History

What we Love ...

Most of us, even if we're not religious, may have heard of St Francis of Assisi.

You know who I'm talking about ... the 12/13th century Italian Catholic friar, mystic and preacher who is best known these days for being the Patron Saint of Animals because of his close association with nature and the natural environment and animals. 

In addition,  his 'Prayer of St Francis' ... Make Me a Channel of your Peace ...  is now widely known as a Christian prayer for peace.

It was on this day - July 16th - in 1228, just two years after his death, that Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX

But did you know that one of  the first followers of Francis was a young woman called Clare, who was actually born on this day in 1194?

Clare, like Francis, hailed from the town of Assisi in central Italy and was from a rich and ancient Roman family whose homes included a palace in Assisi. Clare would have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and apparently was very devout even as a child. Although undoubtedly she would have been destined for a rich marriage, instead when she was what we would now call a 'teenager', Clare decided on a religious life.

She apparently heard Francis speak at a church service during Lent, the period running up to Easter, and was inspired to give her life completely to God. She was just 17 but on the evening of Palm Sunday, 20 March 1212, she left her father's house and, accompanied by her aunt Bianca and another companion, went to the chapel of the Porziuncula in Assisi to meet Francis.

There, so history tells us, Clare's hair was cut, she removed her rich clothing and instead took on a plain robe and veil, indicating that she was turning her back on her previous life of luxury and was committing herself to a life of poverty and service to humanity.

Her father was furious. He tracked her down at a convent in San Paulo near Bastia where she had been placed in the care of Benedictine nuns ... but she refused to return home, and continued to profess that she would have no other 'husband' but Jesus Christ. She implored Francis to send her to an even more secluded religious community  - Sant' Angelo in Panzo - where she was soon joined by her sister Catarina, who changed her name to 'Agnes'. Both Clare and Agnes would eventually be canonized!

They remained with the Benedictines until a small dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near their hometown of Assisi.  Here Clare and Agnes gathered other religious women around them, they lived a life of poverty and seclusion from the world and they became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano". Later, ten years after Clare's death in August 1253, it would become known as the Order of Saint Clare. These days the contemplative order of nuns is in 75 countries across the world but it began with just one woman and a vision from God.

While the Franciscan friars travelled around the country to preach, Saint Clare's 'sisters' existed in isolation from the world, where they lived a life of manual labour and prayer. They were barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. At one point the Pope of the day,  Gregory IX, offered Clare a 'dispensation' from the vow of strict poverty. She declined, and eventually the Pope instead granted them something called the 'Privilegium Pauperitatis' — a ruling that nobody could oblige the Clares to accept any possession. 

It's hard to imagine these days, when we're so wrapped up in belongings and 'stuff' and 'freewill', that a live of solitude and austerity could be appealing ...  but in fact Clare and her followers inspired many to join them, including more members of her own family.

Another sister, Beatrix, also joined the order and after their father's death, their mother Ortolana also entered the convent at San Damiano which followed the Franciscan monastic religious order. It was here that Clare would write their  Rule of Life, which are believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. 

Many words of wisdom have passed down the centuries from St Clare but I think one of my favourite thoughts from this wise Woman of God are those below.

It's such a profound thought, and could have been written for the 21st century. 

I invite you today to read these words, and reflect, as I am doing.

What is it that I 'love'? What is shaping me?

Is it 'things', possessions, power, status, money?

Is that what is shaping our lives?

Or is it just simply ... love? Compassion for others? And maybe God? 

It's a tough one ... and although it might not necessarily mean a life of seclusion and poverty, it might help us to think about what is important in our lives and what we hold dear!

 

St Clare of Assisi


Anyone for Tennis?

Right now I'm spending a bit more time than usual watching sport on the TV.

No - I'm not talking about the football (or if you're reading this in the States, the 'soccer').

The Euro football tournament is  currently happening and of course, it's all over the British media, especially now because the English team will face up to Italy in the final at Wembley stadium on Sunday this weekend!

I put my hand up and admit that I'd actually rather watch paint dry than endure a football match on TV. I've been to 'live' matches and they are different. Great fun, much excitement.

But watching on TV, it's not just about the actual game. Hours upon hours are dedicated to all the pre-match conversations, then there's the so called 'expert' chat during half time and of course at the end of the match all those experts unpicking every minor detail of the 90 minutes of play - why what the 'experts' thought would happen didn't happen, and so on and so forth.  I find it all rather tedious. So I'm not talking about watching football.

No - I'm talking tennis.

Yes, I know many of you reading may think that watching a tennis match is also pretty boring. But not me.

You see, it all comes down to personal interest and personal choice.

I can't bear watching all the hype around football and all the machismo around the players and the game. But I love watching those tennis players with all the thought and tactics that are employed. I love experiencing the ups and downs of play, which can swing so quickly in favour of one player or the other. There's so much 'thinking' involved ... as well as the athleticism and dedication which we can all marvel at.

One of the tennis 'Grand Slam' tournaments, and the only grass court 'Major' competition  - is held in a town in southwest London which is world famous. 

Wimbledon.

In fact, the Wimbledon Championships is recognised as being the oldest tennis tournament in the world and is widely regarded as the most prestigious. 

Right now we're on the brink of the final weekend of Wimbledon 2021 ... it's the Ladies Singles Final tomorrow (Saturday) and the Gentleman's Singles Final on Sunday. And there will be the doubles finals as well. These days there are junior tournaments and the Wimbledon Wheelchair championship matches.

But on this day back in 1877 it was the start of the very first Wimbledon Championship. The tournament was held, as it still is today, at the  All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club (AEC & LTC) in Wimbledon, London.

The AEC & LTC had been founded in July 1868, as the All England Croquet Club. But as the interest in croquet was waning, in February 1875  lawn tennis was added to the interests at the club.

In June 1877 the club decided to organise a tennis tournament to pay for the repair of its pony roller, which they used to maintain the lawns, or the outdoor grass courts.

Although the game of 'tennis' can be traced back to 12th century France, in England it became what we now know as Real Tennis which was (and still is) played on an indoor court and became known as the 'Game of Kings'. There appear to have been various incarnations of the game in different countries.

It was the introduction of technology, namely the invention of the first lawn mower in Britain in 1830, which is thought to have led to the ability to prepare grass courts - or lawns laid to grass - which could be used as a fairly safe playing surface. This in turn enabled sports and leisure enthusiasts to create  pitches, greens, playing fields and ... tennis courts!

This development meant that the sports became more popular and people began to want standardised rules. It was in the mid 19th century that modern rules for many sports were first conceived, including ... lawn bowls, football, and lawn tennis.

The world's first 'tennis' club was actually founded in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire in England in 1872. In nearby Birmingham in the English Midlands, a few years earlier (between 1859 and 1865 actually) a chap called Harry Gem, a solicitor, and his friend Augurio Perera had developed a game that combined elements of another past time called 'racquets' (similar to squash) and the ball game pelota which hailed from the Basque region of Europe, on the French and Spanish border.
 
The duo first played the game on Perera's croquet lawn in Birmingham and a few years later the friends got together with two local doctors to  set up that first club on Avenue Road in Leamington Spa. It's here that the term "lawn tennis" was used as a name of an activity by a club for the first time. 
 
The game caught on and by May 1875 the Marylebone Cricket Club drew up the first standardised rules for tennis. 
 
Just two years later, the organisers of the first Wimbledon tournament had no precedent so, using those MCC regulations, they had to come up with a set of rules for a tournament.  
 
That first event only included a 'Gentlemen's Singles' competition, and 22 men played on the now famous grass courts, having each had to pay for the honour of taking part ... the entry fee was one guinea.
 
The tournament began on 9 July 1877, and the final – delayed for three days by rain – was played on 19 July in front of a crowd of about 200 people who each paid an entry fee of one shilling. Hopefully the club made the money they needed for that pony grass roller!
 
Until fairly recently, rain was an issue for Wimbledon and I've spent many an hour over the years watching re-runs of old matches on TV while 'rain stopped play'. However, in 2009 the All England Club put a retractable roof over the famous Centre Court, and in 2019 the other main show court, No. 1 Court, also got a roof.
 
Back on World Poetry Day on March 21, my 'One Day at a Time' blog featured one of my favourite poems - 'If' by Rudyard Kipling - but what I didn't point out at the time is that there's a line in the poem which is engraved over the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.
 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
 
Wimbledon Triumph and Disaster
These are words, of course, to inspire those players who are about to perform, hopefully at their best, on one of the world's most prestigious courts at the oldest tennis tournament in the world, with all the history that involves.
 
As today's competitors step under that inscription, I'm sure they are aware of the many many incredible sports men and women who have preceded them and all those who have also played on that hallowed turf. I hope so, anyway. Because although I'm sure they are thinking about their own game, the legacy of those who have gone before, including the early pioneers of the game, must be acknowledged.
 
But the words can also inspire us.
 
We might not be able to play world class tennis, or kick a ball at the highest level of football, or change the world, or do something spectacular.
 
But we all face 'triumphs' and successes, and 'disasters' and failures in our lives.
 
Life is like that. Ups and Downs.
 
And if we can face them both with equal measure - then our lives can surely achieve some sort of 'balance'.
 
More of that tomorrow!
 
 

First of the Month

'Pinch Punch ... first of the month!'

Ever heard that saying?

When I was at school we used to say that to each other on the first day of the month ... and today of course is July 1st ... so appropriate to share this greeting with you I think?

But where does it come from?

Well, some stories say that it has its origins with George Washington, one of the founding fathers and the first president of the United States of America.

Apparently, during his time as president, on the first day of each month Washington would meet with Indian tribes and supply fruit punch with an added pinch of salt.

This became known as ‘pinch punch on the first of the month’.

How this developed to the childish tradition of actually punching and pinching someone while chanting that little ditty is beyond me ... but hey... it's interesting. Well I think it is.

And appropriate to share it this month in particular because in a couple of days - July 4th - the USA will celebrate Independence Day, after which Washington took up his presidency.

SO ... a new month lies ahead ... and here's something inspiring to set us on our way!

Have a great July everyone!

 

First day of July

 


A Dark Day in History

Today I'm turning back the hands of time 81 years to June 28th 1940. 

It's not a date that you may know as important in history but for the people of the Channel Islands, and for Jersey and Guernsey in particular, it's a significant day.

It was a Friday and since September 1939 Great Britain, including the British Crown Dependencies - the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey, and the Isle of Man - were at war with Germany.

The first months of what is now known as the Second World War (1939-1945) is known as the 'Phoney War'. Relatively little happened in the way of conflict but it was in that time that Hitler began working seriously on his plans for world domination. Nazi influence grew in the homeland, and  troops began to flood across Europe, gradually encroaching on France. On May 10, 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in a 'blitzkrieg' (German for “lightning war”) and then their sights were set on France.

Allied troops based in Europe were moved back by the advancing enemy and by the end of May 1940 many thousands of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops were cornered in or near a small coastal town in the top most northern point of France near to the border with Belgium. Between May 26th and June 4th 1940 during what has become known as the Battle of Dunkirk (Dunkerque) an estimated 338,000 Allied forces were evacuated from Dunkirk, across the English Channel to England, as German forces closed in on them. The massive operation, involving hundreds of naval and civilian vessels, became known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk”.

With the defences now virtually non-existent, on June 22nd 1940 France surrendered, or at least agreed to an Armistice with German forces which came into effect after midnight on June 25th. As far as Hitler was concerned, next it would be Great Britain.

If you know where the Channel Islands are and the history of the time, you'll know what comes next. 

The Channel Islands are actually VERY close to France. The islands sit in the Bay of St Malo, and Jersey is the nearest to the French mainland - just 14 miles (or 22 km) away. On a good day from Jersey's East Coast we can see not just the French coast, but even houses and wind turbines on the French side of the small channel which separates us. 

By the end of June 1940, after months of anticipation, it had become clear that occupation of the islands was inevitable. The Germans were just across the water!

In summer of 1940 Hitler seemed unstoppable as he raced through Europe and was now almost in waving distance of the British mainland from northern France and the Low Countries. For Hitler, taking the Channel Islands was a big deal. Invading and occupying Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark would be a PR coup and, he hoped, strike fear into the hearts of the British people and their government in London, headed up by Winston Churchill.  It's reckoned he thought invading the Channel Islands would be a signal that he was on his way! Soon he would be marching through London in victory!

It was on July 1st 1940 that the Germans DID invade the Channel Islands - actually the only place in the British Isles to be invaded and occupied by German Nazi forces - and so began five long years of Occupation.

In the final weeks of 'freedom' confusion reigned. Many people with means and/or family in the UK had already left but now many thousands decided to evacuate, not wanting to hang around for the Nazis. The British government had made the decision that, to save lives, it would be best not to engage in military conflict with the Germans when they eventually came. There had been some British forces based in the islands, but by June 20th, any remaining military personnel had been withdrawn, so leaving an 'open door' for the enemy to invade.

Unfortunately no one told the German High Command.

Viscount's Inquest BookOn June 28th, being unaware that the islands were undefended, there was a German bombing raid on Guernsey and Jersey in which 44 islanders were killed  - nine in Jersey and the remaining poor souls in Guernsey. There was a desperate scuffle to inform the enemy of the situation, including a belated message on the BBC that the islands had been declared "open towns". Later in the day the BBC reported the German bombing of the Channel Islands. on June 30th the deaths of the islanders killed in Jersey were reported at an inquest and recorded in the Viscount's (the senior law officer) Inquest Book, which is now part of the Jersey Archive.

The islands would be occupied until May 9th 1945 and it was in the run-up to the 75th anniversary of that Liberation (Liberation75), while working at BBC Radio Jersey. that I recorded a fascinating project which would run for a whole year right though to May 9th 2020 and beyond.

I worked in partnership with the Jersey Archive, part of Jersey Heritage, with the experts there selecting 50 objects from the collections in the Archives and the Jersey Museum through which we told the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey. The series ran from May 2019 through to June 2020 and we produced 50 short features each one focussing on one object from the collections that tell us a specific story about that part of our history. 

The features ran every Friday morning just after 0830 on the BBC Radio Jersey Breakfast Show. We ran the first on Liberation Day (May 9th) in 2019 and then we picked up the series on June 21st and ran a feature every day until Libertion75 and beyond.

Object Number 3 in the series happened to land on Friday June 28th 2019 ... exactly 79 years on from the bombing raids on Guernsey and Jersey which heralded the start of Occupation.

And so it was on that morning we heard from Linda Romeril, the Head of Archives and Collections at Jersey Heritage,  who brought out the object which tells that story ... that Inquest Book.

And so, as I said, let's turn back the clock 81 years to June 28th 1940 ...

50 Objects - No.3 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

I loved doing this series and I learnt so much. Each of the features is on the BBC Radio Jersey website under 'Breakfast' or various presenters, but Jersey Heritage/Archive also placed each feature on Vimeo - the whole series is there!

If you want to listen to this on the BBC Radio Jersey website - click on the link below

James Hand - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds - Object 3 - 28 June 2019.

 

 


The Story of Brave Men

This week has been an exciting one in Jersey.

Among other things, we had a Royal Visit.

HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) did a whistle-stop tour of our lovely island. And although we've had a very damp week, actually on Thursday we were blessed with glorious sunshine, so that was brilliant especially for all the islanders, including hundreds of children, who came out to greet her.

The Princess Royal opened our newest school (the fabulous Les Quennevais School) and a new sports training facility, and visited the Jersey Zoo ... she's the patron of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Waterloo memorial St Saviour's Church JerseyBut for me, her most important duty during the day took her to St Saviour's Church where she unveiled a very special memorial plaque in the church.

In St Saviour's Churchyard in Jersey there are many interesting stories. In 2018 I spent many months wandering around the graveyard with the then Rector of St Saviour, the Rev Peter Dyson, who was investigating the people laid to rest there.

This resulted in a series of 26 episodes broadcast by BBC Radio Jersey and it was fascinating. I learned so much.

As a result of his research, Peter found many dozens of men who are connected to the Napoleonic era... the Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Men were found who fought on the British side and even one who fought under the French emperor. It's thought St Saviour's is the resting place of more Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars veterans than anywhere else in the world. It's astonishing that so many veterans of these campaigns eventually found their way to Jersey.

In 2020 a book was published which outlines their stories - 'Napoleonic War Veterans Buried at St. Saviour’s Church, Jersey' edited by one of the world's leading experts in the period, William Mahon.

Napoleonic & Peninsula Wars memorial Oct 2020In Autumn 2020, a memorial was placed in the north Lady Chapel of the Church but the unveiling of the plaque was a year delayed because of the COVID19 pandemic. Finally, this past Thursday, June 24th 2021, that memorial was unveiled by The Princess Royal ... there was a special church service and colourful celebrations including lots of children and members of the Jersey community.

In October 2020, just before Rev Peter Dyson retired as Rector of the parish, I returned to the churchyard at St Saviour's Church to talk to him about the memorial, some of the stories it told and the importance of the research.

This was played in two parts on the BBC Radio Jersey Sunday Morning Breakfast show on October 4 2020.

Here is the complete story. 


*images from St Saviour's Church Jersey Facebook Page

 

 


A Walk in Queen's Valley

As part of my 'New Adventure' in life ... I've started trying to perfect the art of making little films.

I've worked in TV for a long time, I know how to point a camera and I can edit a little, but right now I'm testing various editing software and learning a bit more about how to put together a short video. I'm using my I-phone and a small video camera so I have several options.

I will not be making a full length film anytime soon, so all you Hollywood producers can breathe a sigh of relief. No, this is designed really for social media. At some point I'm planning to mix down film to music but right now it's a bit basic but such fun! As in my 'New Adventure' I'm not having to work full time, I am able to spend time filming and editing and trying new things out. What a joy to have that sort of liberty!

Queen's Valley path 2Recently I took a walk around the Queen's Valley reservoir in Jersey and grabbed some video on the camera. Below is a taster of what I captured that day!

As I walk around the stretch of water, I'm reminded of other walks in Queen's Valley. Back in the 1980s when I was a young reporter/journalist working locally, there was a great debate over whether the area - a beautiful natural valley full of trees and wildlife and a few old cottages and homesteads and farm land - should be flooded to create a much needed water resource for the island of Jersey.

There were protests, petitions and protest marches, but today we walk AROUND the reservoir ... so the campaigners didn't win that one.

Queen's Valley lower reservoir 4I remember the passion and controversy surrounding the development and the works and there are still memories of the old Queen's Valley around. If you've ever watched early episodes of the Jersey-based detective drama Bergerac, which was shown on British TV from 1981 to 1991, the main character's cottage was in that valley. And on my door I have a handmade pottery sign ('The Cottage') which was made in a small pottery once based in the valley.  

The reservoir is the newest and largest body of inland water and was completed in 1991. When full it contains enough water to supply our island for just shy of 50 days! The area actually houses two reservoirs, with the lower section being the largest.

Queen's Valley upper reservoirThis little stroll actually takes us up to the 'bridge' which splits the two sections. I'm walking along the upper section of the water up to that 'bridge'. I did carry on walking around the whole reservoir, but my camera ran out of juice at the intersection.

Every time I go up to Queen's Valley reservoir, I think of the valley which is lying beneath the water, and even the buildings down there!

But it's still a beautiful, and tranquil spot ... and a great walk!

SO why not come with me? There are a few little 'hills' (well actually they are just 'inclines') so take a breath now and then. 

And then .... BREATHE!

Have a happy day everyone!

PS - this little film is now on my YouTube Channel. I'm beginning to make a few more films now which I hope you'll enjoy! And please feel free to 'subscribe' if you want!

*images all taken by me on a lovely day


Summer Prayer

About this time of the year in the northern hemisphere of our planet, it's the longest day of the year.

Between about June 20 and 22nd there is more daylight than darkness, more days of sunshine hopefully because it's the moment when the path of the sun is farthest north. For those of us north of equator, it's the beginning of what is called 'astronomical summer'! Otherwise known as 'Summer Solstice'.

And this year the beginning of that season ... midsummer ... is today -  June 21 - when give or take the UK will enjoy around 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight, with the sun rising before 5am and setting around 9.30pm.

Summer Solstice (and actually Winter Solstice which here falls on or around December 21st) has always had cultural,  spiritual and even religious significance for humankind. Many cultures assign importance to the elements and the seasons and so this is a time for celebration, holidays, festivals and rituals. In many countries and regions this is associated with religion and even fertility as the Summer Solstice marks the time when crops are growing, nature is thriving and people are enjoying the goodness of life and are optimistic for the future. 

At places like Stonehenge - the circle of prehistoric Standing Stones on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire in England - ceremonies to mark the rising of the sun on this day have been held for thousands of years, as people recognised the religious significance of the mysticism of creation.

The Summer Solstice was and still is a marker for the year and the rolling out of the seasons. Neolithic humans may initially have started to observe the summer solstice as a way to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. We know that in Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice corresponded with the rise of the Nile River so it helped people to predict the annual flooding, and that was obviously related to the viability of their crops along the banks of the river, and the potential harvests later in the year. If you fancy reading more about this time of year there is loads online, including a great website hosted by the History Channel.

But the significance of days like today transcends nature. Before humans understood how the earth interacts with our sun and why the days of light and darkness differ according to the seasons, this period of long days of daylight would have been connected with mysticism and powerful messages about the universe. The word Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still) ... this day it would have felt as if the sun was motionless in the heavens and so it would have had some spiritual significance and traditions and behaviours developed around the day.

According to pagan folklore, evil spirits would appear on the Summer Solstice so in order to ward these off, people would wear protective garlands of herbs and flowers. Some midsummer traditions involve dancing around the 'maypole'. Bonfires were lit, also to help banish those demons and evil spirits. Ancient 'magic' was thought to be strongest at this time of year and those bonfires were also thought to lead girls to their future husbands - again linked to that sign of fertility. 

The Summer Solstice is often associated with the ancient religions which pre-date Christianity and were closely aligned to nature and the seasons. And regardless of whether we are people of 'faith' or not, the Summer Solstice is a time when we can appreciate the warmth of the sun and the potential in our world, and be inspired for the future.

I could have given you all kinds of quotes about Summer Solstice today ... there are masses online ... but I found this prayer which, as a person of faith, says it all for me.

Enjoy this long day everyone!

And if you're in the southern hemisphere ... be assured that as you are now halfway through your 'winter', summer is on its way!

Summer Prayer

 

 

 

 


A June Wedding

Mid June is a popular time for weddings. The prospect of  fine weather always helps of course although in Great Britain and the UK one can never count on a good day, even in summer. But I guess there's more chance of sunshine in June than at other times and these days, of course, the photographs of the day will be the lasting memories for many couples so a bit of sun goes a long way to making a happy Wedding Day!

In the past year, a few of my friends have had to postpone or scale down their wedding day plans because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, and I know for some that has been rather traumatic. 

But I also know for many couples who've had to change their plans it has meant they have focussed more on the day and the commitment they are making rather than the 'party'. And that has to be a good thing, doesn't it? 

Why am I thinking about weddings? Well ... it's because it was on this day - June 16th - in 1855 that a couple called William Booth and Catherine Mumford were married in a very scaled down simple ceremony in London. 

Stand by for a blatant plug for the first book I wrote!

William and Catherine BoothWilliam and Catherine Booth were the founders of The Salvation Army, which is now a global Christian church and charity movement working in more than 130 countries, but on their wedding day they were still 'seeking' their future. William was a struggling Christian evangelist and his travels across England had kept him and his fiancée apart for many months.  

There are no photos of the day itself, although the couple did get photographs taken across the years so we know what they looked like when they were young.

Their marriage would be the start not just of a busy family life (eventually they produced eight children) but also of their shared Christian service which would take them around the country, working first in the Methodist Church and finally in their own evangelistic ministry which would lead them back to London a decade later. It was in 1865 that they would create The East London Christian Mission which in 1878 became The Salvation Army.

Since their first meeting in 1852 William Booth and Catherine Mumford had regularly written letters and notes to each other and that correspondence continued throughout their marriage, as they were often separated by work and circumstances. And it was those letters, which are held in the British Library in London, which inspired me to write my first book.

WIlliam and Catherine front cover Sept 2013 Monarch books

'William and Catherine, the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' was published by Monarch (Lion Hudson) books in 2013 and it draws not just on that personal correspondence but also on my imagination.

Included in the book are extracts from the letters, with kind permission of the Booth Family and the British Library. As I read their notes and letters I learned, I think, a little about Catherine and William's characters and so, in addition to extracts from many of the couple's letters and the historical narrative, my story also includes some 'imaginative' excerpts - my 'storytelling', my ideas on how they would have reacted to certain circumstances and events in their lives, some insignificant but others which are important in the history of The Salvation Army.

Which brings me to June 16 1855 and that quiet wedding in London. This excerpt, this little 'story', is in Chapter 7 of my book and is my imagining, based on what I know happened on the day and my understanding of the couple involved, of what transpired on that rather chilly day in mid June.

The sun emerged from behind the early summer clouds as Catherine and William stepped over the threshold of the Stockwell Green Congregational Church.
Catherine clutched her new husband’s hand, feeling small yet secure. William looked down at Catherine’s sweet face and smiled. He could feel her shaking ever so slightly and a rush of protectiveness towards this woman overwhelmed him. He could hardly believe that, after all this time and so many obstacles, they were at last man and wife.
It had been a short and solemn service and blessing. Perfect. Catherine had been pale and had spoken quietly, her voice quivering as she repeated her vows of love and obedience. In contrast, William had found that his voice, which he was accustomed to using to rather larger congregations, had rung loudly around the church. As his “I do!” echoed around the building it had provoked a little giggle from his beloved. Then, in the cavernous chapel, William and Catherine had knelt at the altar and pledged themselves to God and to each other.
Behind Catherine, William noticed that his father-in-law, John Mumford, and his sister Emma, the only witnesses to the solemn ceremony, were now exiting the building and squinting in the watery sunshine. For a moment he regretted the absence of the rest of his family. Of course, it was unlikely that Ann would attend, but he had hoped that his mother and her namesake, his sister Mary, all those miles away in Nottingham, might have been able to make it, even at such short notice. However, he and Catherine had been thrilled when Emma had sent word that they would be able to afford for her, at any rate, to attend. He knew Catherine’s day was also slightly saddened by the fact that her own mother had been disinclined to attend the ceremony, but, as he held Catherine’s little gloved hand in his, he felt a rush of love and appreciation for her commitment to him.
Catherine pulled her shawl closer around her neck and shoulders. She shivered again. Even with layers of petticoats under her skirts she still felt the chill of the day. Maybe she should, after all, have worn her coat. The few days of milder weather in May hadn’t lasted and it was still chilly, even for mid-June.
Catherine turned to the Revd David Thomas, who had so kindly agreed to preside over this most sacred of ceremonies.
“Mr Thomas, thank you!” she announced, grasping his hand and shaking it wholeheartedly. No simpering little handshake for this gentleman. She remembered their previous debates and discussions about the place of women in church and society, and she knew he would expect this forwardness from her, even on this day.
Father Mumford was calling from the street. The Stockwell New Chapel was tucked away from the main thoroughfare and he had a cab waiting. William, Catherine, and Emma took their leave of the minister and made their way to the horse drawn vehicle. It was but a short drive back home to Russell Street in Brixton, where, regardless of her unwillingness to attend the actual service, William was sure that Mrs Mumford would be waiting with some light refreshments. Whatever her views on the marriage, and he still wasn’t quite sure of her, she loved her daughter unconditionally and would, he was sure, come around.
William reached out his hand to Catherine. She grasped it and he helped her into the carriage. Whatever the future held now, they were one. The Lord would determine their way, and, whatever happened, they would face it together.

If you fancy reading more, my book is still available all over the place, including from the usual online sites as well as the Lion Hudson website. 

Thanks!

*image The Salvation Army Heritage Centre


May God give you .....

This past week I was having a conversation with a friend and in usual fashion, we chatted about anything and everything. Work, frustrations, our health (physical and mental health) ... and along the way the subject of Celtic Christianity came up.

Rather random, I grant you, but it's once again made me think about the ancient faith of many of our British forefathers and mothers, a spiritual tradition and theology which is connected not just to God but also to the earth and nature, the elements and the natural environment around us. 

I love this tradition and the sentiments and prayers which come out of it. These days you might often see these defined and described as 'Irish' blessings and prayers, but many of these come if not directly, then indirectly from the Celtic tradition. The fact that many of these blessings are based on very old spiritual traditions inspires me as I realise these prayers have been spoken silently and out loud for many hundreds of years by the faithful. They have brought inspiration and comfort, challenge and affirmation in equal measure.

I don't know anything about you, dear reader, or how you are feeling right now. But what I've learned down the years is that God sometimes gives us a thought which, without knowing it, will help someone else if passed on.

So today I bring you one of those blessings and trust it will bring you whatever YOU need.

Be Blessed Today!

 

Sunday blessing


With a Little Help from My Friends

I am blessed in life to have lots of lovely friends.

I've lived and worked in lots of different places and along the way I've met some fantastic people who have really filled my life with lots of fun and happiness. They've also supported me at difficult times and hopefully I've been able to do the same for them.

Having friends in my life is so important. Because, in addition to my family, I always know there are people to whom I can turn when I need that extra support. 

With social media I've been able to reconnect with a lot of friends with whom I've lost contact, and that's lovely, but I also have a small cohort of really close friends who will always be there for me, and I for them.

Although we are separated by time and space, and that's especially been the case during the past year or so when the global coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from travelling to meet up, I know that when we do see each other again it will be like no time has passed at all.

There are those friends who as soon as we meet, we pick up from where we left off, and it's like we've never been apart. That, I think, is the measure of true friendship.

There are also some pieces of music which are a bit like friends. They make us feel safe and warm and they bring back lovely memories.

On this day, May 26, in 1967 a brilliant album was released which includes a fabulous song which celebrates friendship.

Sgt._Pepper's_Lonely_Hearts_Club_BandIt is, of course, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles and it includes some iconic songs, including the second on the album - With a Little Help from My Friends

The 'Fab Four' have gone down in history as pioneers of rock and pop but what we forget is that in the greater scheme of things they weren't around for that long as a band - they formed in 1960 and broke up in 1970. However, they packed in masses of work and songs and albums into their decade as a foursome. Sgt Pepper's was their eighth studio album!

By summer of 1966 they were no long touring or doing live shows, perhaps completely exhausted with endless schedules and 'Beatlemania', and they were developing more and more innovative music, including incorporating different kinds of musical genres and storytelling.

And there's no doubt that one of the albums that has ensured their legacy is Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band! 

It's an album I've been listening to for as long as can remember because I have an older brother who loved it. I can probably sing along to many of the songs, but ahead of writing this blog post I did a bit more research and discovered some interesting things about it. 

It was Paul McCartney who had an idea for a song involving an Edwardian military band and that was the basis of the fictional Sgt. Pepper band. But if you know the LP album you'll know that it includes lots of different sounds, including not just Western and Indian classical music but also some vaudeville, circus, music hall, and avant-garde sounds.

I was also interested to learn that when the band started recording in November 1966, they also recorded two other songs which are just simply brilliant - Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane - which in fact were released as a double A-side single in February 1967 and so were left off the LP.

Anyway, back to With a Little Help from My Friends. Not all the songs on albums like Sgt Pepper's have been recorded by other artists, but the second track on the LP HAS proved popular with bands and singers down the years. One of my favourite versions of With a Little Help from My Friends is from the Scottish rock band  Wet Wet Wet, who recorded the cover version in 1988 as a fundraising single for the charity ChildLine, and it became the band's first Number One hit in the UK!

But today, to mark the release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and to celebrate the Power of Friendship ... let's enjoy the original version from those Fabulous Beatles.

Warning - the video is a a bit weird and has basic animation. 

But what I discovered was that these 'moving parts' were actually included in the Promotional Video for Sgt Pepper's Heart Club Band ... if you fancy watching that just click on the words

Have a great day Everyone!

And if you are one of my friends - THANK YOU!!!!  Thanks for all the love, and support and care, and prayer and fun.

You are very special!