Category Archives: history shorts

The Strange Case of Miss Sarah Hatchet – a Tour Guide Girl Short

We all know someone who stretches the truth somewhat after a few drinks when they’re trying to impress someone….

“You could be a model!”
“They’re 100% real!”
“At least ten inches”
“I’m only 25”
“Then I punched the shark in the nose!”

The eighteenth century was no different. For example, in August 1726 a lady named Sarah Hatchet was sitting down on a bench in St Martin’s Lane. She was trollied and had sat down waiting, perhaps, for the street to stop spinning. A man named Thomas Jones walks up and sits beside her.

Whether she wanted to impress him, seduce him or simply give him a fright, we’ll never know. But we do know that she said this:

“Give me a little water and I’ll tell you a secret!”

“What secret?” said Jones.

“Why, don’t you know a man was murdered two nights ago? Well, I held his head whilst his throat was cut!”

Such a revelation didn’t have the effect Sarah desired. Rather than ask Miss Hatchet whether they should go to her place or his, Mr Jones alerted the authorities that a criminal had confessed to him. Sarah soon found herself, horribly sober, in court.

Sarah was facing grim charges, if found guilty she would surely be hanged. Thankfully Sarah was well known for her drunken boasts and many witnesses came forward to testify that no-one could or should believe anything Sarah said after a drink. One helpfully said that after a halfpennyworth of gin Sarah sounded just like an incoherent lunatic in Bedlam asylum.

Mercifully for Sarah, another witness provided her with her alibi. On the night in question, Sarah had been passed out, blotto, next to her basket full of guinea pigs.

Sarah Hatchet was acquitted. History doesn’t record if she went on a detox!

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The Sad Tale of Benjamin Crouch – A Tour Guide Girl Short

The art of dissecting human bodies for medical research in Britain  got off to a slow start. No devout Christian wanted their body to be desecrated by curious surgeons at the risk of losing their chance at eternal life. A body torn apart by a scalpel may not be resurrected.

Henry VIII brought in legislation allowing barber surgeons to claim four bodies of executed murderers per year. After all, murderers were going to Hell anyway so their mortal shell could be used as a doggy chew toy for all anybody cared. Charles II bumped the number up to six murderers per annum.

Progress was being made but the restrictions meant that there was less than one body per London hospital each year. The dangers of being operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t know what an internal organ looked like were huge.

Whenever there is demand for a rare product, people have found ways to capitalise on the opportunity and find supplies from somewhere, however unsavoury.

A new profession appeared in the streets of London and Edinburgh. Resurrection men began to haunt cemeteries for freshly buried corpses. In the dead of night these men would dig up these cadavers and sell them to eager anatomists who were so desperate to study dissection that they were willing to turn a blind eye to bodysnatching. A Resurrectionist could earn far more money than a highly skilled craftsman.

Interestingly the theft of a corpse from a graveyard was only considered a minor misdemeanour in the eyes of British law. However the theft of shrouds, mementoes left in coffins, coffin nails etc was a felony. As long as you made sure the body was naked (and relatively fresh) the worst you could expect as punishment was a fine.

One such Resurrectionist at the start of the 19th century was a man by the name of Benjamin Crouch. The renowned anatomist Sir Astley Cooper lured Crouch into a life of bodysnatching with promises of large quantities of cash for every fresh corpse Crouch could deliver. As a bonus, parts that anatomists weren’t interested in such as hair and teeth could be sold on to wigmakers and dentists as a bit of extra pocket money for lugging corpses around the city. Crouch earned quite a tidy sum selling teeth to dentists, half of London had dentures made with the teeth of dug up corpses and demand for false teeth was always high.

Bodysnatching was arduous work and it was almost guaranteed that the local community would hate you for dragging up their beloved dead relatives. It  is no surprise that Ben eventually wanted out of the Resurrectionist business. He took his tooth money and moved to Margate. He used his dental earnings to set up a cosy little seafront hotel and settled back to enjoy life as a tourist town businessman and respectable member of Kent society.

Unfortunately for Benny boy, rumours from London soon reached Margate about where the new hotelier had found the capital to open his B&B. Sickened, the local community treated him with just as much contempt as grieving Londoners had. The hotel was boycotted and Crouch was forced to retreat back to London. Crouch was reduced to a life of escalating crime and died in poverty.

Personally, I see Crouch as a bit of an unsung hero. The bodies that he provided to Sir Astley Cooper came in very useful and Cooper was able to make huge leaps in vascular surgery that may never have been possible if dozens of anatomists had a mere six corpses to fight over. Who knows how many lives have been saved thanks to men like Crouch who were willing to carry out an unsavoury job for the benefit of progress.

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Tales from Buckingham Palace – A Tour Guide Girl short

In 1838, 19 year old Queen Victoria was enjoying her second year on the British throne. Victoria decided to move the main London residence of the monarch to Buckingham Palace.

Several people must have wondered what life inside the Palace was like, and one decided to find out for himself.

A 14 year old boy called Edward Jones disguised himself as a chimney sweep and had a good old nose around the Palace. By the time he was spotted by a porter he was in the Marble Hall about to leave. He was chased all the way to St James St, where it was discovered that he had pinched a sword and a pair of knickers belonging to Queen Victoria that he’d hastily stuffed down his trousers. Let off lightly, Jones was spared prison but had apparently not learnt his lesson.

Two years later Jones thought it might be nice to pop by the Palace and congratulate Vicky on the birth of her first child. He popped by on the 30th November and the 1st of December, finally being found hiding beneath the Queen’s sofa.

This time Jones could not escape jail time. He served 3 months in a correctional facility.

But Eddie had apparently developed quite the taste for fine living. A fortnight after his release from prison, Jones sneaked in for a bit of afternoon tea. Poor Ed was sentenced to a further three months jail time. Even after two prison stays Jones kept trying to get back in, even walking all the way from Portsmouth once, but by now security was finally a bit tighter.

6 decades later Edward VII came to the throne and moved in to mummy’s old digs. The King liked his art and ordered a few new pieces for his collection. A workman from an art gallery duly brought several paintings to the Palace. He was led to the room in which the paintings were to hang and was left for a short while to unpack the pieces. After he’d finished he waited to be escorted back out to the street. No-one came, the deliveryman had been forgotten. What should he do? Buckingham Palace is famously labyrinthine to the uninitiated and it would be highly inappropriate and embarrassing to wander around getting lost. The only option was to politely wait. Bored witless, he sat down at a desk and twiddled his thumbs. Eventually he got so bored that he started writing a letter to pass the time, using some of the Buckingham Palace letterheaded paper.

He was caught out by the King himself, who was incredibly tickled when he peered over to read what the deliveryman was writing:

“Dear Dad, please note the change of address…”

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a Tudor Recipe – Sodde Eggs

As a young ingenue working at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum I had the privilege of working as a costumed interpreter in Winkhurst Tudor kitchen in the first year the building was furnished properly. I was a scullery maid to the head cook, a lovely and vivacious woman named Dawn.

She taught me the following recipe and I’ve regularly prepared it ever since. It is particularly excellent as a cold/hangover cure.

Take as many eggs as you want to serve and hard boil them. Peel and halve.

Take a generous block of butter and gently melt in a heavy pan. Add a couple of heaped teaspoons of wholegrain mustard and a generous dash of cider or white wine vinegar. Season to taste and stir well.

Drown the eggs liberally (this is the ‘sodde’ bit, nothing to do with buggery!) with the sauce.

The wonderful thing about this sauce is that you can adjust the quantities of the sauce ingredients to taste. Personally I like so much mustard and vinegar that one taste makes my face pucker up, but if you fancy a milder sauce be sparing.

I find a bit of toast to mop up any remaining sauce also adds a bit of crunch. I’ve also used the sauce as a warm salad dressing.

Try this simple dish and tell me what you think of your tudor cooking!

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Wood for Westminster – a Tour Guide Girl History Short

Westminster Hall is the oldest portion of the Palace of Westminster, constructed in 1097. In 1393 a new roof was commissioned, using the hammer-beam technique. It’s pretty magnificent.

By 1913 a few of the oak beams needed to be replaced. Only problem is, mature oak trees are increasingly hard to find.

When the MP for Rye heard about the restoration work, he offered some help. His name was Sir George Couthorpe.

His ancestors had provided the original oak for Westminster Hall in the 1390’s from their Sussex estate. Sir George explained that after the oaks had been felled, his ancestors had planted new trees for when the Hall might need new wood. This meant that over 500 years later the Couthorpes had several oak trees of just the right maturity.

Over half a millennium after the roof was installed, it was restored with oak grown from the same estate as the original trees.

That’s how Westminster Hall has the most authentically restored roof it’s possible to get!

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