Book Review of Saving Mona Lisa: The Battle to Protect the Louvre and Its Treasures from the Nazis by Gerri Chanel

I’m not usually a fan of World War Two, although I know many others are, so this book was an unusual choice for me. I really brought it as I have visited the Louvre many times and didn’t know the story of how the museum had dealt with keeping the priceless treasures safe during a time of war. After reading this book, which describes the dangerous situations, often at the threat of the lives of museum staff, as well as the many times the art was nearly taken by the Nazis, has made me realise just how much we take these amazing institutions for granted. It does try and focus on a good mixture of the fate of the curators and other museum staff, as well as their families. There is a keen focus on Jacques Jaujard, the Director of the Musee Nationaux, who was instrumental to the evacuation process and dealing with the Nazis once they occupied France. This gives the book a very personal feel and at some points, makes the reader feel very connected with those involved.

Whilst the book doesn’t instantly talk about the evacuation, I thought the background on how the Louvre became a museum, as well as explanations as to why the staff had learnt from previous threats to the museum, all contribute to a greater understanding of the challenges and logistics required to organise such a venture.

Despite the title, the book does cover all the art evacuated from the Louvre, and other French museums in preparation for the Second World War, which had to be spread across many different chateaus for safety reasons. I do like though that it covers all the art works, with mentions of the Mona Lisa sprinkled throughout. Personally I liked this as I felt a bit disappointed at easing the Mona Lisa, as I much preferred other paintings in the museum. This also helps to demonstrate the enormous challenges the staff faced in such an evacuation, especially with the larger paintings and sculptures. Whilst I enjoyed this part, I feel others would find this hard to get into as it is more background context than specifically focuses on the World War Two topic promised. However, if this isn’t to your taste, once you get a few chapters in, you won’t be disappointed.

There are some graphic description of violence and war, which is to be expected considering the topic, but I must admit these parts were hard to read. Although these are important to the narrative and explain the genuine dangers the museum staff had to contend with. I would be prepared for these as I had to take a break from reading at this point. These, alongside mentions of wider war issues, such as food shortages, the difference between Occupied and Vichy France, could have used with better context, but I understand this wasn’t necessarily the scope of this book. However, it could easily be used as a platform for further learning about the period.

I do especially like the epilogue, which mentions what happened to the main people after the end of the war, including the awards given in recognition for the courage, bravery and can do attitude that all museum staff had in the face of great adversity. This was a touching tribute and I must admit I was quite emotional to see the recognition the staff had received. It was a very fitting way to end what is a very fascinating and easy read. Thank you to Gerri Chanel for writing this book in acknowledgment for the achievements of the staff.

I would definitely recommend this book as the easy writing style made it very hard to put down. Whilst it’s a nonfiction book, it very much reads like a novel in its easy style, reading much like an adventure story. This has definitely been one of my favourite books that I’ve read this year. Whenever I am finally able to go back to Paris, especially the Louvre, I will now look on it in a new and grateful light for the sacrifice the staff and their families made at the time to keep the art protected for the world, not just for France.

Walter Tull: Footballer turned Military Officer

As this week marked Remembrance Day, I wanted to share the amazing story of Walter Tull, one of the first black professional footballers and the first black army officer who served, and died, during the First World War. Whilst researching his story in more depth, I must admit I got quite emotional, even more so knowing he hasn’t received recognition since his death in 1918. Thankfully in recent years, there have been attempts to share his story, led by his grandnephews and nieces. I hope this blog post goes some way to adding to that recognition.

Walter Daniel Tull was born to Daniel and Anne Tull on the 28th of April 1888. Daniel was from Barbados and had moved to England at the age of 20. He settled in Folkestone on the Kent Coast, where despite facing initial prejudice due to his skin colour, had a successful career as a carpenter. Whilst attending the Grace Hill Wesleyan Chapel, he met Alice Palmer, and they married in 1880, with the consent of her family.[1] They went on to have six children, one of them being Walter, but sadly their oldest child died within a few weeks.

Walter had a happy beginning to life and the family were known to be close knit. Sadly this wasn’t to last as Alice died of cancer at the age of 42 in May 1895, leaving Daniel as a single parent struggling to look after them and work at the same time.[2] To show how much Daniel was accepted into Alice’s family, a niece of Alice’s called Clara moved in to help look after the children so the family wouldn’t be split up.[3] Daniel and Clara went on to marry and they had a daughter. Again heartbreak reached the family as Daniel died of heart disease in December 1897, leaving Clara to look after six children alone.[4] The situation was dire and Clara had to make the awful decision to place Walter and his brother, Edward, into care. They were placed into a home in East London run by Methodists on Clara’s insistence, hoping that there would be some familiarity in that, no matter how big the difference was in moving from the coast to the dirty and polluted capital.[5]

Walter Tull with Comrades (1914), Wikimedia Commons

Before any application could be sent to the home, the Reverend Stephenson, who ran the home, was made aware of the skin colour of the boys. He responded that it made no difference, they were very welcome, so long as poor relief board could contribute towards their costs, just as they did with the other boys in their care.[6] Care homes at that time made it hard for families to ever take their children back, as it was expected the families would financially compensate the home, the costs of which increased the longer children had been in the home for.[7] The home that Walter and Edward lived in also did this, but was well known for the kindness it was run with. The children well fed and taught trades for the future, as well as encouraging hobbies and sport, including access to their own swimming pool.[8] It was here that Walter found his love of football. He was often a player for the home in local amateur games, with which he competed in more after Edward was adopted by a Glaswegian family.[9]

Walter was first offered a trial by Clapton FC in 1908. This was a good place to start his football career, albeit on an amateur basis, as Clapton was seen as one of the best amateur teams of the time.[10] Walter proved his worth for the team as he helped contribute to them winning the FA Amateur Challenge Cup, London Senior Cup and London Amateur Cup that season.[11] Tottenham soon signed him up as a professional in July 1909, so that he could join them in a football tour of Argentina, before he made his English debut for the team in September.[12] Within a month, he was racially abused by Bristol City supporters at an away match, which made all the national newspapers.[13] Soon after he was dropped from Tottenham’s first team and placed into the reserves, which he did continue to make appearances for, although on a smaller scale than he envisioned. Whilst playing one of these reserve matches against Northampton Town in February 1911, Walter again showed his talent for the game. He scored a hat trick in a 7-1 victory against Northampton.[14] It impressed the club and they signed him up for the next season. He played just over 100 matches for the team before the First World War.[15]

In December 1914, just four months after Britain entered the First World War, Walter enlisted in what was known as the Football Battalion, a battalion made up of footballers from all over the country. Within two months, he was promoted to the position of Lance Corporal, and then promoted again to Lance Sergeant.[16] In May 1916, he was invalided back to England due to shell shock, although the Northampton Mercury newspaper also reported that he was suffering from pneumonia.[17] Despite this, he returned to the fighting and took part in the Battle of Ancre, the first and second Battle of the Somme, Battle of Messines, Battle of Passchendaele and first Battle of Bapaume.[18]

First World War Football Battalion Recruitment Poster, Wikimedia Commons

With the bravery shown in battle, he was again promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 1916. He was recommended for an officer’s training course and became a Second Lieutenant in May 1917 after showing good leadership skills.[19] This went against the Army Council’s rules of only allowing those of European descent of becoming officers. The Council also said that black people should be placed in their own regiments and not mix with white people, but Walter’s example went against this as he first led white men at the Battle of Passchendaele.[20]

Whilst stationed in Northern Italy towards the end of 1917, he successfully led men on night time reconnaissance missions to gather information on German positions. Each time he did this the party came back without any casualties.[21] For this he was mentioned in dispatches and put forward by Major General Sydney Lawford for a military cross, but he didn’t receive one.[22] It’s thought he didn’t receive one as due to the Army Council’s rules.[23]

Walter was killed at Arras on 25th March 1918 during what is known as the German Spring Offensive, which was the German’s last attempt to regain control towards the end of the war. It’s reported that Private Tom Billingham, a former goalkeeper for Leicester Fosse, attempted to bring Walter’s body back to the British lines but was unable to, meaning he was unable to have a grave.[24] His name is instead mentioned on the memorial wall at the Faubourg d’Amiens cemetery in Arras.[25]

Newns, T., Epitaph of Walter Tull at the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton (2009), Wikimedia Commons

That could easily have been the last people heard of Walter, but there have been efforts to increase public awareness of his achievements in football and his sacrifice during the First World War. Northampton Town have a memorial set up outside their stadium, as well as the road that leads to their stadium being named Walter Tull Way.[26] To mark centenary celebrations of the First World War between 2014 and 2018, a special £5 coin and stamp with Walter’s face on were created.[27] Most recently, Walter was finally inducted into the Football Hall of Fame on the 20th of October 2021, with the award being collected by his grandnephew Edward Finlayson, the grandson of Walter’s brother, Edward.[28]

Whilst I am very pleased that Walter’s story has become more well known since the centenary, I must admit I was disappointed to learn that he has still not received a military cross for his bravery, despite the possible reason for his colour not allowing him to be granted one in his lifetime. A petition was set up in 2013 but didn’t receive enough signatures.[29] The granting of a military cross would be the next logical, and deserved, step in remembering the legacy of Walter Tull and the achievements he made despite the obstacles of racism and poverty he had. If any campaign is reignited for Walter to be granted a military cross, I will be right behind it as I feel he definitely deserves one.


[1] Wynn, S., Against All Odds: Walter Tull, The Black Lieutenant (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2018), p. 2

[2] Ibid, p. 3.

[3] Ibid, p. 3.

[4] Ibid, pp. 3-4.

[5] Ibid, p. 4.

[6] Ibid, p. 4.

[7] Ibid, pp. 4-5.

[8] Ibid, p. 7.

[9] Ibid, pp. 7-9.

[10] National Football Museum, ‘Walter Tull Inducted Into Hall of Fame’, 19 October 2021, https://www.nationalfootballmuseum.com/news/walter-tull-induction/

[11] Wynn, S., Against All Odds, p. 9.

[12] Ibid, p. 10.

[13] Ibid, pp. 18-19.

[14] Ibid, p. 21.

[15] Ibid, p. 21.

[16] Ibid, p. 33.

[17] Ibid, p. 36.

[18] Ibid, p. 36.

[19] Ibid, p. 41.

[20] Ibid, p. 41; Aarons, E., ‘Walter Tull: Why the Black Footballing Pioneer was Denied a Military Cross’, The Guardian, 3 February 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/03/walter-tull-black-football-pioneer-military-cross-tottenham

[21] Wynn, S., Against All Odds, pp. 41-42.

[22] Ibid, p. 42.

[23] Conway, R. and Lockwood, D., ‘Walter Tull: The Incredible Story of a Football Pioneer and War Hero’, BBC Sport, 23 March 2018, https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/43504448

[24] Ibid.

[25] Walter Tull Archive, https://waltertullarchive.com/a-brief-history/

[26] Wynn, S., Against All Odds, p. 23.

[27] Aarons, E., ‘Walter Tull: Why the Black Footballing Pioneer was Denied a Military Cross’, The Guardian, 3 February 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/03/walter-tull-black-football-pioneer-military-cross-tottenham

[28] National Football Museum, ‘Walter Tull Inducted Into Hall of Fame’, 19 October 2021, https://www.nationalfootballmuseum.com/news/walter-tull-induction/

[29] Wynn, S., Against All Odds, p. 54.

Update and New Anthony Woodville Content

Things have been a bit hectic here lately with lots of things going off here, so thought it would be best to explain what’s happening. Before I start though, I want to make it clear I will still be blogging, but it may reduce to one post a month from now on. There are still so many stories I want to share, so I will continue doing that for as long as I possibly can do. I also want to take the time to say thank you to all you readers and followers of the blog. It means a lot that people are interested in what I write.

Next week marks the 100th Anniversary of the first Remembrance Day here in the UK and to mark it, I’ll be writing about Walter Tull. He was one of the first black professional footballers and the first black officer in the British Army during World War One. His story is a very special one and it will be an honour to share it with you all.

Newns, T., Epitaph of Walter Tull at the Sixfields Stadium in Northampton (2009), Wikimedia Commons

Some of you regular readers will know about my research into the life of Anthony Woodville, the fifteenth century knight and brother- in-law of Edward IV. I have been doing this on and off for the past 6 or 7 years now, so you can imagine it means a lot to me. Back in June, I was asked, alongside my good friend Michele Schindler, to give a talk on Anthony Woodville and Francis Lovell’s connections to Richard III. This is now available to view on YouTube, so I’m attaching it here for you to watch if you want to.

I was also asked by Rebecca, who runs the Tudor Dynasty podcast, to write an episode on Anthony Woodville. This is now available through any app you listen to podcasts through. If that’s not for you, you can easily listen by using the following link: https://tudorsdynasty.podbean.com/e/a-brief-history-executed-brother-of-a-queen.

There is also some other news that I’ll be announcing next week that I really can’t wait to share with you. It’s been a long time coming, but I hope you’ll be as excited about it as I am. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this content and let me know what you think.

The Great Hall at Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace lays South East of London and is just four miles away from Greenwich. It’s position made it an ideal location for a royal palace, as it was close enough to the capital, but still offered a retreat away from the city. The site was not always a royal palace. It was originally a manor house owned by various bishops until it was gifted to the future Edward II in 1305.[1] Successive monarch spent large amounts of money to alter the palace to their own needs. One of the most considerable alterations was made by Edward IV in the 1470s.

Eltham was one of Edward IV’s favourite residences. With the palace’s proximity to nearby Greenwich Palace, Edward and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, shared their time, together and separately, between the two sites.[2] With the couple spending a lot of their time at the Eltham, upgrades were needed. An extensive building project began, including adding new royal apartments. However, the most significant building added was the Great Hall. Whilst a great hall had existed previously, it didn’t meet Edward’s standard for the rebuild and a new building was required. Before Edward’s time, great halls were places of communal activity throughout the day. However, their function had changed with the addition of separate rooms, reducing the great hall to a space mainly used for large functions and to show off wealth.[3]

The Great Hall was designed by Edward’s chief mason and carpenter in a style influenced by the hall at Westminster, which is now one of the only buildings left of the former Palace of Westminster.[4] It is 101 foot long and 36 foot wide, with a large oak roof and high stained glass windows to let in light. It would have originally been lavishly furnished, especially with tapestries. Motifs of Edward’s emblem, the rose en soleil, or rose with a sun, were placed on both sides of the entranceway into the hall.[5] The emblem was itself a mixture of two Yorkist symbols, the white rose, and the sun in splendour, so there was no denying who’s space a guest was walking into.

Eltham Palace Great Hall, Tom Parnell, Wikimedia Commons

After the rebuilding, Elizabeth gave birth to her second youngest child, Catherine, in Eltham in 1479, and a year later, Edward moved his substantial library there.[6] This showed just how much the couple valued Eltham’s new buildings, but these would pale in comparison to the new Great Hall’s greatest ever event. At Christmas 1482, Edward held a massive feast for over 2,000 guests. Whilst Edward wouldn’t have known at the time, this ostentatious banquet was to be the last time he visited before his death in April 1483.[7]

Sadly for the palace at Eltham, Edward was the last monarch to consider Eltham as a favourite residence. Henry VII only used it as a nursery for this children, meaning that when his son, Henry VIII became king, he no longer used it much, as his favourite palaces were Greenwich and Hampton Court, which also allowed easy access to London.[8] By the time of the Stuart era, the palace was much neglected, so much so in fact that Charles I was the last ever monarch to visit.[9] Things became even worse after the palace was sold to Nathaniel Rich in 1651. He began to demolish buildings and even stripped the Great Hall’s roof of lead!

Jackson, R. J., Eltham Palace, Kent. A paper, etc (1896) British Library

It was in this sorry state the site stayed in for around 200 years before anyone took any notice. It had been converted into farm buildings, with the Great Hall being used as a barn.[10] In a strange way, it was this use as a barn that had kept it still standing, although rather ruined. It’s ruined state was looked on romantically, until protests were made to improve the stability of the building. This was done, but with little love for the surviving buildings for the history they portrayed. This is easily seen when it was also regularly used as a tennis court by those who lived nearby.[11]

It wasn’t until the 1930s, when the millionaire Courtauld family moved in and began restoration work, alongside building a brand new art deco house inspired by the existing architecture, that the building began to be cared for again properly.[12] The stained glass currently in the Great Hall is sadly not original, but was replaced with new glass in the 1930s thanks to the Courtaulds.[13]

Today there is no fear of a return to a state of abandonment for Eltham Palace, not just thanks to the Courtaulds and the threat of bombing during the Second World War. English Heritage, who now own the whole site, originally were given rights to the Great Hall in 1984, and at last it was acknowledged as one of the finest examples of a medieval hall still in existence, for which we also have to thank Edward IV’s design, but also the men who built it.


[1] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[2] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’, https://www.royalpalaces.com/palaces/eltham-palace/

[3] Thompson, M., The Medieval Hall: the Basis of Secular Domestic Life, 600-1600 AD (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1995), p. 153

[4] Exploring London, ‘Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace’, https://exploring-london.com/2018/08/10/treasures-of-london-the-great-hall-at-eltham-palace/

[5] Bedford, K., Eltham Through Time (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2013)

[6] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’, https://www.royalpalaces.com/palaces/eltham-palace/

[7] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Royal Palaces, ‘Eltham Palace’, https://www.royalpalaces.com/palaces/eltham-palace/

[11] English Heritage, ‘Eltham Palace and Gardens’, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/history/

[12] Ibid

[13] Exploring London, ‘Treasures of London – The Great Hall at Eltham Palace’, https://exploring-london.com/2018/08/10/treasures-of-london-the-great-hall-at-eltham-palace/

Irena Sendler: The Polish Woman who helped save Jewish Children during World War Two

In June of this year, a statue was unveiled in Newark in Nottinghamshire to a Polish woman who played a hugely important role during World War Two. The woman was Irena Sendler, who helped to rescue an estimated 2,500 children from the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. It may sound a little odd that Newark was chosen for the site of the statue, but Newark has had many Polish connections. The statue itself is in a park close to the Polish cemetery in the town, where the bodies of many Polish airmen who were stationed in Newark during the Second World War.[1] I had never heard of the brave and heroic efforts of Irena and her colleagues, but after looking more into her story, I feel it should be shared more. The statue in Newark also aims to share her amazing story.

Irena was born as Irena Krzyzanowska on the 15th of February 1910 to Dr Stanislaw Krzyzanowski and his wife, Helen. Stanislaw died of typhus when Irena was 7, after contracting it from patients he was treating. He had decided to treat the patients, many of them Jews, as other doctors had refused to treat them for fear of catching typhus.[2] In recognition for the treatment offered, Jewish community leaders offered to pay for Irena’s education.[3] This was politely turned down, but Irena did go on to study Literature at Warsaw University. Whilst at university, she became opposed to the Jewish segregation policy that existed in some pre-war Polish universities. In protest, she defaced her grade card and was suspended for three years.[4]

Irena Sendler in 1942, Wikimedia Commons

Following her suspension, she tried to apply for teaching roles, but was always rejected due to Warsaw University warning of her previous behaviour.[5] Instead, she chose to become a social worker and wanted to improve people’s standards of living. When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, she began offering food and shelter to Jews at risk. This was only able to continue until 1940, when the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw was erected, which completely segregated the Jewish community. As she couldn’t openly assist the Jewish community as she had done previously, she decided to help orphaned Jewish children, which was a common occurrence with disease rife in the Ghetto. As a social worker, she was able to get papers to enter the Ghetto, with much assistance from a worker within the Contagious Disease Department.[6]

She became a member of the Zegota, a code name for the Council to Aid Jews, a secret organisation set up by the exiled Polish Government to help Jews in Poland find safety.[7] The organisation was the most consistently organised resistance group in operation throughout the Second World War, and encouraged Christians and Jews alike to offer whatever aid they could to Jews at risk of their lives.[8] Irena quickly became the person in charge of the children’s division of the Zegota. Her and her network devised many different methods to smuggle the children out of the Ghetto, including hiding children in ambulances and in trunks or sacks, or through sewers and other secret passageways.[9] One of the main ones used was a church that was next to the Ghetto. It was known as a ‘sealed’ entrance, or a sort of barrier, as it had two gates, one that led to the Ghetto, and another that led to other parts of Warsaw. Children would be smuggled in if they had good enough Polish and could recite some Christian prayers.[10]

The children who were smuggled out of the Ghetto were handed over by their families with the hopes of saving them from death. Irena ensured that all the families the Jewish children lived with during the war knew their birth families had been promised the children would be returned to them when the war ended.[11] Children who could not be found a family were housed in orphanages run by nuns, which was the next safest place for them.[12] The children were given a new identity with Christian names to hide them from the Germans and Irena had kept coded information on their birth identities and families buried in jars and bottles underneath a neighbours’ apple tree to hide them from discovery.[13] The hiding place was only just across the road from a German barracks.[14]

Irena Sendler in 2005, Wikimedia Commons

Irena’s life was just as in danger as the families who had taken the Jewish children in. In October 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo. She was constantly questioned and tortured in order to give up information on the Zegota network. Despite having her legs and feet broken, she only ever gave up false information her and her associates had agreed upon if they were ever captured.[15] Once she had given this information, she was told she would be shot to death. On the day of her execution, she was taken into a room by her execution on the basis of last minute questioning, but in reality he let her go as he had been bribed by the Zegota.[16] The next day, posters were put up all over Warsaw saying she had been killed, so the man who helped her escape must have convinced the Germans that he had done his duty. I hope he was able to survive as he would have been killed for what he had done.

For the rest of the war, Irena had to live in hiding, just has the children she had saved had had to do. When the war ended, she dug up the bottles with the children’s identities and tried to trace their a living parent. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them had been killed at Treblinka death camp, but the amount of children she had saved had been great.[17] Her compassionate nature continued with her career as a social worker. She continued to help set up and run care homes and orphanages.[18]

Tree honouring Irena in The Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, Wikimedia Commons

Her work rescuing Jewish children had been largely forgotten, other than the immediate recognition from the Polish government straight after the war, and a tree planted in The Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, in 1965, which honours individuals who helped the Jews during the Holocaust.[19] It wasn’t until 4 students from America contacted Irena in 2001 about her story that the truth in its entirety was discovered. Irena’s response was emotion, but she admitted it had been overshadowed by the fact she was one of the only ones among her colleagues left who was left to receive the recognition and honour given to their life saving work.[20] Irena died in 2008 at the age of 98, but I hope this, alongside other attempts, such as the statue in Newark, raise the profile of the importance and heroism of Irena and her network of colleagues and most significantly, the amount of gratitude they should be given for the lives they saved by risking their own.


[1] ‘Polish humanitarian hero Irena Sendler had her statue officially unveiled at Newark’s Fountain Gardens on London Road after a small COVID-secure ceremony this Saturday’, Radio Newark, 28 June 2021, https://www.radionewark.co.uk/news/local-news/polish-humanitarian-hero-irena-sendler-had-her-statue-officially-unveiled-at-newarks-fountain-gardens-on-london-road-after-a-small-covid-secure-ceremony-this-saturday-26-june-2021/

[2] Life in a Jar: the Irena Sendler Project, https://irenasendler.org/

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] ‘Irena Sendler was born 111 years ago’, The International Roul Wallenburg Foundation, 15 Feb 2021, https://www.raoulwallenberg.net/general/irena-sendler-was-born-111-years-ago/

[6] Life in a Jar: the Irena Sendler Project, https://irenasendler.org/

[7] ‘Jewish Resistance: Konrad Żegota Committee’, Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-379-egota

[8] Ibid

[9] Life in a Jar: the Irena Sendler Project, https://irenasendler.org/

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] ‘Irena Sendler was born 111 years ago’, The International Roul Wallenburg Foundation, 15 Feb 2021, https://www.raoulwallenberg.net/general/irena-sendler-was-born-111-years-ago/

[13] Ibid

[14] ‘Irena Sendler was born 111 years ago’, The International Roul Wallenburg Foundation, 15 Feb 2021, https://www.raoulwallenberg.net/general/irena-sendler-was-born-111-years-ago/

[15] Life in a Jar: the Irena Sendler Project, https://irenasendler.org/

[16] Ibid

[17] Ibid

[18] ‘Irena Sendler was born 111 years ago’, The International Roul Wallenburg Foundation, 15 Feb 2021, https://www.raoulwallenberg.net/general/irena-sendler-was-born-111-years-ago/

[19] ‘Polish humanitarian hero Irena Sendler had her statue officially unveiled at Newark’s Fountain Gardens on London Road after a small COVID-secure ceremony this Saturday’, Radio Newark, 28 June 2021, https://www.radionewark.co.uk/news/local-news/polish-humanitarian-hero-irena-sendler-had-her-statue-officially-unveiled-at-newarks-fountain-gardens-on-london-road-after-a-small-covid-secure-ceremony-this-saturday-26-june-2021/

[20] Life in a Jar: the Irena Sendler Project, https://irenasendler.org/

3 Year Anniversary and Jane Austen’s Bath

This week marked the three anniversary of the blog. I would just to take the chance to thank all the followers, readers and supporters over those three years. It honestly means a lot that people read and love the content I produce. Whilst this is a hobby, history, and sharing it with others, is my passion. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the stories I write about for many more years to come.

I have some podcast contributions coming up over the next few months, which I can’t wait to share with you. They will focus on my research into the life of Anthony Woodville, which if you’re a regular follower of the blog, you’ll know I’ve been doing for many years now. It’s very exciting and I’m just glad to share his life with people as he is definitely an underrated figure of the Wars of the Roses.

Last week I went on my first holiday since the pandemic started. We went to the lovely Georgian city of Bath. I last went for a long weekend in the summer of 2019, so it was good to spend a bit more time there to explore the area more. The oldest surviving outdoor swimming pool in the UK, Cleveland Pools, is also in Bath. If you would like to learn more, feel free to read a previous post I did on the swimming pool by clicking here.

Bath is famous for it’s surviving Georgian architecture, as well as being the home of Jane Austen for many years after her father retired from his role as Rector of Steventon in 1801. She is the main reason for our trip. We had tickets to take part in the promenade, just one of many events of the Jane Austen Festival. We were due to go last year, but like many other things, it was cancelled. I can tell you though, it was well worth the wait and all the preparation! My sister sewed both of our costumes, other than a velvet jacket I wore. Her effort truly paid off and I think she did amazingly. The route we took was around an hour’s walk from the Holbourne Museum, which doubles as Lady Danbury’s house in Bridgerton, to the Parade Gardens, which over look the River Avon.

Just some of the participants of the promenade, Author’s own image

There were around 300 or more people all in Regency/Late Georgian costume and it was certainly a fantastic sight to see! I would totally recommend visiting Bath during the Jane Austen Festival, which takes place for 10 days, starting from the second weekend in September. If participating isn’t your thing, I would certainly recommend lining the parade route for a look. As many people I know have said, it was like looking at a period drama. We’re hoping to return next year and take part again, also hopefully joining in with the Country Ball where you can participate in some Regency dancing. If Jane Austen is someone you are interested in, I wrote a short post about the significance her writing brought to wounded and fighting soldiers during World War One. If you would like to learn more, please click here.

The last part of my trip I would like to mention is our visit to the village of Lacock. Lacock is a National Trust village that still looks much as it would have done around 300 years ago or more. It’s looked after by the National Trust, but people still live in it. However, it’s most famous for appearing in many period dramas. My favourite ones that have been filmed here are Downton Abbey and Cranford. Most importantly, it played the part of Meryton in Colin Firth adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Lacock Abbey on the edge of the village was once the home of the Fox Talbot family. Henry Fox Talbot was one of the pioneers of photography. He created the earliest surviving photonegative in 1835.

Jennifer Ehle and Adrian Lukis as Elizabeth Bennet and George Wickham in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The village shown as Meryton is Lacock in Wiltshire

To learn more about the Jane Austen Festival and Lacock Village and Abbey, please click the following links:

Lacock Village and Abbey

Jane Austen Festival

The Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers

It’s funny where you find something you didn’t know before. Just like many others during the pandemic, I’ve spent more time rewatching old TV programmes. Recently I watched some episodes of Auf Weidersehen Pet, an old British comedy about a group of labourers from the North East of England who look for building work abroad. Some of the last episodes of the programme, which are about 20 years old, have the characters helping a Native American tribe to build a bridge, which they brought from England, on land on their reservation. I had no idea before watching these episodes, despite being fascinated by Native American history (which if you’re a regular reader, you’ll have guessed by now), that Native Americans were fundamental in constructing high-rise buildings. So I decided to do some research into this and the story behind it is amazing.

The Mohawks, who are part of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, are known in their mother tongue as Mohowawogs. This was anglicized to Mohawks by Europeans.[1] They traditionally lived along the Hudson River, which straddles the American/Canadian border. Prior to European settlers coming to the area, their lands made up much of what is now known as New England, but as with all Native Americans, they have been forced onto reservations. The Mohawks now mainly live on the Kahnawake Reservation in Quebec, which lays on the shore of the St Laurence River, just outside of Montreal. Their association with building steel bridges and skyscrapers began by accident.

The Wreckage of the Quebec Bridge Collapse of 1907 in Holgate, Henry; Derry, John, G. G.; Galbraith, John, Royal Commission Quebec Bridge Inquiry Report, Sessional Paper No 154. S.E. Dawson printer to the King Ottawa. Appendix 19, figure 20, Wikimedia Commons

In 1886, the Dominion Bridge Company began work on a bridge over the St Laurence River for the Canadian Pacific Railway.[2] As the bridge was to be built on Mohawk land, permission to build the bridge relied upon some of the Mohawk men being employed by the company. Initially they were used as day labourers to suppliers.[3] Many of those employed were young men who attempted to climb the structure on their lunch breaks, proving that they were more than adept to working at height. This meant the company promoted them to working on the bridge. They realised the advantages of continuing in this type of employment would include a stable job and good wages to support their families. However, this would also include long periods away from home.

On 29 August 1907, the Quebec Bridge collapsed, killing 96 men who were working on it, 35 of which were Mohawks. In fact, only 11 men were ever recovered alive following the collapse.[4] The disaster had been caused due to financial issues with Quebec Bridge Company who were in charge of the bridge’s construction. The company had purposefully chosen a cheaper design that required less steel than was necessary for a bridge of its size, meaning it couldn’t take the weight needed.[5] The bodies of the Mohawks who sadly lost their lives were returned to the Kahnawake Reservation. Their graves were marked with steel beams to show how they had died, a tradition which is still continued.[6]

New York skyscrapers from Jersey City (1908), Library of National Congress, Wikimedia Commons

Whilst the dangers of working at height wouldn’t have been lost on the Mohawks or any of the other men working on such projects, a decision was made to stop such large scale deaths from happening again. The Mohawk women proposed that any men wishing to become steelworkers should be split into smaller groups to work on different projects, rather than only focusing on one.[7] With this decision, the Mohawks were able to work on many different building projects around America. However, they mostly concentrated on the many skyscrapers that were being built in New York in the early 20th century. They are known to have worked in the city as early as 1901, but it was only from the 1920s that they began to work on the numerous high-rise buildings that the city became known for.[8]

Mohawks have helped construct some of the most iconic buildings in New York. Here is a list of just some of them: Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, World Trade Centre, Chrysler Building, United Nations Secretariat Building and Madison Square Gardens.[9] It’s amazing to realise just how much the building of skyscrapers at this time relied upon not just Native Americans, but also other emigrants. It is thought that more than a dozen ethnicities worked on skyscrapers during their construction.[10] Perhaps the Mohawks were so good at it as they were a people who “fostered cooperation and community effort”, which can be seen in the gangs they worked with on the construction sites.[11] We have all probably seen that most famous photograph of workers eating their lunch on a girder hanging in the sky. At least three of them men in that picture are Mohawk.[12]

Lunch atop a Skyscraper, published in the New York Herald-Tribune, Oct2 1932, Wikimedia Commons

As it’s coming up to the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, I feel it rather appropriate to talk about the Mohawks role on that fateful day. As previously mentioned, many had helped build the Twin Towers during their construction between 1968 and 1972. Around 500 men worked on the construction, 200 of which were Mohawks.[13] The last girder put in place in skyscrapers in New York are usually signed by the people working on it. In the case of the World Trade Centre, it was a Mohawk gang.[14] There were also other buildings in the complex added after this date. However, many rushed to the World Trade Centre as they were working on nearby building sites. They offered help to survivors and also helped in the clearing of wreckage and search for victims following the attack.[15] For this reason, I feel it rather fitting that many of them then went on to work on the Freedom Tower and memorial that are now on the site of the World Trade Centre.[16]

Many Mohawks still continue to work in steel construction. Following the demand for them in New York, many chose to move their families to New York as it was around a 12 hour journey from Kahnawake to the city. They mainly lived around 4th Avenue and many grocery stores selling traditional Native foods and church that spoke in their native tongue also tended to their needs.[17] However, since a freeway/motorway was built in the 1970s, many chose to move back to their homeland as the commute was made easier.[18]

I hope that as the anniversary for both the Quebec Bridge disaster and 9/11 are both coming up, that this post has helped show the reliance the steel construction industry has had (and continues to have) on the Mohawks. At the time of the Quebec Bridge disaster, none of the Mohawk fatalities were ever mentioned in the news.[19] I hope that this goes at least some wat to highlight the legacy they, and all those Mohawks who have worked on these important projects, have left us with.


[1] Weitzman, D., Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City (New York: Roaring Brook Pres, 2010), p. 4.

[2] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/;  Adams, C., ‘Why Do So Many Native Americans Work on Skyscrapers’, Straight Dope, https://www.straightdope.com/21341828/why-do-so-many-native-americans-work-on-skyscrapers

[3] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[4] University of North Carolina, The Collapse of the Quebec Bridge, 1907, https://eng-resources.uncc.edu/failurecasestudies/bridge-failure-cases/the-collapse-of-the-quebec-bridge-1907/

[5] ‘The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[6] Adams, C., ‘Why Do So Many Native Americans Work on Skyscrapers’, Straight Dope, https://www.straightdope.com/21341828/why-do-so-many-native-americans-work-on-skyscrapers

[7] ‘The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[8] ‘The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html; Adams, C., ‘Why Do So Many Native Americans Work on Skyscrapers’, Straight Dope, https://www.straightdope.com/21341828/why-do-so-many-native-americans-work-on-skyscrapers

[9]The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html; Budd, J., ‘High and Mighty’, The Guardian, 19 June 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/jun/19/artsfeatures1

[10] Korum, J. J., The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940 (Boston: Branden Books, 2008)

[11] Weitzman, D., Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City (New York: Roaring Brook Pres, 2010), p. 4.

[12] Budd, J., ‘High and Mighty’, The Guardian, 19 June 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2002/jun/19/artsfeatures1

[13] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[14] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[15] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html; Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[16] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

[17] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[18] The Mohawks who Built Manhattan’, http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html

[19] Bjornland, K., ‘Honouring Native Americans Who Built Skyscrapers and Bridges’, The Daily Gazette, 16 April 2017, https://dailygazette.com/2017/04/16/honoring-native-americans-who-built-skyscrapers-bridges/

New and Exciting Updates

I don’t usually write many personal posts on the blog, but I thought that this would be worth sharing with all of you blog followers. In case you don’t follow me on social media, there have been quite a few exciting updates recently that I want to share. Hopefully it’s the sign of good things to come.

I have just finished a guest post for the Ministry of History. I feel quite privileged to have been asked to write yet another guest post for someone else’s blog. I have written quite a few now and I always enjoy it and see it as a lovely opportunity to collaborate with other history bloggers. I haven’t done one before for that particular website, but as the site also specialises in telling lesser known parts of history, I thought it was good to write about the Matchgirls Strike of 1888.

Herbert Burrows and Annie Besant, social campaigners, together with Matchgirls Strike Committee in 1888, Wikimedia Commons

The girls and young women who went on strike worked for the Bryant and May match factories in London. The conditions and pay were beyond awful. The girls even marched to Parliament to get their voices heard. The industrial action they took helped to make their lives better and most importantly, raise awareness of the dangerous conditions and poverty they lived and worked in. If you would like to learn more, you can find the post here.

In terms of my Anthony Woodville research, things have been a little slow going as I’m reaching the end of my work contract as a project archives assistant, so I’m putting a lot of effort into that. Sadly a family bereavement has also meant any personal research has had to be put on the backburner. However, I have kindly been invited to be a guest on a popular podcast to talk about William Caxton the book printer and translator during the reign of Edward IV, and of course not forgetting Anthony’s involvement as patron and translator himself.

William Caxton showing the first page from his printing press to King Edward IV, Cassell’s Illustrated History of England (1909), British Library

I haven’t appeared on a podcast before, although I have listened to a few myself, so it feels kind of surreal to have been invited. Plus the podcast has had some very prominent and already well established historians. I literally can’t quite believe that I have been asked to appear, so this is so exciting to me. I will also be writing up a short everything you need to know about Anthony Woodville type post to accompany the podcast, so look out for those when it’s all available.

In the meantime, I just want to take the opportunity to thank you all for continuing to support and read the blog. The blog has just has it’s best ever month in terms of views since I started it in 2018, for which I am eternally grateful. It’s great to know that people love what I produce as sharing history has become a passionate hobby of mine. Hopefully I’ll be able to share more with you after the podcast things are finished, and I have some very special stories coming up.

The Town of Reading in The Wars of the Roses- Guest Post by Jo Romero

In this latest guest post, I welcome back Jo Romero. You can view her previous post on a riot, dog and the George Hotel in Reading here.

Jo has been obsessed with history for as long as she can remember and gained her History degree at the University of Hull. She has been published in The Historians magazine and runs the blog Love British History where she shares articles, travel and historic sketches.

The Wars of the Roses was defined by the fight for power between Yorkists and Lancastrians and tales of castles, battles and political twists. But how far was a rural, textile-producing town in Berkshire involved in these turbulent events of the fifteenth century?

Reading was a modest but busy town, with a population of around 2,000-3,000 at the mid-fifteenth century.(1) A huddle of timber-framed buildings housed clothiers, butchers, fishmongers and cooks. Its river snaked through the town, and the spires of three Medieval churches pierced its sky.

Taverns and ale houses nudged wonkily into the streets, with names like The Bell, The Bear and The George. These establishments enjoyed custom not only from work-weary locals, but also from pilgrims visiting the town’s abbey, founded in 1121 by Henry I. There were royal visits too, along with a large and wealthy entourage.

And it was here, while locals washed down ale at taverns and haggled over prices at the market, that events concerning the security of the unstable crown played out just yards away.

When plague threatened London, parliament sometimes gathered in the leafier, safer suburbs of Reading Abbey. Henry VI was here in 1451, 1452 and 1453, and Edward IV in 1464 and 1467.(2) Henry VII visited in 1486.

It was during one visit in 1452 that Henry VI requested 13,000 archers for the defence of his realm.(3) Although this was three years before the 1455 ‘official’ start date of the Wars of the Roses, by the time Henry added his seal to this act he and his advisers would have known trouble was brewing: Gascony had been lost, nobles struggled for control over the king and his closest adviser William de la Pole had been beheaded at sea in 1450. The king’s request was enacted at the end of 1457.(4)

Reading Abbey ruins, © Jo Romero

As the Wars progressed, Reading itself provided military support to the crown. In November 1462, The Corporation Diary records payment for arrows and “sondyers ye last went to the king”. It’s possible that these soldiers were at The Battle of Towton in March 1461. We know that Edward IV’s army was made up of many supporters from the south and south east and it’s probable that Reading townspeople made up some of the 20,000 Yorkist troops that fought there. The battle site would have been a five-day ride from Reading but we know that soldiers did attend from Berkshire and as far as Dorset.(5)

Although 1487 marks the Battle of Stoke, considered by many the end of the Wars of the Roses, an inventory of Reading’s armour four months later could hint that Henry still had concerns.(6) The town didn’t routinely inspect its armour and it’s possible that this October inventory was driven by a real or perceived threat to royal control. Two years into Henry VII’s reign, security was far from watertight. A new pretender, Perkin Warbeck, would emerge in 1491 and Henry faced trouble in France as well as Scotland in the coming years. While town officials counted steel-plated vests and chain mail in Reading’s town centre, Lambert Simnel and the 1486 Lovell Conspiracy would also have been fresh in Henry’s mind. As historian Thomas Penn writes about the years following Stoke, “old loyalties simmered, and the after-shocks of rebellion rippled on”.(7)

But after-shocks rippled in Reading long before The Battle of Stoke.

In September 1464, Edward IV chose Reading Abbey to publicly introduce his new, secret bride, Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Lord Rivers. They had married despite him being in negotiations to marry the French princess Bona of Savoy. Elizabeth was led through the abbey past stunned nobles within its cool, stone walls with Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (‘The Kingmaker’) by her side. It’s easy to imagine him barely concealing his rage after working to negotiate a politically advantageous European match for the king and not having been consulted on the secret Woodville marriage. By February it was reported that “King Edward and the Earl of Warwick have come to very great division and war together.”(8)

The Marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, from the Anciennes Chroniques, Jean de Wavrin, c1470-1480. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reading’s streets buzzed with gossip about the wedding, and there were even plots within the town to have the union dissolved. A Milanese ambassador wrote: “The greater part of the lords and the people in general seem very much dissatisfied at this, and for the sake of finding means to annul it, all the nobles are holding great consultations in the town of Reading, where the king is.”(9) Taverns and street corners around Reading may have been alive then with the angry whispers of exasperated nobles.

Reading Abbey also saw the rise of Elizabeth Woodville’s sister, Margaret, when she married Thomas Fitzalan, heir to the Earl of Arundel here, also in 1464. As the 25-year old Margaret stood solemnly at the abbey’s altar next to her new husband, the October light glinting through the stained glass window, she must have felt stunned: elevated to Countess, Margaret would have four children and lived into her early fifties.(10)

It wasn’t all fairytales and weddings, however. Reading was also the scene of an act of treason that gives an insight into one of the root causes of the conflict.

In 1444, Thomas Kerver walked through the church of Reading abbey with three men, uttering ‘treasonous proposals’ about the government of Henry VI. He was quickly arrested and charged with having “falsely and traitorously… schemed, imagined, encompassed, wished and desired the death and destruction of the king.”(11) Kerver’s sentence was death, although Henry reduced it at the last minute to imprisonment. Kerver’s actions reveal that it wasn’t just the nobility who were disillusioned with Henry as a ruler but a deep-seated disappointment simmered among his subjects, too.

Lastly, Reading has one more, macabre link to the Wars of the Roses.

In 1538 John London wrote to Thomas Cromwell that the canon at Caversham Priory  “was accustomed to show many pretty relics, among others the holy dagger that killed King Henry… all these… my servant will bring your Lordship next week.”(12)

There was a reason for glorifying this grisly piece of criminal evidence. Henry VI was said to have been murdered at the Tower of London in 1471. Despite his failings in kingship, he was posthumously adopted as a martyr and considered responsible for a number of miracles, including curing the madness of Geoffrey Braunston’s wife in 1486, restoring Beatrice Shirley from the dead in 1489 and William Cheshire, who “having made a vow to visit the blessed King Henry, was immediately made glad by the restoration of his lost eye.”(13)

Unfortunately, we have no idea what happened to Caversham’s holy dagger after it was spirited out of Reading by London’s servant, or the specific miracles it was said to perform.

At first glance then, it would seem that a small cloth-producing town in the Thames Valley 40 miles from the nearest battle and 45 miles from Westminster would have been insignificant to the development of the Wars of the Roses. But evidence points to Reading’s involvement in royal (and secret) weddings, militia, political tensions – and of course the prized relic: the miracle-performing dagger that was said to have killed a fragile but worshipped king.

Notes

1 Joan Dils, Reading: A History. Carnegie Publishing, 2019. Dils uses the 1381 and 1525 tax records to estimate a population of 1,300 in 1381 and 3,400 in 1525. Our figure for the mid-fifteenth century would be somewhere in the middle of these estimates. Page 44.

2 Ibid., p.31. Also Coates, in his History and Antiquities of Reading (1802) adds that Henry VI held parliament here in 1451 and 1452. page 253.

3 Charles Coates, Ibid., page 253.

4 Dan Spencer, The Castle in the Wars of the Roses. Pen and Sword Publishing, 2020.

5 Adrian Waite lists those whose property was confiscated after supporting the Lancastrian side after the Battle of Towton, including ‘Thomas Manning, of New Windsor in Berkshire’. AW History, accessed 18th July 2021.

6 JM Guiding, Reading Records: Diary of the Corporation, vol. 1. J Parker, 1892. p85

7 Thomas Penn, Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England, Penguin, 2012 page 24.

8 ‘Milan: 1465’, in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385-1618, ed. Allen B Hinds (London, 1912), pp. 115-117. British History Online [accessed 18 July 2021].

9Milan: 1464′, in Calendar of State Papers and Manuscripts in the Archives and Collections of Milan 1385-1618, ed. Allen B Hinds (London, 1912), pp. 110-114. British History Online [accessed 18 July 2021].

10 The Peerage, Margaret Fitzalan, accessed 18 July 2021.

11 C.A.F. Meekings, Thomas Kerver’s Case,1441, The English Historical Review, Volume XC, Issue CCCLV, April 1975, Pages 331–346.

12 ‘Henry VIII: September 1538 16-20’, inLetters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 13 Part 2, August-December 1538, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1893), pp. 141-154. British History Online[accessed 18 July 2021].

13 The Miracles of King Henry VI: being an account and translation of twenty-three miracles … with introductions by Father Ronald Knox and Shane Leslie. CUP archive. 1923. Pages 39, 50 and 73.

Cleveland Pools, Bath: The Oldest Outdoor Swimming Pool in Britain

Bath is a wonderful example of Georgian period architecture. I visited for the first time for a long weekend in 2019. We were meant to be going back last year for a full week but with the pandemic, will be going in September instead. The city has had a long association with water an bathing. The Romans occupied the city and named it Aquae Sulis, meaning the Waters of Sulis, a British goddess who the Romans identified as a version of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and battle strategy.[1] The site is one of the most complete Roman bathing complexes in the world, so it’s no wonder that it’s now part of a World Heritage Site.

Roman Baths in Bath, 2019 (Author’s Own Image)

The city’s waters were still a huge draw for people in the Georgian era. During this time, doctors were advising their patients to take bath in mineral rich waters for medical reasons. The Pump Rooms were a place to receive medical treatment, but also a place for those in fashionable society to be seen. However, despite the city’s rich and long heritage with bathing, I had no idea until recently that that Cleveland Pools existed, despite it being the UK’s only surviving Georgian era open-air swimming pool.[2]

Building on the Bath’s reputation for its water, as well as the banning of nude bathing in the River Avon in 1801, it was decided to build a subscription pool for swimming in.[3] The design was meant to reflect the Georgian style most prominent in the area, which explains the crescent shape of the original changing rooms. It looks like a mini version of the famous Royal Crescent on the other side of the River Avon to the Pools.[4] It was built in 1815 and was originally marketed as a place for the ‘gentleman of Bath’.[5] It is believed that the pool, along with the caretaker’s cottage, were built by a local builder called Newton, following a design created by local architect, John Pinch.[6] Water originally pooled in from the River Avon which was located next to the pools.[7]

Royal Crescent, Bath, 2019 (Author’s Own Image)

The pool was remained quite popular and after much demand, a ladies pool was added following renovations in 1827, including a perpetual shower bath, although I’m not quite sure what one of those is.[8] The appeal to families continued well into the Victorian period, when the pool was once again expanded to include a children’s pool.[9] It was certainly a place to go during for the Victorians as in 1867, a man named Mr W. Evans was in charge and he sought to teach swimming at the pools, as well as having entertaining gala parties with his pet baboon.[10]

Sadly though, the popularity of Cleveland Pools was not to last. It went through many hands from the end of the nineteenth century through to the late twentieth century. This is probably why it still remained largely subscription run, other than for a brief period in 1901 when entry was free.[11] Finally in 1984, it closed as the competition with indoor pools became too great. Following closure, it was briefly turned into a trout farm.[12] When this ended, it was left in a state of disrepair.

Cleveland Pools, Bath, from river side of lower pool, Rwendland (2010), Wikimedia Commons

In 2003, it was put up for sale by the Local Council, who then owned it, at the same time it was placed on English Heritage’s At Risk Register.[13] In 2004, the Cleveland Pools Trust was established to try and save the building. In 2006, Cleveland Pools’ listed status was upgraded from Grade II status to Grade II*.[14] Grade II buildings are classed as those of national importance and of special interest, whereas Grade II* buildings are classed as ones of specific importance that are of greater importance than those in Grade II.[15]

Thankfully, that is not the end of Cleveland Pools. After 17 years of campaigning for recognition and money for restoration, the Trust was given money back in Spring. It received £4.7 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.[16] Building work also started in the Spring, and it’s hoped that people will be able to swim there from 2022. It is somewhat of a hidden gem and I hope that this lovely and important site finally gets the love it once had. I hope that I will be able to visit when the site is fully renovated and brought up to scratch again.

If you would like to know more about Cleveland Pools, do take a look at their website, where they post updates on how the building is going. Check it out here.


[1] Bath’s Historic Venues, Roman Bath’s History, https://www.bathvenues.co.uk/roman-baths-history

[2] Visit Bath, Cleveland Pools, https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/cleveland-pools/

[3] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[4] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[5] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[6] English Heritage, Cleveland Baths, https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1396146

[7] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[8] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[9] Visit Bath, Cleveland Pools, https://visitbath.co.uk/listings/single/cleveland-pools/

[10] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[11] Historic Pools of Britain, Cleveland Pools, Bath, https://historicpools.org.uk/member_pools/cleveland-pools-bath/

[12] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[13] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[14] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/

[15] British Listed Buildings, What Are Listed Buildings, https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/site/about-listed-buildings/#.YOHja-hKhPY

[16] Cleveland Pools, https://www.clevelandpools.org.uk/