Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Melancholy History of Suicidal Leaps; the Monument, Fish Street Hill, EC3


‘Certain spots in London have become popular with suicides, yet apparently without any special reason, except that even suicides are vain and like to die with ├ęclat. Waterloo Bridge is chosen for its privacy; the Monument used to be chosen, we presume, for its height and quietude. Five persons have destroyed themselves by leaps from the Monument. The first of these unhappy creatures was William Green, a weaver, in 1750. On June 25 this man, wearing a green apron, the sign of his craft, came to the Monument door, and left his watch with the doorkeeper. A few minutes after he was heard to fall. Eighteen guineas were found in his pocket. The next man who fell from the Monument was Thomas Craddock, a baker. He was not a suicide; but, in reaching over to see an eagle which was hung in a cage from the bars, he overbalanced himself, and was killed. The next victim was Lyon Levi, a Jew diamond merchant in...... The third suicide (September II, 1839) was a young woman named Margaret Meyer. ... The October following, a boy named Hawes, who had been that morning discharged by his master, a surgeon, threw himself from the same place...The last suicide was in August, 1842, when a servant-girl from Hoxton, named Jane Cooper, while the watchman had his head turned, nimbly climbed over the iron railing, tucked her clothes tight between her knees, and dived head-foremost downwards.....Suicides being now fashionable here, the City of London (not a moment too soon) caged in the top of the Monument in the present ugly way.’
                                    Walter Thornbury, 'Old and New London: Volume 1' (London, 1878)

Officially six people have committed suicide by leaping or falling from Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke’s 202 foot memorial to the Great Fire of London, the Monument. Walter Thornbury in ‘Old and New London’ lists six deaths but discounts one Thomas Craddock who he believes died accidentally toppling over the parapet trying to see a caged eagle. The Monument website says six, ignoring Thornbury’s first victim ‘William  Green’ as the accidental death, and adding a baker known only as Leander. Whatever the correct number the tally is remarkably small for what was London’s highest suicides leap from its official opening in 1677 until 1843 when the viewing platform was enclosed in an iron cage to prevent any further acts of self destruction. 

It took 73 years of being open to the public for it to occur to anyone that throwing yourself from the top was a surefire method of doing away with yourself. According to contemporary newspaper reports one George Green, (not William Green as Thornbury and the Monument website call him) fell to his death in June 1750; the Ipswich Journal reports that “about Four o’clock in the Afternoon, a Man, wearing a white Waistcoat and a green Apron, went to the Top of the Monument, and attempting to walk round the Rail, fell from thence Into the Street and dashed his Brains out. There were found In his Pocket eighteen Guineas. He was carried to St. Magnus  Church in order to he owned.” The Coroner’s Inquest brought in a verdict of accidental death after hearing that “the Way of his falling was this: In the Iron Gallery there is a live Eagle to be seen, for which it is customary to pay a penny but the person not being there to shew it. it being kept in a Wooden Cage, he, in projecting his body too far over the Rails, to look in at the back Pair of the Box, which is open to the Iron-work, lost his Hold, fell against the Top of the Pedestal, and from thence against one of the Posts in the Street, whereby the Top of his Skull was laid quite open, and the other Parts of his Body were very greatly shattered.” (Ipswich Journal 30 June 1750). Further reports raised doubts as to whether this really was an accident; “The Man who threw himself off the Monument was one Green, a Weaver, who had been delirious for some Time, under the Care of his Mother, who going out, desired a Neighbour to look after him, and she leaving him to himself, he took that opportunity and dressed himself and went out and Committed the above rash Action.”  Thornbury has clearly attributed the mode of Green’s death to the second suicide Charles Craddock.


Charles Craddock (not Thomas, as Thornbury calls him or John, as he is known to the authors of The Monument’s official website) was a baker who threw himself from the viewing platform in July 1788. According to the Oxford Journal, reporting on the Inquest,  “the poor Man had been melancholy for some Time preceding his perpetrating this rash action, and on Thursday last he went to see the Monument, and continued thereon near two Hours, and until he was fetched down by the Man who shews it. He afterwards told a Person he had put his Leg over the Rail, with intention to get over; and another Person he had told, that if a Person wanted to destroy himself, the Monument afforded a fine Opportunity. He was seen on the Outside of the Railing of the Gallery, and to look down with great Earnestness before he threw himself off. The Jury found their Verdict, Lunacy.” Intriguingly The New London Magazine apparently reported another suicide that same month "Yesterday morning, about eleven o'clock, an unfortunate man, dressed like a decent tradesman, and seemingly between fifty and sixty, rather tall, went up the steps of the Monument, and when there he put his legs over the rail of the gallery, and threw himself down. He fell within the iron palisades at the bottom; both his arms and both his legs were broken, and his head was crushed to pieces. His name is Elliott; he was an attendant in the new gaol, Borough; and jealousy was the cause of the fatal act." Two suicides in the same month should have caused a sensation; the absence of any sort of stir probably means that this was a case of mistaken identity, Charles Craddock being wrongly named as the jealous gaol keeper Eliot.  
    
Lyon Levy was a wealthy 50 year old Jewish diamond and pearl merchant who lived in Haydon Square in the Minories with his wife and eight children. One cold January morning in 1810 Levy visited the Monument after stopping at the Bank a coffee house, and after walking several times round the outside of the iron railing, according to the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser “sprung off and in falling, the body turned over and over before it reached the ground. When near the bottom, it came in contact with one of the griffins which ornament the lower part of the building. A porter, with a load on his back, narrowly escaped the body of the deceased, which fell a few paces from him in Monument-yard.” The Bury and Norwich Post gave a more graphic account of the jeweller’s death, he was, they said “dashed to pieces on the spot. His fall was broken by his pitching on some of the projecting figures, but he lighted at last on his head, in Monument-yard, and expired without a groan. A convulsive motion of the shoulders was all the appearance of life the body exhibited when approached immediately after the fall. His head was terribly shattered, and the brain protruded at different parts. The face was so much disfigured, that the unfortunate man was with difficulty recognized.” He left no note but was known to have got himself into financial difficulties as the result of a risky commercial speculation. It was also stated that his mother had been confined to a private lunatic asylum before her death and that he may therefore have been subject to hereditary insanity.


The mysterious baker of Reading, Leander, also killed himself in 1810. These few bare facts are recorded in William D. Reider’s “The new tablet of memory; or Recorder of remarkable events, complied and alphabetically arranged from the earliest period to the present time” of 1841 but I cannot trace any newspaper account of this suicide.

On 14 September 1839 The Spectator reported on what was to become the most celebrated Monument suicide; “The death of a young woman named Margaret Moyes, who was killed by leaping or letting herself fall from the top of the 310nument, excited a painful interest in the Metropolis on Wednesday. During the whole of that day, numerous incorrect reports or the occurrence and its causes were circulated. An immense number of persons, principally females, crowded round the Monument, (though the body was removed in the course of the morning,) to view the scene of this shocking act of self-destruction.” The journal went on to report the grim details of her death as reported at the inquest. Moyes paid six pence for admission at 10am, asking Thomas Jenkins, the door keeper, if two women and a man had already gone up as she was with them and they were supposed to be waiting for her. He told her that there no other visitors and she ascended the 311 steps to the viewing platform alone. A few minutes later he “heard a body falling. He went to the door, and found the deceased lying with her legs across the door-way, and her head pointing towards Fish Street Hill. Her left arm was several feet front the body, and a good deal of blood flowed, He found a rope, with a large knotted loop at one end, tied to the railings of the gallery: she must have concealed the rope about her person. Her bonnet and veil with a waistband and pair of gloves, were lying in the gallery, near the door.” What was the rope for? None of the newspaper accounts which mention it feel the necessity to explain so its use must have been obvious to contemporary readers but not to me. A post mortem was carried out by Mr Charles Croft, surgeon of Fish Street Hill, who told the inquest “I have examined the body. The left arm is cut off; and there is a fracture of the skull, and of the spine, and left thigh. The fracture of the skull was a compound one, sufficient to cause death; but I think the immediate cause of death was fracture of the spine. I did not examine the body internally, but I did externally; and from that examination I am of opinion that she could not have been pregnant. I think she must have been dead before she reached the ground, on account of so little blood having flowed from the body."


The untimely death of 21 year old Margaret Moyes excited much public sympathy, because she was a respectable young woman, because she was by all accounts attractive and because of the pathos of her home life. Her mother was dead and her father, a baker, was bed ridden, seriously ill and expected to die at any time. Margaret had been nursing him in his final illness at the family home in Hemlock Row, St Martin-in-the-fields and was, unsurprisingly gloomy about the future faced by herself and her five siblings once he was dead. Before taking her final walk to the Monument Margaret had written a last message to her family in a memorandum book which she left on the mantelpiece where it was sure to be found – “You need not expect to see me back again, for I have made up my mind to make away with—Margaret Moyes." A 15 year old boy, Robert Donaldson Hawes, who was the son of a Chelsea coachman, had studied at St Anne’s school in Brixton and was about to be sacked from his job as a household servant for a surgeon, took a particular and apparently morbid interest in Moyes’ suicide. He frequently spoke about it to the other servants and also openly fantasied about killing himself by jumping from a height and threatened to throw himself out of the surgeon’s windows. Barely a month after Moyes suicide Hawes was dismissed from his job for ‘lethargy’ and the next morning, 18 October 1839, the committed a copy cat suicide. At the inquest Thomas Jenkins the Monument doorkeeper was back in court to describe the last moments of the second suicide. He told the Coroner “on the afternoon of Friday last, about ten minutes after five o'clock, the deceased came in at the Monument at the same time as a respectably-dressed man and woman, whom he accompanied to the top. A few minutes afterwards two young females, apparently from the country, came in and went up, and almost directly after them two other females, who also went up. The two latter soon came down, and when the man and woman did so asked them how many persons were still up stairs, wishing to ascertain, it being near locking-up time. They answered there were only two females and a young lad. About ten minutes afterwards I heard a noise as of something falling, and on going out I saw it was the deceased, who had fallen from the top. At that moment the two females came down, and without asking said, "We have left only a lad up stairs;" to which 1 replied, Poor fellow, he is already down." 

The voices demanding that the City authorities do something to prevent the Monument being used for suicide which followed the death of Margaret Moyes, became deafening following the death of Robert Hawes. The Common Council responded by closing the building for a period but when it was reopened no preventative measures appeared to have been taken. Inevitably there was a further death; in August 1843 another young women plunged to her death. According to the Sussex Advertiser “The deceased was on Friday night recognised as the servant of Mr Rowbotham. residing at No 9, Buttersland-street, Hoxton. Her name is Jane Cooper, and she had been missing from her situation since Thursday morning, and Rowbotham having heard of the accident, came down to view the body, and immediately recognised her. An examination was made last evening by Dr Thomas Elliotson and Mr Croft, in the presence of several other gentlemen, by direction of the Coroner, when it appeared that both legs had sustained a compound fracture, and the feet were also much dislocated, the left shoulder was almost torn from the body, and the back of the skull presented a frightful fracture. The features were in no way mutilated, and the deceased was a well-looking young woman, somewhat inclined to corpulency. She was about five feet high, and habited in the customary manner of domestic servants. It is the opinion of Dr. Elliotson and several other medical men, that she is not pregnant, though a difference on this point exists which will doubtless be cleared before the inquest is held. No cause is yet assigned for the rash act. It is a melancholy reflection, that this is the third time life has been sacrificed in the same dreadful manner within three years. The utter uselessness of appointing a sentinel to the gallery must now be apparent to every person; and if the Monument be not altogether closed against the public, some better means of prevention must be adopted than at present exist. Amongst the most useful appears to be that of allowing no person to ascend, unless accompanied by some friend; but the matter will doubtless be carefully discussed by the Committee, after the excitement of this catastrophe has passed away. Mr Bleaden Chairman of the Commercial Steam-packet Company, who is the present responsible lessee of the Monument, states that Fletcher is a man in whom he had great confidence, and his omission to watch narrowly the movements of the deceased, creates much surprise in the minds of all who knew him.”

Following the death of Jane Cooper the authorities took belated action and closed the Monument while an iron cage was constructed around the viewing platform. This has been replaced several times, mostly recently in 2008, and there have no further deaths at the famous landmark.

There were no more suicides after the Common Council installed the iron cage on the viewing platform 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Pall Mall Monkey and the Bengal Hospital; the Boodle's and Mitford's of Chipping Ongar, Essex


Essex is full of dead Londoners. Ongar used to the be the most easterly station on the Central Line until it closed in 1994 but long before the underground existed the temptations of London lured its more ambitious inhabitants away from the sleepy market town to seek their fortune in the capital. The churchyard of St Martin’s contains an impressive 18th century table tomb with cherub heads at the corners which covers the burial vault of the Boodle family.  The vault was built for two brothers; John and Edward Boodle who we believe were originally from Shropshire. John Boodle, a surgeon and  apothecary who practiced in Ongar, and his unmarried younger brother Edward, who established the world famous Boodle’s Club in St James, are both here, along with John’s son Edward who was a partner in the law firm that eventually became Boodle Hatfield and which can still be found today in the Blackfriars Road in Southwark. The vault also contains other Boodle relatives and a sprinkling of Mitfords; the two families were close and intermarried over three generations. The Boodles seem to have been a convivial family but the Mitfords were a quarrelsome and litigious lot who fell out dramatically with each other.

The Boodles were almost certainly from Shropshire originally. Parish records show that an Edward Boodle was the third son of John Boodle of the Three Tuns, Oswestry, Shropshire, and was baptized at St Oswald’s Oswestry on 14 October 1722. Boodle is as common a surname in Shropshire as it is an unusual one in Essex but by the mid 1700’s there was an established colony of Boodles at Ongar including Edwards older brother John.  After an early career shrouded in obscurity we know Edward Boodle went into partnership with William Almack in London in the early 1760’s. The two had leased adjacent properties at 49 and 50 Pall Mall and were running them as gaming clubs. Almack’s eventually became Brooks when it moved to St James in 1777. While Edward Boodle was alive his club remained at Pall Mall, only moving to St James Street under new management after his death. 

They took their gambling seriously during the Regency
William Hickey gives one of the few intimate portraits of Edward Boodle in his celebrated memoirs:

“Robert Mitford . . . was a near relation of the Mr. Boodle who from having squandered away a handsome fortune was reduced to the necessity of accepting the management of one of the fashionable gaming houses in Pall Mall which bore his name, being called ‘Boodle's’, and to this Mr. Boodle I was introduced by Mitford, after which introduction I spent many a jovial night at his house. At the time my acquaintance with him commenced he was nearly sixty years of age, and notwithstanding he had lived very freely, had still a good constitution, and was of a remarkably cheerful disposition. He was never happy unless he had a parcel of young people about him. I made one of upwards of a dozen who usually supped twice a week in Pall Mall, where he gave us as much champagne, burgundy and claret as we chose, the table being covered with every variety in the way of eating. Nothing delighted him more than sitting out the boys, as he called it. Indeed, his head was so strong that he generally succeeded in so doing, and when he perceived his young guests began to flag, or become drowsy, he would get up, lock the door of the room, and putting the key in his pocket, strike up the song of "'Tis not yet day" etc. His companionable qualities were extraordinary, and I certainly have passed more happy and jovial nights in his back parlour in Pall Mall than in any other house in London.”

For a man who ran such a famous club Edward managed to keep a very low profile. There are few mentions of him in the press, an exception being a story in the Kentish Gazette of Saturday of 08 April 1769;

“Sunday night the waiter at Mr. Boodle's in Pall-Mall dressed up a monkey belonging to their master in a sailor's habit then rubbed his head with pomatum and powdered it. The monkey getting loose ran to the top of the house, and made his Way the fourth house from his dwelling; then he went down a chimney into a room where a man was employed to sit up with a dead child; upon the man's seeing him and his dress, and hearing him begin to chatter, he ran out greatly frightened, crying out, the Devil is come down the chimney," and left poor pug in his uniform dance about the room at his pleasure.”


On 8 February 1772 Edward Boodle died at his house at 49 Pall Mall and was interred in the family vault in Ongar. His will mentions no wife or children and so suggests he never married. He left his estate to his sisters Margaret and Jane with his brother John as sole executor. On 13 February a general meeting of the members was held at Boodle’s to decide who should take over the club. It was unanimously resolved that 'Ben Harding shall succeed the late Mr. Boodle in the House and Business, and shall be supported therein.' It was Ben Harding, vintner of St Anne’s, Westminster, who in June 1782 tabled a resolution to members 'That Harding do take Mr. Kenney's House in Saint James's Street for their Use'. The club moved to the new premises the same year and has remained there ever since.

On page 350 of his memoirs William Hickey provides further details of the acquaintance who had introduced Edward Boodle to him, Robert Mitford:

“This winter Robert Mitford's father died, leaving to his eldest son, who had acquired a large fortune as Commander of the Northumberland East Indiaman and retired from the service, thirty thousand pounds, and a like sum to Robert, with the succession to the business, which was said to yield a clear profit of upwards of three thousand pounds a year. The young coxcomb condescended to accept the shop, but being ashamed that his fine acquaintances should know that he was in trade, he rarely made his appearance in Cornhill, took a splendid house at the West end of the town, kept a dashing equipage, became a member of the Cocoa tree and other clubs, gambled, lost, and in less than three years was completely ruined, and a commission of bankruptcy being issued against the Woollen Draper's house, he was reduced to the necessity of going out an adventurer to India. He died broken hearted at Madras soon after his arrival there.”

Robert’s father (also called Robert – and we are shortly to meet a nephew, also called Robert, and also two John’s – the Boodle’s had no monopoly on lack of imagination when it came to choosing Christian names), was a city merchant who baptised his children at St Dunstan’s in the East and had a house was in Hampstead. He had marred a Boodle, Elizabeth, and his eldest son, John, was to marry another, Sarah, the daughter of Edward Boodle the lawyer. The families were clearly close. Robert Mitford the elder made his fortune in trade, primarily as a wool draper but also engaged in the East India trade. The later was so lucrative that his eldest son John made his fortune there and made it early enough for his family to leave the family business to his younger brother. It was a serious error of judgement. Robert the younger set up home in fashionable Great Portland Street and ignored the drapers except to make frequent raids on its cash reserves. By July 1784, less than a decade after inheriting a business that made £3000 a year, Robert was bankrupt. Hickey thought that the bankruptcy drove Robert to taking his chances in India and that he died shortly after arriving there; we know from a court cas that he died in 1790 leaving a wife and a child.  Robert’s elder brother John had married twice, the first time to a Boodle, Sarah and the second to a woman called Mary Allen. Both of John Mitford’s wives pre-deceased him and both were buried in the Boodle vault in St Martin’s churchyard. A slate panel on the north side of the monument commemorates them “In Memory of Mrs SARAH MITFORD, Wife of JOHN MITFORD Sometime of this Parish Esq. She departed this life December 8th 1776 Aged 31 Years. Also in Memory of Mrs MARY MITFORD Second Wife of JOHN MITFORD who Departed This life June 4th 1784 27 years.”

The Boodle tomb, St Martin's, Chipping Ongar
John Mitford had two children with Mary, two sons, the elder, John born in 1781 and the younger, Robert, born in 1784. John studied at Tonbridge Grammar School in Kent and Oriel College Oxford before becoming ordained as an Anglican clergyman and becoming vicar of Benhall in Suffolk. In addition to being an East Anglian cleric he pursued a parallel literary career for which he based himself at permanent rented lodgings in Sloane Street in Chelsea. He published the first complete works of Thomas Gray and was for many years a regular contributor to the Gentleman’s Magazine and eventually became the editor. John also married a Boodle, Augusta, eldest daughter of Edward Boodle the lawyer; “The marriage was not attended with happiness,” the original edition of the DNB tersely says. John died in 1859 after he collapsed on a London Street with an attack of paralysis. He was taken back to Suffolk to day and was buried in his parish at Stratford St Andrew.


Robert Mitford the younger also went to Tonbridge Grammar School with his brother but at the age of 16 was sent to Bengal to take up a career in the Colonial civil service. He started a Writer, a clerk, in Kolkata and Bihar. In 1804 he married Elizabeth Ann Pattle but his marriage proved to be no happier than his brothers. In 1816 became Collector of Taxes at Dhaka and after four years applied, and was appointed to the Dhaka Provincial Court of Appeal and Circuit as its Second Judge in 1822. He remained in post until 1828, when he retired after thirty years service in India and returned to England. In London his marriage collapsed when he took up with a French woman called Mary Appoline. The relationship caused a rift with his brother which never healed. He died in Paris, on holiday with Mary, in 1836.

The state of relations between Robert and his family can be seen from the new will he had made on 21st July 1835, the opening salvo of which was: “The will late made by me was destroyed in consequence of circumstances in my family which have totally changed the nature of the relations as they had previously subsisted and by a necessary result any disposition towards the parties in the respect of their succession to the property real and personal of which I may be found to be possessed at the period of my decease.” The will makes it clear that John Mitford is to inherit nothing from his estate and that his wife is only to receive an annuity. It refers to a £10,000 loan made to John for the education of his only son, a loan which according to Robert had not been used for the purpose it had been granted or repaid. Robert refers to John’s ‘evil habits and propensities’ and claims he has illegitimate offspring.


Boodle Cherub, St Martin's, Ongar
The will also makes unusually detailed provision for the interment of Robert’s mortal remains: “In the event my demise at an early period I direct and enjoin the said executors and administrators hereunto to purchase and prepare for the ultimate deposit of my body and also for the removal and deposit of the remains of my parents and sister now lying interred in a vault in the church yard of Chipping Ongar in Essex ‘The Mount’, that is contiguous surrounded by a moat, that I understand to be the property at present of a Mr Evans on the summit they will be pleased to cause the erection and construction of a suitable and handsome as well as durable monument planting the and sides and summit of the mount with cedar and cypress trees in a manner that may render it ornamental to the town the expenses whereof for the purchase the of the monument &c &c are to be met and provided for out of the surplus property.” There is no evidence to show that Robert’s father (who died at Richmond) or his sister are buried in the Boodle vault but as their actual place of interment is not known then it is a possibility that they too are in that rather crowded space. The rest of the estate was left to the Government of Bengal to use for charitable purposes to benefit the native population of the colony. His servants had been given an extra six months wages but the family got nothing. Of course it all ended in litigation.


Mitford’s widow contested the will. The first difficulties for Robert’s executors had come trying to carry the provisions of the will relating to his burial. The plans to convert the picturesque remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle lying behind Ongar church, a huge earthworks surrounded by a water filled moat known as the Mount came to nothing. Mr Evans, the owner, proved unwilling to sell the Mount in order to have it converted to the setting for a Mausoleum for Robert and the members of his he had still been speaking to (i.e. the dead ones). Robert’s body presumably went into the Boodle vault to jostle with everyone else. His widow Elizabeth started a case in the Court of Chancery which hinged upon technical arguments about whether there were ‘proper parties’ to receive the charitable bequest (and which also argued that the clause about the mausoleum on the Mount were illegal because it was not consecrated ground) but which was obviously intended to scupper Robert’s intentions and ensure she and her son received the bulk of the estate as next of kin.  She was to be sorely disappointed the case dragged on until 1842 but the court eventually decided in favour of Robert and his executors – the will was valid and the bulk of his estate was to be used to benefit the natives of Bengal. There were further legal challenges from another relative which thwarted the execution of the will for another six years until that case was finally dismissed in 1848. In 1854 the Government of Bengal built a hospital for the use of the residents of the city of Dhaka with Robert’s money and named it the Mitford Hospital in honour of its benefactor. The hospital still stands today; probably no one who uses it realises it owes it origins to a family squabble over a French mistress.   

The Mitford Hospital, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Friday, 1 April 2016

"Shakespeare never went to Venice, Homer never went to Troy, Dante never went to Hell"; Christopher Logue (1926-2011) Kensal Green Cemetery



“Astounding. I bought this volume this morning for thirty pence from a charity shop in West Norwood - never having heard of Christopher Logue - and consumed it in the space of one afternoon and evening. Great to feel again - after too long - the quickening that great writing can put into your step, your imagination and your heart. Bought me to tears as I finished the first section at two o'clock in Brockwell Park. Nine o'clock now and I have (for the first time) finished the whole thing and - with gratitude - discovered that there is MORE of this guys 'translation' of Homer to read. A great day; thank you Christopher Logue...”
Amazon review of “Cold Calls”

Christopher Logue spent 40 years working on his adaptation of the Iliad. My copy of “Kings”, his version of Book’s I and II, cost me a derisory 29 pence though I did have to spend a couple of quid on postage and packing. It was a 20 year old second hand copy but it was in almost pristine condition apart from what I assumed at first glance was a previous owners name scrawled proprietarily across the title page. A second glance revealed the signature to be ‘Christopher Logue’ and when I turned the page to the edition notice it told me that “This revised text first published in a signed limited edition in 1992 by…Turret Books, 42 Lambs Conduit Street.” If a 30 pence copy of “Cold Calls” and a 29 pence signed limited edition of “Kings” don’t constitute irrefutable evidence that Christopher Logue is our most undervalued writer, I don’t know what does.

Logue photographed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 (he really did get everywhere)

He was born in Portsmouth and was educated in Catholic schools in Portsmouth and Bath. By his own accounts he had a wayward childhood and a delinquent youth; he told an interviewer from the Paris Review that he stole “money from my mother’s purse, or my father’s pockets, things from shops—semipornographic magazines, expensive toys, and sweets—and then I would be caught and punished. Once I was taken to a juvenile court. When the time came for me to appear, my father came with me with his retirement certificate—he was a civil servant, working in the post office for forty-five years—wrapped in brown paper under his arm. He unwrapped it and showed it to the magistrates. I felt incredibly proud of him, and terribly ashamed of myself.”

His explanation of how he came to be a poet was simple; it was down to Miss Crowe, his elocution mistress. “As a child I had a deep voice. People would comment. My mother wanted me to be a priest or an actor, but seeing that there wasn’t much chance of the priesthood, she plumped for acting and sent me for elocution lessons. Miss Crowe was an attractive woman. I used to sit on the floor and look up her skirt—and that’s how I became a poet.”

As Cardinal Richelieu, about to be shot by Louis Quatorze in "The Devils" 

After leaving school he eschewed university in favour of the army. When they wouldn’t let him join the commandos he enlisted in the Black Watch where his posh accent got him dubbed ‘Charlotte’ by the other squaddies. He served in Palestine and managed to earn himself a 16 month prison sentence and a dishonorable discharge by stealing six army paybooks; “It was an act of spiteful masochism,” he said later “I had … illegally, obtained six army paybooks, which were also identity documents. I announced to everyone in my tent that I planned to sell them to the Jews. I knew no Jews. I hardly knew what the word Jew meant. But I identified with those my side was against.” After leaving the army he returned home and lived on National Assistance or worked as a park keeper and dentist’s receptionist until he could earn a living as a poet. In 1951 he went to Paris, fell in love with a Brazilian girl and published his first book of poems a couple of years later.

In the bath with a friend

He had a rather colourful life; he was on the first Aldermaston march with Bertrand Russell, served his second prison sentence, just a month this time, in open prison for taking part in a sit in in Parliament Square in 1961, and collaborated with Arnold Wesker to bring art to the workers on the factory floors. He worked with Lindsey Anderson at the Royal Court Theatre, recorded an album of Pablo Neruda translations with a jazz backing with George Martin when the producer wasn’t required by the Beatles, and wrote the famous Pseud’s Corner and True Stories columns for Private Eye (“The Journal of the American Library Association has announced the publication of Playboy Magazine in a Braille edition.” 5 June 1970). He appeared as an actor in several films, his parts included Cardinal Richelieu in Ken Russell’s “The Devils” and a spaghetti eating maniac in Terry Gilliam’s “Jabberwocky.” In his younger days in Paris he wrote two books under the name Count Palmiro Vicarion for the Olympia Press, a pornographic secret agent novel called “Lust” and  a “Book of Bawdy Ballads (“Acknowledgements: Many poets have helped me collect this book. I would like to thank in particular Madame Desiree Noblock of London and Mr. Gregory Kont of Bayswater.” A typical offering; There was a young man from Nantucket,  Whose p***k was so long he could suck it,  He said with a grin,  As he wiped off his chin, “If my ear were a c**t, I could f**k it.”).

Logue married the historian Rosemary Hill in 1985. His Portland stone gravestone was designed by his friend the architectural critic Gavin Stamp and made by Stephen Lane of the Stone Arts & Crafts Company. The verse is a stanza from one of Logue’s own poems ‘O come all ye faithful’:

Those who are sure of love
Do not complain
For sure of love is sure
Love comes again


When Rosemary married Gavin in 2014 I’m sure he didn’t complain.