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.


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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.


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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.


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The Real Maria

Dame Julie Andrews (b. 1935) is famous for her portrayal of Maria von Trapp in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical film The Sound of Music (1965). The musical is based on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, written by the real Maria von Trapp in 1945. Maria Augusta von Trapp was the stepmother of the Trapp Family Singers, who inspired the singing children in the famous show.

Maria was born on 26th January 1905 while her parents, Augusta and Karl Kutschera, were travelling on a train from the Austrian Tyrol to Vienna. Sadly, Augusta died from pneumonia when Maria was only two-years-old, and the young child was sent to live with her father’s cousin. She rarely saw her father because he spent much of his time travelling. After Karl died when Maria was nine, her foster mother’s son became her legal guardian.

Uncle Franz, Maria’s guardian, unknowingly suffered from mental illness and treated Maria poorly. He often punished her for things she did not do, which affected how Maria behaved at school. She stopped trying to be good because she figured she would only get in trouble anyway. Maria finally escaped from Uncle Franz by running away at the age of 15 to stay with a friend. She had plans to become a tutor, but no one would hire her because she looked too young. Eventually, she got a job umpiring tennis, a game she had never played.

Eventually, Maria earned a scholarship to study at the State Teachers College for Progressive Education in Vienna. She graduated in 1923 at the age of 18. The following year, Maria became a postulant at Nonnberg Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg. Maria intended to become a nun; meanwhile, she worked in the Abbey school.

Those familiar with the storyline of The Sound of Music know Maria did not become a nun. Instead, in 1926, the Abbey sent her to teach one of the seven children of a widowed naval commander. Georg von Trapp (1880-1947) had recently lost his wife, Agathe, to scarlet fever. One of his daughters, Maria Franziska (1914-2014), also caught the illness, leaving her too weak to walk to school. In the musical, Maria was employed to teach all the children. In reality, Von Trapp only needed her to teach Maria Franziska. 

After teaching Maria Franziska, Von Trapp decided to have all his children homeschooled. Maria was responsible for the education of all seven children: Rupert (1911-92), Agathe (1913-2010), Maria Franziska, Werner (1915-2010), Hedwig (1917-1972), Johanna (1919-1994) and Martina (1921-1951). In the musical, They were renamed Friedrich, Liesl, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta and Gretl respectively. The producers also made Liesl the eldest rather than Friedrich.

Georg von Trapp was an Austro-Hungarian naval officer. He served as a submarine commander during the First World War, earning him several medals. Von Trapp inherited the title Ritter from his father, which is the rough equivalent of a Baronet in English nobility. As a father, Georg was not the detached, cold-blooded man who disapproved of music, as portrayed in The Sound of Music. His children described him as a gentle, warmhearted parent; it was Maria who had a temper and would erupt in angry outbursts.

Maria loved the seven children in her charge, which did not go unnoticed by Von Trapp, who asked Maria to marry him. Frightened, Maria fled back to Nonnberg Abbey to seek advice from the mother abbess. Maria did not love Georg and wanted to become a nun, but the mother abbess persuaded her that it was God’s will that she marry. Reluctantly, Maria returned to the family and married Von Trapp on 26th November 1927.

“I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn’t love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way, I really married the children. I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after.” – Maria von Trapp in her biography (1953)

The musical implies that the Von Trapp family fled Austria shortly after the wedding, but this was not the case. Before the outbreak of World War Two, Maria gave birth to three children, Rosemarie (b. 1929-2022), Eleonore (1931-2021) and Johannes (b. 1939), although the family had emigrated to the United States before Johannes’ birth.

In 1935, the Von Trapp family were still feeling the impact of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and faced financial ruin. To survive, Georg von Trapp discharged most of his servants and rented out rooms in the house. One boarder was the Roman Catholic priest Father Franz Wasner (1905-92), who discovered the family enjoyed singing. Wasner encouraged them to sing together to entertain guests, thus starting their career as the Trapp Family Singers. In The Sound of Music, Wasner was replaced by the fictional Max Detweiler.

In August 1936, the German soprano Lotte Lehmann rented a nearby villa in Salzburg. Overhearing the Von Trapp children practising their singing, she told Georg and Maria they had “gold in their throats” and should perform at the Salzburg Festival. Initially, Georg insisted he did not want his family performing in public, but Lehmann soon persuaded him to participate.

Shortly after their performance, the Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg (1897-1977) heard the family singing on the radio and invited them to perform in Vienna. Following this, they became a touring act, singing in locations all over Austria. Unfortunately, this became difficult after the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938.

Whilst the children were not targeted directly, they received second-hand hostility when their Jewish school friends were attacked. The Nazis encouraged all children to report on their parents if they said anything against the Nazi party or Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). Maria and Georg feared saying something out of turn, particularly because they did not agree with the Nazi regime and refused to fly the Nazi flag in their windows.

When performing in Munich in the summer of 1938, the Von Trapps came face to face with Hitler. Soon after, Georg was draughted into the German Navy, and the family decided to escape by travelling to Italy. Georg was born in Zadar, which became part of Italy in 1920, making him an Italian citizen. In the musical, the storyline claims the family climbed over the mountains into Switzerland. Not only is this impossible from Salzburg, which borders Germany, the family actually went by train.

From Italy, the Von Trapps travelled to England from where they sailed to the United States. By the time they reached American soil, Heinrich Himmler (1900-45), the leader of the Schutzstaffel (SS), had taken over their abandoned home as his headquarters.

The Von Trapps began singing in public as soon as they were settled in the United States. After a performance at the Town Hall in New York City on 10th December 1938, The New York Times wrote, “There was something unusually lovable and appealing about the modest, serious singers of this little family aggregation as they formed a close semicircle about their self-effacing director for their initial offering, the handsome Mme. von Trapp in simple black, and the youthful sisters garbed in black and white Austrian folk costumes enlivened with red ribbons. It was only natural to expect work of exceeding refinement from them, and one was not disappointed in this.”

Frederick Christian Schang (1893-1990), an American talent agent, officially established the family as the Trapp Family Singers and Americanised their repertoire. With all ten children singing, the group were ready to start performing all over the world once World War Two ended. They also founded the Trapp Family Austrian Relief fund, which provided food and clothing to help Austrian people who had lost everything in the war. At their concerts, Georg pleaded, “The country that gave to the world Haydn, Schubert, Mozart, and Silent Night will perish if we do not help them. Everybody knows about the situation the greater European countries are in. But few people can imagine what is happening in Austria, whose citizens are about to lose courage and hope.”

When not performing, the family ran a music camp at their home in Stowe, Vermont. All members of the family became US citizens during the 1940s, except for Georg, who passed away from lung cancer in 1947.

The Trapp Family Singers continued performing together until 1953 when they agreed to go their separate ways. Maria and two of the children became missionaries in Papua New Guinea, although Maria returned to Vermont in 1965.

For the rest of her life, Maria managed the Trapp Family Lodge, which she expanded into a 27-room ski lodge. Sadly, the building was destroyed by fire in 1980, resulting in the death of one guest. In 1983, Maria opened a larger Austrian-style lodge, which contained 97 bedrooms. It is still open to the public today and is owned by Sam von Trapp, Maria’s grandson.

On 28th March 1987, Maria von Trapp passed away from heart failure three days after undergoing an operation. She is buried in the grounds of the Trapp Family Lodge, alongside her husband. Maria’s memory lives on through her autobiography, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, which was adapted into The Sound of Music during the 1950s. Maria and her daughter, Rosemarie, made a cameo appearance in the 1965 film version, along with Barbara, the daughter of Werner. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot them walking past an archway during the song I Have Confidence.

Maria did not mind the slight changes to the storyline in The Sound of Music, but she did not approve of the portrayal of her husband. The children all had mixed reactions and could not recognise their father in the stage and film version. Johannes von Trapp complained, “The Sound of Music simplifies everything. I think perhaps reality is at the same time less glamorous but more interesting than the myth.”

In 1973, Maria appeared on The Julie Andrews Hour, where she sang Rodger and Hammerstein’s Edelweiss with Julie Andrews. It was not a song the family sang as the Trapp Family Singers, but it will forever be associated with the family and Austria due to the musical.

During her lifetime, Maria von Trapp won many awards, beginning with the Benemerenti Medal in recognition of the benefits of the Trapp Family Austrian Relief for needy Austrians in 1949. The medal was awarded by Pope Pius XII, who later made Maria a Dame of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in 1952. At the end of the 1950s, Maria received the Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria, and was given the Siena Medal in 1962 for being “an outstanding woman”, recognising her “endurance and great accomplishment.”

When the Trapp Family Singers went their separate ways, the eldest, Rupert, married and kept out of the limelight. Hedwig moved to Hawaii to teach singing, handicrafts and cooking. Agathe chose to start a kindergarten with her friend Mary Louise Kane, plus worked on paintings and illustrations for cookbooks of family recipes. One of her paintings hangs in the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Johanna also enjoyed painting. She married Ernst Florian Winter (1923-2014), the first director of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna after World War II.

Maria Franziska and Rosemarie went to Papua New Guinea to become missionaries, whilst the remaining sisters, Martina and Eleonore, focused on starting their own families. Sadly, Martina gave birth to a stillborn daughter in 1951 and died from complications soon after. Werner left his singing days behind to become a dairy farmer, leaving Johannes to take over the family lodge following his mother’s death.

Whilst they no longer sang publically, many of the Von Trapps were heard singing in their houses, often while completing chores. They passed their love of music to their children and grandchildren, and several of the latter formed The von Trapps, a small singing group that toured the United States between 2001 and 2016. The group, comprised of Sofia, Melanie, Amanda, and August, started their singing career by performing in a stage version of The Sound of Music in 1997. As a group, they released five studio albums and won the Special Award for Outstanding Young Family Singing Group at the 27th annual Young Artist Awards in 2006.

The Von Trapp family will always be remembered through the musical, The Sound of Music, particularly the film version starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film won five Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and continues to rate in the top 100 of the American Film Institute’s musicals and movies. Whilst the musical will remain a firm favourite for many years to come, it is important to remember the real family who experienced the annexation of Austria and left their homeland in search of safety abroad.


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