Sunday, November 29, 2015

Spirit of Place: Murder in Inge Street

I have touched on Inge Street in this blog before, and despite the general sea change of the environment, it is one of the few places in the city centre where the setting of this murder story remains intact. I have also touched on modern-day sex work  in this area: some things don't seem to change, yet it seems to be a Birmingham thing that back to back houses have vanished completely from the environment. They give an impression of being part of ancient history, yet I have lived in one myself, when I lived in Leeds, where there are still rows of them. I have a feeling, though, that that the ones in Leeds probably started off better quality than the ones in Birmingham and don't usually face into inner courts the way the remaining ones in Brum do. The National Trust  Back to Backs are on the corner of Inge Street and Hurst Street, and the illustrations to this post are intended to give an idea of where this murder took place, and while the 'court' of back to backs illustrated was actually on Hurst Street round the corner, it gives an idea of what back to back life really was like. 
The victim of this murder was Martha Elizabeth Simpson, a 21-year-old prostitute, known as Pattie, who lived at Number 2, Back 21 Inge Street with her lover Charles Samuel Dyer. On the evening of Wednesday, February 3rd 1904, Martha her friend Margaret Moran went out for a drink while Charles went out separately. Martha picked up a customer and took him back to Margaret's home in Birmingham Place, where business was transacted as it were, then Charles arrived to take her home to Inge Street. Around midnight Charles returned to Margaret Moran's house with blood streaming down his fingers and said, 'Oh, Maggie! I've done it. Save her if you can.' Margaret went to Inge Street with her two lodgers, where they found Martha Simpson dying in a chair, a gaping wound in her throat, and blood pouring down her clothes, and beyond the possibility of being saved.
Dyer confessed to a policeman who had seen him running away from the scene, and who took him into custody at the police station in Moor Street, that he hit Martha on the head with a poker then drew a razor across her throat. At the inquest on February 5th, 1904, a verdict of murder was given against Dyer, and on March 17th, 1904 he was tried on the capital charge. It was heard that Dyer and Martha were both very drunk, an argument broke out between them in which they were already physically fighting before returning to Inge Street, and despite his defence claiming that he had been provoked and that Martha had hit him first with the poker, he was found guilty of murder.
Dyer was hanged at Birmingham Prison, Winson Green, at 8am on Tuesday April 5th, 1904, by hangmen John and William Billington. A crowd of 7-800 people gathered outside the prison, and Dyer's body was buried in a plain black coffin within the prison precincts.
Credits: I have rewritten this account from 'Immoral Earnings' in John J Eddleston's Murderous Birmingham: The Executed of the Twentieth Century (Derby Books, Derby, 2011).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Out in the Wash and Glamour Magic

Yesterday I was a witness in the disciplinary hearing my 'manager's' manager has arranged as a result of me formalising my concerns about a 'colleague' sabotaging the team's work for years. Of course this hearing was unnecessary because I have told my 'manager' every item on my statement but only now is this seen as serious enough for a disciplinary.
Naturally I'm sworn to secrecy, & naturally the panel found that all attempts to shake what I was saying or try to interpret the evidence differently, failed dramatically. INFJs make convincing witnesses on account of having thought it all out in advance. 
I also did a glamour magic. I let my hair grow longer than usual (I hadn't met the human resources woman so didn't want a shaved head in case she would interpret it as skinhead). I also let my beard grow. The entire aim was to give an impression of maturity & measured wisdom. This will be in contrast to the sabotaging 'colleague' who is as psychopathic as they come, & looks like a drag queen. I also made a point of telling them what she did at the Christmas party several years ago, to make sure they mentally picture her with her knickers down, so to speak.
Watch this space - my 'manager' is going down the drive.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hidden City: Birmingham History in Street Names

So often the history of a place is just below the surface, even in a place notorious for recreating itself, like Birmingham. This is shown particularly by street names, and I have selected some Birmingham street names which often betray an unexpected history. Unless otherwise stated my source is always Birmingham Street Names, compiled by Joseph McKenna. Birmingham Public Libraries, Birmingham, 1986.
Carr’s Lane. This name is said to be a corruption of ‘Goddes Carte Lane’. The lane is supposed to have contained a barn which housed the mobile stage whereon medieval mystery plays were performed. However there are no known references to any mystery plays or pageants having been performed in the town, as at Coventry or Chester. All we can be sure of is that Carr’s Lane was once someone’s cart lane.
Cherry Street. Named after the cherry orchard which it crossed, one of three in 18th century Birmingham, which extended from High Street to Temple Row. Originally a pathway across the orchard, it was widened, and appears as Cherry Street on Samuel Bradford’s Plan of Birmingham for 1750.
Congreve Street. This street takes its name from Prior’s Conygree, the rabbit warren belonging to the Priory. The lane which bordered the western side of the former Prior lands was developed in the mid 18th century. Originally called Friday Street, it was renamed about 1795.

Fire Office Passage. Originated as a party road, and it was here that the engines belonging to the old Birmingham Fire Office were housed.
Holloway Head showing my current favourite derelict building,
currently in the process of being demolished.

Holloway Head. The original road to Worcester, worn down by the heavy traffic until it became a hollow way. Head is another word for summit or hill. The most prominent feature of Holloway Head throughout the 18th and 19th centuries was a brick-built tower windmill, commemorated today by Windmill Street.
Ladywell Walk. This street links Pershore Street and Hurst Street; its name is an abbreviation of Our Lady’s Well Walk. The name originated prior to the Reformation. Water from the well or spring helped to fill the moat around the Parsonage.
 Livery Street. Cut across the Colmore estate, it takes its name from Swann’s Riding Academy. This riding school, built prior to 1787, stood near the corner with Cornwall Street.

Needless Alley. A corruption of Needlers’ Alley, being a place where needlemakers worked. It dates from the early 18th century.
Newhall Street. This follows the former tree-lined driveway up to New Hall, the home of the Colmore family. The house, built during the reign of James I, stood at the junction of the present Newhall and Great Charles streets. It was demolished in 1787.

Sherlock Street. Named after Dr Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of Bangor, and later Bishop of London, who owned considerable land in Birmingham. It was cut in the early 1830s.
Steelhouse Lane. Originally called Prior’s Conygree Lane (the lane leading to the Prior’s rabbit warren) and later Whitehall (undoubtedly a London import), the present name comes from Kettle’s Steelhouses. Erected at the end of the 17th century for converting iron into steel, they were situated near Newton Street, and were worked until about 1797.

Temple Row/Street/Alley. All take their name from an old brick summer arbour known as ‘the Temple’. These streets came into being in 1715. Temple Row was at one time mischievously known as Tory Row, reflecting the opinions of its residents. Temple Passage has two entrances, one at the top, and one at the bottom of Temple Street. The passage which runs parallel to Temple Street was cut about 1875.

Image credits: Unless otherwise credited below, the pictures are either my own or ones which I have saved from the internet over the years and failed to record the source. As usual, just let me know if I’ve run off with your copyright.

Birmingham's Own Beer

The wonderful Two Towers Brewery is a completely local concern, & also names its beers with reference to local events, landmarks, etc.
It was such a good idea to name one Bhacker Ackams. It's named after, well, I'll let someone else explain:
'Back of Rackhams n. A mythical red-light district. Rackhams is a large department store in Birmingham city centre, now owned by House of Fraser. To 'go round the back of Rackhams' meant to work as a prostitute.' (Source)
The second picture shows the January sales in Rackhams in 1977; I love the expression on the face of the woman with the clenched fist!
(Image credits: here and here)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

John Baskerville's Peripatetic Corpse

John Baskerville (1706-1775) is probably best remembered nowadays for the typeface which bears his name, but his genius also extended to stone engraving, japanning, book production, and the first commercial use of wove paper. To my mind, he is very much the archetypal Brummie, despite being born in Wolverley in Worcestershire, but then the growth of Birmingham has usually meant that its inhabitants couldn't ever possibly all be born here. He also added the tradition of religious scepticism to his world-view, which seems to have been one of the things which attracted him to the town. By his own will, after his death his body was buried in unconsecrated ground in the grounds of his own house, Easy Hill – it was on the site of the present Baskerville House, next to the library of Birmingham. I am heavily indebted to F E Pardoe's John Baskerville of Birmingham (Frederick Muller Limited, London, 1975) for the facts here, since that book includes many contemporary sources, which are rare in the accounts of what happened to Baskerville's body.
His house was sold in 1788 to John Ryland, who lived there until the house was wrecked in the Birmingham riots of 1791. The grounds were gradually used for other purposes after this, and the conical building surmounting Baskerville's vault demolished, although his body remained in situ. It was imagined that it had been removed, until it was discovered in 1820:
'…some workmen, who were employed in getting gravel, discovered the leaden coffin. It was however immediately covered up, and remained untouched until a few days since, when, the spot having been recently let for a wharf, it became necessary to remove the coffin, and it was accordingly disinterred, and deposited in Messrs. Gibson and Son's warehouse, where a few individuals were allowed to inspect it. The body was in a singular state of preservation, considering that it had been under ground about 46 years. It was wrapt in a linen shroud, which was very perfect and white, and on the breast lay a branch of laurel, faded, but entire, and firm in texture. There were also leaves, and sprigs of bay and laurel in other parts of the coffin and on the body. The skin on the face was dry but perfect. The eyes were gone, but the eyebrows, eyelashes, lips and teeth remained. The skin on the abdomen and body generally was in the same state with that of the face. An exceedingly offensive and oppressive effluvia, strongly resembling decaying cheese, arose from the body, and rendered it necessary to close the coffin in a short time, and it has since been consigned to his surviving connexions for the purpose of re-interment.' (John Langford: A Century of Birmingham Life, or A Chronicle of Local Events from 1741 to 1841, Birmingham, 1868, volume 2, pp. 358-9, cited in Pardoe, op.cit., p. 149)
Baskerville's body actually remained in the Gibsons' warehouse in Cambridge Street for the next eight years, and they used to charge people 6d to see the body. In August 1829 Baskerville's remains were moved to John Marston's shop in Monmouth Street (near Snow Hill Station), where it was opened again. It was at this time that the sketch which illustrates this post was drawn by local artist Thomas Underwood, and the piece of the shroud taken. These are both preserved in the Library of Birmingham, may be seen on the website, which is where I owe the pictures. Underwood wrote an account of making the sketch:
'This sketch was taken when the remains lay at Marston's the plumber in Monmouth Street (within a few doors of which I was then an apprentice with Mr Josiah Allen, the engraver), where they were on view for some days, and were seen by a number of persons, amongst others by Dr Male and his daughter, who lived at the top of Newhall Street. The effluvium made them ill, and I believe they were laid up for some time with fever. A surgeon in Newhall Street also went, who tore a piece from the shroud, which he incautiously put into his coat pocket and died in a few days. The only ill effect upon myself, who was there upwards of an hour, was a distaste for food for several days. The body was much decomposed, but the teeth were perfect; and the sketch shows correctly what I saw of the remains of the man who was an artist in every sense of the word, and will ever deservedly be famous as one of the worthies of our town, who spread its fame the wide world over.' (cited in Pardoe, op. cit., p. 150)
Mr Marston's request to inter the body in his vault in St Philip's (now Birmingham Cathedral) was refused because of Baskerville's atheism. At length a Mr Knott (or Nott), a bookseller, offered to inter the remains in his vault in Christ Church (in true Birmingham style, this church was where the floozie in the Jacuzzi now is). But there remained the problem of getting permission from Mr Barker, the churchwarden:
'On hearing the request, Mr Barker, with an unmistakeable twinkle of the eye, told Mr Marston it was impossible – "indeed, I keep the keys and at such time of the day they are on the hall table". Mr Marston was not slow to take the hint, and called. The door was opened by the butler, and there were the keys. Mr Marston asked if Mr Barker was at home; the servant said "No", faced about and walked off. Mr Marston took the keys, and the body in its reclosed lead coffin was carried "on a hand barrow covered with a green baize cloth", to its last resting place in Mr Nott's vault in Christ Church.' (W. J. Scofield, letter to the Birmingham Weekly Post, November 22nd, 1879, cited in Pardoe, op. cit., pp. 151-2)
A notice may have been placed in the local press at the time of the reinterment to say that Baskerville had been buried at Netherton, beyond Dudley; whether or not it was, this was the rumour that remained for a long period. The wanderings of the unfortunate Baskerville's corpse were still not over, however. In 1892 a churchwarden of Christ Church, found that there were 136 vaults under the church, but only 135 burials were recorded; under public pressure, the vault was opened. Baskerville's body was once again seen, and was cemented back up in the vault. The legality of this disturbance outraged Victorian propriety to such an extent that questions were asked about the matter in Parliament. Notwithstanding, a plaque to Baskerville, commemorating the identification of his remains, was erected on the wall of the church.
Baskerville's journey had one last step. Christ Church was demolished in 1897. The bodies from the catacombs were removed and since nobody claimed Baskerville's, it was reinterred in the catacombs in Warstone Lane cemetery, where it remains to this day. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A question for the witch to ask herself

A number of years ago I printed out a quote from Z Budapest which impressed me very much at the time (& still does). It is in Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, & Z is talking in the context of her suicide attempt. She describes the witch's approach to life as one where you turn things around to work for you, celebrate what you have done before, & are always asking what you can do next.
I love this spirit of looking for what you can do. I would just presume to add one question to this, which is the question I find I most often ask myself: How am I going to get enjoyment out of this situation? This is more in an attempt to give my life a flavour of child-like experiment & fun, which is the essence of magic, & avoid drudgery & duty, rather than to deliberately make fun of things.
In this spirit, having just got into work, I just went in to say hello to my 'manager' (pictured). Yes, I know she's difficult to see, but I thought she may need some encouragement actually to read my occupational health report, which says there isn't a health problem & she's a f*ckwit. To this end, I took her out of the drinks cabinet, slapped her face till she sobered up & laid her face-up on the altar where she's forced to be confronted with her own idiocy.
When I cheerily said hello, she actually looked at her window as if she wanted to jump out of it. Shame.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Putting the Fun into Fundamentalism

I am in many ways a very fundamentalist witch. Not in the sense of literally believing the ahistorical Old Religion narrative, but in the very literal way I take the major principles of witchcraft as understood by me.
And I think the 'by me' bit is very important; I realise that until events pushed me in the direction of magic, I was looking for a way to come into my own power & authority. Having done so I make no apology for articulating my principles on the basis of my own authority - although a lot are 'traditional' in the sense that modern witchcraft is a movement if chronic non-joiners united in some common experiences. You cannot be a witch alone, that's one of these principles, naturally taking the witch finders' principle & deliberately misunderstanding it to mean that as a witch you are never alone really.
I have recently been reminded of the major witch principle of joy. Yes, sometimes you have to do what you have to do if it gives you no pleasure, & I would tend to phrase the principle in terms of, 'Mother doesn't want me to be unhappy'. Once again this turns much of the dominant religious world on it's head. There are even religious tendencies which accentuate dourness & dreariness. Some Christians don't dance, for example. Ever. On principle. And we are supposed to be the weirdos.
When you are free from the command to be miserable, it frees you up to seek enjoyment in all areas of life. In my occupational health appointment this morning, for example. I simply told the woman what was happening, & as a result the report to my 'manager', with a copy to HR, will say words to the effect of, This isn't a health problem, you should've listened to him in the first place, you f*ckwit.
The illustration, by the way, is my 'manager'. She actually ran away from me the other day (I shouted hello after her, if she wants to play happy families, I'll play happy f*cking families & really worry her), & has obviously taken refuge in the bottle. Shame.