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(This is Part Two of Lord Camelford’s story. For Part One, please click here)

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Despite a notorious incident in which he’d assaulted his former captain, George Vancouver on Mayfair’s Conduit Street, Thomas Pitt the 2nd Baron of Camelford was permitted to remain in the navy.

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford in his late 20s

Quickly rising through the ranks, he was made commander of HMS Favourite aged just 22- a controversial choice given it bypassed Camelford’s senior, Charles Peterson

Although Peterson himself was soon granted command of HMS Perdrix a bitter rivalry festered between the two.

This came to a head when both ships were docked in Antigua and Camelford gave an order to Peterson who, claiming it was not conducive to his own vessel, refused to obey. 

Antigua in the early 19th century

This resulted in a tense standoff, during which Camelford asked, “Do you still persist in not obeying my orders?” To which Peterson replied, “Yes my lord. I do persist.

With that, Camelford stepped forward and shot Peterson dead at point-blank range.

Despite this cold-blooded killing, Camelford was acquitted. 

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When he returned to London in autumn 1798 Lord Camelford conjured up a plot in which he planned to personally assassinate the nation’s arch enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte in his early 20s

Packing a brace of pistols, a dagger and a “Letter of introduction to the French” Lord Camelford caught a night coach to Dover where he chartered a boat, comically claiming he had a collection of fine watches and fabrics he intended to sell to potential French bargain hunters. 

Dover as it appeared in Lord Camelford’s time

As Britain was at war with France during this period any attempt to cross the Channel was punishable by death.

Fully aware of this, the boat’s skipper instead took Camelford straight to the authorities who, once again, set the Lord free, this time claiming “His only motive had been to render a service to his country.

Nevertheless, Camelford was disgusted and quit the navy in protest. 

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Now a man of leisure, Lord Camelford once again took to menacing the people of London.

In May 1799 he was one of “Several gentleman intoxicated with liquor” who instigated a riot at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

During the brawl, boxes, doors and windows were splintered and smashed and Camelford punched and kicked a man down a flight of stairs.

As a result, he had to cough up £500 in damages- about £22,000 in today’s money. 

Interior of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 1804 (image: British History.ac.uk)

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Around this time Camelford also employed a servant; a black American named Bill Richmond

Bill Richmond

Bill had been born a slave on Staten Island, New York but made it to England in 1777 where he rose to become a celebrated bareknuckle fighter. 

A known boxing fan, it’s believed Camelford encouraged Bill to teach him some moves and the two men attended a number of prize-fights together.

Bill and Lord Camelford could also be seen frequenting London’s many taverns- apparently, the pugilistic peer’s favourite ruse was to stir up drunken trouble so he could delight in watching Bill knock people spark out. 

Bill Richmond in his boxing days

Bill Richmond would later go on to own a pub named the Horse and Dolphin near Leicester Square and became close friends with fellow boxer and publican, Tom Cribb.

Indeed it was in Tom’s pub on Panton Street that Bill spent his final evening before passing away at the age of 66. 

Tom Cribb’s pub today, Panton Street

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In January 1802 Britain and France announced peace with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens (a declaration which would soon transpire to be short-lived). 

A contemporary cartoon satirising the Treaty of Amiens

Properties across London were lit in celebration but Camelford’s residence on the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane remained resolutely dark; no doubt due to his cynicism and the fact he’d been prevented from having a crack at bumping off Napoleon.

Consequently a mob gathered outside and began breaking Camelford’s windows in protest at his lack of participation in the festivities.

Unperturbed, Lord Camelford armed himself with a club and stepped outside to tackle the crowd, beating them back single-handed until they were subdued. 

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In March 1804 Camelford became embroiled in a spat over a woman with his former friend, Captain Best

After a charged meeting at a coffee house on Oxford Street, Camelford refused to withdraw insulting comments that he’d made.

Only one course of action therefore was left to the two rogues: a duel which was to be held in the grounds of Holland House.

Camelford knew his old pal was a far better shot- but backing down would mean cowardice and that was not an option.

Holland House as it appeared in the late 19th century- the building was largely destroyed during WWII

When the two turned to fire, Camelford missed but Best’s bullet found its mark, puncturing his foe’s lung. The bullet also destroyed part of Camelford’s spine, paralysing him.

With the score settled, Captain Best rushed to his old friend and tried to comfort him.

As the pair gripped hands, Lord Camelford assured the victor, “You have killed me, but I freely forgive you.” 

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Camelford spent the next three days in agony, during which time he managed to compose his will. In it, he stated that his impending death was his own fault; lost “In a contest of my own seeking” and that nobody was to take proceedings against his antagonist.

On March 10th 1804 Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Lord of Camelford finally succumbed to his injuries. He was 29 years old and had no heir, meaning the Camelford peerage died with him. 

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Following his death, Lord Camelford’s body was embalmed and placed in a crypt beneath St Anne’s Church in Soho

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70 years ago today, on June 22nd 1948, The Empire Windrush docked in the Essex Port of Tilbury. 

The Empire Windrush

On board were several hundred immigrants from the West Indies- many of whom were former RAF servicemen who’d served in WWII- who were bound for London in the hope of securing decent employment. 

One of the men onboard The Windrush was 26 year old Trinidadian Aldwin Roberts, a calypso singer better known by his stage name, ‘Lord Kitchener’.

Lord Kitchener: The King of Calypso

During the long voyage from Jamaica to Britain, Lord Kitchener penned a song entitled ‘London is the Place for Me’ which he famously performed A cappella for a Pathe News film crew whilst preparing to disembark at Tilbury. 

The full newsreel (which opens with a story featuring Ingrid Bergman with Alfred Hitchcock) can be viewed below, with Lord Kitchener appearing at the 2 minute mark:

Pathe Reporter Meets (1948) - YouTube

A fuller studio version of Lord Kitchener’s song, which became an anthem for the Windrush Generation can be heard below: 

LORD KITCHENER - London Is the Place for Me - YouTube

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Four years ago this June, the world lost Richard Michael Mayall- better known by his stage name, Rik Mayall

Rik Mayall (image: ITV)

Rik was born in Harlow, Essex in March 1958 and moved with his family to the West Midlands when he three years old. Both of Rik’s parents were drama teachers so it’s no surprise he caught the acting bug early on. 

Whilst at the University of Manchester in the late 1970s Rik met fellow student, Ade Edmondson and the two formed a life-long comedic partnership. 

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson in their ‘Young Ones’ personas, early 1980s

Before long Rik and Ade were performing as a duo- dubbed ‘20th Century Coyote’- at the Comedy Store; a pioneering venue for the new-wave of alternative comedy acts burgeoning at the time.

Opened in 1979, The Comedy Store was situated above a seedy strip-joint on Soho’s Dean Street but can now be found on Oxendon Street near Leicester Square). 

The Comedy Store today (image: Wikipedia)

As well as stand-up, Rik had a cameo in the 1981 cult classic, An American Werewolf in London where he can be spotted as one the creepy locals in the sinister Slaughtered Lamb pub, indulging in a game of chess alongside the equally wonderful and much missed Brian Glover.

Please click below to view.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) - The Slaughtered Lamb Scene (1/10) | Movieclips - YouTube

In the same year, Rik also had a far more serious- not to mention very underrated- role in Wolcott , a crime drama which was revolutionary for the time in that it centred on a black detective (played by George William Harris) tasked with bringing order to London’s East End. 

In the series, Rik played a racist police officer; a far cry from the comedic roles for which he would become better known and a performance that demonstrated the true depth of his acting ability.

A brief clip depicting Rik in this unexpected role can be seen below: 

"Wolcott": Out on Blu-ray and DVD 17/08/2015 - YouTube

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In November 1982 The Young Ones burst onto screens. 

Set in a grotty student house, this surreal and gloriously anarchic comedy stared Rik as the deluded, self-confessed ‘People’s Poet’ alongside the alarmingly destructive Vivian (Ade Edmonson), Neil the Hippy (Nigel Planer) and Mike the Cool Person (Christopher Ryan). 

The Young Ones (image: Mayall Online)

The digs in which the gang lived were located in an unspecified London suburb.

However, although the pilot episode- ‘Demolition’- was indeed filmed in north London, the following 11 episodes were shot in the Bishopston area of Bristol

The Young Ones made Rik Mayall a household name and he went on to star in a host of other shows including Blackadder, The New Statesmen and Bottom. 

Rik Mayall in ‘Blackadder’ as the outrageous Lord Flashheart.

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Rik died of a heart attack at his home in Barnes, south-west London on June 9th 2014. 

He was 56 years old. 

Following his sudden passing, 7,000 fans petitioned to have a bench and plaque in his honour placed on Hammersmith Broadway; the location where, in the early 1990s, Rik and Ade filmed the opening credits for Bottom which can be viewed below:

Bottom Opening - YouTube

The words honouring Rik are bombastically tongue in cheek; a style with which he would’ve whole-heartedly approved. 

Rik Mayall’s bench and plaque, Hammersmith Broadway

The final line however, “Love Is The Answer” is a reference to a funny, yet moving speech which Rik delivered to the University of Exeter in 2008 upon receiving an honorary doctorate.

In the speech, which can be viewed in full below, Rik imparted his ‘five mantras’- his personal rules for living a happy and fulfilling life- as a gift to the the large audience of young graduates. 

Rik’s speech is well worth a listen (it’s even introduced by the legendary Floella Benjamin!) and is bound to put a smile on your face- although please be advised some of the language is a little blue! 

Rik Mayall receives an honorary Doctorate from the University of Exeter - YouTube

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Rest in peace, Rik. 

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They say “Money doesn’t buy class.

This was certainly true of Thomas Pit, the 2nd Baron of Camelford; an obnoxious figure from the late 18th century who by all accounts was a thug, a bully and, as those at the time described him, a “desperate bruiser.” 

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford

Pitt was born in Cornwall in 1775. His father, also called Thomas, owned property on Hanover Square and was a career politician who eventually gained a peerage to the House of Lords. 

The young Pitt was educated at Charterhouse School (which was then located close to Smithfield Market but has since moved to Surrey) but he soon grew bored of education and, against his father’s wishes, decided instead to pursue a career in the Royal Navy.

Aged just 16, Pitt signed up to join the crew of the HMS Discovery which had been tasked with exploring America’s Pacific coast. 

HMS Victory by Mark Mysers (from Blue World Web Museum)

During the long voyage Pitt proved to be quite a handful.

As well as smashing a delicate navigational device he also slept on duty, dabbled in illicit trade and pursued amorous liaisons with native islanders; activities which were strictly forbidden. 

For these misdemeanours the ship’s Captain, George Vancouver (after who the Canadian city is named), had Pitt flogged and was eventually forced to have him placed in irons.

Although harsh, such punishments were not unusual at the time and what appeared to infuriate Pitt most was the fact he was made to sit shackled alongside his more ‘common’ shipmates. 

A portrait by an unknown artist of a figure believed to be Captain George Vancouver (image: Wikipedia)

Unable to cope with such ruthless authority, Pitt was discharged whilst docked in Hawaii and had no other choice but to find his own way home.

Whilst away, his father died meaning the peerage was passed on; an inheritance which ensured the young tearaway was officially a Lord by the time he finally made it back to London. 

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In 1795 Captain Vancouver also returned to London. His expedition had been utterly gruelling- out of 153 men, only 6 had made it back.

Vancouver settled in Petersham, south-west London where he hoped to enjoy the view from Richmond Hill and pursue the quiet life: a simple desire which was soon blighted when Thomas Pitt discovered his old commander was back in town. 

The view from Richmond Hill (Google Street View)

Hellbent on revenge, the newly made Lord sent a letter to his former tormentor which was packed with insults and challenged him to a duel; a bout which he hoped would “Give him satisfaction for his injuries.

When Vancouver refused, Pitt vowed to track him down in person, finally succeeding in September 1796 when he cornered his nemesis on Conduit Street (which branches off of Regent Street )and administered a ferocious beating with a cane.

The attack, which became popular gossip in London after being satirised in a cartoon, left an already weakened Vancouver in very poor health and he passed away soon after.

Pitt however faced no repercussions, largely due to his privileged connections. 

‘The Caning on Conduit Street’: A satirical view of Lord Camelford’s attack on Captain Vancouver.

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Following this encounter, Pitt continued to exude a violent nature which struck fear in many Londoners.

He was especially fond of roaming the streets in search of potential crooks and troublemakers to rough up; a pastime known as ‘Boxing the Watch’.

In one incident he battered a tollgate keeper black and blue after claiming to have been given counterfeit pennies in change- a trifling sum for a man of such wealth. 

Pitt’s fearsome reputation was further bolstered by his dog, ‘Trusty’; a bull-terrier brutalised into becoming a champion fighting dog.

During his career, Trusty endured 104 bouts and remained unbeaten. Pitt later gifted his prized pet to ‘Fighting Jim Belcher’; the celebrated bare-knuckle boxer, explaining that “The only unconquered man was the only fit master for the only unconquered dog.”

Fortunately, it appears Trusty received kinder treatment from Jim and was able to live out his days in the Jolly Brewers, a former Wardour Street pub taken over by the boxer in his retirement. 

Portrait of Jim Belcher (by Benjamin Marshall), the boxer to who Lord Camelford gifted his dog ‘Trusty’- who can be seen in the background (image: Tate Gallery)

For Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron of Camelford however there would be a great deal more violence, controversy and murder to follow…

To be continued…
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I’m very proud to announce that my first book; ‘The Knowledge: Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie’ is now available both in shops and online. 

Holding a copy of my book in Foyle’s, Charing Cross Road!

The book takes readers inside the secretive world of ‘The Knowledge’; the incredibly tough training process which prospective cabbies must undergo before they are licensed to drive a London taxi. 

To see a preview please click below: 

The book’s introduction details the evolution of The Knowledge; how it began and what it’s subsequently morphed into, as well as an account of my own experience of the process- including the terrifying verbal exams (of which I personally had to sit 27!)

Knowledge examiners at the Public Carriage Office, Islington- as featured on the BBC’s 1996 documentary, ‘Streetwise’.

This is followed by 50 routes (‘runs’ as cabbies call them) which are taken from The Blue Book; the official guide which provides the basis for studying The Knowledge of London.

The runs feature an array of London history and trivia and are divided into groups of 10 which come under 5 chapters, each of which showcases a particular brain training technique. These are: 

1) Acronyms and mnemonics.

2) Short stories in which the names of streets and roads are transformed into characters and events with surreal results

3) Common historical threads – such as the run Parliament Street to Golden Lane which traces the flow of the Thames and the river’s key role in helping the city grow.

4) ‘Memory Champion’ techniques- specifically the ‘Method of Loci’ (the use of which can be traced back to the days of Ancient Greece) and the ‘Memory Palace’ which is also many centuries old but has been made famous in recent years thanks to the BBC’s modern adaptation, ‘Sherlock’.

5) The final 10 runs are ones with which I feel a personal connection – for example, Golborne Road to Pennine Drive which involves roads closely connected with my own family history. In other words, as well as the common shared Knowledge of London’s roads and places of interest, these runs demonstrate how each cabbie also harbours their own personal map of the capital.

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The book is beautifully illustrated by artist and cartographer, Jamie Whyte who, amongst many other projects, also created the maps for ‘Young Winstone’; a memoir by legendary Londoner and actor, Ray Winstone. 

An example of Jamie’s work from ‘The Knowledge; Train Your Brain Like a Cabbie’

Readers will also find a glossary of cabbie’s slang terms.

The Knowledge: Train Your Brain like a cabbie is available at a number of online retailers including Waterstones and Amazon.

Thanks for reading!

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Fifty years ago on April 4th 1968 the renowned Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King was shot and fatally wounded whilst standing on a balcony outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The man who fired the bullet- James Earl Ray- fled to Canada before moving on to Portugal… and then London, where he was finally apprehended at Heathrow Airport.

James Earl Ray’s passport photo- in which he’s disguised as a businessman- which was presented at Heathrow Airport in 1968

The full story of James Earl Ray’s time as a fugitive in London- which involved numerous locations and two bungled robberies- can be read in full on my second site, ‘The Crime Compendium‘.

Please click here to read The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (Part Two)
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Look above the western entrance to Westminster Abbey on Broad Sanctuary and you’ll see the ‘Ten Christian Martyrs‘; a group of small statues depicting noted 20th century figures who were killed for their beliefs.

The Ten Christian Martyrs, Westminster Abbey

Amongst those represented (5th from left) is the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the renowned American civil rights leader who was murdered 50 years ago this April.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Dr King had visited London in December 1964 (whilst en-rotue to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; the youngest recipient at that time) where he gave a sermon to approximately 4,000 people from the pulpit of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Martin Luther King at St Paul’s Cathedral, 1964

During his brief stay Dr King also arranged a meet-up at the Hilton, Park Lane with people who’d recently migrated to the UK from areas such as the West Indies and Pakistan.

It was also in London that James Earl Ray– the man convicted of Dr King’s murder- would be finally apprehended….

To read the full story, please head to my second website; The Crime Compendium.

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The latest post on my second website, The Crime Compendium, relates a grisly true story from the London of 1836: the tale of James Greenacre, a murderer who scattered his victim’s remains across the city…

Accused of murder… James Greenacre and Sarah Gale

To read the full piece please click here (please be aware, reader discretion is advised).

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The latest post on my second website, The Crime Compendium, relates a grisly true story from the London of 1836: the tale of James Greenacre, a murderer who scattered his victim’s remains across the city…

Accused of murder… James Greenacre and Sarah Gale

To read the full piece please click here (please be aware, reader discretion is advised).

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Some years ago, a sage old cabbie told me about a mysterious photo which he’d claimed to have never seen himself but was sure existed somewhere; an image apparently depicting legendary American animator and entrepreneur, Walt Disney posing beneath a street sign on Borough’s aptly named Disney Street

Disney Street- and its little offshoot, Disney Place– are two thoroughfares which form a small dogleg between Marshalsea Road and Redcross Way.

‘Disney’ is in fact an extremely old name of Norman origin, deriving from d’Isigny; a surname historically used by folk from the town of Isigny-sur-Mer in north-western France.

The name has been borne by these two Borough streets since at least the 1860s- a quick search of The Times newspaper archive reveals a handful of vicious crimes taking place here, including numerous stabbings and an appalling incident in 1902 when a drunken woman was arrested after “ill-treating a baby by swinging it round” along with a verbal threat to “dash the child’s brains out by throwing it on the pavement.”

Late Victorian map depicting Disney Street (image: nls.uk)

In short, the name ‘Disney’ was being used in London long before Walt’s first flick- the jovial ‘Steamboat Willie’- hit screens in 1928… quite a relief really considering the rather brutal connotations with the two roads.

Going even further back in time when the area had a more rural vibe, the two paths, which have evolved over many decades, were known by completely different names- Bird Cage Alley (which really did refer to local artisans who made said pet accessories) and Harrow Street; an offshoot of which was ‘Harrow Dunghill’ which would no doubt have had quite a literal meaning back in the 18th century.

Original map depicting Harrow Street, Bird Cage Alley and Harrow Dunghill

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Returning to the cabbie’s fable with which I started this piece, I was told that, at some point in the mid-1960s, Walt Disney was on a visit to London with is wife, Lillian.

The pair hailed a taxi and, upon recognising his passenger’s face, the driver couldn’t resist telling his famous fare about the existence of Disney Street and Disney Place.

Unsurprisingly Walt was intrigued and asked be taken there, whereupon he and Lillian had their photos snapped.

For a long time I thought this was nothing more than a cabbie’s urban legend.

Until recently when I happened to discover the images…

The first is of Walt and Lillian:

Walt and Lillian Disney, Disney Street, Southwark, 1965

The second depicts Walt on Disney Place with his business partner, Arthur Allighan; a born Londoner who apparently confessed to having no prior knowledge of the streets which bore his colleague’s infamous surname.

Walt Disney and Arthur Allighan, Disney Place, Southwark 1965

These two images were taken in 1965 and were published in a 1966 edition of ‘Disney World Magazine’.

Sadly, they were amongst the last photos taken of Walt who died shortly after in December 1966 aged 65.

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