threw a series of parties in prison, the last of which was for seven of his girlfriends. He was hanged next day - in yet another new suit.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Blue Stilton Soup - yummy yummy

Blue Stilton Soup

Serves 6
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

You could enjoy this soup at any time of year, but to be honest it is best in the winter. Get a saucepan of this on the bubble before guests arrive and then wait for the compliments to start: “Mmmmmmm something smells good”, they will say. Never fails. If you have one of those handheld food liquidiser things, then use it for this recipe. Alternatively use a conventional food processor for the liquidising. Older cook books will advise you to press the mixture through a sieve, but that is just way too much trouble in this day and age.

2oz butter
1 onion, skinned and finely chopped
2 celery sticks, cleaned and sliced
1oz flour
2floz dry white wine
30floz chicken stock
12floz milk
3oz Stilton Cheese, crumbled
3oz English Cheddar Cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
2floz double cream (optional)
Croutons to garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and celery.
Fry gently for 5 minutes until soft but not browned.
Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
Remove from heat.
Stir in the wine and stock and return to heat.
Bring to the boil, stirring continuously until the soup thickens then simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Liquidize the soup.
Add the milk and heat gently.
Stir in the Stilton and English Cheddar and stir while it melts.
At the last minute, remove from the heat to stir in the cream, if you are using it. Do not let the soup boil after the cream has been added.
Serve garnished with croutons.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The First Steam Railway in Surrey

The first steam railway to be built in Surrey was primarily a goods line which opened in 1839. This was the London and Croydon Railway, which ran from what is now London Bridge station to what is now West Croydon. This line is now entirely within Greater London.

Much more difficult was the task of anticipating how many passengers might want to travel a particular route. Despite this it was a line built with passengers in mind that was the first to strike out across Surrey on a route from London to Brighton. The fact that part of the route ran through Surrey was merely coincidental.

The idea was first suggeseted in 1825 when a group of businessmen formed a company called, rather optimistically, The Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset Railway. They employed the famous bridge architect John Rennie to survey what they intended to be the first route of an extensive network, that from London to Brighton. No sooner had he begun work than the plan was dropped. Four years later Rennie was hired again, this time to survey two different routes. The first was to take in the intermediate towns of Dorking, Horsham and Shoreham, while the second was to run direct between London and Brighton. This time he completed his work, but the company foundered due to a lack of funds and interest.

In 1835 the London and Brighton Railway (L&BR) was founded and bought up Rennie’s work. This new company favoured the direct route, but the matter had to go before a Parliamentary committee, which took months to pore over the various options before finally deciding that the L&BR had been right all along. Rennie’s direct route was therefore adopted, even though it would involve the building of several expensive tunnels and bridges that could have been avoided on the longer route.

As with the earlier horse-drawn iron roads, the new railways required an Act of Parliament to compel landowners to sell, gain the right for the railway to cross rivers and other legal matters. The L&BR act was passed by Parliament in July 1837, but the MPs had introduced some variations. The railway was not to have its own London station, but to use that of the already existing London and Croydon Railway. The line would begin at Norwood and then follow the Rennie direct route, with branch lines authorised to Lewes and Shoreham.

The MPs also introduced an amendment that the L&BR had opposed. The Members of Parliament were at the same time considering a proposal to link London to Dover and Folkestone put forward by the South Eastern Railway (SER). For some reason the parliamentarians felt that there would not be enough trains coming into London to justify the bother of having two lines. They therefore stipulated that the SER and L&BR should share a line from Norwood south through the North Downs. The two railway companies would have their own lines only after that.

In the House of Lords, the railway found itself confronted by the influential Lord Monson. Monson had nothing against railways, in fact he was generally in favour of them. However, the proposed route would run very close to his home at Gatton Hall, southwest of Merstham. The house stood on a south facing slope looking across a shallow valley in which had been constructed an artificial lake to improve the view. And the railway route would be on the far side of the lake and in full view of the house. In order to mollify any objections that Lord Monson might have to this, the railway placed Merstham Station immediately outside the gates of Gatton Hall on Battlebridge Lane, almost a mile away from Merstham itself. The villagers were able to watch the trains passing within 50 yards of their homes, but had to face a lengthy walk to get on the things.

Monday, 3 January 2011

The Video about Battlefield Walks in Kent and Sussex

Watch the VIDEO HERE

The Best French Fighter of World War 2

Morane-Saulnier MS406
Type: Single seat fighter
Engine: 1 x HIspano-Suiza 12Y-31 (860hp)
Wingspan: 34ft 9in
Length: 26ft 9in
Top Speed: 302mph
Ceiling: 30,800ft
Armament: 1 x 20mm cannon in nose plus 2 x 7.5mm machine guns in wings

After years of underinvestment and reliance on old fashioned models, the French Air Force decided in 1935 to order a few modern fighters and the MS406 was the result. In 1938, Joseph Vuillemin took over as head of the Air Staff and ordered a thousand of the MS406 fighters as a stop gap until more modern models could become available. All the MS406 fighters were delivered before the Germans attacked, but they did not perform well. Under the peace deal between France and Germany, the French were retain half the surviving fighters to protect their overseas colonies, and the Germans seized the rest for sale to Finland, Italy and other allies.