And the winner is …

Just back from a fabulous weekend in deepest Oxfordshire where I was the proud recipient of Writers’ Prize and Overall Winner in the Swire Ridgeway Arts Competition. Here’s my winning entry:

 

Time Travelling

At breakfast this morning, a small porcelain dish of words has been carefully secreted amongst the home-made honey and preserves. The intention is to pick a literary portent, without looking first, and live the day accordingly.

Preamble, forerunner, what you will, assumed original meaningfulness on arrival yesterday. I walked nine or ten miles past white horses of both the living and chalky types just to be where the Ridgeway begins, but it may as well have been journey’s end in this world. With unexpected serendipity, my hostess takes me to close-at-hand woodland where the source of sacred water has been uncovered. Into this, I’m encouraged to dip my weary feet. Later, we visit an enormous yew tree whose trunk has divided in two, leaving a space to hide within the bark. It all seems perfectly natural which, of course, it is. Thus, the dish of words comes as no surprise and my compliance even less so.

My word is ‘surrender’. I don’t understand what it means.

…………………………………

With Milk Hill to the rear, I commence my ascent of the Ridgeway on what will become the hottest day for many years in England’s living memory. But I am beginning my trek to somewhere away from living memory, into a surprisingly remote landscape that even the lowland, thyme-flavoured, time-forgotten sheep have forsaken. For them, the herb infused chalky grasslands are preferable. You know where you are with a piece of pasture; in every sense. The incline is almost unnoticeable, unless you happen to be walking up towards the first and most important of Albion’s astutely named highways. There are a few sporadic clumps of trees and bushes ahead but the horizon beyond is a clear straight line bisecting what lies below and above. Even so, the huge sky remains an integral part of the all-enveloping landscape.

It occurs to me that, already, I am no longer an intruder and I momentarily rest on the ground at the point where the Ridgeway crosses the Wansdyke Path. Just another old girl alongside those two ancients. I feel about a million miles away from this morning’s honey and preserves; from my home and from anyone I ever consciously knew in what I thought was my time. Here, a moment becomes an interminable measure of nothingness and the opportunity to stay awhile evolves into philosophical reverie: can people who have been wrapped in the pattern of a landscape hold it, unknowingly, in perpetuity for their subsequent incarnations? Do folk who choose to walk into the unknown unconsciously guard something more than a passed-down memory or even an instinct of the Otherworld? My Ridgeway is a paradoxical highway: both unimaginable but simultaneously obvious as it stretches across the topography of middle earth offering a tempting confusion of numerous tentacles and trackways leading to other ridges and routes.

Nonetheless, on entering the beech and conifer woods, I become distracted and confused. The veteran trees, baring their ancient scars from a lifetime of battle, sport intricate bark patterns providing a place called home for fungi and insects and small mammals; inexplicably, they make me anxious. On my map, I mark the place where, earlier, I sat and rested: Red Shore. But what to make of the unexpected darkness of the ancient trees wherein I feel just the tiniest bit alone? This is Britain’s oldest road and the noises emanating from within the overhanging branches sound as if they might belong to something that’s been here since long before the way was first forged.

Just as I’m reflecting on the sense, or otherwise, of my lone journey, I’m suddenly able to mark the next place of importance on my map: the place where the lucky feather lays waiting. For looking down, I find a beautiful unseen hawk has left me a kindly remnant of his passing. I thread it into my hat and almost immediately the feather weaves its miraculous spell: the woods close over behind me and I emerge into a vast and untroubled open landscape. I have stepped through a portal into the sun-soaked hidden past and I wonder whether my gasp has been noted by the spirits that roam hereabouts.

Walking along Cow Down, it’s difficult to digest what this Otherworld offers. The land is strewn with long barrows and tumuli. Sarsen stones decorate the furzy fields and tiny pathways wind up and down and round and about like intricate embroidery. Borders are embellished with old plants: cow parsley, amaranth, brown and green grasses, ragwort and a sprinkling of coralroot. And in the distance, like the proverbial jewel in this precious crown of innumerable spoils, rises the majesty of Silbury Hill. Finally, I understand the meaning of that scrap of paper in the porcelain bowl for there is nothing to be done except surrender to the magnificence of it all. Later, I discover that a recent theory suggests the process of construction of Silbury Hill was probably more important than the end result; which seems rather like my walk along the Ridgeway.

It seems apposite to end my journal recording here, somewhere in nowhere. But, I deviate and tag along behind countless other travellers who, walking for eons through this countryside, have temporarily left the Ridgeway to journey towards Avebury. For the Ridgeway, like our short and indeterminate lives, is not a straight and orderly line: it’s a track with important diversions. I cross the road from Londinium to Aquae Sullis and cut through a gap in the hedge that the Romans missed. Did those not-so-ancient intruders forge a path, as quickly as they could, away from the all-powerful signs of the past? I skirt around the perimeter of golden barley to find myself walking bravely alone down the Avenue. There are no visible souls here: just five thousand year old ravens perched, like sentinels, on the stones of the past. It’s like Silbury, it’s like the Ridgeway: it’s the procession which holds the meaning.

…………………………………

Further down the track

‘…there was a main sight of strange old things up there on the hill, besides the White Horse; and though he didn’t know much about how they got there, he was sort of proud of them, and was glad to pay his pound or two…to keep them as they should be’. (Hughes, The Scouring of the White Horse, 1859)

I’m on the Ridgeway once more. What is reputedly the oldest road in the country has become an enticing, demanding magnet that I am unable and unwilling to dislodge. I travel many miles by car just for the joy of standing on the old country. I am as an exile returned: one of a nameless diaspora dreaming of a not-quite-forgotten home. But, even in the now-time, in this incarnation, I am not completely new to these parts: something has lodged itself immovably within the memory that has been generally interfered with over a lifetime. When I was a very small child, nearly sixty years ago, I was taken from my primary school to see the White Horse at Uffington. Despite the annual outing being an intensely anticipated event, I have no recall of places we visited in other years. In truth, I only really remember two things about the trip to what was probably never referred to as the Ridgeway. The first was the profusion of wild flowers, especially the shy cerulean harebells startled by the intensity of their neighbours, the sapphire cornflowers. The second was the horse itself which, in those infantile days, never looked like a horse in my small eyes but, more romantically, as an elongated dragon stretching its fiery way across the hill.

Today, as I walk towards Wayland’s Smithy, I am once more embraced by timelessness. It seems like a cliché but why seek another word or expression when this is the power of the Ridgeway? For a long while, I am all alone in the morning sunshine, just another solitary traveller on a route well-trodden. I am happy to be alone. I feel privileged to have this all to myself, especially as the Ridgeway seems permanently overseen by the sun on my travels. Somewhere down in the valley are the unseen dreaming spires of Oxford: a city ancient and enduring in itself but somehow new when compared with the agelessness of the track I tread. Unexpectedly, a man runs out of the past accompanied by a dirty Neolithic dog. ‘Good morning’, I greet him happily but the exhausted man has run through so many years he can only lift a vaguely acknowledging hand as he passes by.

Wayland was initially apprenticed to the trolls who, as everyone knows, were masters of metal craft. Wayland was a quick learner and soon outshone his bosses by becoming the best smith in the western world. Legend has him living in caves and burial mounds all over Europe, secretly repairing metal objects for gods and kings. Clearly, this is nonsense because when you see his Oxfordshire smithy, which comprises a chambered long barrow constructed 5000 years ago, you just know this is THE place. Perhaps it was more obviously accessible in the past to those who trod the route in the company of animals needing repair courtesy of the master. Today, the smithy is hidden within a verdant copse some little way from the Ridgeway. In fact, the few modern visitors tramping the route this morning seem to be ignoring the signpost. These loud Sunday folk are spaniel-ridden and drowned in Barbour as they trudge a path that, to them, apparently avoids a church or any sense of spirituality.

Well, white horses for courses and all that stuff, and the way is free to all denominations, and those of none. Discrimination is an unknown quantity up here. Me, I’ve come to see the past and Wayland’s Smithy epitomises everything the Ridgeway chooses to offer in the way of atmospheric sideshows. Mind you, today’s peaceful environment belies a far more violent age. The latest research on bone dating here has overturned previous theories surrounding Neolithic life which, it transpires, was short, sharp and horribly brutal. More recently, a tradition of depositing coins in the cracks between the stones was all the rage – a sort of ‘ritualistic narrative’ as one folklorist claimed. I think it sounds a rather nice thing to do but the practice has been latterly discouraged to save the unseen wardens the job of coin removal. I feel there’s something missing from this story. Possibly a sufficient number of wardens.

I turn tail and walk up and along the Ridgeway towards the White Horse. Saving the best for last, I’m appalled to find a change in the weather. I don’t know why – after all, this is England and from nowhere come black clouds full of rain. Finding a still dry stump, I take shelter under a hawthorn and retrieve my notebook. It’s another delight of the Ridgeway that one can simply sit in the rain recording one’s journey without hindrance or judgement. ‘Writing your memoirs’ a passing stranger asks? Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I don’t say. I just smile benignly. No matter: the shower passes and the sky is big enough to hold the promise of imminent sunshine as I continue on my way.

A flock of pretty sheep have pushed themselves against the fence. Shorn to the extreme, they are seeking shelter from the wind. I stop to speak to them when, to my left, I see the red kite sweeping and soaring. It’s such a joyous moment. I’ve seen buzzards and the small birds that took rest amongst the hawthorn but, concentrating on prehistory, I’ve forgotten to look for today’s nature. Now, away from the hedge-lined track, in the vast openness of the White Horse Hill and Uffington Castle, nature and history merge into nothing less than what we might call the spirit of the Ridgeway.

In the village where I’m staying, and where the horse is continuously celebrated, I discovered Thomas Hughes’ informative little tract so I know all about the sideshows of the sometimes long-ago, sometimes recent, nineteenth century that took place on Uffington Castle. Villagers and travellers and gypsies, alongside the squire, would sport their feasting, games and general reverie after a collective cleaning of the horse. Today, it’s a windy hillfort keeping its secrets and the lives it has witnessed safe as it rests quietly. People may place whatever meanings and interpretations they want on the Uffington White Horse but still they flock here in the hundreds and thousands. Tribes and governments have come and gone; beliefs and values have disappeared, yet still the horse remains, surveying the landscape over which it reigns supreme.

On the way down, I see the red kite again in the distance and stand for some time in contemplation hoping it will come close, but it’s busy over Wayland’s Smithy. Finally, I sit on a bench near the car park looking back at the horse and watching more visitors trudge up the hill towards it. Except that no-one is really trudging. Two grandparents come through the gate with a small child aged about three years old. ‘Can you see the horse’ asks Grandpa? The small person looks around, anxious to please but clearly looking for a live animal. ‘Over there, on the hill’, says Grandpa. The boy sees it and all the emotions in his little world pass across his face in a millisecond: ‘It’s there, it’s there’, he cries pointing excitedly. And just at that moment, when all of us have been busy looking elsewhere, the red kite soars from the grass where it has hidden less than twenty feet in front of me. And all the emotions in my small world fly over my head and it makes me cry.

 

 

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There and back again: Commoners’ Way

There’s going to be a spot of action this week: no rain is due in the foreseeable future so it’s time to get walking again. I’m on the top of a hill in the village of Kingston with directions for a new circular walk to Corfe Castle and back. This photo was taken courtesy of my zoom lens: in truth, it’s further away than it looks. Also, owing to the fact that I’m on a hill, it hasn’t escaped your intrepid explorer’s thought processes that there might be some hateful upward striding on the way back. I’ll do a Scarlett O’Hara and worry about that later.

First, there’s a lot of fuss and bother before I’ve even left the car behind. All the bother is me changing into walking boots, transferring worldly goods to backpack and generally faffing around. Susie has escaped from the cottage across the road and arrives to investigate and to be made a fuss of. Look carefully and you’ll see she sports a pink ribbon in her hair. I think this is more to do with vanity than any practical use as it doesn’t seem to be enhancing her vision. In fact, she probably thinks I’m the postman.

Second, there’s St James’ Church to visit. Kingston already had a church but it was deemed unsatisfactory by the third Lord Eldon who coughed up £70,000 for a new one. I don’t know what was wrong with its predecessor. I know what’s wrong with it now because I have to tramp down the side of it. It’s a private house with a frightful dog that runs from room to room barking and snarling at me. St James has a pretty churchyard but the inside is boring. Pevsner I am not.

At first, the over-stile, across-fields walk is charming. It’s Spring (sort of) and the lambs are plentiful and pretty and not as noisy as they were the other day up at Garston Woods where you could barely hear one’s friends’ constant chatter for the endless baaing of lost children.

 

The way is getting a little trickier as the fields disappear into a path between the trees. I will only meet one other person on the first half of this walk. Here he comes: a wild old man with a long white beard and flowing locks. Looks familiar but I expect he thinks the same of me. Dorset is full of we oddities traipsing around. I think he’s David Sterne from Detectorists. Can’t see the Labradors.

 

Because we’re British, we exchange observations on the weather and David tells me he’s glad the ground is drying out. I get lost in a wood and, on finally crossing the Purbeck Way and eventually relocating the path, have to disagree with him. My downloaded directions advise me that the way might be muddy. Are you having a grin? In all my walks, this is the first time I’ve had to fashion a stick from a branch in order to get through. I am fearful of the quagmire.

I’m not entirely sure I’m on the right path as I wander across a number of fields, stopping to clean my boots with a handful of dock leaves. According to the plan, there should be a house on my left. There isn’t but there is a small herd of deer, startled to see the mad woman of Dorset make an unexpected appearance. And there should be footbridges.

Do you mean this one? Ok. I’ll just negotiate a route over the tree trunks. Wait – what’s that noise? Doesn’t sound like a pheasant. Which is because I happen upon four geese that are employed to guard the way. Fortunately, they leg it only to leave space for a random bunch of turkeys. Happy Christmas, I say in passing.

 

 

Finally, I’m away from all that unexpected nonsense and out in the open of Corfe Common; the largest stretch of common land in Dorset where folk still pay a peppercorn rent to house their livestock. I only see a solitary pony as I amble the last mile into Corfe where I treat myself to a jacket potato. With tuna. No butter on the spud thanks – I’m doing Slimming World. And no tomato with the salad. People specifically ask for tomato, the waitress informs me sadly. Well, give them mine then. I study the directions. It’s not looking good for folk who don’t like walking up hills.

I know this picture of the next main part of my walk isn’t particularly interesting but, see that clump of trees on the skyline? Well, that’s where my car is. Depressing or what? Good job the day is glorious as I trudge uphill looking for Blashenwell Farm, number seven on my instructions.

 

 

I walk for a long time and it’s by no means terrible. At last the weather is wonderful and you have to walk the Purbeck alone to appreciate the splendid solitude of it all. However, speaking of solitude, I haven’t seen a living soul since the tomato debacle and I can’t find Blashenwell Farm. I’ve run out of road but here comes Julien on his bike. He’s not very happy at being accosted by me. ‘Are you with a group’, he asks? I look round cautiously. There doesn’t seem to be numerous people to hand. ‘No, I am all alone’, I say pitifully. In this photo, where Julien is cycling away from me as fast as he can, there’s a road between those posts. Well, who knew? Not exactly obvious is it?

And who knew that when I finally located the unsigned Blashenwell Farm there would be this amazing mill wheel? It would have turned mill stones to grind barley and oats for animal feed for the farm.

 

I’m not so far from the end-game now but the last mile is torturous. There are no pictures because, frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d make it and all my strength was taken up with trying to breath. I walked UP a green field, pausing, as instructed, to look back across the valley; UP through a wild garlic infested wood; UP some steep steps alongside a row of cottages; and UP to the church from whence I began my walk. Fortunately, it was still springtime in Kingston. I collapsed in my car seat and, of course, felt rather smug

 

 

 

 

 

Yet more from the willows

‘I see Alice has moved house’, reported Ratty.

‘And stolen an egg’, replied Mole despondently.

 

 

‘Lovely to see the hyacinths back’, noted Ratty appreciatively.

Toad was confused: ‘very pretty old boy, but where are the wheels? Toot, toot’.

 

‘What’s all the commotion’, asked Mole?

‘It’s a crow chasing a buzzard away’, relied Ratty who had climbed to the highest point in the garden.

‘Crikey’, said Mole, ‘all life passes here’.

‘Speaking of which’, said Ratty, ‘has anyone seen Alice?’

‘Gone shopping’, said Toad enigmatically. ‘Toot, toot’.

‘Hello boys’, said Alice who had just returned from her shopping trip.

‘New dress’, asked Mole?

‘New hair’, asked Ratty?

‘Port and lemon’, asked Toad?

 

 

 

A random day out

Driving over Fontmell Down, it’s difficult to see the road ahead, let alone the stupendous views that are shrouded in something more demanding than a seasonal mist. The fog is all encompassing; it positively drowns my little car. You have to guess when it’s time to shift down a gear in preparation for the descent into Melbury Abbas. Melbury Abbas. Who lives in a place like this? On the best of days it’s a black hole with a twenty miles per hour speed limit that is redundant in the face of Wiltshire County Council’s diktat to heavy goods vehicles: do NOT use the lower Shaftesbury Road! Push your lorry up a 300 feet incline at top speed. Do NOT alert yourself to oncoming traffic! If you get stuck (which is inevitable), add a number to those on the blackboard in the garden of the damaged house on the bend.

I’m sick of this bloody weather. Fed up with sitting indoors looking out at grey skies and pouring rain. Which is why, last evening, I hatched a plan to take myself off to Wiltshire for the day. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter as much if it’s raining there. My destination leads me through Westbury, an old stamping ground of my long-passed youth. Haven’t been here for eons. A friend remarked that it’s now commuter ground. Where are they commuting to, I ask? ‘Doesn’t matter. Anywhere that isn’t Westbury. They have a good railway station’. As I cross the town’s boundary, Dylan is booming out of the radio: Positively Fourth Street. I think it was playing last time I was here in 1964. Funny thing – the place is a dump but still I dream incessantly about the road from Westbury to Edington where I used to live and in these dreams, although I can see the road, I’m always stuck in town.

So I travel that much worn road, anticipating every bend that I’m still familiar with, all the time with the chalky white horse overlooking my journey, and onwards to my destination. I’m off to the Wiltshire Museum at Devizes. Allegedly, they possess a larger quantity of bronze-aged gold than the British Museum and I have a free entry ticket. It’s a soulless journey but, of course, one always arrives. And look, I’ve parked at exactly the same time that Wadworth’s delivery dray passes. This is not some random exhibition – they still deliver the beer in this way. Hartley said, ‘the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’. He hadn’t been to Wiltshire. It’s always the same.

The museum is a joy although, I must report, not much gold in evidence. No matter. I pass a good two hours inside and the ever-joyous Phil Harding presents many informative video clips along the way. I’m a big fan of Phil – he of the sweaty hat bands and dirty fingernails. Apparently, he receives regular suggestive fan mail from women who’d like to run their fingers through his feather.

I must admit that my most favourite thing in the museum isn’t archaeological. It’s the John Piper stained glass window depicting Wiltshire in the vibrant round. Here you have it all: a white horse, Silbury Hill, the processional route to Avebury, Beaker-ware which is plentiful and so on. I love it.

 

Culture done and dusted with, I take a two hour trot down the Kennet and Avon Canal to the foothills of the magnificent Caen Locks. It’s a couple of years since I did my canal walks from Bath to Hungerford and whilst this stretch isn’t the most picturesque, the twenty nine locks, rising to an incredible feat of engineering of 272 feet in two miles, remains admirable.

 

Along the way, I pass the nests of two swans, seemingly unperturbed by innumerable, muddy passers-by. And after this I go to Trowbridge for a cup of tea with my long-time friends. Do you have peppermint I ask? Of course they don’t. As I say, the past is not a foreign place in these parts.

 

 

 

 

A Titanic type (NOT in Postman’s Park)

All previously laid plans are down the pan as we trudge along a dismally wet path from Brentford to Richmond, just for the fun of it. But’s what this? Down the suitably named Duck’s Lane, an unexpected information point that begs a stop and further research.

At first glance, the memorial plaque to Charles Herbert Lightoller suggests a hero of the twentieth century: highest ranking officer to survive the Titanic; commander of a ship that sank a German U-boat and owner of a ‘little ship’ that ventured to Dunkirk. Well, who am I to rain on the much decorated Lightoller’s parade? A few more details are, nonetheless, in order.

Lightoller’s mother died shortly after giving birth in 1874 and his dad abandoned him for a more interesting life overseas. Not much of a start for a young chap who subsequently went to sea at the ripe old age of thirteen. He had so many adventures on his way to working up the greasy naval career trajectory that a whole book could be written about him even before he found himself aboard the ill-fated Titanic.

On the night of 14th April, 1912, second officer Lightoller commanded the last complete bridge watch prior to an incident involving an iceberg. Returning to his cabin and preparing for bed, he was suddenly disturbed by a loud noise. That would be the meeting of the Titanic and the ice. Lightoller rushed to his post in charge of evacuation. Finding Lifeboat Two occupied by 25 male passengers and crew, he drew his revolver and threatened the men with death, calling them ‘damned cowards’ and forcing them to leave the boat.

Lightoller was a strong adherent of the ‘women and children first’ policy except that, in his interpretation, this meant ONLY women and children. What sort of regimented perversity precipitated his action of lowering empty lifeboats rather than allowing men to escape? The only male passenger he allowed aboard was a single man with sailing experience. Once he decided he could do no more, he dived into the water and swam towards the crow’s next. Unable to reach it, he climbed aboard the Collapsible B boat and took charge. By teaching the other occupants how to shift their weight according to the swell, they managed to keep the boat upright and all were saved. Charles Lightoller, the highest ranking survivor of the Titanic, was the last person to board the rescue ship, RMS Carpathia. Thus, we might say he was a hero, but what of the men he refused to save?

In WW1, Lightoller commanded HMS Garry which rammed and sank a German U-boat off the Yorkshire coast. For this, he was decorated for gallantry. However, according to the Germans, there was some controversy over his actions. It was alleged that he gave orders to shoot and stone all the water-borne survivors who were trying to surrender. On one side, this was deemed an atrocity but Lightoller claimed ‘men with their hands in the air’ were inconsequential and in those days, ‘collateral’ went unchallenged.

In retirement, Lightoller lived in Duck’s Lane at Richmond where he ran a small boatbuilding business. In WW2 he was once again in action with his boat, Sundowner. Yet again the maverick, he refused the navy requisition of his boat and with his son sailed it to Dunkirk and back, rescuing 120 British soldiers from the beach. A man who lived on and for the water, Lightoller died in 1952, a victim of the Great Smog of London. Inspired by a solitary blue plaque, I have only undertaken cursory research into this very interesting man – and possibly done him some injustice along the way.

 

 

The Stella disaster

Here in Postman’s Park is the memorial to Mary Rogers, aged 44 years, who died on Maundy Thursday, 30th March 1899, having given up her life belt and voluntarily going down on a sinking steamer.

 

The Stella, a steamer belonging to the South Western Railway Company, had left Southampton and was heading for the Channel Islands. Mary was a stewardess on board who had been employed as such for sixteen years. As the steamer approached Guernsey, it was caught on the Casquet rocks and its steel bottom was ripped open.

Six lifeboats were launched with women and children taking priority as passengers. From her muster post, Mary calmly guided all the ladies to the side of the ship, placed lifebelts on all those who had none, and helped the women into the small boats. Finding one lady left without a lifebelt, Mary removed her own and gave it to her, ensuring she had a seat in a lifeboat. Despite encouragement from passengers and crew, Mary refused her own place in the boat for fear of it becoming overloaded. She lifted up her hands and was heard to say, ‘Lord, have me’.

Sadly, one of the lifeboats capsized and the ship sunk within twenty minutes. 75 people, including 19 crew members drowned but 106 people were saved, although fifteen hours passed before they were rescued. There was an enormous amount of publicity given to the disaster and to the bravery of Mary Rogers. A fund was established to support the elderly father and two children she left behind which reached £570. Of this, £500 was given to the family members and the rest financed this second memorial which can be found near the waterfront in Southampton.

N.B. The black and white photographs are the copyright of the British Library.

The runaway horse

In Postman’s Park, the memorial celebrates Elizabeth Boxall, aged 17, who, amongst the other heroes celebrated here, holds the sad record for the longest period between the incident in which she saved a child from a runaway horse and her subsequent death. History has more to say about Elizabeth’s treatment at the London Hospital than her act of bravery.

Elizabeth was one of eight children who lived in the family home in Bethnal Green. In July, 1887, a commotion was heard in her street caused by a child in the path of a runaway horse. Elizabeth rushed out of her home and threw herself onto the child, thus saving it from any harm. Unfortunately, the horse kicked our heroine causing an injury which failed to heal. In a matter of weeks, she was barely able to walk and a fall sustained on 9th October necessitated hospital treatment.

At the London Hospital a partial amputation was made to her leg without either her permission or that of her parents. The hospital staff claimed to have discovered a cancer in Elizabeth’s thigh and in December a second amputation was made. After this, Elizabeth was taken to a convalescent home in Folkestone. For months,Elizabeth suffered agonising pain and eventually died on 20th June, 1888. The cause of death was given as shock precipitated by the second amputation.

At the inquest, Elizabeth’s father stood up and claimed the hospital had practised unnecessary butchery on his daughter. For a working class man from London’s east end to openly criticise the establishment was unheard of and although he was shuffled away from the court, the newspapers picked up the story. A great furore followed and the indignant director of the hospital made a statement that was both defensive and aggressive saying Elizabeth would have died from the cancer in any case. It was as if the initial bravery had been almost forgotten.