Whistler’s Woman in White

From February to May 2022, the Royal Academy of Arts explored the work of James McNeill Whistler, particularly those featuring a certain red-haired woman. Whistler’s paintings of Joanna Hiffernan helped him forge his reputation as one of the best-known names of the late 19th-century Aesthetic Movement. Rather than solely focusing on the artist, the RA uncovered the role Hiffernan played in Whistler’s life and her influence on future artists, particularly the Pre-Raphaelites.

Hiffernan’s reputation as the “Woman in White” developed after posing for Whistler’s painting The White Girl (1861-63), later renamed Symphony in White, No 1. Two more Symphonies in White followed, which inspired other artists to paint similar scenes. Although Hiffernan posed for Whistler on several occasions, her name remained synonymous with the figure in a white cambric dress.

Joanna Hiffernan was born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1843, but moved with her family to London at the age of two to avoid the Irish Potato Famine. Her father, Patrick Hiffernan, taught penmanship but had a reputation for being a stereotypical Irish drunkard. Hiffernan received a modest education, evidenced by her letters full of spelling errors.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) was born in Massachusetts, USA, to Anna McNeill (1804-81) and George Washington Whistler (1800-49). His mother is the subject of one of Whistler’s most famous paintings, Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, more commonly known as Whistler’s Mother (1871). His father worked as a railroad engineer and is credited with introducing the steam whistle to American trains. In 1843, Whistler moved to St Petersburg, Russia, where his father was hired by Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855) to build the Saint Petersburg-Moscow Railway.

In Russia, Whistler attended the Imperial Academy of Arts, and when he was not studying, he spent time visiting family in London. Two years before the completion of the Saint Petersburg-Moscow Railway, Whistler’s father contracted cholera and passed away. At 15 years old, Whistler only had vague notions about becoming an artist, so he returned to America with his mother, who sent him to Christ Church Hall School, hoping he would become a minister.

Spending more time with his sketchbook than studying, Whistler decided a career in religion was not for him, so he enrolled in the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. This proved fruitless, and Whistler’s inability to take orders from authority resulted in his dismissal. For a while, Whistler worked as a draftsman, mapping the US coast for military purposes. Whilst this work was tedious, Whistler learned the technique of etching, which proved beneficial in his future career as an artist.

In 1855, Whistler left America and settled in Paris, where he adopted the lifestyle of a bohemian artist. He briefly studied at the Ecole Impériale and received tuition from the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre (1806-74), who taught Whistler the importance of line and tonal harmony. Whistler became friends with the French painter Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), who introduced him to the circle of Gustave Courbet (1819-77). As the leader of the Realism movement, Courbet influenced Whistler and encouraged him to start painting professionally.

In 1858, Whistler visited his half-sister Deborah Haden in London, where he eventually took up accommodation in Rotherhithe, near the River Thames. In 1860, he met Joanna Hiffernan for the first time and fell in love with her copper coloured hair. Whistler started including Hiffernan in his paintings, and she eventually became his lover.

Whistler’s iconic Symphonies in White marked a turning point in his career and introduced Hiffernan to the world. Whistler began the first of the three paintings in Paris in 1861 and submitted it to the Royal Academy in May 1862 under the title The White Girl. Much to Whistler’s disappointment, the Academy rejected the painting and sent it to Berners Street Gallery, where it was displayed with the title The Woman in White. Unfortunately, the painting became associated with Wilkie Collins’ (1824-89) novel of the same name, which was not Whistler’s intention. “My painting simply represents a girl dressed in white standing in front of a white curtain.”

In 1863, Whistler sent The White Girl to the Paris Salon, who also rejected it. Many paintings at the time contained a narrative, whereas Whistler’s did not. Later that year, the painting hung in the Salon des Refusés, where one critic wrote it was a picture of a “charming phantom”.

Whistler produced his second portrait of Hiffernan in white in 1864, which he titled The Little White Girl. Dressed in a white muslin dress, Hiffernan posed in front of a fireplace and mirror at Whistler’s new house in Chelsea, London. In her right hand, she held a fan made by the Japanese artist Hiroshige (1797-1858). Japonisme, meaning artworks from Japan and other East Asian countries, was popular amongst European artists in the 19th century. Whistler owned a vast collection of Asian art, including prints, fans and ceramics. The blue and white vase on the mantlepiece is one example of the items he collected.

As part of her outfit for The Little White Girl, Hiffernan wore a wedding ring on her left hand. The reason for this is uncertain because Hiffernan never married. One theory involved Whistler’s family, who considered models to be little better than prostitutes. Hiffernan only posed for Whistler and a few friends, but this did not stop Whistler’s mother from objecting to their relationship. Some believe the comments about models and prostitutes covered up Whistler’s mother’s opinion about people of lower social classes.

Whistler’s third painting in the series featured Hiffernan in the same dress as the first painting, reclining on a white sofa. Unlike the previous artworks, this one included a second figure in a pale yellow silk dress. The other woman was the professional model Emelie “Milly” Eyre Jones (1850-1920), who posed for several artists, including Albert Moore (1860-1933) and Frederick Sandys (1829-1904). After hearing that Milly was posing for Whistler, Sandys announced he wished to paint Hiffernan, but Whistler refused to “lend” her. Instead, Sandys painted Milly in a white dress for Gentle Spring (1865).

Before settling on the final composition, Whistler tried out various poses for his models. Some of these sketches still exist, including one Whistler sent to the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904). When Whistler eventually completed the painting, he declared the figure of Hiffernan “is the purest I have ever done.” Several artists admired the artwork, including Edgar Degas (1834-1917), who made sketches of it.

In 1867, the third painting earned a place at the Royal Academy under the title Symphony in White. Focusing on the colours rather than the subject, one critic called it “an exquisite chromatic study,” and several people compared it with the previous two portraits of Hiffernan in white. As a result, the two earlier paintings gained the names Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl and Symphony in White, No. 2: The Little White Girl. The focus on colour and harmony rather than a narrative inspired the Aesthetic Movement, which influenced future generations of artists who began producing “art for art’s sake”.

Whilst the Symphonies in White are Whistler’s most famous depictions of Hiffernan, he used her as a model for many other works, including etchings. During his career, Whistler produced over 490 etchings and drypoints, making him one of the major figures in printmaking of the 19th century. Most of his prints were based on the people and places around him, particularly his models.

Some of Whistler’s finest portraits of Hiffernan were drypoints rather than paintings. Drypoints involved etching into a copper plate, allowing the artist to emphasise shapes and tones through a series of lines and cross-hatching. After rubbing ink into the etched lines, paper is laid on the plate and pulled through a printing press. Often, the plate went through the press several times, producing prints of varying darkness as the ink began to run out. Whistler printed over forty impressions of his etching Weary (1863) before settling on one to hang at the Royal Academy.

Whistler’s paintings and etchings are considered two separate forms of art, yet prints he collected by Hiroshige and other Asian artists, frequently appeared in his artwork. Whistler owned an impressive collection of Asian art, including fans, china and rugs, which also feature in his work, for instance, Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks (1864). For this painting, Hiffernan posed as an Asian woman painting a pot. Surrounded by examples of Whistler’s porcelain collection, Hiffernan appears to sign her most recent creation with a thin paintbrush.

The title of the painting, Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks, references many aspects of the scene. Hiffernan wears a purple and white kimono decorated with pink roses, hence the first half of the title. Lange Leizen is a Dutch phrase meaning “long lines”, which many English-speaking people misinterpreted as “long Elizas”. Some patterns on Chinese porcelain featured tall women, which is what led to the confusion. The Six Marks referenced the signature and date written by the potter on each of their creations.

In 1865, Whistler and Hiffernan spent time in Trouville on the Normandy coast of France, where they joined the artist Gustave Courbet (1819-77) at the Hôtel du Bras d’Or. Courbet encouraged Whistler to experiment with seascapes, using his skills with colour and tones to capture the subtle shifts of light in the sea and sky. Meanwhile, Courbet insisted on painting Hiffernan, which on this occasion, Whistler allowed.

Courbet’s painting of Portrait of Jo, also known as La belle Irlandaise (The Beautiful Irish), captures Hiffernan’s copper-gold hair, contrasting it with her pale skin and eyes, which peer into a handheld mirror. Enamoured with the result, Courbet refused to sell the original but made three copies, each containing minor differences and details. Letters written from Courbet to Whistler ten years later indicate he was still infatuated with Hiffernan. “Do you remember Trouville and Jo who played the clown to amuse us? In the evening she sang Irish songs so well because she had the spirit and distinction of art… I still have the portrait of Jo which I will never sell everyone admires it.” Today, art historians argue about which copy is the original.

In 1866, Whistler travelled to Valparaiso in Chile, leaving Hiffernan in London. During his seven-month absence, Whistler gave Hiffernan power of attorney over his affairs, including selling his artwork, which she did under the pseudonym, Mrs Abbot. During this time, Hiffernan may have travelled to France to pose for Courbet’s painting Le Sommeil (The Sleepers), which depicts two naked women asleep in bed. Rumours suggest Hiffernan and Courbet conducted an affair, and Whistler and Hiffernan’s relationship came to an abrupt end.

Very little is documented about Hiffernan’s life after her split from Whistler. For some time, she looked after Whistler’s son, Charles James Whistler Hanson (1870–1935), the result of an affair with a parlour maid. Whistler was often away, but he produced a drypoint sketch of his son during the late 1870s and an etching of Hiffernan’s sister, Bridget Agnes Hiffernan (1845-1921). The 1881 census records Hiffernan and Charles living with Bridget at 2 Thistle Grove in London.

The Royal Academy records Hiffernan’s death in 1886 and suggests her sister cared for her during a short illness. Other sources claim Hiffernan died in 1903 after attending Whistler’s funeral. The art collector Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919) wrote, “As she raised her veil and I saw … the thick wavy hair, although it was streaked with grey, I knew at once it was Johanna, the Johanna of Etretat, ‘la belle Irlandaise’ that Courbet had painted with her wonderful hair and a mirror in her hand…. She stood for a long time beside the coffin—nearly an hour I should think…. I could not help being touched by the feeling she showed toward her old friend.” The Royal Academy believes this was Hiffernan’s sister, who people mistook for Joanna Hiffernan.

Following Whistler’s split from Hiffernan, he began using Maud Franklin (1857-1939) as his muse and mistress. Records suggest he did not treat her well, later marrying the artist Beatrice Godwin (1857-1896) in secret to avoid a furious Maud Franklin interrupting the marriage ceremony. Sadly, Beatrice passed away from cancer only six years into their marriage. Whistler never overcame the death and spent the majority of his remaining years painting minimalist seascapes.

Despite the initial rejection of Whistler’s The White Girl by the Royal Academy and the Paris Salon, the three Symphonies in White inspired many artists during and following Whistler’s lifetime. Hiffernan recorded that John Everett Millais (1892-86) particular liked the paintings and used them as inspiration for The Somnambulist (1871). Using a model with a remarkable resemblance to Hiffernan, Millais painted a woman in white, sleepwalking along the edge of a cliff. Whilst the figure is an obvious link to Whistler’s portrait in technique and composition, the painting contains a dramatic narrative, possibly inspired by Vincenzo Bellini’s (1801-35) romantic opera La sonnambula (1827).

Focusing on Hiffernan more than Whistler, the exhibition at the Royal Academy makes visitors examine the artworks differently. Rather than judging the artist on his quality of painting, the exhibition’s narrative explores the lives of both Whistler and his model. Instead of looking at The White Girl as an anonymous woman, the Academy gives her a name, a life and a purpose. Whilst it may not have been the curator’s intention, Whistler’s Woman in White compliments recent exhibitions, television programmes and books that aim to draw attention to women of the past, whose importance has been hidden for so long.

Whistler’s Woman in White: Joanna Hiffernan is open until 22nd May 2022. Tickets cost £15 for adults, except for Friends of RA, who may visit for free.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon and the Quest for the Roman Hoard

Dear Simeon, During a recent archaeological dig in Bath, a skeleton, believed to be of an elderly male dating back to Roman times, was discovered. Local media have leaked the intriguing news that, clutched in its hands, sealed inside a vessel, was a well-preserved treasure map with some mystifying scrawled notes. Experts at IES (Intrepid Explorers Society) are speculating that this map might lead to a stash of precious gems and possibly Roman gold, buried on an island somewhere in the Bristol Channel. Unfortunately, the very dodgy Brutally Awful Treasure Hunters (aka BATH) are also super keen to discover this lost treasure. IES don’t want them uncovering it before you do so get out there, solve the Clues and identify the location of this hidden hoard!

After receiving this intriguing quest from Treasure Trails, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), grabbed his towel and headed to the bathroom. After laughing hysterically for some time about his mistake, Simeon got out of the bath and into the car to make the long journey from London to Bath in Somerset. Assisted by his friends, Simeon began a perilous expedition around some of the most beautiful, historic streets of Bath.

Simeon began his quest in the Bath Abbey Churchyard, where he squeezed through the crowds of people listening to the buskers. Towering above him, the Bath Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul stood in all its glory. Built between 1499 and 1533, the limestone building is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the United Kingdom. The abbey is the third building on the site, but there has been a church here for over 1,000 years. The Saxons built the first church in the 7th century, which was where King Edgar, the first king of all England, was crowned in 973. The second church was built by the Normans in the 12th century. The present building largely resembles the 16th-century architecture of the third building, although Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) undertook a restoration project during the Victorian era.

Whilst the Abbey is an impressive structure, Simeon did not have time to admire it because he heard about the nearby Beau Street Hoard. Discovered in 2008, 17,577 silver Roman coins dating from 32 BC to 274 AD had been buried under the streets for thousands of years. It is the fifth-largest hoard ever found in Britain, unearthed during the construction of a swimming pool at the Gainsborough Hotel. The hoard consisted of eight money bags and 2,437 loose coins, which are now on display in the Roman Baths Museum. After some investigation, Simeon decided this was not the Roman hoard he was looking for and continued on his quest.

Around the corner, Simeon peered into the Cross Bath, but the clear water did not reveal any treasure. Constructed in 1784 and remodelled in 1789, the Grade I building houses a historic pool famed for its healing properties. The nearby St John’s hospital used the pool for treatments as early as 1180, and the royal family frequently visited between the 16th and 18th centuries.

The water in the Cross Pool fell as rain around 10,000 years ago in the Mendip Hills. After sinking 3 kilometres below the earth’s surface, geothermal energy heated the water, which eventually rose under natural artesian pressure. Legend claims the mythical Prince Bladud discovered the thermal waters in 863 BC, which cured him of his skin disease. The warm water allegedly contains over 42 different types of minerals. The bath and Victorian construction now belong to the adjacent Thermae Bath Spa.

As Simeon continued his journey around Bath, he came across a mystery. Beaufort Square, designed by John Strahan in 1730, appears to have two names. On one signpost, the name reads “Beaufort”, but on another, it says “Beauford”! There does not seem to be an explanation for this other than a spelling mistake, but it was enough to make Simeon stop in his tracks and look around. Beaufort square is surrounded by two-storey cottages and the original frontage of the Theatre Royal. In the centre, a small rectangular lawn is all that remains of the communal area. Simeon could not enter the garden but admired it from the railings. These date from 1805, and the spear shapes commemorate weapons used during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Simeon came across another strange site in Chapel Row, where he stopped briefly to rest. Standing separately from the other buildings is Temple Ornament, which was re-erected in 1976 by students of Bath Technical College. The limestone structure, featuring five Ionic columns, is situated on the original site of St. Mary’s Chapel, built between 1732 and 1734 by John Wood the Elder (1704-54). In 1875, the city demolished the church for road widening. The ornament was constructed from the ruined building.

After paying his respects at the war memorial on the corner, Simeon made his way along the Gravel Walk. The pathway leads past the gardens of the houses in Gay Street, where the English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) once lived. In Austen’s time, the Walk was known as Lover’s Lane and was where young lovers used to meet each other for a stroll. In Austen’s novel Persuasion (1817), it is the setting for a love scene between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Simeon did not see any Georgian ladies and gentlemen walking along the path, but he did come across an intriguing garden.

Signposted as the Georgian Garden, the gap in the wall led Simeon into a Georgian-style garden, which is a recreation of one of the gardens of the Circus (not a circus with animals, as Simeon later discovered). The project started in 1985 to replace the existing Victorian landscape with its former style. There was no grass in the original garden, only gravel and flower beds. Grass lawns were not easily maintained in the 18th century and only became popular after the invention of mechanical lawnmowers in 1832.

Excavation work revealed the original 18th-century layout, including the position of flowerbeds and paths. Dr John Harvey of the Garden History Society sourced appropriate plants, such as honeysuckle and other fragrant flowers. Towards the end of the 18th century, plants from Indo-China and the New World arrived in Britain, replacing many native plants in private gardens.

Keen to continue his quest, Simeon returned to the Gravel Walk and soon found himself in the Royal Victoria Park. Opened by the 11-year-old future Queen Victoria (1819-1901) in 1830, the 57-acre park consists of grasslands, tennis courts, a golf course, a botanical garden and a children’s playground. It was the first park to carry Victoria’s name and was privately owned until 1921 when it was taken over by the Bath Corporation.

Overlooking the Royal Victoria Park is the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a 500-foot-long (150 m) crescent shape. Built by John Wood the Younger (1728-82), the Grade I listed buildings feature 114 Ionic columns on the first floor with Palladian-style mouldings above. In front of the houses is a ha-ha (ditch), making an invisible partition between the lower and upper lawns. The latter is for residents only.

Notable residents of the Royal Crescent include William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who stayed at number 2; Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906), who lived with her father at number 16; and Elizabeth Linley (1754-92) at number 11, who eloped with the playwright, Richard Sheridan (1751-1816). “Would I like to live here?” pondered Simeon. After learning about Georgian lifestyles, particularly sedan chairs, at No. 1 Royal Crescent, a historic house museum, Simeon decided yes, he would.

On the corner of the Royal Crescent, Simeon looked for clues inside a silver-coloured telephone box. Whilst he did not locate any treasure, Simeon found some interesting information about the box. The telephone box or kiosk was designed by English architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960) in 1924. Over the following years, the design was tweaked before settling on Kiosk no. 6 (K6). The bright red boxes were primarily used in London, but when they spread to neighbouring towns and cities, people complained about the bright colour. In response to the complaints and to coincide with King George V’s silver jubilee, the kiosks were painted battleship grey (silver) with touches of red around the windows.

Tempted to call the Treasure Trail team for more clues, Simeon noticed the kiosk did not contain a telephone. Whilst it is no longer in use, the kiosk is a listed structure of architectural and historical importance. Many K6s were painted the iconic red colour once people got used to their presence, so very few remain battleship grey, making them very rare. This particular box survived the Blitz and has remained in situ for over 80 years.

Next, Simeon visited the Circus, where except for himself and a few pigeons, no animals or entertainers could be seen. The Circus is a circular ring of terrace houses built between 1754 and 1768 by John Wood, the Elder. Its name comes from the Latin word circus, meaning circle. Today, it is a famous example of Georgian architecture and has been designated a Grade I listed building.

Wood was inspired by Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. Believing that Bath had once been a centre for Druid activity, Wood mimicked the neo-druid place of worship. Unfortunately, Wood died five days after the construction began and his son, John Wood, the Younger, oversaw the rest of the building project. On completion, it was named King’s Circus, although the royal title was later dropped.

Walking around the Circus, Simeon appreciated the various styles of architecture incorporated into the building. Each floor represents a different Classical order, with Doric on the ground level, Ionic or Composite on the piano nobile (principal floor), and Corinthian on the upper floor. The styles become progressively more ornate as the building rises. Between the Doric and Ionic levels, an entablature decorated with alternating triglyphs and 525 pictorial emblems completes the building’s design. Simeon enjoyed looking at the many images, including nautical, art, science and masonic symbols. He also spotted serpents and owls – so there are some animals in the Circus after all!

Simeon’s instructions eventually led him to Pulteney Bridge, where the confused little gibbon warily eyed the shops on either side, wondering why it was called a bridge. Only later did Simeon discover the buildings were constructed over the River Avon! Designed by Robert Adam (1728-92) in 1774, shops span the length of the Palladian-style Grade I listed bridge, making it a highly unusual construction.

Pulteney Bridge is named after Frances Pulteney, the first cousin once removed of William Pulteney, 1st Earl of Bath (1684-1764). When the Earl died, Frances inherited his estates and a significant amount of money. Her husband, William Johnstone (1729-1805), promptly changed his surname to Pulteney and made plans to create a new town, Bathwick, which eventually became a suburb of Bath. For easier access across the Avon, William Pulteney commissioned Adam to design a bridge, who took inspiration from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence and the Ponte di Rialto in Venice. The original designs for Pulteney Bridge are held in the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. As of 2022, it is one of only four bridges containing shops across its entire span, the others being the aforementioned bridges in Italy and the Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany.

As well as the bridge, Great Pulteney Street, Henrietta Street and Laura Place are the work of William Pulteney. Great Pulteney Street connects Bathwick with the City of Bath. It was designed by Thomas Baldwin (1750-1820) and completed in 1789. At over 1,000 feet (300 m) long and 100 feet (30 m) wide, Great Pulteney Street is the widest and the grandest road in Bath. Situated at one end is the Holburne Museum of Art, which was originally the Sydney Hotel. The hotel attracted many visitors, and several notable people lived on the street, including Napoleon III (1808-73), during his exile from France; William Wilberforce, who also stayed in the Royal Crescent; and the “Father of English Geology” William “Strata” Smith (1769-1839).

Henrietta Street and Laura Place were named after Pulteney’s daughters. Both were constructed in the late 1780s by Thomas Baldwin. Laura Place, situated at the end of Pulteney Bridge, is an irregular quadrangle containing four blocks of houses. In the centre sits a circular stone fountain, which was not part of the original plan. Instead, residents petitioned for a column similar to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London, but when construction began, they realised it would tower over the area and petitioned against it.

After admiring the weir in the River Avon below Pulteney Bridge, Simeon made his way back to the Abbey for his final clues, resisting the urge to eat Sally Lunn’s buns and Charlotte Brunswick’s chocolates. Sally Lunn’s historic eating house is one of the oldest houses in Bath. It was allegedly the home of a Huguenot refugee called Solange Luyon during the 1680s, who became known as Sally Lunn. As a baker, Luyon or Lunn became famous for her buns, now known as Bath Buns.

It is claimed that Charlotte Brunswick was the first and finest chocolatier in Bath during the 18th century. Fascinated by flavour, she sought the perfect combination of ingredients to make her delicious chocolate. The men in her family were explorers and brought her back oranges from Spain and ginger and cinnamon from China, which she incorporated into her recipes. The Charlotte Brunswick Shop on Church Street continues to use many of the recipes today.

Another delicacy from Bath is the Bath Oliver biscuit, invented by the physician William Oliver (1695-1764). Some claim Oliver, not Sally Lunn, invented the Bath Bun, but after realising it was too fattening for his rheumatic patients, he sought an alternative. A Bath Oliver is a dry, cracker-like biscuit, often eaten with cheese. When Oliver died, he bequeathed the recipe, ten sacks of wheat flour, and £100 to his coachman, Mr Atkins, who set up a biscuit-baking business.

Back at the Abbey, Simeon used all the clues he had gathered to work out the location of the Roman Hoard. After celebratory ice cream, Simeon sat and reflected on the sites he saw around Bath. Simeon enjoyed walking along quaint streets, admiring the architecture, and felt humbled knowing he was walking in the footsteps of many famous people, not least the Romans. “I think I’ll visit Jane Austen for afternoon tea on Gay Street,” mused Simeon, not fully comprehending that he would not be able to see the REAL Jane Austen but a waxwork. “And after that, I’ll pop in and see Mary Shelley.”

Both the Jane Austen Centre and Mary Shelley’s House of Frankenstein are located on Gay Street, which links the Circus to Queen’s Square. It is named after Robert Gay (1676-1738), a Member of Parliament for Bath who leased part of his estate to John Wood the Elder for the construction of Queen’s Square.

Simeon recalled seeing many other names on plaques around the city, such as Beau Nash (1674-1762), the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. Nash made it his job to meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company” allowed to attend dances and such-like. He infamously confronted John Wesley (1701-93), the founder of Methodism, when he began preaching in the city. Nash question Wesley’s authority, demanding to know who allowed him to speak to crowds of people. Wesley calmly answered, “Jesus Christ and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” Having lost the argument, Nash left Wesley alone, allowing the people of Bath to flock to hear the preacher speak.

Simeon did not like the sound of Beau Nash, but he was intrigued to learn about William (1738-1822) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), who lived at 19 New King Street. William Herschel famously discovered the planet Uranus, which resulted in his appointment as Court Astronomer to George III (1738-1820). His sister, Caroline, made several discoveries of her own and became the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist and the first woman in England to hold a government position. Today, 19 New King Street is home to the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. As well as documenting the Herschels’ astronomical finds, a room is devoted to their love of music, which originally brought the German siblings to England.

Another notable resident of Bath was Admiral Arthur Phillip (1738-1814), the first governor of the Colony of New South Wales. Simeon came across the Admiral’s memorial on Bennett Street during his quest for the Roman hoard. Installed in 2014 by the Britain-Australia Society Education Trust, the sculpture resembles an armillary sphere, which sailors used to determine their position in relation to Earth and the sun. Phillip commanded the first fleet of convicts sent to Australia and established a settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788. In 1793, he returned to England and settled in Bath for the remainder of his life.

Other notable residents of Bath include John Christopher Smith (1712-95), the secretary of the Baroque composer George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Smith moved to Bath in 1774 after King George III granted him an annual pension. The 1st Earl of Chatham, also known as William Pitt the Elder (1708-78), lived in the Circus between 1757 and 1766 when he stood as the Member of Parliament for Bath. He then served as Prime Minister of Great Britain for two years.

The artist, Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), lived in the Circus with his family from 1759 until 1774. During this time, he became a popular portrait painter for fashionable society. He eventually got bored of painting people and longed for the “quietness and ease” of landscapes. Another artist from Bath is Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), who from the age of ten, supported his family with his pastel portraits. Amongst his sitters were Duchess Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806), who visited Bath in 1782, and Sarah Siddons (1755-1831), a Welsh actress, who first performed in Bath in 1778.

“Who knew there was so much to discover in Bath,” exclaimed Simeon. “I shall have to come back another time to learn more about the historic city.” As well as completing his Treasure Trail, Simeon visited some of the attractions and highly recommends the Abbey and Roman Baths. He also enjoyed the Jane Austen Centre, House of Frankenstein, No. 1 Royal Crescent, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy, and travelling on the sightseeing bus. There is only so much a little gibbon can fit into a week, so Simeon has plenty more places to explore on his next visit to Bath.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Some places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall into the Roman Baths. You will get very wet.
  3. Do not pull a face if you try the waterYou will put other people off trying.
  4. Be respectful in the AbbeyIt is a place of worship.
  5. Pace yourself when climbing all the hillsBath is supposedly built on seven.
  6. Remember to use the Park and Ride buses if you are staying outside the city. Parking is free, you only pay for the bus ride.
  7. Do not get ink on your paws if attempting to write with a quill pen at the Jane Austen CentreSimeon did this and it was very messy.
  8. Buy a map. And try not to get lost.
  9. Only go into the basement at the House of Frankenstein if you are really brave. Simeon was not.
  10. Follow social distancing rules. Some places still request you wear a mask.

Read more of Simeon’s adventures:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham
Simeon and the Cable Car Mission


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

The Twelve (Thirteen) Disciples [Part 2]

The following was originally written for Gants Hill United Reformed Church in June 2020. For part one, click here.

7. Thomas

Thomas, most commonly known as “Doubting Thomas”, is one of the disciples with a speaking part in the Bible, and yet, he is barely mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18 and Luke 6:15 list him as one of the Twelve Disciples, but nothing is said about how he became an apostle and what came after. For that, we have to turn to the Gospel of John.

Thomas is believed to have come from Galilee and is listed as having two names. Thomas was his Aramaic name, and Didymus was his Greek name, both of which mean “twin”. Although there is no explanation for the choice of names, it is most likely Thomas was born a twin. In the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, the author gives his name as Judas Thomas. 

The first time Thomas’ name appears in John’s Gospel is John 11:16: “Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’” Jesus had learnt that his friend Lazarus was sick and had decided to visit him. The disciples were shocked by this decision. Lazarus lived in Judea, where the Jewish population had tried to stone Jesus. Yet, Jesus was adamant, and Thomas encouraged the disciples to go with him.  

Thomas next speaks in John 14:5: Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’” Jesus had explained that he was going to prepare a place for them in heaven and that one day they would join him there. Thomas spoke on behalf of the disciples, explaining that they did not know where that place was or how to get there. Jesus responded to this with one of the most famous sayings in the Bible: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6)

Of course, the most famous exchange between Thomas and Jesus took place after the resurrection. This scene forever branded him as “Doubting Thomas.” “Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.” (John 20:24) To prove he had risen from the dead, Jesus visited the disciples in a locked room where they were hiding from the Jewish leaders, but Thomas was not there. Unable to imagine someone coming back to life, Thomas doubted the disciples’ claim that they had seen the Lord. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (20:25)

The following week, Jesus visited the disciples again. This time, Thomas was with them, and Jesus showed Thomas the nail marks and wound in his side. At once, Thomas believed, declaring, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) Unfortunately, it was too late for Thomas to redeem himself. Thomas is still referred to as the doubter, giving his name to sceptics who refuse to believe without direct personal experience. “Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” (20:29) 

Apart from these brief episodes in the Gospel of John, the Bible reveals nothing else about Thomas’ life. Scholars have turned to other literature to ascertain what happened to Thomas after Jesus was taken up into heaven. One belief is Thomas travelled to India in AD 52 to spread the Christian faith to the Jewish community that lived there at the time. Tradition claims he established seven churches while he was there and baptised many families. 

The theologian, Origen of Alexandria (184-253), stated Thomas was the apostle of the Parthians, a historical region located in north-eastern Iran. Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-340) recorded that Thomas and Bartholomew were assigned to Parthia and India. The Christian treatise Didascalia Apostolorum corroborates Thomas’ presence: “India and all countries considering it, even to the farthest seas… received the apostolic ordinances from Judas Thomas, who was a guide and ruler in the church which he built.”

Traditions of the Saint Thomas Church in India claim Thomas briefly visited China. The Office of St. Thomas for the Second Nocturn written by Gaza of the Church of St. Thomas of Malabar claims the following: 

1. Through St. Thomas the error of idolatry vanished from India.
2. Through St. Thomas the Chinese and Ethiopians were converted to the truth.
3. Through St. Thomas they accepted the sacrament of baptism and the adoption of sons.
4. Through St. Thomas they believed in and confessed to the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit.
5. Through St. Thomas they preserved the accepted faith of the one God.
6. Through St. Thomas the life-giving splendours rose in all of India.
7. Through St. Thomas the Kingdom of Heaven took wing and ascended to China.

Regardless of whether Thomas visited China or not, it was in India where he was allegedly martyred. It is recorded that Thomas died in Chennai on a small hillock now known as St. Thomas Mount. Syrian Christian tradition believes his body was buried in Mylapore, and Ephram the Syrian (306-373) adds that Thomas’ relics were then taken to Edessa. The Portuguese writer Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521), who served as an officer in India, recorded that Thomas’ tomb was maintained by a Muslim, and a lamp was always burning. Today, the San Thome Basilica sits on the site of Thomas’ tomb.

Saint Thomas has been made patron of a handful of things, including India and Sri Lanka. Other claims about Thomas include:

  • He was martyred by a spear
  • He was a builder by trade
  • Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary
  • Thomas met the biblical Magi on his way to India
  • Finger bones of Saint Thomas were discovered during restoration work at the Church of Saint Thomas in Modul, Iraq in 1964
  • He worked as a builder and architect for King Gondophares, the ruler of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom

8. Matthew

Matthew, later Saint Matthew, is another of the Galilean disciples. Traditionally, he is also the author of the Gospel of Matthew, one of the four evangelists. Of all the disciples, he is one of the least likely candidates chosen by Jesus since he was Matthew the tax collector” (Matthew 10:30) and not liked by the public. 

Tax collectors or publicans, as they were also called, collected unpaid taxes for the Roman occupiers. It was not their job that caused people to dislike them but rather their fraudulent behaviour. Rather than collecting the amount owed, the tax collectors demanded more money, keeping the excess for themselves. Tax collectors were seen as both greedy and collaborators with the Romans.

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9) Jesus came across Matthew after healing a paralysed man in Capernaum. Matthew invited Jesus to his house for a meal, an invitation that did not go unnoticed by the Pharisees. Always trying to find fault with Jesus, the Pharisees asked the disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (9:11) Before they could respond, Jesus answered them, explaining, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (9:12-13) 

Not much is recorded about Matthew’s early life other than his career, although one Bible verse mentions the name of his father. “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14) Matthew was also known by the name Levi. The Bible also records the father of the Apostle James the Less as Alphaeus, but there is no evidence they are the same person. A man of the same name is also said to be the father of Joseph/Joses, a potential brother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, Saints Abercius and Helena also have a father called Alphaeus. 

Matthew’s call to discipleship is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but he is never mentioned in John. The final reference to the disciple is in Acts 1:10–14, where the apostles had withdrawn to a room after the Ascension of Jesus. To begin with, the disciples remained in the Jewish communities in Judea, preaching the Gospel before moving to other countries. Unfortunately, scholars have not been able to determine which countries Matthew visited. It is traditionally believed he died a martyr, but there is no evidence of this. Writers have suggested Hierapolis in Greece or Ethiopia as Matthew’s place of death.

The early Christian bishop Papias of Hierapolis (c. AD 60–163) was the first person to propose Matthew the Apostle and Matthew the Evangelist were the same. The Gospel was written in Hebrew near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians before being translated into Greek. As a tax collector, Matthew would have been literate in Aramaic, Greek and his native tongue. To begin with, Matthew’s Gospel was known as Gospel according to the Hebrews and Gospel of the Apostles. An argument against Matthew’s authorship points out the text was written anonymously, and at no point does the author imply he was an eyewitness to the events. 

Matthew is supposedly buried in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral in southern Italy. He is recognised as a saint in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and Anglican churches, and his feast day is celebrated on 21st September. In art, Matthew is usually shown with a book, implying he wrote the Gospel, and an angel. Matthew is listed as the patron saint of accountants, bankers, tax collectors, perfumers, civil servants and Salerno, Italy.

9. James, son of Alpheus

James, son of Alpheus, not to be confused with James, son of Zebedee, is a disciple mentioned in three of the four gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. He is also identified as James the Less, the Minor, or the Younger, depending on the translation. “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40 NIV)

The word “less” does not imply James was less worthy than James the Greater. Instead, it may refer to his age or his height. Although there are very few mentions of James the Less in the Bible, his importance is equal to that of the other disciples. “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Like most of the other disciples, James came from Galilee, which at the time was part of the Roman Empire. How he came to be Jesus’ disciple is missing from the Bible. There is also confusion about who James was since some scholars debate he may also have been Jesus’ brother, James the Just. The consensus is they were two separate people.

Very little is known about James. After King Herod killed James the Greater, Peter, who had been arrested, escaped and said to Mary, the mother of John, “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this.” (Acts 12:17) Since James the Greater was dead, this James could either be James the Less or James the Just. Unfortunately, there is no clarification in the Bible.

James the Less’s death was recorded by the 2nd-century theologian Hippolytus. “And James the son of Alphaeus, when preaching in Jerusalem was stoned to death by the Jews, and was buried there beside the temple.” James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is also believed to have died the same way, thus adding confusion about their identity. On the other hand, James the Less is traditionally thought to have preached at Ostrakine in Lower Egypt. Many people claim he was crucified there.

In Art, James is usually depicted with a fuller’s club, implying he may have worked in woollen clothmaking before becoming an apostle. Occasionally, he is portrayed with a carpenter’s saw, suggesting an alternative trade.

Saint James the Less is recorded as the patron saint of apothecaries, druggists, dying people and pharmacists, suggesting another potential career. He is also the patron saint of fullers, milliners, Frascati and Monterotondo in Italy, and Uruguay.

10. Jude

Jude, Judas Thaddaeus, Thaddeus, Jude of James, Lebbaeus, or whatever you wish to call him, was an apostle and martyr from 1st century Galilee. The use of multiple names in the Bible makes it difficult to determine whether they are one person or several. Cross-referencing the four Gospels, most scholars have agreed that the Thaddaeus in Matthew and Mark is the same person as Judas in Luke and John. Matthew also refers to the apostle as Lebbaeus and Judas the Zealot, whereas Luke and the Acts of the Apostles record him as Judas, son of James. One thing for sure is this disciple should not be confused with Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.

Not including Judas Iscariot, the name Judas or Jude is mentioned six times in the Bible. In Luke, both Judas, son of James, and Judas Iscariot are recorded in a list of the twelve disciples. The same is recorded in Acts, minus the latter, of course. Similar lists in Matthew and Mark, on the other hand, state his name as Thaddeus. It has been suggested this may have been a nickname. Thaddeus means “courageous of heart”.

John makes an effort to differentiate between the similarly named disciples. “Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’” (John 14:22) In response to this, Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me… Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (14:23-24, 27)

There is debate as to whether Judas was the brother of Jesus because Matthew 13:55 says, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas?” The same is said in the Gospel of Mark, but there is no clarification as to whether this Judas was also the disciple. Protestant churches tend to believe they were different people, whereas Catholics usually argue the opposite. 

The author of the Book of Jude is also widely debated. The book begins with the author’s introduction: Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.” (Jude 1:1) We know from Matthew that both Judas and James were brothers of Jesus, but is Jude the same person? Also, we know Judas was the name of a disciple of Jesus, therefore, he may identify himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ.” From this, it could be inferred that Judas/Thaddaeus, Judas the brother of Jesus and Jude the author are all one person, but no one has been able to find solid proof.

A collection of biographies compiled by Jacobus de Varagine in the 13th-century attempts to clarify the mixture of names used in the Gospels:

“This Judas was called by many names. He was said Judas James, for he was brother to James the Less, and he was called Thaddeus, which is as much to say as taking a prince; or Thadee is said of Thadea, that is a vesture, and of Deus, that is God, for he was vesture royal of God by ornament of virtues, by which he took Christ the prince. He is said also in the History Ecclesiastic, Lebbæus, which is as much to say as heart, or worshipper of heart. Or he is said Lebbæus of lebes, that is a vessel of heart by great hardiness, or a worshipper of heart by purity, a vessel by plenitude of grace, for he deserved to be a vessel of virtues and a caldron of grace.” 

Putting aside the confusion of names and identity, tradition tells us Jude the Disciple continued to spread the word of Christ after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jude preached the gospel firstly in Judea before travelling through Samaria, Edom, Syria, Mesopotamia and Libya. Jude, along with Bartholomew, is also credited as the first people to bring Christianity to Armenia.

Jude’s life before becoming a disciple is unknown. Over time, theories and ideas suggest he may have been a farmer by trade. Growing up in Galilee, Jude would probably have spoken both Greek and Aramaic, which would have been beneficial when preaching to people of other areas. The 14th-century historian Nicephorus Callistus believed Jude was the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana recorded in the Gospel of John. This was the event that saw Jesus perform his first miracle.

Tradition states Jude was martyred around 65 AD in Beirut. Although Beirut is now the capital of Lebanon, it was then part of the Roman Province of Syria. Abdias, the first bishop of Babylon, recorded Jude’s death in the Acts of Simon and Jude, along with the death of a fellow disciple, Simon the Zealot. It is thought the pair were killed with an axe, possibly beheaded.  

Many years after his death, Jude’s bones were brought to Rome and buried in the crypt of St Peter’s Basilica. His resting place became a popular destination for pilgrims, giving him the title, “The Saint for the Hopeless and the Despaired”. He is also known as “The Patron Saint of the Impossible.” Shrines and churches have been erected all over the world in Jude’s honour, such as in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Cuba, India, Iran, the Philippines, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Lebanon. The most recent shrine is the National Shrine of Saint Jude in Faversham, Kent, built in 1955.

The Feast of St Jude is traditionally celebrated on 28th October. He is the patron saint of several places and people, including Armenia; St Petersburg in Florida, Lucena, Quezon, Sibalom, Antique, Trece Mártires, and Cavite in the Philippines; Sinajana in Guam; Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, a sports club in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; the Chicago Police Department; lost causes; desperate situations; and hospitals.

11. Simon the Zealot

Simon the Zealot or Simon the Canaanite/Cananaean is possibly the most obscure disciple. Although his name appears on a list of the disciples mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John and the Book of Acts, he does not play a named role elsewhere.

To distinguish Simon from Simon Peter, Matthew and Mark use the term “Simon the Canaanite” (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18 KJV). Luke and Acts, on the other hand, call him “Simon Zelotes” (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13 KJV) or “Simon the Zealot” (NIV), depending on the translation. The term “Canaanite” has led people to assume Simon was from Canaan or Cana, but the Hebrew text proves this to be a mistranslation. In Hebrew, Simon was referred to as “qanai”, which means “zealous”. The reason for the Canaanite confusion is easy to forgive since the term stems from the same Hebrew word. Unfortunately, no one knows why Simon was singled out as being zealous. Although, in contemporary English zealous means enthusiastic or to have a strong passion, in Greek, it was also a synonym for “jealous”. 

Catholic scholars have attempted to identify Simon the Zealot with both Simon the brother of Jesus and Simeon of Jerusalem, despite no evidence in the Bible for either claim. The names of Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in Mark 6:3, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” Simeon of Jerusalem or Saint Simeon does not appear in the Bible.  

According to tradition, Saint Simeon was the second Bishop of Jerusalem, appointed by the Apostles Peter, James and John. He is also said to be the son of Clopas and, therefore, potentially a cousin of Jesus. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25) 

As mentioned above, the “Judas” mentioned in Mark 6:3 may have been the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus, and the “James” was potentially James the Less. So, it is possible, as it says in the Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), “Simon the Cananaean and Judas Thaddeus were brethren of James the Less and sons of Mary Cleophas, which was married to Alpheus.” The names Clopas and Cleophas refer to the same person depending on the Bible translation.

The Bible does not record how Simon was called to be a disciple, but a book of the Apocrypha, if it is to be believed, may shed some light on this. The Syriac Infancy Gospel, which supposedly records the childhood of Jesus, contains a story about a boy named Simon who was bitten by a snake. Jesus, who was only a child himself, healed the boy and said, “you shall be my disciple.” The story is concluded with “this is Simon the Cananite, of whom mention is made in the Gospel.”

There are various speculations about Simon’s actions after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some say he visited the Middle East and Africa. Another tradition claims he visited Roman Britain during the Boadicea rebellion in 60 AD. Likewise, there is more than one version of his death. Stories tell of Simon being crucified in Samaria, sawn in half in Persia, martyred in Iberia, crucified in Lincolnshire and dying peacefully in Edessa. In art, Simon is portrayed with a saw, suggesting he was sawn in half.

Simon the Zealot, like all the apostles, is regarded as a saint. He shares a feast day with Saint Jude on 28th October. He is the patron saint of curriers, sawyers and tanners, perhaps alluding to his profession.

12. Judas Iscariot

Judas Iscariot, the most infamous of the Twelve Disciples, betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin in the Garden of Gethsemane, which led to Jesus’ death and crucifixion. Due to this notorious role, Judas is a controversial figure in the Bible. On the one hand, he betrayed Jesus, and on the other, he set in motion the events that led to the resurrection, which was necessary to bring salvation to humanity.

The name Judas was a Greek version of the Hebrew name Judah and, therefore, was popular in Biblical times. We have already looked at the disciple Jude, also known as Judas Thaddeus. To distinguish between the two disciples, the Gospel writers used epithets, such as “Judas, son of James” for Jude, and “Iscariot” for Judas. It is not certain what ‘Iscariot’ meant, but some scholars have linked it to a Hebrew phrase meaning “the man from Kerioth.” Other suggestions are “liar”, “red colour”, and “to deliver”. There is also the theory Judas was connected with the Sicarii group, who carried daggers under their cloaks, but there is no evidence they were around during Judas’ lifetime.

“Kerioth Hezron (that is, Hazor)” (Joshua 15:25) was a town in the south of Judea. Judas may have been born there, but there is no direct reference to this in the Bible. All we know about Judas’ life before he met Jesus is his father’s name. Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.” (John 6:71) 

Judas Iscariot features in all four Gospels, although not always named. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach and gave them authority over impure spirits. Other than the twelve, most of Jesus’ disciples had been unable to accept his teachings, which is why they are not named in the Bible. In the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasised that he had chosen the Twelve deliberately because Jesus knew he could rely on them. Yet, he also shocked them by saying, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70) The “devil” refers to Judas Iscariot. 

Despite Jesus knowing Judas would eventually betray him, he promised all the disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28) This suggests Judas was chosen specifically for the role he would play in the crucifixion and resurrection, and God would not punish him.

Judas’ act of betrayal is portrayed from different angles in each Gospel. In Matthew, we are told that Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” (Matthew 26:15) The priests gave Judas thirty pieces of silver. The Gospel of Mark also says the chief priests promised to give Judas money for handing over Jesus, but Mark does not indicate how much. After the Last Supper, Judas found the opportunity to hand Jesus to the chief priests. Whilst Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas arrived with a large, armed crowd and said, “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” (Matthew 26:48) 

The Gospel of Luke provides a similar account to Matthew and Mark but includes further detail. Luke suggests Judas did not go to see the chief priests of his own free will but says, “Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.” (Luke 22:3)

The Gospel of John is the only Gospel that does not state Judas betrayed Jesus in return for money. Nonetheless, it is implied Judas was greedy and a thief, so it is likely Judas would have asked the priests for something in return for delivering Jesus to them. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” (John 12:6) 

John also directly indicates that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. In the Gospel of John, it is more obvious who this disciple is: “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:26-27)

Jesus then told Judas to go and do what he had to do quickly, but the other disciples were unaware of what this meant. “Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor.” (John 13:29) 

Judas’ betrayal is mentioned in all four Gospels. The other eleven disciples are either involved with events recorded in a couple of the Gospels, or they are barely mentioned at all. The New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman (b.1955) states this is evidence that Judas’ actions truly happened. Whilst Christians believe everything in the Gospels is fact, it is strange not every Gospel writer thought certain events were worth recording.

It is generally believed Judas was overcome by remorse after the arrest of Jesus and committed suicide. The Gospel of Matthew records Judas tried to return the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests, saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:3) The chief priests would not accept the coins, “So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” (Matthew 27:5)

The chief priests could not accept the money because it was “blood money.” Therefore, they used the money to buy a plot of land where foreigners (non-Jews) could be buried. “That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (Matthew 27:8) This supposedly fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.” (Matthew 27:9-10) Yet, there is no such prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah, although there is in Zechariah. 

The Book of Acts, on the other hand, claims Judas bought the field with the money. “With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.” (Acts 1:18-19) In this verse, there is no suggestion that Judas was remorseful, and his death could have been an accident rather than suicide.  

The two differing accounts of Judas’ death have caused consternation amongst scholars. St. Augustine of Hippo suggested the account in Acts was a continuation of Matthew. The field bought by the chief priests with Judas’ money may have been the same field in which Judas hanged himself. The rope may have eventually broken, causing his body to burst open on impact with the ground. Other writers have suggested the version in Acts was metaphorical rather than factual. “Falling prostrate” represented Judas in anguish, and the “bursting out of the bowels” is pouring out emotion.

A couple of Apocryphal books add more to the account of Judas’ death. The Gospel of Nicodemus, written in the 4th century AD, relates that Judas went home to his wife and told her he was going to kill himself because he knew Jesus would punish him after the resurrection. His wife laughed and said Jesus is as unlikely to rise from the dead as the chicken carcass she was preparing for dinner. At that very moment, the chicken was restored to life. The Gospel of Judas reveals Judas’ worries that the other disciples would persecute him, so he preferred to commit suicide than face that fate.

Just as the term “Doubting Thomas” has entered the common language, the name “Judas” has come to mean “betrayer” or “traitor”. In Spain, Judas is usually depicted with red hair, which during the renaissance era was regarded as a negative trait. As a result, red hair, alongside greed, became a way of portraying Jewish people in literature. In traditional art, Judas is often portrayed with a dark-coloured halo, which contrasts with the lighter colour of the other disciples.

Unlike the other disciples, Judas was not made a saint. Saint Matthias quickly filled his place among the twelve disciples. Nevertheless, Judas will not be forgotten. His betrayal is remembered annually in churches across the world.

13. Matthias

According to the Acts of the Apostle, written between 80 and 90 AD, the Apostles chose someone to replace Judas Iscariot. Matthias is different from the other disciples in that Jesus, who had already ascended into heaven, did not choose him.

In Acts 1, Peter announced to the other disciples, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us.” (1:21-22) Two men were nominated: Joseph Barsabbas, also known as Justus, and Matthias. Lots were drawn, and Matthias was added to the eleven apostles.

Nothing else about Matthias features in the canonical New Testament, but it can be inferred that Matthias had been a follower of Jesus for the past few years. Nonetheless, non-canonical documents report that Matthias, like the other disciples, travelled from place to place, preaching the Gospel. Traditionally, Matthias is associated with the arrival of Christianity in Cappadocia and the countries bordering the Caspian Sea.

According to the 14th-century Greek ecclesiastical historian, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopulus, Matthias began preaching in his home region of Judea before travelling to modern-day Georgia, where he was stoned to death. A marker within the ruins of a Roman fortress claims Matthias was buried there.

Other sources record Matthias preaching in Ethiopia. The Coptic book Acts of Andrew and Matthias claims the disciples were “in the city of the cannibals in Aethiopia.” The Synopsis of Dorotheus corroborates this, saying, “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters in the interior of Ethiopia, where the sea harbour of Hyssus is, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Sebastopolis is in modern-day Turkey, which means this statement goes against the theory that Matthias died in Georgia. 

A third theory suggests Matthias was stoned in Jerusalem, perhaps taking on Judas’ punishment, and then beheaded. On the other hand, Hippolytus of Rome believed Matthias died of old age.

Fragments of the apocryphal Gospel of Matthias survive, which suggests Matthias believed in a life of abstinence. “We must combat our flesh, set no value upon it, and concede to it nothing that can flatter it, but rather increase the growth of our soul by faith and knowledge.” 

Similar to the other disciples, minus Judas, Matthias was venerated by the Roman Church in the 11th Century. He was given the 24th February as his feast day (25th in Leap Years), but this was later changed to 14th May, so that it would not coincide with Lent. Legend claims Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, brought Matthias’ remains to Italy, where they were interred in the Abbey of Santa Giustina, Padua, with some sent to the Abbey of Matthias in Germany. Again, this goes against the claim that Matthias is buried in Georgia.

Following his death, Saint Matthias became the patron saint of alcoholics, carpenters, tailors, smallpox, hope and perseverance. He is also listed as the patron saint of the United States town Gary in Indiana and Great Falls-Billings in Montana.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

The Twelve (Thirteen) Disciples [Part 1]

The following was originally written for Gants Hill United Reformed Church in June 2020.

According to the New Testament Bible, Jesus appointed twelve primary apostles or disciples during his ministry in the 1st century AD. The three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record the commissioning of the Twelve Apostles. They are as follows:

1. Saint Peter

Saint Peter, also called Simon Peter, Simeon, Simon, Sham’un al-Safa, Cephas, or Peter the Apostle, was one of the first of the disciples Jesus called during his ministry. Born in around 1 AD to a man called either John or Jonah, Simon, as he was originally named, was a fisherman from the town of Bethsaida. Most of what we know about Simon/Peter is inferred from the Bible. We know, for example, that he was married because the Synoptic Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law:

“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.” (Matthew 8:14-15)

Peter/Simon is first mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew when he is called to be Jesus’ disciple. “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’” (Matthew 4:18-19) According to Matthew, the brothers left their nets and followed Jesus, no questions asked. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, contains a more detailed story.  

“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.” (Luke 5:1-3)

After speaking to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to cast the fishing nets. Simon revealed they had been fishing all night yet did not catch a single fish, yet, he obeyed Jesus’ instruction. The nets were soon full, and Simon was astonished and afraid, but Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10)

The Gospel of John adds a few more details to the story. Simon and Andrew were both disciples of John the Baptist before they met Jesus. They had heard about the Messiah from John, which is why they followed Jesus when they first met him. It is then that Jesus renamed Simon. “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter).” (John 1:42)

Despite becoming a disciple, Peter continued to use fishing boats, such as the one he and the other disciples were in when they saw Jesus walking on water. Naturally, the sight terrified the disciples, who believed Jesus to be a ghost. Once realising it was Jesus, Peter decided he too would walk on water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:29-30)

During the Last Supper, Peter is mentioned by name more times than any other disciple. According to the Gospel of John, Peter initially refused to let Jesus wash his feet. “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ ‘No,’ said Peter, ‘you shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.’” (John 13:6-8)

When Jesus predicted his betrayal, it was Peter who asked who Jesus thought was going to betray him, or at least he told another disciple to ask. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” (John 13:24) Shortly after this, Peter claimed he would lay down his life for Jesus, to whom Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!” (John 13:38) 

Just as Jesus had predicted, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times after his arrest. Before this, Peter made one final attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest and inevitable death. When the soldiers and chief priests arrived, “Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” (John 18:10)

Peter frequently features in the Acts of the Apostles. After Jesus had risen from the dead, the Disciples began to spread the Christian message throughout the Roman Empire. The Book of Acts records:

  • Acts 3: Peter healed a lame beggar.
  • Acts 4: The Sanhedrin “seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day” for speaking to the crowds.
  • Acts 9: Peter took a missionary journey to Lydda where he healed a man named Aeneas, then travelled to Joppa where he raised a woman named Dorcas from the dead.
  • Acts 10: Peter had a vision from God telling him that there were no “unclean” foods.
  • Acts 12: Peter was arrested by King Herod Agrippa and imprisoned, however, during the night, an angel helped him to escape.

Peter is largely regarded as the most prominent Disciple and the first leader of the early Church. He is often referred to as “the rock” upon which the Church was built. Peter is always listed first among the Disciples and was present and appeared to be the spokesman on most occasions. Peter’s importance is also suggested by Paul in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which he lists Peter as the first person (or man) to see the risen Christ. Before this, Peter had been the first disciple to enter the empty tomb. “So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally, the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.” (John 20:3-8)

In the final chapter of the Gospel of John, it is to Peter that Jesus asks, “do you love me?” three times. This balances out the three times Peter had previously denied Jesus. Jesus instructed Peter to “Feed my lambs”“Take care of my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep”. He also foretold Peter’s death by saying, “when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

Some scholars interpret John 21:18 as a sign that Peter was crucified (“stretch out your hands”). His death was not recorded in the Bible, although some believe the angel releasing Peter from prison in Acts 12 was a metaphor for his crucifixion. Traditionally, some Christians believe Peter was sentenced to death at the age of 64 during the reign of Emperor Nero. It is said he was crucified upside-down. The Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican is said to have been built on the location of Peter’s burial site.

In 1950, human bones were discovered under St Peter’s Basilica. After forensic examination, they have been identified as belonging to a man of roughly 61 years of age from the 1stcentury AD. In 1968, Pope Paul VI announced they were most likely the remains of the Apostle Peter.

Since no one knows the date of Peter’s death, the Roman Catholic Church has assigned the 29th June as the Feast of Saint Peter. The day is celebrated as a public holiday in Rome, where Peter is one of the patron saints as well as in parts of Switzerland, Peru, Malta and the Philippines. As well as being the patron saint of Rome, Saint Peter is the saint of bakers, bridge builders, butchers, fishermen, harvesters, cordwainers, horologists, locksmiths, cobblers, net makers, shipwrights and stationers.

2. Andrew

Andrew the Apostle or Saint Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter. It is estimated Andrew was born in Bethsaida, Galilee, between 5 and 10 AD and died around 62 AD in Greece. His name is neither Hebrew nor Aramaic but Greek, meaning “brave”.

In some traditions, Andrew is known as “the First Called” (Prōtoklētos) due to the Gospel of John’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples. Matthew and Mark tell us, “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (Matthew 4:18) John, on the other hand, provides more detail. 

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.” (John 1:40-42)

The Gospel of John explains that Simon and Andrew were originally disciples of John the Baptist. Although the other Gospels suggest Jesus spoke to Simon first, John claims Andrew led his brother to the Messiah; hence the Orthodox churches argue Andrew was the first to be called.

The Gospels suggest Andrew and his brother were very close since they lived together. “As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew.” (Mark 1:29) Not only that, they lived with Simon’s mother-in-law and presumably his wife. When Jesus and the disciples arrived at their house, they found Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever, which Jesus immediately healed.

Unlike his brother, Andrew is mentioned less frequently in the Bible, although his presence is recorded at the most important occasions, including the Last Supper. Andrew played a prominent role in the Feeding of the Five Thousand. A great crowd had come to visit Jesus, but the disciples did not have any food to feed them. One of the disciples exclaimed that it would take half a year’s wages to provide enough food, yet Andrew spoke up, saying, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9) Nevertheless, it was more than enough for everyone.

Andrew was one of the disciples present when Jesus predicted his death. The other was Philip, who had been approached by some Greeks asking to see Jesus. Rather than going straight to Jesus, “Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip, in turn, told Jesus.” (John 12:22) What this signified is uncertain. Perhaps Philip and Andrew were close friends, or Philip did not want to go alone. 

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and the signs of the End Times. “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” (Mark 13:3-4) 

The final time Andrew is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles. “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.” (Acts 1:13) By this time, Jesus had died, risen and been taken up into heaven, and the disciples had returned to Jerusalem. They were about to make an important decision about who to elect as the twelfth apostle to replace Judas Iscariot. After casting lots, a man named Matthias was chosen.

Unlike Peter, whose movements are recorded, it is not certain what Andrew did next. Origen of Alexandria (184-253 AD) claims Andrew preached in the Central Eurasian region of Scythia. The Chronicle of Nestor, written in 1113, suggests Andrew also preached along the Black Sea and parts of Eastern Europe, resulting in him becoming the patron saint of Ukraine, Romania and Russia. Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 AD) mentioned Andrew preaching in Thrace and Byzantium, where he set up the See of Byzantium, which later became the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The Acts of Andrew is an uncompleted testimony of the acts and miracles supposedly conducted by Andrew. Located in the New Testament Apocrypha with other books of the Acts of various disciples, the manuscript claims Andrew raised the dead, healed the blind, calmed storms and defeated armies simply by making the sign of the cross. Allegedly, Andrew caused the death of an embryo that would have resulted in an illegitimate child, and he rescued a boy from an incestuous mother. The latter act landed Andrew in trouble when the mother began accusing him of false claims, but God caused an earthquake to free Andrew and the boy.

Everything written in the Acts of Andrew is open to speculation, and many believe it is heretical and absurd. One person went as far as to claim it was a Christian retelling of Homer’s Odyssey. Regardless of whether the manuscript is reliable, it has led to the general belief that Andrew was crucified in the city of Patras in modern-day Greece. Rather than being crucified on a cross with similar proportions to the cross of Jesus, Andrew was crucified on an X shaped cross. Today, the X is a symbol of Saint Andrew and is found on the Scottish flag of whom he is the patron saint. Less accepted is the claim that Andrew was able to preach for three days whilst on the cross before he eventually died.

Due to the lack of verifiable knowledge about Andrew’s life, many cultures have developed myths and traditions. In Georgia, for example, Andrew is considered the first preacher of Christianity and the founder of the Georgian church. The people of Cyprus claim Andrew’s boat ran aground on their shores, where he caused springs of healing water to gush out of a rock, which restored the sight of the ship’s half-blind captain.

Legends state Andrew’s relics were brought by divine guidance from Constantinople to a town in Scotland, now known as St Andrews. Reports of X shapes in the sky during battles in the 9th century AD led people to believe Andrew was on their side. King Óengus II of the Picts said he would appoint Saint Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland if they won a battle, which they did. Later, the X symbol was used as a hex sign in fireplaces to prevent witches from flying down the chimney. The National Day of Scotland, 30th November, is celebrated as the feast of Andrew within the church. 

3. James the Great

James the Great became the third (or fourth) disciple alongside his brother John. He is known as James the Great to distinguish himself from James the Less, although it is believed “great” meant older or taller rather than more important. James was born in around 3 AD to Zebedee and Salome in Bethsaida, Galilee, and died in 44 AD.

“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.” (Matthew 4:21) After calling Simon Peter and Andrew to discipleship, Jesus came across James and John fishing with their father. All three Synoptic Gospels mention Zebedee was their father, but only Luke indicates that they were also Simon’s fishing partners. Jesus called to them, saying, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10) So, they returned to shore and went with Jesus.

The Gospels record the names of all twelve of the disciples, but Mark goes a step further, revealing that Jesus gave James and John a nickname. James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means ‘sons of thunder’)” (Mark 3:17) This is indicative of their hot-headed temper as evidenced in Luke 9:54 “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” Jesus had sent his disciples to a Samaritan village to prepare them for his arrival, yet the villagers did not want to welcome him. James and John’s immediate response was total destruction, but Jesus rebuked them and went to a different village instead.  

James and John are always mentioned as a pair in the Bible, so they must have been very close as brothers. They also experienced things that some of the other disciples did not, for example, the Transfiguration. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2) Afterwards, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

“He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James.” (Mark 5:37) The same three disciples were the only ones who were allowed to come with Jesus to the home of Jairus, the Synagogue leader whose child had just died. In front of Peter, James and John, Jesus raised the girl to life but told them not to let anyone know what he had done. 

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’” (Mark 13:3-4) Once again, it was the same trio, James, John and Peter, who approached Jesus on the Mount of Olives. They wished to know when the destruction of the Temple would occur and how to read the signs for the End Times. 

“He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.” (Mark 14:33) Finally, Jesus called the same three disciples to follow him after the Last Supper, asking them to keep guard whilst he prayed. Peter, James and John fell asleep and were woken by Jesus on his return. He asked them twice more to keep guard, and they fell asleep both times.

On one occasion, James and John approached Jesus without Peter, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35) They wanted Jesus to “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (10:37). Jesus informed them that it was not for him to grant who sat in those places. When the other ten disciples heard about their request, “they became indignant with James and John.” (Mark 10:41) To them, it may have appeared James and John thought they were better than them and more worthy of a place by Jesus’ side. Jesus kept the peace by saying that anyone who wishes to be great must first be a servant. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (10:45)

James’ impertinence and fiery temper may have led to his downfall. According to the Acts of the Apostles, “King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” (Acts 12:1-2) It does not mention why James was killed, but we know Peter had a different fate, imprisonment, suggesting Herod had not intended to kill them all. King Herod has been identified as Herod Agrippa, who was King of Judea from 41 to 44 AD. James’ date of death is estimated as 44 AD since the Bible reports Herod died soon after.  

According to legend, James’ remains are held in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, northwestern Spain. Santiago means Saint James in Spanish, and James is the patron saint of Spain. Yet, as the Bible tells us, James was martyred “with the sword” in Jerusalem. Many believe he had been beheaded, and a legend states his head is buried under the altar of the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of St. James in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. So, if James was killed in Jerusalem, how and why did he end up in Spain?

The 12th-century bishop Diego Gelmírez claimed James once preached in Spain and, after his death, the disciples carried his body by sea to the coast of Galicia, where they buried him. An ancient Galician tradition says the Virgin Mary appeared to James when he was preaching the Gospel on the banks of the Ebro River in Spain. Mary was still alive and living in Jerusalem, and the reason for the supernatural visitation is either lost or unknown. Following this, James returned to Jerusalem and his death.

Other traditions claim James’ link to Spain to be false. According to the history of the early Church, James never left Jerusalem. In the book of Romans, which was written after 44 AD, Paul visited Spain or “Illyricum”, where he claimed Christ was not known, thus suggesting James had never been there.

Another legend states James appeared to fight during the legendary battle of Clavijo, which took place 800 years after his death. He was subsequently named Saint James the Moor-slayer and made Spain’s patron and protector. In the 12th century, the military Order of Santiago was founded in his name and is recognised by its insignia, which represents a sword. The sword symbolises James’ death, but his emblem is also a scallop shell, which is represented by the shape of a fleur-de-lis on the insignia. Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela often wore scallop shell symbols on their clothing. In French, a scallop shell is known as coquille St. Jacques (cockle of St. James), and in German, Jakobsmuschel (mussel of St. James).  

As well as Spain, James the Great is the patron saint of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Guayaquil, the second-largest city in Ecuador. His feast day changes depending on whether you are part of the Western Church (25th July), Eastern Church (30th April) or Hispanic Church (30th December). Several professions also claim James the Great as their patron, including veterinarians, equestrians, furriers (people who make fur clothing), tanners (leather producers), pharmacists, oyster fishers, and woodcarvers.

4. John

John the Apostle was the brother of James and the youngest of the disciples. Scholars continue to debate whether this is the same John who wrote several of the books of the New Testament, and others have tried to identify him as John of Patmos, John the Evangelist and John the Elder. The Bible claims John was a fisherman and became a disciple at the same time as his brother. According to the Gospel of John (1:35-39), James and John were originally the disciples of John the Baptist, but the other Gospels do not record this.

“Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.” (Matthew 4:21)

John and James were the sons of Zebedee and Salome, although some churches call her Joanna. Presumably, Zebedee was a fisherman because he was in the boat where John and James were preparing their nets. When they left to follow Jesus, “they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men”. (Mark 1:20) The fact they could afford hired men implied Zebedee had some wealth, but little else is known about their father.

Salome, like her sons, was a follower of Jesus. She is recorded as one of the women present at Jesus’ crucifixion. “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40). According to medieval tradition, Salome’s full name was Mary Salome and was one of the three daughters of Saint Anne. This would make her Jesus’ aunt and John and James his cousin. This legend is based upon the Gospel of John’s version of the crucifixion, which substitutes the name Salome with Mary, the wife of Clopas. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)

As previously mentioned, John and James asked Jesus to let them sit on either side of him in the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10). The Gospel of Matthew, on the other hand, records Salome making this request. “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him. ‘What is it you want?’ he asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20-21)  

Throughout the Gospels, John and James are often mentioned together. They were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, a witness of the Agony in the Gethsemane, and given the nickname “son of Thunder” after suggesting Jesus call down heavenly fire on an inhospitable town. There were times when John was mentioned without his brother; for example, on the day of Unleavened Bread, “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’” (Luke 22:8)

In the Gospel of John, the phrase “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is used at least five times but does not appear in the other Gospels. As a result, the scholars who believe John the disciple wrote John’s Gospel also believe John was the disciple Jesus loved. “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:20-24)

The references to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” are as follows:

  • John 13:23-25: One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”
  • John 19:26-27: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
  • John 20:2: So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
  • John 21:7: Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
  • John 21:20: “Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is going to betray you?’)”

John was born around 6 AD and died around 100 AD, almost a generation after the death of his brother James, the first disciple to die a martyr’s death. A remark made by Jesus about the disciple he loved, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22), led to rumours that he would never die. This turned out to be untrue, although he did outlive all the other disciples, dying at Ephesus in old age. 

John’s activities after his brother’s death are not mentioned in the Bible, but it is assumed he was forced to leave Judea due to Herod Agrippa’s persecution of the Christians. Tradition says John went to Ephesus where looked after a church founded by Paul. If scholars are correct in assuming John was the same John who wrote three epistles, then it is likely he wrote them at this time. Allegedly, John was then banished to the Greek island of Patmos after being plunged into a vat of boiling oil and suffering no consequences.

According to the theological work Against Heresies by Irenaeus, the bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon in France) written in 180 AD, John taught Polycarp, the future Bishop of Smyrna, about Jesus. In turn, Polycarp taught Irenaeus about Jesus and John. It is claimed Ignatius of Antioch was also a student of John.

The Feast Day of Saint John the Apostle is traditionally celebrated on 27th December, but there was once another feast on the 6th May, Saint John Before the Latin Gate. This celebrated the legend that he was miraculously preserved from the vat of boiling oil during the reign of the anti-Christian Emperor Domitian. A legend from the apocryphal Acts of John claims he was challenged to drink a cup of poison to demonstrate the power of his faith, from which he survived unharmed. As a result, he is the patron saint of burn and poison victims. John is also the patron saint of love, loyalty, friendship, authors, booksellers, art dealers, editors, publishers, scribes, examinations, scholars and theologians.

5. Philip

“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’” (John 1:43) Not much is known about Philip’s origins other than he came from Bethsaida in Galilee, the same place as Andrew and Peter. Having a Greek name, Philippos, suggests Philip may have originally come from Greece. Although there is no evidence to support this, when a group of Greeks wanted to visit Jesus, it was Philip they approached. “They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’” (John 12:21)

Philip only gets a brief mention in the Synoptic Gospels, and it is only in the Gospel of John that his presence is recorded at certain events. Not only was Philip present at the feeding of the 5000, but it was also Philip Jesus turned to ask, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5) Philip thought the task was impossible, replying, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (6:6) John’s Gospel reveals Jesus already had a plan and was testing Philip’s faith. 

At the last supper, Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8) Jesus’ response suggests he was not pleased with Philip’s request: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?” (14:9) Yet, this prompted Jesus to teach his disciples about the unity of the Father and the Son: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (John 14:11)

The final time Philip is mentioned in the Bible is in the Acts of the Apostles, shortly after Jesus had been taken up to heaven. The apostles met up to talk, pray and decide who would replace Judas Iscariot as the twelfth disciple. After this, Philip is never mentioned again by name, but in Acts 6, “the twelve” came together to appoint seven men to help spread the ministry of the word of God. Whenever the apostles are referred to as “the twelve”, it is safe to assume Philip was amongst them. Confusingly, one of the men chosen was also called Philip (the Evangelist), who continues to feature in the Book of Acts.

Some extra-canonical texts mention Philip, but scholars have difficulty differentiating between Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist. Some historians even suggested they were the same person, so many texts cannot be fully trusted. The non-canonical Acts of Philip is allegedly an account of the preaching and miracles of Philip after the resurrection of Jesus. The text claims Philip and Bartholomew, one of the other twelve, were sent to preach in Greece, Phrygia and Syria. It also says Philip’s sister Mariamne went with them. The name Mariamne was commonly used in the Herodian royal house, so the author may have confused Philip the Apostle with Philip the Tetrarch (26 BC-34 AD).

Whilst Philip was preaching in Hierapolis in Phrygia, he converted the wife of the proconsul. The act angered the proconsul, who ordered Philip to be tortured and killed. There are two versions of his death. One is he was beheaded and the other, according to the Acts of Philip, claims Philip was crucified upside-down. He continued preaching whilst nailed to the cross, which converted a few more people who tried to release him. Philip insisted they leave him and eventually died. His year of death is recorded as 80 AD. 

Due to his crucifixion, Philip is associated with the symbol of the Latin Cross. He is also symbolised by two loaves of bread or a basket filled with bread because of his role in the feeding of the 5000.

Another extra-biblical text, known as the Letter from Peter to Philip, suggests Philip departed on a solo mission at some point between Jesus’ resurrection and being taken up into heaven. The letter from Peter asks Philip to re-join the disciples at the Mount of Olives, presumably so they could appoint a new disciple.

In 2011, Turkish archaeologists claimed to have discovered the tomb of Saint Philip in the ancient town of Hierapolis, near the modern town of Denizli. Writings on the wall of the tomb provided enough evidence for other archaeologists to agree that it was the final resting place of the apostle. Saint Philip’s relics are kept in the crypt of the Basilica Santi Apostoli in Rome.

The Roman Church venerated Philip, and 1st May was designated as his feast day, although this has now changed to 3rd May. Eastern Orthodox churches, on the other hand, celebrate Saint Philip on 14th November. Saint Philip is listed as the patron of Cape Verde, hatters, pastry chefs, San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico, and Uruguay.

6. Bartholomew

Bartholomew became a disciple at the same time as Philip, although he is named Nathanael in the Gospel of John. “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’” (John 1:45) Little is known about Bartholomew/Nathanael, except at the end of John’s Gospel, he is referred to as Nathanael from Cana in Galilee” (John 21:2), implying he lived fairly locally to Jesus.  

It is not certain why Bartholomew has two names, but the meaning of the names may give us some indication. Bartholomew is an anglicised version of Bar Talmai, which means either “Son of Talmai” or “Son of Furrows”. Possibly, Bartholomew’s father was called Talmai, which was an Aramaic form of the name Ptolemy. Nathanael, on the other hand, means “God has given”. Whether he had this name before he met Jesus is unknown, and why it was only John’s Gospel that used it is another mystery.

When Bartholomew/Nathanael was first called to be a disciple, he was sceptical, asking, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46) Nazareth was not a particularly well-off place at the time, and Nathanael could not believe the true Messiah would come from such a place.  

“When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’” (John 1:47) Nathanael was surprised that Jesus knew him, so Jesus clarified, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (1:48) At that moment, Nathanael believed Jesus was the Messiah, but Jesus told him, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that … Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (1:50-51) 

Bartholomew’s life after the death and resurrection of Jesus has been pieced together by a variety of sources, none of which are completely reliable. The Christian historian Eusebius (c.260-340) claims Bartholomew went on a missionary trip to India, where he left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Saint Jerome (347-420) agrees with this claim, but other sources record Bartholomew serving as a missionary in Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Parthia (Iran), Lycaonia (Asia Minor), and Armenia.

Popular legend says Bartholomew travelled to Armenia with the apostle Jude where they preached about the life of Jesus. It was also in Armenia where he met his death, either being flayed alive and beheaded, or crucified upside down. Bartholomew had reportedly converted Polymius, the king of Armenia, to Christianity which enraged his brother Prince Astyages. Yet, this does not match historical records of Armenian kings; there was no King Polymius. Yet, in India, there was an official named Polymius, and some scholars state Bartholomew most likely died there in the town of Kalyan.

A few texts record the miracles Bartholomew may have performed before and after his death. The two most popular post-death miracles occurred on the Aeolian island, Lipari. On Bartholomew’s feast day (24th August), the people of Lipari were taking part in an annual procession from the Cathedral of St Bartholomew to the main part of the town, carrying a golden statue of the saint. The statue was usually easy to carry, but on this occasion, it was too heavy, and the bearers had to stop and rest a couple of times, delaying the procession. Whilst resting at the top of a hill, the walls of the town downhill started to collapse. If the people of Lipari had been in the town at the time, they would all have been killed. They believed Saint Bartholomew had saved their lives by making the statue too heavy to carry.

The second miracle on Lipari occurred much later during the Second World War. Fascist leaders needed money, so ordered a silver statue of Saint Bartholomew to be melted down. When it was weighed, they discovered it was only a few grams and not worth the effort. The statue was returned to the cathedral, but locals knew it weighed several kilograms. Once again, they believed Saint Bartholomew had altered the weight of the statue.

Despite not much being known about Bartholomew, he has become a popular figure in art. In a biography of the disciple by Jacobus de Varagine (1230-1299), Bartholomew’s supposed appearance was described in detail. “His hair is black and crisped, his skin fair, his eyes wide, his nose even and straight, his beard thick and with few grey hairs; he is of medium stature…” Many artists have since used this description when depicting Bartholomew in their paintings. He is also often depicted as being flayed alive. Contemporary artists have been inspired by Bartholomew’s fate, including Damien Hurst and Gunther Von Hagen, the developer of the exhibition Body Worlds.  

Due to the legends, Bartholomew became the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church. He was also celebrated in England at the Bartholomew Fair, which was held in Smithfield, London, during the middle ages. St Bartholomew’s Street Fair continues to be held annually in Crewkerne, Somerset and is believed to date back to Saxon times.

The nature of Bartholomew’s death led him to become the patron saint of tanners, plasterers, tailors, leatherworkers, bookbinders, farmers, house painters, butchers and glove makers. Other things and places that have claimed him as their saint include Florentine cheese and salt merchants; Gambatesa, a commune in Italy; Catbalogan, the capital of Samar in the Philippines; Magalang, a province in Pampanga, Philippines; Metro Manila, the National Capital Region of the Philippines; Nagcarlan, a municipality in Laguna, Philippines; San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija, Philippines; Gharghur, Malta; Neurological diseases; Shoemakers; and Los Cerricos, Spain.

To be continued…


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

 Louisa Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917), the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon, is a well-known name in the history of women’s rights. Lesser renowned but still important is her daughter, Louisa Garrett Anderson, who followed Elizabeth into the medical profession and Suffrage campaigns. Whilst her aunt, Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), belonged to the Suffragist movement, Louisa joined the more militant Suffragettes.

Born on 28th July 1873 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Louisa was the eldest of Elizabeth and James George Skelton Anderson’s three children. Elizabeth was a co-founder of the London School of Medicine for Women and later Britain’s first female mayor. Louisa’s father co-owned the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as P&O.

As a child, Louisa attended St Andrews School for Girls Company, a boarding school in Scotland, later renamed St Leonards. Founded in 1877, the first headmistress, Louisa Lumsden (1840-1935), believed “a girl should receive an education that is as good as her brother’s, if not better.” The school advocated for higher education for women, which paved the way for Louisa to receive her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the London School of Medicine for Women in 1898.

In 1900, Louisa received her Doctor of Medicine and enrolled at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the United States for post-graduate studies. Despite her academic achievements, Louisa could not find a hospital willing to employ a female doctor. Instead, she returned to England, where her mother had founded the New Hospital for Women, now renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Obstetric Hospital. Louisa began working as a surgical assistant in 1902 before working her way up to a senior surgeon. Her role involved gynaecological and general operations, including hysterectomies and uterine cancer surgeries.

Louisa joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1903, which used democratic and non-militant tactics to protest in favour of female emancipation. The NUWSS was led by Millicent Fawcett, the sister of Louisa’s mother. Despite the family connection, Louisa felt frustrated with the NUWSS’s lack of progress, so she became a member of the more radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1907.

The WSPU, led by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and her daughters, Christabel (1880-1958) and Sylvia (1882-1960), were known for their acts of civil unrest, including breaking windows, heckling politicians and holding loud demonstrations and marches. Many members of the WSPU, or Suffragettes as the Daily Mail called them, frequently found themselves arrested for their actions. Regardless of this risk, Louisa devoted her time to the union.

On Friday 18th November 1910, Louisa and her mother joined 300 women to march to parliament and petition Prime Minister Asquith (1852-1928) for voting rights. Louisa and Elizabeth were in the first group to arrive in Westminster, with Hertha Ayrton (1854-1923) and Princess Sophia Duleep Singh (1876-1948). They were taken to Asquith’s office, but the Prime Minister refused to see them. After leaving the building, they witnessed a violent clash between the demonstrating women and the police.

Nicknamed ‘Black Friday’, the marching women were met by lines of policemen who subjected them to violence and, in many cases, sexual assault. Male bystanders felt encouraged to join in the melee. Several women suffered injuries, and the police arrested four men and 115 women, including Louisa. The remaining protestors and the families of the women in prison created a public outcry about the unnecessary actions of the police. To keep the peace, Winston Churchill (1874-1965), the Home Secretary, ordered the release of all prisoners, stating “on this occasion no public advantage would be gained by proceeding with the prosecution.”

Louisa spent time in Holloway prison in 1912 after throwing a brick through a window and participating in other Suffragette activities. HM Prison Holloway was the largest women’s prison in western Europe until its closure in 2016. Many Suffragettes were imprisoned during the years preceding the First World War. In protest, several women went on hunger strike and were subjected to force-feeding. One of Louisa’s fellow window-smashers, Ethel Smyth (1858-1944), composed the official anthem of the WSPU to words by Cicely Hamilton (1872-1952), which they performed during their stay at Holloway in 1912.

In 1914, Louisa left the WSPU to form the United Suffragists, which allowed men and non-militant Suffragists to join former Suffragettes in the ongoing campaign for the right to vote. Supported by the artist Patricia Woodlock (1873-c.1930), Louisa ran the Edinburgh branch of the United Suffragists. They adopted the Votes for Women newspaper, which formerly belonged to the WSPU.

Not much information exists about Louisa’s private life, but her friend, Dr Flora Murray (1869-1923), is frequently described as Louisa’s partner, suggesting a lesbian relationship. Murray, originally from Dumfries, Scotland, started living with Louisa in 1914. Before then, she and Louisa established the Women’s Hospital for Children at 688 Harrow Road, London, in 1912. The hospital provided treatment specifically for children of working-class families. They adopted the WSPU motto, “Deeds not words”, and allowed female doctors to gain clinical experience in paediatrics, which they could not receive anywhere else.

When the First World War broke out in July 1914, Louisa and Murray founded the Women’s Hospital Corps (WHC), which they equipped with female staff. The couple suspected the British War Office would reject their help, so they offered their assistance to the French Red Cross instead. The French provided the women space in a Parisian hotel and appointed Murray as Médecin-en-Chef (chief physician) and Louisa as the chief surgeon.

The Women’s Hospital Corps expanded to set up another military hospital in Wimereux on the coast of the English Channel. They treated both French and British soldiers, the latter of whom were greatly surprised to find a hospital run by British women. Noting the successfulness of Murray, Louisa and their medical team, the British claimed it as their auxiliary hospital rather than a French one. When casualties were evacuated to England in January 1915, the War Office invited Murray and Anderson to run a hospital in London.

Overseen by the Royal Army Medical Corps, Louisa and Murray started running the Endell Street Military Hospital (ESMH) in May 1915. Constructed in the former St Giles Union Workhouse in Covent Garden, the hospital had space for an operating theatre and most of the equipment from Wimereux Hospital, which closed following Louisa and Murray’s departure from France. Initially, the ESMH opened with enough beds for 520 men, but the number of wounded continued to grow, forcing them to squeeze in another 53 beds. Additional Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) hospitals were established to allow doctors and nurses to treat up to 800 wounded soldiers at a time.

The ESMH saw 50,000 patients between 1915 and 1919, with 80 soldiers arriving each day. Louisa and the other surgeons conducted around 20 operations per day. The majority of staff were women, including drivers, dentists, pathologists, doctors, surgeons and nurses. Other women came in daily as librarians and entertainment officers to boost morale among the patients, particularly those who never had visitors from family or friends. Whilst the majority of wounded soldiers were British, at least 2000 Canadians received treatment, plus a handful of Australian, New Zealand, American, Russian and French troops.

Reluctant to give the women full control of the hospital, the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) regularly checked up on the staff and patients. The RAMC was sceptical about the women’s ability to work professionally and felt they were not properly trained for the job. Louisa, Murray and the other women proved the RAMC wrong when they received positive feedback from the patients. Soldiers even commented on the “feminine touches” around the hospital, such as flowers, colour and proper lighting, which benefited their psychological health, unlike the other drab, gloomy military hospitals.

At the ESMH, Louisa worked closely with the pathologist Helen Chambers (1879-1935) to pioneer a new method of treating septic wounds. James Rutherford Morison (1853-1939), a surgeon stationed at Northumberland War Hospital, introduced BIPP (bismuth iodoform paraffin paste) to treat contaminated wounds. Louisa and Chambers tested the product on some of their patients and reported the positive results to Morison, who asked them to continue with a larger trial of BIPP throughout 1916. Louisa published her report on the product in the weekly medical journal The Lancet, in which she praised its effectiveness, both in healing the wound and limiting the patient’s pain. The antiseptic properties allowed dressings to remain on for longer, reducing the use of bandages by 80%.

In 1917, King George V founded the Order of the British Empire to honour those who served in non-combatant roles during the First World War. The Order consists of five classes: Knight/Dame Grand Cross (GBE), Knight/Dame Commander (KBE/DBE), Commander (CBE), Officer (OBE), and Member (MBE). For their work in the hospital, Louisa and Murray became one of the first people awarded a CBE in August 1917.

Louisa and Murray continued working in the ESMH hospital until the end of the war, when they received orders to evacuate and close the building by December 1919. Both women returned to the Women’s Hospital for Children in Harrow Road, renamed the Roll of Honour Hospital. While working as doctors and surgeons, Murray wrote the memoir Women as Army Surgeons: Being the History of the Women’s Hospital Corps in Paris, published in 1920. She dedicated the book to “Louisa Garrett Anderson / Bold, cautious, true and my loving companion.”

As well as celebrating the end of the war, the Suffragists and Suffragettes celebrated the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which allowed women over the age of 30 the right to vote. The NUWSS and WSPU disbanded and formed the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC), which fought for the same voting rights as men, equal pay, fairer divorce laws and an end to discrimination against women in employment.

Lack of funding resulted in the closure of the Roll of Honour Hospital in around 1921, so both women decided to retire and move to a cottage in Penn, Buckinghamshire. Sadly, Murray discovered she had rectal carcinoma and died shortly after surgery to remove the tumour, with Louisa by her side. Murray left everything to Louisa in her will and was buried at the Holy Trinity Church near their home.

Following Flora Murray’s death, Louisa lost her radicalism and joined the Conservative Party. In 1934, she became a justice of the peace and later the Mayor of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. When the Second World War began, Louisa came out of retirement to work as a surgeon at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital, named after her mother.

In 1943, Louisa discovered she had developed cancer, which quickly spread throughout her body. She spent her remaining days in a nursing home in Brighton, where she passed away on 15th November 1943 at the age of 70. Her brother, nephews and nieces arranged her funeral and scattered her ashes on the South Downs. They also commissioned a new headstone for Flora Murray, featuring the inscription:

To the dear love of comrades and in memory of
Flora Murray
CBE, MD, BS Durham, DPH. Cambridge
Daughter of Com John Murray RN
Murraythwaite, Dumfriesshire
Born 8 May 1869
Died 26 July 1923
She commanded the military hospital Endall Street London with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel RAMC 1915 -1919
God gave her the strength to lead, to pity and to heal
And of her friend
Louisa Garrett Anderson
CBE, MD, Chief Surgeon Women’s Hospital Corps 1914–1919
Daughter of James George Skelton Anderson and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson of Aldeburgh, Suffolk.
Born 28 July 1873
Died 15 November 1943
WE HAVE BEEN GLORIOUSLY HAPPY

Louisa Garrett Anderson is one of 55 women whose names and photographs appear on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London. Erected in 2018 to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the statue pays homage to several people who supported the suffrage campaign. Many notable Suffragettes appear on the plinth, including Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Adele Pankhurst, and four men: Laurence Housman (1865-1959), George Lansbury (1859-1940), Frederick Pethick-Lawrence (1871-1961) and Reverend Claude Hinscliff (1875-1964).

Flora Murray did not make it onto the shortlist of names on the Millicent Fawcett statue, but she is due to appear on the new polymer £100 Scottish banknote in May 2022. Dr Murray will feature on one side and the poet Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) on the other. Speaking about the decision to include Murray, the chief executive of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust said, “Almost a century since her death, Flora’s story is a reminder of the huge debt of gratitude we owe to those early agitators who refused to accept the limitations imposed by a society that didn’t believe women could or should be doctors, physicians and surgeons. Then and now, we embrace the pioneers, the innovators, and the game-changers.”


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Britain’s Queen of the Desert

When thinking about the Middle East, the first British name to come to mind is often Lawrence of Arabia (T. E. Lawrence), who was involved with the Arab Revolt (1916–1918) and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915–1918). Yet, Lawrence was not the only British person to support the Middle East. Gertrude Bell, an author and archaeologist, became highly influential to British officials and helped establish modern states, such as Iraq. Trusted by both the British and the Arabs, Bell is often described as “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection”.

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on 14th July 1868 in an English town called Washington in County Durham. Her father, Sir Thomas Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet of Rounton Range and Washington Hall (1844-1931), was a wealthy landowner, and her grandfather, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, 1st Baronet (1816-1904), was an ironmonger “as famous in his day as Isambard Kingdom Brunel“. Gertrude’s mother, Mary, passed away when she was only three years old after giving birth to her younger brother, Maurice (1871-1944).

Without a mother, Bell grew close to her father, who inspired her thirst for adventure. Her father also taught her about British policy-making and capitalism. He always made sure his workers were well paid and cared for, an attitude which he passed down to his daughter.

When Bell was seven, her father married the playwright Florence Olliffe (1851-1930). As well as providing the family with three more children, Hugh (1878-1926), Florence (1880-1971) and Mary (1882-1966), Florence taught Bell about duty and decorum but also encouraged her growing intellect. Florence regularly assisted the wives of local ironworkers, helping them become self-sufficient and access education.

At 11, Bell started attending Queen’s College in London before moving to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University, at 17. At the time, degree topics were limited for women, with history being one of the few they could study. Bell specialised in modern history and became the first woman to graduate in the subject at Oxford with a first-class honours degree. Unfortunately, her success was not classed as an academic degree because she was a woman.

After graduating from university, Bell travelled to Persia in 1892 to visit her step-uncle, Sir Frank Lascelles (1841-1920), who served as the British minister in Tehran. Bell described her journey in a book, Persian Pictures, which she published in 1894. The adventure inspired her to continue travelling, and she developed a passion for archaeology and languages. During her travels, Bell learned to speak Arabic, Persian, French, German and Italian.

In 1899, Bell explored Palestine and Syria, then travelled from Jerusalem to Damascus the following year. In 1903, Bell visited Singapore with her brother, where she befriended British colonial administrator Sir Frank Swettenham (1850-1946). Bell and Swettenham kept up a correspondence for several years, and they may have had a brief affair in 1904.

Between 1899 and 1904, Bell enjoyed mountaineering. While hiking in the Bernese Alps in western Switzerland, she recorded ten new pathways and reached one of the highest peaks in 1901. Since named after her, Gertrudspitze rises 2,632 m (8,635 ft) above sea level and remains a popular destination for experienced climbers.

In 1907, Bell published another book, Syria: The Desert and the Sown, which described her voyage to Syria. At the time, Syria belonged to the Ottoman Empire and encompassed the cities of Damascus, Jerusalem (now Israel/Palestine), Beirut (Lebanon), the ruins of Antioch (Turkey), and Alexandretta (Turkey). Her descriptions of the country and cities gave readers in the Western World their first glimpse of the Arabian Desert.

In March 1907, Bell returned to the Ottoman Empire, where she joined the archaeologist and New Testament scholar Sir William Mitchell Ramsay (1851-1939) on an excavation of Binbirkilise. Meaning “One Thousand and One Churches”, Binbirkilise is a ruined city once inhabited by Byzantine Christians between the 3rd and 8th century AD. Bell published her initial findings in the Revue Archéologique and helped Ramsay write the book, The Thousand and One Churches. Together, they started excavating several buildings, but when Bell returned two years later, stone robbers had demolished their findings.

Bell returned to England in 1908, where she became a founder member of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. Despite her misgivings about women’s inequality at university, Bell opposed women being granted the vote in parliamentary elections. Bell’s opinions stemmed from her social and political background, where the men were in charge but allowed her to participate in intellectual discussions. Today, it may seem strange that Bell, one of the most educated women of her time, opposed the suffrage campaign, but her main argument was that the uneducated should not be involved in politics, regardless of their sex. If women did not have the right to equal education with men, Bell questioned how they would cope with parliamentary matters.

Bell did not remain in England for long before travelling to Mesopotamia in January 1909. Today, the majority of historical Mesopotamia is located in Iraq. While there, she visited the ancient city of Carchemish, where she met T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935), who was working for Reginald Campbell Thompson (1876-1914), the man responsible for the excavation of the city.

While in Mesopotamia, Bell also photographed the Assyrian relief carvings in the Halamata Cave near the city of Duhok (Iraq). Bell was the first person to document a procession of nine carved figures that date back to approximately 704-681 BC on camera. Further study of the carvings has led archaeologists to believe the figures represent ” the Assyrian king worshipping the main divinities in the Mesopotamian pantheon.”

In the same year, Bell helped excavate the Al-Ukhaidir Fortress and wrote the first report on the remains. Whilst the building was large, Bell noted the living quarters were cramped. The fortress was on several important trade routes, so the size was likely to demonstrate the “despotic and the pleasure-loving character of the dynasty” rather than provide comfort for its inhabitants.

In 1913, Bell made another trip to Mesopotamia, where she became the second foreign woman to visit Haʼil, a city now in Saudi Arabia. Haʼil is the homeland of the Rashid royal family, who are historical rivals to the Saudi royal family. When Bell arrived, the city was in political turmoil. She was held in the city for eleven days before being able to continue her journey across the Arabian peninsula to Baghdad and back to Damascus. The only woman to visit Haʼil before Bell was Anne Blunt, 15th Baroness Wentworth (1837-1917), the daughter of the famous mathematician Ada Lovelace (1815-52).

At the outbreak of the First World War, Bell requested to be posted to the Middle East. Initially, her request was declined, so she spent a year in France working for the Red Cross. In November 1915, British Intelligence changed its mind and sent Bell to General Gilbert Clayton (1875-1929) at the Arab Bureau in Cairo, Egypt. Both Bell and T. E. Lawrence, who had also been sent to Cairo, were recommended by Commander David Hogarth (1862-1927), an archaeologist who became the acting director of the Arab Bureau the following year.

Using her knowledge of the Arabic language, Bell’s first task was to interpret data about Arab tribes collected by Captain William Shakespear (1878-1915), who had been shot and killed at the Battle of Jarrab. With Bell as the translator, Lawrence and other British Intelligence agents aimed to encourage the Arabs to form an alliance with Britain and stand against the Ottoman Empire.

In March 1916, Captain Clayton sent Bell to Basra, a former city belonging to the Ottoman Empire (now Iraq) that British forces had captured. Bell visited the city during her earlier travels and knew the area better than any Brit. Dividing her time between the Military GHQ Basra and the office of Chief Political Officer Percy Cox (1864-1937), Bell devised maps to help British troops travel safely from Basra to Baghdad.

Bell was given the title “Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo” and assigned to Colonial Office intelligence officer Harry St John Philby (1885-1960), an Arabist born to British parents in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As his field controller, Bell taught him about political manoeuvering and espionage. Bell remained in Basra until British troops successfully took Baghdad in March 1917.

When it was safe, Percy Cox summoned Bell to Baghdad and gave her the title “Oriental Secretary”. She remained in the city until the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in January 1919, after which Cox sent her to analyse the situation in Mesopotamia. With her knowledge of Arab tribes, Bell wrote a report called Self Determination in Mesopotamia, in which she listed the tribes she thought best suited to take on the leadership of a newly formed country. Unfortunately, the British Commissioner in Mesopotamia, Arnold Wilson (1884-1940), insisted the Mesopotamian population was not ready to rule alone, so proposed an Arab government under the influence of British officials.

Throughout 1920, Bell acted as a mediator between the Arab government and British officials. Not only did she have to convey messages between the two nations, but she also needed to mediate between the various Mesopotamian tribes. The Shias in the south, the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis in the centre all wanted to self-govern their land, but for the country to function, Bell needed to persuade them to unite. British Officials were also mindful of tribal feuds that could be costly and make the country vulnerable to other nations, such as Turkey, Persia and Syria, who had their eye on Mesopotamia’s oil resources.

Uniting the tribes was easier in theory than in practice. The Kurds not only inhabited parts of Mesopotamia but also Syria and Turkey. Whilst the Shias and Sunnis could merge their lands, only a portion of the Kurds lived in the new country, Iraq. Whilst Bell endorsed the division of the northern tribe, the Kurds were not happy about being denied a homeland, which led to uprisings in Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

Bell expressed the difficulties British officials faced in a letter to her father, saying, “Mesopotamia is not a civilised state.” By the end of 1920, the British had prevented the Kurdish revolt from escalating. Bell was invited to attend a series of meetings between 12th and 30th March to discuss the geographic and political future of the country. Officially known as the Middle East Conference held in Cairo and Jerusalem, the meetings were attended by many British officials, including the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and T. E. Lawrence, the Special Advisor to Colonial Office. The minutes of the meetings record Bell as the Oriental Secretary for High Commissioner of Iraq, with Sir Percy Cox as High Commissioner of Iraq.

During the Cairo Conference, Bell provided significant input in the discussions about Iraq’s creation and recommended Faisal bin Hussein (1885-1933), a former commander of the Arab forces, as the first King of Iraq. Lawrence backed up the suggestion, and Faisal officially became King on 23rd August 1921. Due to his Hashemite lineage, the country was initially called the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq.

Not everyone welcomed Faisal as the king because they did not want to be governed by someone from a different tribe. Bell tried to ease Faisal into the role, teaching him about tribal geography and local business and supervising the election of government officials. The Arabs called Bell “al-Khatun”, which means a Lady of the Court who keeps an open eye and ear for the benefit of the State, and she served as Faisal’s confidante.

Supervising Faisal was not always an easy task, especially when he attempted to rid himself of the control of the British advisors. Writing about the ordeal, Bell confessed, “You may rely upon one thing — I’ll never engage in creating kings again; it’s too great a strain.” Eventually, Faisal settled into the role and assisted Bell to establish the Baghdad Archaeological Museum, later renamed the Iraqi Museum. Bell donated many of her archaeological finds to the museum, believing the relics of Mesopotamian civilization ought to remain in their country of origin. Bell also founded the British School of Archaeology in Iraq to encourage the Arab population to develop an interest in their history and help preserve ancient artefacts.

Before the creation of Iraq, each Arab tribe had a flag or badge. To prevent riots and protests, the British proposed a new flag for Iraq, which incorporated aspects of each tribe. The design featured a black stripe to represent the Abbasid caliphate, a white stripe for the Umayyad caliphate, and a green stripe for Fatimid Dynasty. Joining the three lines together, a red triangle represented the country’s main religion, Islam. Bell also suggested adding a star to the flag to make it stand out from similar flags of other Middle Eastern countries.

The flag of Iraq has changed many times since its creation. Today’s flag looks remarkably different from the version Bell worked on in 1921. In 1959, a revolution led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim (1914-1963) abolished the Hashemite monarchy. For a brief time, the new republic adopted a black, white and green vertical tricolour, with a red eight-pointed star in the centre. When Qasim was overthrown in 1963, the country adopted the same colours and style as Egypt and Syria’s flags, a horizontal tricolour of red, white, and black bands. Initially, three green stars sat in the centre to symbolise Iraq’s aspiration to unite with Egypt and Syria. The union never happened, and the central symbol changed several times until 2008 when the Council of Representatives of Iraq settled on the phrase Allāhu ʾakbar in Kufic script, which means “Allah is the greatest”.

Bell’s lengthy stay in the Middle East began to take a toll on her health during the 1920s. Her work, which included writing correspondence and intelligence reports, was stressful, not helped by her repeated bronchitis attacks due to the smoke-filled offices she shared with her heavy smoking colleagues. She also suffered bouts of malaria and struggled to cope with the heat in the summer. By the time Bell returned to England for a brief visit in 1925, she was frail and emaciated.

After a short stay with her family, Bell returned to Baghdad, where she developed pleurisy, leaving her unable to work for several weeks. When she recovered, she received the sad news that her brother Hugh had succumbed to typhoid. On 11th July 1926, Bell instructed her maid to wake her up in the morning and went off to bed. That night, Bell died from a supposed overdose of sleeping pills. Whilst some assumed Bell committed suicide, others believe her death was an accident since she had asked her maid to wake her.

Bell’s funeral took place on 12th July 1926, merely hours after her death. The funeral was a major event attended by British officials and Arabs living in the area. King Faisal watched the procession from his balcony as Bell’s coffin was carried to the British cemetery in Baghdad’s Bab al-Sharji district.

Commander David Hogarth wrote Bell’s obituary, emphasising the respect British officials had for her. “No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit.”

Bell’s stepmother also honoured her by publishing two volumes of letters Bell sent to her and the family about her adventures in the Middle East before the outbreak of World War One. Some of these letters formed part of the documentary Letters from Baghdad, featuring Tilda Swinton (b. 1960) as the voice of Bell. Gertrude Bell’s life was also the basis of the 2015 film Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman (b. 1967).

For her work, Bell was posthumously made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and honoured with a stained glass window at St Lawrence’s Church, East Rounton, North Yorkshire. The window, designed by Douglas Strachan (1875-1950), features Magdalen College, Oxford, where Bell attended university, and Khadimain, Baghdad, where she spent the last year of her life.

As one of the few British people remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection, Bell remained a respected name in Iraq for some time. Unfortunately, as time went on, she disappeared from general public knowledge, with T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) taking precedence. With the help of recent films, Gertrude Bell is gradually getting the respect she deserves. Whilst the situation in Iraq and its neighbouring countries still face political struggles and tribal feuds, Bell simultaneously helped the country reform after the fall of the Ottoman Empire whilst preserving the remains of the ancient land. Not only are these enormous feats, but Bell’s achievements also occurred at a time when women were excluded from political work. Despite her views on women’s suffrage, Bell paved the way for women to aspire to careers in archaeology, and for that reason, she deserves the epithet “Queen of the Desert”.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Charlie Chaplin: Rags to Riches

Rising to fame in the silent film era, Charlie Chaplin became a worldwide icon for his performances in many films. Throughout his 75 year career, Chaplin also wrote, directed, produced, and composed the music for his productions. Best known for starring as the Tramp, Chaplin remains a firm favourite among many generations. Even those who have not seen his films know of Charlie Chaplin and recognise his trademark bowler hat.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London on 16th April 1889. His mother, Hannah (1865-1928), was an actress and singer who went by the stage name Lily Harley. His father, Charles (1863-1901), was also a music hall entertainer. Unfortunately, his parents separated in 1891 and Chaplin, who stayed with his mother, grew up in poverty. At seven years old, circumstances forced the family into the Lambeth Workhouse, where he was separated from his mother and sent to the Central London District School for paupers.

After briefly reuniting with Hannah in 1898, Chaplin and his older brother Sydney were sent to temporarily live with their father. Meanwhile, Hannah was admitted to Cane Hill mental asylum after developing psychosis. Unfortunately, Charles Chaplin Senior was an alcoholic and abused the children, prompting a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

In 1901, Chaplin Senior died from liver cirrhosis, and the boys reunited with their mother. Sydney decided to join the army, leaving 14-year-old Charles to look after Hannah when her illness returned in 1903. With his mother back in the hospital, Chaplin lived alone, sometimes sleeping on the streets. Hannah was briefly released in 1905 but soon returned to the asylum, where she remained until she died in 1928.

Chaplin had his first experience of acting at the age of 5 when he stood in for his mother at a musical hall performance. By the age of 9, his mother was actively encouraging his growing interest in the entertainment sector, so he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads clog-dancing troupe and toured English music halls between 1899 and 1900.

While his mother was in the asylum, 14-year-old Chaplin registered with a theatrical agency in London’s West End and starred in an unsuccessful performance of Jim, a Romance of Cockayne by H. A. Saintsbury (1869-1939). Following this, Chaplin earned the role of pageboy in a production of Sherlock Holmes, which he starred in for two and a half years.

When Sydney returned from the army, he also expressed an interest in the acting world. The brothers went on tour together, and Chaplin found a position with Casey’s Circus, which earned him his first star role. By the age of 18, Chaplin was an accomplished comic actor but struggled to find more work after leaving the circus in 1907. Eventually, both Sydney and Charles joined a prestigious comedy company run by Fred Karno (1866-1941). Although Karno initially had reservations about Chaplin’s abilities, he eventually selected Chaplin to tour America’s vaudeville circuit with the likes of Stan Laurel (1890-1965). Reviewers described Chaplin as “one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here” and particularly liked his performance as the permanently drunk “Inebriate Swell”.

While on tour, Chaplin caught the attention of the New York Motion Picture Company, who invited him to join their Keystone Studios. Chaplin did not think much of the films produced by Keystone but welcomed the opportunity to develop his acting career. In his first film, Making a Living (1914), Chaplin portrayed a swindler who found himself in trouble with the local press. Chaplin disliked the outcome, but a slapstick fight scene inspired Chaplin’s future acting style.

For Chaplin’s second film, he selected an outfit that quickly became his signature look. Chaplin paired a baggy pair of trousers with a tight coat, a small hat and large shoes. A small moustache completed the look. Chaplin debuted the outfit in Kid Auto Races at Venice in February 1914, swiftly followed by Mabel’s Strange Predicament. In both films, he played the role of the Tramp or “Little Tramp”, a good-hearted vagrant with the manners of a gentleman. Chaplin continued to portray the character in many of his subsequent films.

In May 1914, Chaplin directed his first film, Caught in the Rain, which featured Chaplin as a tipsy hotel guest, although still dressed as his signature Tramp character. Following the film’s success, Chaplin continued directing and starring in short productions at a rate of one per week. At the end of 2014, Chaplin’s contract with Keystone came up for renewal, but the company refused his suggested salary of $1,000 a week, so Chaplin looked elsewhere for work.

In December 1914, Chaplin found work with the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago, which agreed to a salary of $1,250 a week and a bonus of $10,000 upon signing the contract. Chaplin put time and effort into each production, releasing them monthly rather than weekly. He also recruited leading lady Edna Purviance (1895-1958), who went on to star in 35 films with Chaplin. They also had a brief romantic liaison.

Notable films Chaplin worked on with Essanay include A Night Out, The Champion and The Tramp. For the latter, Chaplin softened his signature character into a gentle and romantic type, although it still contained elements of slapstick. Unlike previous films, it had a sad ending, proving the Tramp cared for others, not just himself. It is this version of the Tramp that is fondly remembered today.

By late 1915, Charlie Chaplin merchandise filled shops across America, and fans wrote songs and comic strips about the actor and his characters. The Motion Picture Magazine nicknamed the phenomena “Chaplinitis”, which gradually spread across the ocean, making Chaplin the film industry’s first international star. As his contract with Essanay drew to an end, several companies sent him offers, including Universal and Fox. From the many proposals, Chaplin chose the Mutual Film Corporation, which signed the 26-year-old actor for $670,000 a year.

“We can afford to pay Mr Chaplin this large sum annually because the public wants Chaplin and will pay for him,” explained the president of Mutual, who set Chaplin up with a studio in Los Angeles. Chaplin produced The Floorwalker, his first film with the company, in May 1916. It contained the film industry’s first instance of a “running staircase”, which involved a frantic chase down an upward escalator.

Throughout 1916, Mutual demanded a new full-length film every four weeks, which Chaplin found challenging but managed to achieve. Working on stories around his signature character, Chaplin produced many memorable titles, including The Vagabond, where Chaplin’s character played the violin; The PawnshopThe Rink, which demonstrated Chaplin’s rollerskating skills; and One A.M., in which Chaplin was the sole actor.

In 1917, Chaplin insisted on more time to work on each film and produced only four in ten months. Nonetheless, these films are listed among Chaplin’s finest works. The Tramp-style character appeared in all four: Easy StreetThe CureThe Immigrant, and The Adventurer, which proved popular amongst Chaplin’s fans. Yet, Chaplin was dissatisfied with his output, feeling he was constantly repeating himself. He also received criticism from the British media for not returning home to fight in the First World War. Chaplin explained he registered for the American draft but never received a summons. Meanwhile, his films buoyed troops across the globe, and men began to impersonate the Tramp, causing Chaplin to take legal action. At the time, an estimated nine out of ten men attended costume parties dressed as the Tramp.

Whilst Mutual respected Chaplin’s need for extra time to produce films, the company agreed to release Chaplin from his contract when they realised he felt unhappy about his work. Unsure what to do next, Chaplin’s brother Sydney took over as his business manager and explained to the press, “Charlie [must] be allowed all the time he needs and all the money for producing [films] the way he wants … It is quality, not quantity, we are after.” Eventually, Chaplin signed on with the First National Exhibitors’ Circuit in June 1917 for $1 million.

In April 1918, Chaplin released his first film with his new contract. A Dog’s Life depicted the Tramp as a sad clown-like character, similar to Pierrot in European pantomime. The French critic Louis Delluc (1890-1924) described it as “cinema’s first total work of art”. Following its success, Chaplin joined the Third Liberty Bond campaign, which toured the United States to raise money for the Allied countries in the war. Chaplin contributed by donating all the money made from his short propaganda film The Bond. He also showed his support for the troops in Europe by writing and producing the film Shoulder Arms, set in the trenches.

The First National Exhibitors’ Circuit turned down Chaplin’s request for more money to produce his next film, so Chaplin joined forces with other dissatisfied film producers to form a new company in January 1919. Together, Chaplin, D. W. Griffith (1875-1948), Mary Pickford (1892-1979), and Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) founded United Artists, which allowed them to focus on their interests rather than conforming to the desires of commercial studios. Unfortunately, First National refused to release Chaplin from his contract, so he had to complete a further six films before working on his own material.

Before working with United Artists, Chaplin married Mildred Harris, a 16-year-old film star who claimed to be pregnant with his child. The pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm, but Harris soon fell pregnant shortly after their marriage in September 1918. She gave birth to a boy, Norman Spencer, on 7th July 1919, who sadly passed away three days later. Losing their child put an irreparable rift between Chaplin and Harris, so they divorced in April 1920.

The death of his son greatly affected Chaplin and may have inspired his next film, The Kid. With four-year-old Jackie Coogan (1914-84) as his co-star, the Tramp discovered an abandoned baby in an alleyway and raised it as his child. Lasting 68-minutes, The Kid was Chaplin’s first film to last more than an hour. It took nine months to produce and became an instant hit after its release in 1921.

Chaplin’s contract with First National finally came to an end in November 1922, leaving him free to work on his first independent film. Titled A Woman of Paris, the film starred Edna Purviance with only a brief cameo appearance from Chaplin. Unfortunately, the film flopped because fans had no desire to watch a Charlie Chaplin production that did not star Chaplin. Fortunately, he redeemed himself with The Gold Rush (1925), in which he starred as the Tramp. It quickly became one of the highest-grossing films of the silent era.

In 1924, Chaplin married 16-year-old actress Lita Grey (1908-95) after she revealed she was pregnant with his child. Due to their age difference, the marriage was a discreet affair, and she gave birth to their son, Charles Spencer Chaplin III (1925-68), six months later. In the same year, Chaplin became the first film star to appear on the cover of Time magazine.

In March 1926, Lita gave birth to their second son, Sydney Earl (1926-2009), but their marriage was falling apart. Chaplin spent most of his time in the film studio to avoid his wife, who eventually took the boys and left. A bitter divorce followed, leaving Chaplin on the edge of a nervous breakdown, especially when the proceedings became headline news stories across America. To avoid an ongoing scandal, Chaplin’s lawyers paid a cash settlement of $600,000, the equivalent of $8,940,000 today.

Before Chaplin’s split from Lita, he started working on The Circus, a film in which the Tramp becomes the accidental star of a circus show. Due to the divorce, Chaplin took ten months off before returning to complete the production. The Circus was eventually released in January 1928, and Chaplin received a special trophy at the 1st Academy Awards “for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus.” Despite this, Chaplin associated the film with his divorce and refused to acknowledge The Circus for the rest of his life.

Toward the end of the 1920s, Hollywood introduced films with sound, also known as “talkies”. Chaplin was determined to continue making silent films, believing that “talkies” would detract from his pantomime-style acting. Nonetheless, Chaplin took the opportunity to write a musical score for his next film, City Lights. By the time City Lights was released in 1930, silent films were a thing of the past. Yet, City Lights was a financial success, and one critic exclaimed, “Nobody in the world but Charlie Chaplin could have done it. He is the only person that has that peculiar something called ‘audience appeal’ in sufficient quality to defy the popular penchant for movies that talk.”

Fearing audiences would think him old fashioned but not yet ready to produce a film with dialogue, Chaplin took a 16-month break, during which time he travelled across Europe and Japan. The day after he arrived in Japan, ultra-nationalists assassinated Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi (1855-1932), with whom Chaplin was staying as a guest. The original plan was to assassinate Chaplin to provoke a war with America, but Chaplin had gone out to watch a sumo wrestling match when the assassins arrived.

Chaplin returned to Los Angeles but still felt confused about his future film career. Instead, Chaplin started writing about his travels, which he published in the magazine Woman’s Home Companion. During this time, Chaplin developed a relationship with 21-year-old Paulette Goddard (1910-90), who had recently moved to Hollywood. Finally, he felt ready to return to the world of film and cast Goddard in Modern Times, released in February 1936. Rather than embrace spoken dialogue, Chaplin wrote the script without words but used sound effects and background music. At the last moment, Chaplin decided to include a gibberish song, which gave the Tramp a voice for the first time.

Following the release of Modern Times, Chaplin married Goddard while holidaying in China. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last, and they began to drift apart in 1938. Nonetheless, Goddard starred in Chaplin’s next film, The Great Dictator, which attacked fascism and satirised Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who wore a similar moustache to the Tramp. Making a film about Hitler was controversial, especially as filming began only six days after Britain declared war on Germany.

The Great Dictator became Chaplin’s first film to feature dialogue. Chaplin did not feel completely comfortable creating a “talkie” but knew it would help get his political messages across. The film ended with a five-minute speech from Chaplin, who abandoned his character to plead against war and fascism. Despite the controversial subject, The Great Dictator was “the most eagerly awaited picture of the year,” and Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed their enjoyment of the film. President Roosevelt also asked Chaplin to deliver the final speech over the radio during his inauguration in 1941.

Chaplin and Goddard divorced in 1940, and Chaplin began a relationship with the actress Joan Barry (1920-2007). When Chaplin ended the relationship in 1942, Barry became obsessed with him and was arrested twice. She then claimed to be pregnant with Chaplin’s child, which he denied, causing Barry to file a paternity suit against him. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which had been suspicious of Chaplin’s political motives, used the case as an opportunity to discredit his reputation. The FBI invented four charges, including the transportation of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes, all of which lacked evidence. Nonetheless, the court proceedings became headline news, although Chaplin was soon acquitted.

Barry’s paternity suit resurfaced after the birth of her daughter, Carol Ann, in October 1943. The courts declared Chaplin the father, despite blood test results that suggested otherwise. The judge ordered Chaplin to pay child support until Carol Ann reached the age of 21. The FBI made sure the media coverage painted Chaplin in a negative light. Admittedly, Chaplin did not help matters by marrying 18-year-old actress Oona O’Neill (1925-91) in June 1943.

Chaplin met O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953), seven months before their marriage. Despite their 36-year age gap, Chaplin described their meeting as the happiest day of his life. After three unsuccessful marriages, Chaplin had finally found “perfect” love, and the couple remained married until Chaplin’s death. They had eight children, Geraldine Leigh (b.1944), Michael John (b. 1946), Josephine Hannah (b. 1949), Victoria (b. 1951), Eugene Anthony (b. 1953), Jane Cecil (b. 1957), Annette Emily (b. 1959), and Christopher James (b. 1962), the majority of whom became actors.

Despite finding happiness with O’Neill, Chaplin remained scarred from his dealings with Joan Barry. He claimed she had “crippled his creativeness”, and Chaplin felt unable to work until 1946. Not only did Chaplin struggle to get back into the filmmaking business, but his style of acting also changed dramatically. Monsieur Verdoux, released in 1947, was inspired by serial killer Henri Désiré Landru (1869-1922). Chaplin starred as a former bank clerk who married and murdered wealthy widows to support his family. He also vocalised his criticism of capitalism and his fears about nuclear weapons.

When Monsieur Verdoux premiered, the audience booed Chaplin and called for a boycott on the film. Nevertheless, the film was a success abroad and Chaplin believed it was “the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.” Unfortunately, the media, led by the FBI, accused Chaplin of being a communist, which worsened his already damaged reputation. Chaplin denied the accusations, calling himself a “peacemonger”, yet he campaigned against the trials of the Communist Party members and the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

With his fan base dwindling rapidly, Chaplin focused his attention on producing another film. Limelight, about a forgotten music hall comedian and a young ballerina in Edwardian London, was largely based on Chaplin’s life. The main character, Calvero, alluded to his poor childhood and his loss of popularity in the United States.

Reunited with his eldest sons, Charles and Sydney, Chaplin cast them in Limelight along with his wife and three of their children. Another family member in the cast was Wheeler Dryden (1892-1957), a younger half-brother who did not learn he was Chaplin’s brother until he was 26 years of age.

Due to the negative press in America, Chaplin decided to premiere Limelight in London in 1952. Chaplin and his entire family sailed to England on 18th September 1952, learning soon after their arrival that his re-entry permit had been revoked. To return to the USA, Chaplin would have to attend an interview about his political views and behaviour. Although later evidence suggested the FBI had no real reason to prevent Chaplin’s re-entry, Chaplin decided to stay in Europe, where he was warmly received.

“I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America’s yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.”

Chaplin’s wife travelled to the USA to settle the family’s affairs, then returned to her husband, renounced her US citizenship and became a British citizen. In January 1953, Chaplin decided to relocate his family to Switzerland, where he purchased Manoir de Ban, a 35-acre estate overlooking Lake Geneva. The building is now the site of Chaplin’s World, a museum dedicated to the life and work of Charlie Chaplin.

In America, the FBI continued to label Chaplin a communist, especially when the communist-led World Peace Council awarded him the International Peace Prize. Fortunately, in Europe, Chaplin’s political views were less important, and he felt encouraged to return to film work. Chaplin founded a new production company, Attica, and released A King in New York in 1957. Featuring autobiographical elements, the storyline featured a character facing accusations of communism. Without access to the equipment in Hollywood, the quality of the film suffered, but it still achieved moderate success in Europe.

Before working on his second European film, Chaplin edited some of his old film scores, composing music for earlier recordings and releasing several together as a compilation. The Chaplin Revue (1959), for instance, included A Dog’s Life, Shoulder Arms, and The Pilgrim. Simultaneously, Chaplin worked on his memoirs, which he released as My Autobiography in 1964. Whilst it became a best-seller, fans expressed disappointment at the lack of detail about his film career in America.

After the publication of his autobiography, Chaplin worked on a romantic comedy called A Countess from Hong Kong. Rather than starring as a lead character, Chaplin cast Marlon Brando (1924-94), Sophia Loren (b. 1934) and his son Sydney as the key characters. Chaplin only had a cameo role, which became his final film appearance. Sadly, A Countess from Hong Kong was a box office failure.

Chaplin suffered several mini-strokes in the early 1960s but was still determined to write. Unfortunately, he never finished his final work, The Freak, due to declining health. Instead, he focused on editing and compiling his old films.

During the early 1970s, Chaplin became the recipient of several awards and honours. At the Cannes Film Festival in 1971, he was made a Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit. In 1972, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in America offered Chaplin an Honorary Award. Naturally, Chaplin felt uncertain about accepting the latter but eventually agreed to return to the USA for the first time in 20 years. At the Academy Awards gala, Chaplin received a 12-minute standing ovation, which remains the longest in the Academy’s history.

Chaplin had plans to work on more films, but another series of strokes left him wheelchair-bound. With assistance, he compiled a pictorial autobiography using old film reels and appeared in a documentary about his life, The Gentleman Tramp. In 1975, Chaplin was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926) at the 1975 New Year Honours. To receive it, Chaplin had to break protocol and receive the honour in his wheelchair rather than kneel in front of the Queen.

By October 1977, Chaplin needed round-the-clock care. On Christmas morning, he suffered another stroke and passed away in his sleep. According to his wishes, the funeral was a small, private affair, and he was interred at the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery. Many filmmakers and actors wrote tributes, including Bob Hope (1903-2003), who declared, “We were lucky to have lived in his time.”

Chaplin left more than $100 million to his wife, which tempted grave robbers Roman Wardas and Gantcho Ganev to dig up Chaplin’s coffin and hold his body for ransom in 1978. The criminals were caught a few months later, and the coffin returned to the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery. To prevent further burglaries, Chaplin was interred in a reinforced concrete vault.

Charlie Chaplin’s life is a story of rags to riches with many ups and downs along the way. Born into poverty, Chaplin had no choice but to fend for himself, using his love of acting as a means to escape his situation. Through talent and determination, Chaplin made a name for himself, soon becoming an international star. As celebrities still discover today, fame comes with public scrutiny. With his every move documented, Chaplin’s poor decisions, such as his relationships with younger women, were analysed and discussed at every opportunity. The media backlash allowed the FBI to attack Chaplin and accuse him of communist sympathies among other things. Fortunately, while his world and career were being torn to shreds, Chaplin met the love of his life and lived the remainder of his years in peace, surrounded by his children.

Film critic Andrew Sarris (1928-2012) named Chaplin “the single most important artist produced by the cinema, certainly its most extraordinary performer and probably still its most universal icon.” The multitalented performer is ranked by the American Film Institute as the 10th greatest male star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. Chaplin inspired actors, directors, scriptwriters, film producers, composers and musicians throughout his career, including Marcel Marceau (1923-2007), the French mime artist. Chaplin’s slapstick routines also inspired cartoon characters, such as Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse.

Time magazine claims Chaplin helped turn the film industry into an art. Without Chaplin’s input, films may have taken a different direction. He developed comedy as a genre and not just something for music hall entertainment. Despite all the scandals during his lifetime, Chaplin is a man to be respected, admired and remembered. Statues and memorials across the world preserve Chaplin’s iconic Tramp look and remind people of his achievements. Generations to come will know his name and recognise his signature style, proving how successful Chaplin was in an industry that the world now takes for granted.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

The Woman Who Flew

Declared dead in 1939, Amelia Earhart became famous for her mysterious disappearance somewhere over the central Pacific Ocean. As of March 2022, no one knows what happened to the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and her navigator, Fred Noonan (1893-declared dead 1938). Despite her early death or disappearance, Earhart set many aviation records and helped promote commercial air travel, upon which the world heavily relies today.

Amelia Mary Earhart was born on 24th June 1897 in Kansas, where she developed a tomboy spirit of adventure, frequently climbing trees, collecting insects and hunting rats with a rifle. On one occasion, the girls’ uncle helped them construct a rollercoaster out of a ramp, which inadvertently gave Earhart her first taste of flying. After crash landing, tearing her dress and bursting her lip, Earhart exclaimed, “It’s just like flying!” Ironically, the first time Earhart encountered an aeroplane, she described it as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.”

Throughout Earhart’s childhood and teenage years, she kept a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings about inspiring women aspiring to become one herself. In 1917, Earhart trained as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross, which mostly entailed preparing food and prescribing medicine to wounded American soldiers. In 1918, while working at the Spadina Military Hospital in Toronto, Earhart caught the Spanish flu, which developed into maxillary sinusitis. The chronic condition frequently returned, which made travelling in aeroplanes challenging. She often needed a drainage tube to remove excess fluid from her sinuses.

After recovering from the flu, Earhart visited the Canadian National Exhibition, where she watched a flying exhibition. In an attempt to scare her, the pilot dived at Earhart and her friend, but Earhart remained fascinated by the vehicle and felt no fear. In 1920, Earhart had the opportunity to experience flying with Frank Hawks (1897-1938), a WW1 pilot. From that moment, Earhart knew she wanted to become a pilot. After saving $1,000 for lessons, Earhart began training on 3rd January 1921 with Neta Snook Southern (1896-1991), the first woman accepted at the Curtiss Flying School in Virginia.

After six months of gruelling training, Earhart purchased her first plane, a secondhand bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane, which she nicknamed “The Canary”. The Kinner Airster was designed by Bert Kinner (1882-1957) in 1920. It seated two people and could reach speeds up to 85 mph (137 km/h). In 1922, Earhart flew her plane to 14,000 feet (4,300 m), breaking the women’s world record. The following year, she became the 16th woman in the USA to be issued a pilot’s licence.

In 1927, American aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902-74) made the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean. Female aviator, Amy Guest (1873–1959), expressed interest in becoming the first woman to achieve the feat but decided it was too dangerous. Instead, Guest offered to sponsor the project and Earhart was nominated as the pilot. Inexperienced with aircraft suitable for flying such long distances, Earhart accompanied Wilmer Stultz (1900-29) on a flight from Newfoundland to Wales. Realising she knew little about the plane, Earhart felt like a passenger rather than a co-pilot.

Although Earhart needed a lot of training before taking on the solo challenge, her flight with Stultz gained attention in American newspapers and magazines. Dubbing her “Lady Lindy”, in reference to the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, the press elevated Earhart to celebrity status, nicknaming her “Queen of the Air” and following her training progress. Soon, Earhart was giving lectures, publishing books and advertising merchandise. Cigarette, clothing and luggage brands paid Earhart to advertise their products stamped with her initials, A.E.

The money earned through advertising helped Earhart finance her flying. She encouraged other women to enter the field and became one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel. Earhart invested both time and money in setting up flight services between New York and Washington D.C. and acted as Vice President of National Airways, which flew between states in the North East of America.

In August 1928, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. Following this, she entered the first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Women’s Air Derby, nicknamed the “Powder Puff Derby”. Earhart finished third in the “heavy” division after the woman ahead of her crashlanded.

In 1930, Earhart joined the National Aeronautic Association and persuaded them to separate women’s and men’s records to give women a chance to set their own. Subsequently, Earhart set the women’s world record for altitude at 18,415 feet (5,613 m). Although some of these flying stunts were dangerous, Earhart proved flying was not just an activity for men. She became the first president of the Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots, which provided mentoring and flight opportunities for women.

Between 1929 and 1930, George P. Putnam (1887-1950), the American publisher that nominated Earhart for the first female solo transatlantic flight, asked her to marry him six times. Despite refusing his many proposals, Earhart gave in, and they married on 7th February 1931, on the condition that they both have “dual control” of their relationship. Earhart also insisted on keeping her surname, causing newspapers to jokingly refer to her husband as “Mr Earhart”.

Finally, the day arrived for Earhart to attempt her first transatlantic crossing. With the help of her technical adviser Bernt Balchen (1889-1973), a Norwegian aviator, Earhart prepared her plane and plotted a route from Newfoundland to Paris. Earhart chose to fly a Lockheed Vega, which could usually carry six passengers. With a wingspan of 41 ft (12 m), the bright red plane could reach a top speed of 185 mph (298 km/h).

The flight, which lasted 14 hours, 56 minutes, did not go exactly as planned. Due to strong winds and mechanical problems, Earhart did not make it as far as France. Instead, the conditions forced her to land in a field in Culmore, near Derry, Northern Ireland. Two farmers witnessed the landing and asked, “Have you flown far?” To which Earhart replied, “From America.”

Following the successful flight, Earhart received many awards as the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic. The US Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross, officially a military badge given to those who distinguish themselves “by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” The French government gave Earhart the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor, and President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) presented her with the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society.

Earhart’s flight increased her celebrity status, and she became acquainted with many notable people, including Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), who became the President of the USA in 1933. The White House invited Earhart and Putnam to dinner, where Earhart developed a close friendship with the First Lady, Eleanor (1884-1962). During the meal, Earhart spontaneously suggested she and the First Lady take a flight to Baltimore and back, which they promptly did, still wearing their formal gowns.

Earhart continued to conduct solo flights, becoming the first aviator to fly solo from Hawaii to California in 1935. Later that year, she flew solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City, then Mexico City to New Jersey, where crowds turned up to watch her land. She also participated in the 1935 Bendix Trophy Race, finishing 5th after a journey of fog and thunderstorms. By the end of 1935, Earhart had set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records and fixed her eyes on her next challenge: circumnavigating the globe.

Aviators had already flown around the world before, but Earhart planned a longer route that followed the 29,000 miles (47,000 km) equator. In 1936, Earhart ordered a Lockheed Electra 10E to her exact specifications. Earhart asked Captain Harry Manning (1897-1974) to be her navigator. Manning was a mariner as well as an aviator and had captained the President Roosevelt. After a test flight, Earhart’s husband persuaded her to take on a second navigator, so room was made in the plane for Fred Noonan (1893-1937) to join the crew.

On 17th March 1937, Earhart, Manning and Noonan flew the first leg of the journey from California to Hawaii. Also on board was a technical advisor, Paul Mantz (1903-65), famous for his Hollywood plane stunts. After landing in Hawaii, the aircraft needed servicing due to problems with the propellor. After three days, the team were ready to continue their voyage, only for the landing gear to collapse during take-off. Earhart thought the tyre may have blown, but Mantz stated it was a pilot error.

After shipping the damaged aircraft back to the mainland, Manning and Mantz ended their association with the project, leaving Earhart and Noonan to make plans for a second attempt. Unfortunately, they discovered too late that neither was a skilled radio operator.

On 20th May 1937, Earhart and Noonan set off on their second attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Due to weather conditions, they chose to follow the plotted route in reverse. After setting off from California, they travelled to Arizona, Louisiana and Florida before leaving the States and landing in Puerto Rica. From there, they visited Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil, then headed to Senegal in Africa. In Africa, they stopped in French Sudan (now Mali), French Equatorial Africa (Chad), Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (Sudan), and Italian East Africa (Eritrea).

From Africa, Earhart and Noonan made the first-ever non-stop flight from the Red Sea to India. The journey continued to go well as they travelled through Burma (Myanmar), Siam (Thailand), the Straits Settlements (Singapore) and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). A monsoon delayed them for a few days before travelling to another part of the Dutch East Indies. Unfortunately, Earhart fell ill with dysentery on 25th June, so they did not fly that day. Instead, repairs were made to the plane, ready for their trip to Australia.

After landing in Darwin, Australia, where they made further repairs and removed the parachutes to lighten the plane, Earhart and Noonan travelled to Lae in New Guinea (Papua New Guinea). With only three more stops before reaching home, they set off to Howland Island, just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean. They never arrived.

No one knows for certain what happened to Earhart and Noonan. During the flight, Earhart contacted the United States Coast Guard stationed at Howland Island, but it soon became clear she could not hear their response. The last message they received from the plane said, “We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait… We are running on line north and south.”

An hour after Earhart’s final message, searches were made in the vicinity of Howland Island for the missing plane. The information Earhart provided suggested they were flying North North West of the island, but the Coast Guard found nothing and extended the search to the North East and North West. After three days of searching, the US Navy arrived to assist. Believing Earhart must have been mistaken about her location, the search and rescue team directed their attention to the Phoenix Islands south of Howland Island. One theory was that the plane landed on or near Gardner Island (Nikumaroro), an uninhabited island, but the naval aircraft sent to scout the area found no signs of life.

After spending $4 million searching for Earhart and Noonan, the search and rescue mission was deemed too expensive and abandoned. They were “declared death in absentia“, but Earhart’s husband refused to give up. Putnam financed a private search of the Pacific ocean and its islands, including the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island (Kiritimati), Fanning Island (Tabuaeran), the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands. No trace of the plane or its occupants were found, and Earhart was declared legally dead on 5th January 1939.

The disappearance of Amelia Earhart remains a mystery. Several theories about her fate have developed. The crash-and-sink theory suggests the plane ran out of fuel and plummetted into the sea. By the time search and rescue teams reached the area, the plane may have been deep beneath the surface.

One hypothesis suggests the plane landed on Gardner Island, and the search team failed to notice them. Unfortunately, future searches of the island have not found any evidence to prove this theory. Conspiracy theorists propose the Japanese captured and executed the pair after landing on Saipan in the North Mariana Islands. Again, there is no evidence of this.

Another theory suggests Earhart turned back to Papua New Guinea but crashed before reaching the airfield. A more ludicrous idea is Earhart survived, returned to the United States and assumed a new identity. For a brief time, Irene Craigmile Bolam (1904-82) of New Jersey was accused of such allegations due to similarities of appearance, but after Bolam took legal action, the claim was dropped.

Due to her celebrity status, Earhart’s disappearance shocked the world more than the unknown fate of her flight partner. Following her death, Earhart has received more honours than during her short life, including being listed as a posthumous member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame (1968) and the National Women’s Hall of Fame (1973). Several places are named after Earhart, including the Amelia Earhart Centre And Wildlife Sanctuary in Northern Ireland, the SS Amelia Earhart (since wrecked), the Amelia Earhart Airport in Kansas, the minor planet 3895 Earhart, Amelia Earhart Bridge in Kansas, the Amelia Earhart Dam in Massachusetts, and the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Regional Library.

Since Earhart attempted to circumnavigate the Earth, several people have completed the circuit in her honour. Ann Dearing Holtgren Pellegreno (b. 1937) completed the planned route in 1967 and dropped a wreath in Earhart’s honour over Howland Island. Linda Finch (b. 1951) followed suit in 1997. In 2013, the aptly named Amelia Rose Earhart (b. 1983) followed the flight path in a single-engine plane. In the same year, the young pilot established the Fly With Amelia Foundation, which grants scholarships to girls ages 16 to 18.

Earhart’s mysterious disappearance remains one of the world’s top unsolved mysteries. There is every chance her remains may be found in the future, but this will not end the world’s fascination with the pilot. Earhart’s achievements were not just for herself but for women as well. She proved that women could be pilots, could fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, could fly non-stop from one side of America to the other, and could circumnavigate the globe. Although she did not achieve the latter, she encouraged other women to attempt the feat. Jerrie Mock (1925-2014) became the first woman to do so in 1964, although following a different route.

Amelia Earhart will be remembered for her disappearance and achievements, whether in books, films or memorials. She remains an inspiration for female pilots around the world. Women make up only 9.02% of pilots and other aviation personnel. Yet, with encouragement from organisations, such as the Fly With Amelia Foundation, this number is destined to rise.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Oskar Schindler

Remembered as the subject of the 1982 novel Schindler’s Ark and 1993 film Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler is famous for saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust, despite being a member of the Nazi Party. Schindler knew the consequences of his actions if he were caught, yet he persevered by spending his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases to save the lives of so many people.

Oskar Schindler was born on 28th April 1908 in Moravia, Austria-Hungary (now the Czech Republic). His father, Johann “Hans” Schindler, owned a farm machinery business, which he expected his son to work for after completing his schooling. Schindler worked with his father for three years but quit after marrying Emilie Pelzl (1907-2001) in 1928, despite living with his parents for another seven years.

Over the next two years, Schindler worked several jobs, including a brief stint in the Czech army as a lance corporal in the Tenth Infantry Regiment of the 31st Army. After 18 months, Schindler left the army to work at Moravian Electrotechnic, which promptly went bankrupt, leaving him jobless for a year. Schindler’s father’s businesses also folded, so he took a job with the Jaroslav Šimek Bank of Prague.

During the early 1930s, Schindler had an affair with Aurelie Schlegel, an old school friend. She bore two children, Emily (1933) and Oskar (1935), although Schindler claimed Oskar was not his. Around this time, Schindler also developed a drinking problem, resulting in several arrests for public drunkenness. His father was also an alcoholic and abandoned Schindler’s mother shortly before her death in 1935.

In 1935, Schindler joined the Sudeten German Party, a major pro-Nazi force in Czechoslovakia. Despite his nationality, the Nazi Party employed Schindler as a spy for the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service. Based in Breslau, Poland, Schindler collected information on railways and the military. He also recruited other spies in Czechoslovakia in preparation for an invasion of the country by Nazi Germany. Schindler was caught by the Czech government in 1938 and imprisoned, where he claimed he only took the job for the money to pay the debts accrued by his drinking problem.

After Schindler’s release as a political prisoner under the terms of the Munich Agreement, which aimed to prevent Germany from invading Czechoslovakia, Schindler became a member of the Nazi Party. He continued to work for the Abwehr and moved to Ostrava on the Czech-Polish border with his wife, who did not leave him despite his earlier affair. Schindler continued to conduct spy work, which helped Nazi Germany invade Czechoslovakia regardless of the Agreement. He was also instrumental in the invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of the Second World War.

In October 1939, Schindler temporarily moved to Kraków on Abwehr business. Abwehr agent Josef “Sepp” Aue introduced him to Itzhak Stern (1901-69), his Jewish accountant. Sepp had taken over Stern’s Jewish firm when Jews were banned from owning places of business and homes and stripped of their rights. Schindler asked Stern to look over the accounts of a Jewish enamelware factory he intended to acquire. Stern advised him to buy it outright rather than through the Haupttreuhandstelle Ost (Main Trustee Office for the East), giving him more control about the running of the factory, for instance, the freedom to hire Jews.

Schindler followed Stern’s advice and purchased Rekord Ltd in November 1939, which he promptly renamed Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (German Enamelware Factory). Over time, the company became known by the shorter name, Emalia. Schindler hired 250 Polish staff, only seven of whom were Jews. Much later, the number of staff increased to 1,750 workers, including one thousand Jews. Initially, the increase of Jews coincided with Schindler’s desire to earn money. Jews were cheaper to hire because the Nazi regime controlled their wages.

Life for the Jewish population in Poland became increasingly dangerous in 1940. Schindler felt concerned not just for his business, but for his employees as well. To protect his Jewish workers, Schindler listed his factory as a business essential to the war effort. This allowed his employees to claim exemptions from Nazi projects. Schindler even hired women, children and the disabled as essential workers.

On 1st August 1940, all Jews in Kraków were ordered to leave the city. Fortunately, those with essential jobs were allowed to stay, including Schindler’s workers. Of the 80,000 Jews in Kraków, only 15,000 remained by 1941. Unfortunately, those that stayed were forced to live in Kraków Ghetto, an area surrounded by barbed wire and tombstone-like walls. Aware of the unsanitary conditions of the ghetto, Schindler gradually expanded his factory to include a clinic, shop, kitchen and dining room for his workers. Using his connection with the Abwehr, Schindler smuggled in many items on the black market to improve the lives of the Jewish people in his care.

In 1941, the Nazis began transporting Jews to the Bełżec extermination camp in Poland, where they were murdered. Fortunately, due to their work at Emalia, Schindler’s Jews were saved from such a fate. In 1943, Schindler heard the Nazi party planned to liquidate the ghetto in Kraków and move the Jews to the Płaszów concentration camp. Fearing for his workers, Schindler arranged for them to stay at the factory to protect them from harm.

On 13th March 1943, all of Schindler’s workers avoided the horrors of the camp liquidation. Witnessing the event, Schindler felt appalled by the Nazi party and decided to save the lives of as many Jewish people as he could. He watched in horror as Jews were marched the two miles to the new camp, while those deemed unfit to work were shot in the streets. Those who reached the camp lived in fear of SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth (1908-46), who shot inmates at random every day.

Schindler could not hide his workers in the factory forever, so bribed Göth to let him open a subcamp at Emalia. After much flattery and money, Göth agreed, and Schindler opened his factory as a home to all his workers and 450 Jews from neighbouring factories. Safe from the threat of execution, Schindler’s Jews could observe religious practices and eat the food Schindler purchased on the black market.

Towards the end of 1943, Schindler received word from the Jewish resistance movement by Zionist leaders in Budapest, Hungary. They asked him to spy and report on the Nazi Party members who mistreated the Jews and deliver money from the Jewish Agency for Israel to the Jewish underground.

By 1944, the Red Army of the Soviet Union was drawing near the borders of Poland. The Nazis began closing concentration camps and transporting their prisoners to Auschwitz, a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps. The Nazis also planned to close all factories not directly involved with war work. To ensure his factory would not close, Schindler began manufacturing anti-tank grenades and sent more bribes to Göth. Eventually, Göth allowed Schindler to keep his factory, although made him move it to Brünnlitz in the Sudetenland (now the Czech Republic).

A list of 1,200 names was drawn up of Schindler’s 1,000 Jewish workers and 200 labourers at the textile factory belonging to Austrian businessman Julius Madritsch (1906-84). Schindler gradually transported his workers and equipment to Brünnlitz. Around 700 men accidentally ended up in a different camp before Schindler could arrange for their train to be re-routed to the new factory. Similarly, 300 women arrived at Auschwitz, forcing Schindler to send bribes of black market goods, food and diamonds to secure their release.

The move, which took several weeks, plus the money spent on bribes, restricted the amount of food and health care resources for Schindler’s workers. Output at the factory was poor due to the insufficient rations, but Schindler avoided suspicion by obtaining goods on the black market and selling them as his own. Meanwhile, Schindler’s wife, Emilie, surreptitiously gathered food and medicine for the workers.

Determined to save more Jews, Schindler arranged the transfer of 3,000 Jewish women out of Auschwitz to small textiles plants in the Sudetenland. Whilst he had little control over how they were treated by those running the plants, it increased the women’s chances of avoiding the gas chambers and surviving the war.

In January 1945, Schindler received a trainload of 250 Jewish prisoners from another camp. The doors to the wagons were frozen shut and took hours to open with a soldering iron. Twelve people died during the wait, and the remaining 238 were too poorly to work. Had they arrived in Auschwitz, the Jews would have been shot or sent to the gas chambers. Instead, Emilie set up a makeshift hospital and tended to their needs for the remainder of the war.

Schindler and his workers lived in the hope that the Red Army would arrive to liberate the camps in Poland. Schindler continued to bribe SS officers to prevent his workers from being taken away from him due to their inability to work. Finally, on 7th May 1945, the radio in the factory played British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s (1874-1965) announcement that Germany had surrendered. The war in Europe was over.

Following the surrender of Germany, Schindler’s Jews (Schindlerjuden) were taken to safety. Their names and photographs are on display at the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, situated in Schindler’s original factory. Schindler, on the other hand, was far from safe. As a member of the Nazi Party and the Abwehr, he was at risk of arrest for war crimes. Itzhak Stern, who helped Schindler throughout the war, and several others wrote a letter detailing Schindler’s role in saving Jewish lives, which he could show to those trying to round up the war criminals.

Knowing the Soviets were unlikely to believe Schindler’s anti-Nazi actions, he and Emilie fled Poland until they reached American lines. In Passau, Germany, an American officer arranged transport to Switzerland. By this time, Schindler was destitute after spending all his money on bribes and the black market. Jewish organisations offered assistance, which Schindler reluctantly took. In 1948, he approached the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee with an estimated list of his expenditures at over $1,056,000 but only received $15,000 compensation.

Schindler and Emilie moved to Argentina in 1949 to try their luck raising chickens and coypu. Unfortunately, the business went bust in 1958, and Schindler returned to Germany alone to try to build a successful factory. While in Germany, Schindler received an invitation to visit Jerusalem. While there, a carob tree was planted in his honour on the Avenue of the Righteous. The Avenue honours non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Second World War.

In 1963, Schindler declared bankruptcy after a series of unsuccessful business ventures. The following year, he suffered a heart attack, which left him considerably weakened and less able to work. Fortunately, he remained in contact with several of his Schindlerjuden, who sent him donations as a thank you for saving their lives.

Oskar Schindler passed away from liver failure on 9th October 1974. His body was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, making him the only former member of the Nazi Party to be honoured in this way. His gravestone features the Hebrew inscription “Righteous Among the Nations”, below which a German inscription reads “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews”.

Schindler and his wife were both awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by the State of Israel. A few other members of the Nazi Party also received the title for their actions to save Jews during the war. Karl Plagge (1887-1958) rescued Jews during the Holocaust in Lithuania, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (1904-73) helped resistance groups rescue 95% of Denmark’s Jewish population, Helmut Kleinicke (1907-79) saved Jews from Auschwitz, and Hans Walz (1883-1974) financed the emigration of Jews at the beginning of the war.

Schindler was one of the few members of the Nazi Party to turn against the regime and put his life on the line to save thousands of lives. His heroics are immortalised in the novel Schindler’s Ark written by Australian author Thomas Keneally (b.1935) in 1982. In 1993, Steven Spielberg (b. 1946) adapted the book into a film, Schindler’s List, starring Liam Neeson (b. 1952) as Schindler. The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning six for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction.

A copy of the list Schindler compiled of his Jewish workers exists at the State Library of New South Wales, Australia. Notable people on the list include Itzhak Stern, portrayed by Ben Kingsley (b. 1943) in Schindler’s List; Poldek Pfefferberg (1913–2001) portrayed by Jonathan Sagall (b. 1959); Joseph Bau (1920-2002), an artist; and Ryszard Horowitz (b. 1939), a pioneer of special effects photography.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Havering Palace

Once upon a time, in an Essex village called Havering-atte-Bower (now part of London), sat a palace. Many kings stayed in the palace during their travels around the country until it was abandoned in 1686. Today, nothing remains of the palace, and not many people know it ever existed. Fortunately, records of the building still exist, and the Romford Historical Society is determined to keep the history of Havering Palace alive.

According to Havering Museum, people inhabited Havering-atte-Bower during the Saxon times. In the 7th century, Sigeberht the Little, the King of Essex from c. 617-653, built either a wooden hunting lodge or palace. Naturally, this building disintegrated over time.

The second palace was built during the 24-year reign (1042-66) of Edward the Confessor. There is no proof the king stayed at the palace, except for a local legend. Allegedly, during one visit, the king came across a beggar asking for money. Edward regrettably told him, “I have no money, but I have a ring,” which he handed to the beggar. Some claim this is how Havering got its name: “have a ring”. It is more likely the name is derived from Hæfer, a Saxon landowner. The far-fetched tale continues, claiming the beggar later gave the ring to some pilgrims, telling them, “Give this to your king, and tell him that within six months he shall die.” Suspicious of the claim, the pilgrims asked the beggar who he was, to which he replied, “St John the Evangelist.” Six months later, Edward the Confessor died.

According to the Domesday Book, completed in 1086, the manor or palace belonged to Earl Harold in 1066. This record suggests the king gave the land to the Earl before he died. Upon the king’s death, Earl Harold became King Harold II (1022-1066), also known as Harold Godwinson. Harold Wood, a suburban neighbourhood in the London Borough of Havering, got its name from the king.

On 14th October 1066, Harold II died during the Battle of Hastings, and the crown and palace passed to William the Conqueror (1028-1087). The Norman king proceeded to take the surrounding land away from the previous owners. Lands included Upminster, owned by Sweyn the Swarthy; Cranham, owned by a freeman called Alwin; Rainham, owned by Lefstan the Reeve; and Berwick Farm, which belonged to someone called Aluard. William also took North Ockendon but later swapped it for Windsor, where he built Windsor Castle.

Havering Palace remained the property of the crown and nearly all the kings and queens of England used it until the 17th century. During this time, extensive building works resulted in a palace with at least 26 rooms, a chapel, several kitchens, a gatehouse and an inner courtyard.

In 1262, King Henry III (1207-72) granted Havering Palace to his wife, Eleanor of Provence (1223-91). From then on, Havering Palace belonged to the subsequent queen consorts and queen dowagers until Jane Seymour’s death in 1537. The word Bower in the name Havering-atte-Bower may stem from the queens’ presence in the area. One meaning of bower is “a woman’s private room or bedroom”, although another source suggests atte-Bower meant “at the royal residence.”

King Edward III (1312-77) made over 30 visits, frequently staying for weeks at a time. In 1358, Edward held a Marshalsea Court at Havering Palace for five months and allowed locals to air their grievances. Traditionally, a Marshalsea Court let the domestic staff of the royal household express their views, but not usually members of the public.

Richard II (1367-1400) also met with members of the public at Havering Palace, but under less favourable conditions. In 1381, some of the rebels involved with the Peasant’s Revolt came to Havering Palace to ask for mercy. Despite their pleas, Richard sent the majority to trial and execution. On another visit to the palace in 1397, the king organised the murder of his uncle, Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester (1355-97). Richard ordered Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk (1366-99), to ambush his uncle while riding in Epping Forest. The Duke of Norfolk owned the Romford manor of Mawneys and is honoured by the street name Mowbrays Road in Collier Row.

Henry IV (1367-1413) is reported to have stayed in Havering Palace, and it is where his second wife, Joan of Navarre (1368-1437), spent her final year before passing away in 1437. Following the death of Henry IV, Joan’s stepson Henry V accused her of witchcraft and imprisoned her for many years in Pevensey Castle, Sussex, and later at Leeds Castle, Kent. Six months before his death, Henry V (1386-1422) released Joan from her imprisonment.

In 1465, King Edward IV (1442-83) issued a royal liberty charter in Havering, which gave residents freedom from taxation. The charter also allowed the area to establish a jail and employ local magistrates. The liberty was formed of eight wards: Romford Town, Harold Wood, Collier Row, Noak Hill, Havering(atte-Bower), Hornchurch Town, North End and South End (South Hornchurch). Gallows Corner, Romford, is named after the liberty’s execution site.

During the reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547), extensive work took place on the Palace, costing over £280 (over £145,600 today). This equated to 9300 days wages of the average skilled tradesman.

By the 1530s, Havering Palace needed at least five keepers, including Keeper of the Outwoods, Keeper of Havering Park, Paler of Havering Park, Keeper of the South Gate and Keeper of the Manor. The building and surrounding land needed constant attention and repairs. Before Elizabeth I (1533-1603) visited in 1568, a team of seven carpenters, four bricklayers and two plumbers were employed to make the palace fit for a queen.

It is not certain if Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, stayed in the palace, but he certainly hunted in the area. Havering Palace belonged to Henry’s first three wives until their deaths, or in the case of Catherine of Aragorn (1485-1536), her divorce. Following Jane Seymour’s (1508-37) death, the future Edward VI (1537-53) used part of the palace as his nursery.

During her youth, Mary I (1516-58) lived at Havering Palace amongst many other locations. Elizabeth I may also have spent time in Havering as a child, and in 1561, received a translation of a religious book from Greek to Latin by Sir Anthony Cooke (1504-76), who lived nearby at Gidea Hall.

Elizabeth believed moving from one place to another involved less maintenance and less cost, so she frequently visited Havering Palace when in Essex. She also stayed nearby at Ingatestone Hall, Loughton Hall and St Osyth Priory and gave her legendary speech at Tilbury to 5,000 soldiers on the eve of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Havering Palace needed significant repairs each time Elizabeth visited. In 1594, new rafters were installed, gate posts rehung, and the lime and sandstone bricks treated to make the building watertight. In the latter stages of her reign, Elizabeth made Havering Palace a lodging for Ladies of Honour, such as Frances Newton, Baroness Cobham (1539-92). Lady Cobham served as a Lady of the Bedchamber and was one of Elizabeth’s closest friends.

Elizabeth’s heir, James I (1566-1625), frequently stayed at Havering Palace, but usually for only one night at a time. The palace now belonged to the king’s wife, Anne of Denmark (1574-1619), who was awarded a new jointure estate after becoming Queen Consort. Her estate included Somerset House in London, Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, Pontefract Castle in West Yorkshire, Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, and the palace in Havering-atte-Bower. This was more than had been granted to any former King’s wife.

James I allegedly preferred to stay at Theobalds House in Cheshunt on the other side of Epping forest when staying in the area on hunting expeditions, yet invited his noble companions to stay at Havering Palace. One Scottish courtier, George Home, 1st Earl of Dunbar (1556-1611), went hunting with the King in 1608 and wrote favourably about his stay in the palace.

The king appointed Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), the Keeper of Havering in 1603, shortly after the coronation. When De Vere died, his wife, Elizabeth Trentham (d.1612), a former Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth, took on the role of custodian until she died in 1612.

Charles I (1600-49) was the last king to stay at Havering Palace. Records suggest he only stayed there in 1637 when his mother-in-law, Queen Marie de’ Medici (1575-1642), visited Britain. Charles slept at Havering on 8th November during his journey from London to Chelmsford, where he met the Queen of France and accompanied her to Gidea Hall. Rather than stay in the same building as his mother-in-law, Charles returned to Havering Palace for the night.

The next day, Charles and Marie de’ Medici made their way to St James’s Palace, much to the annoyance of anti-Catholic protestors who rioted in the street. The French queen stayed for a few years until Parliament paid her £10,000 to leave in 1641. The following year, Civil War broke out in England and many buildings were sequestrated by Parliament, including Gidea Hall. The South Essex Parliament committee set up their headquarters in Romford, meaning Havering Palace was no longer safe for any member of the royal household to stay.

After the execution of Charles I on 30th January 1649, Richard Deane (1610-53), one of the men who signed the king’s death warrant, began dismantling parts of Havering Palace and ordered all the mature trees in the area cut down. By the time of the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy in 1660, Havering Palace was but “a confused heap of old ruinous decayed buildings.”

At some point during the interregnum, Havering Palace became the property of Robert Bertie, 3rd Earl of Lindsey (1630-1701), who also owned Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, one of the few luxurious buildings not taken over by Parliament during the civil war. Despite his costly attempts to rebuild the palace as “His Majestys house at Havering”, the project was never completed and became vacant after 1686.

By 1740, Havering Palace was beyond repair and left to gradually weather away. In 1828, no walls were visible above ground, and the remains of the land were sold at public auction. The winning bidder was Hugh McIntosh (1768-1840), a Scottish engineer who made his fortune excavating the East India and London Docks. McIntosh also worked on the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, and the London and Greenwich Railway.

Whilst Havering Palace no longer exists, some of the land and buildings in the London Borough of Havering still bear its history. Bower House, a Grade I listed Palladian mansion, was built in 1729 by Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769) from some of the remains of the palace. In 1878, Hugh McIntosh’s son constructed the church of St John The Evangelist to replace the chapel that originated in Havering Palace.

Havering Palace stood roughly where the village green outside St. John the Evangelist Church is situated today. Havering Country Park, including the 100 acres of woodland, is all that remains of the palace’s surrounding land. The land was purchased by the Greater London Council and opened to the public in 1975.

The layout of the palace is uncertain, but the Romford Historical Society has built a model of Havering Palace based on a plan from 1578. The plan described a gatehouse that allowed access to a series of connected buildings, including a great chamber, the royal apartments, two chapels and accommodation for the Lord Chamberlain and Lord High Treasurer. Separate from the main rooms included kitchens, a buttery, a scullery, a salthouse, a larder and stables. To view the model, visit Havering Museum.


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!