Coronation

Coronation of Elizabeth II

Sorry, this entry is only available in Russian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

Official Coronation Photo

2 June 1953 was the coronation day of Elizabeth II. The 26 year old Elizabeth became Queen on the day her father, George VI died, on 6 February 1952, but it was required to have a period of mourning and also lengthy preparations were needed for the coronation ceremony. By then Elizabeth was married to Philip, with two children, – only her oldest son Charles was present at the ceremony, his sister Anne was considered to be too little.

The Westminster Abbey ceremony combined ancient traditions, with some elements dating back to the 10th century, and a modern approach – it was the first coronation shown on TV, with many people buying their first TV sets to watch it.

Elizabeth and Philip processed in the Gold State Coach from Buckingham Palace to the Westminster Abbey, to the cheers of the crowds, enthusiastic despite the rain. Over 8 thousand guests, among them 2,000 jounalists, representing 129 countries and overseas territories. The coronation regalia used during the ceremony is now on display at the Tower of London, including St. Edward’s Crown which is used for the actual crowning. The film of the coronation is also shown there.

After the ceremony the royal family went home and appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony to wave to the crowds.

Interesting fact – principals of the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London invented a new dish for the coronation banquet, of cooked cold chicken with a mayonnaise type sauce with curry, dried fruit, herbs and spices, called Coronation Chicken, still popular in England today.

Now Elizabeth is 94, and despite the trials and tribulations of the royal family in the last 67 years, she is loved and respected by people in the UK and abroad. On 1 June the Palace issued photos of her riding in the grounds of Windsor Castle, – with a scarf for a helmet!

Photos –  www.royal.uk

https://www.royal.uk/50-facts-about-queens-coronation-0

https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/coronation-of-queen-elizabeth-ii

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_of_the_British_monarch

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronation_chicken

Coronation

Frank Matcham and His Theatres – A Flair for Magic

Sorry, this entry is only available in Russian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

If you’ve ever been to the London’s Coliseum, the home of English National Opera, you will always remember the special feeling when you saw its interior for the first time – a kind of intimacy combined with baroque-like opulence, when the Victorian era met the Edwardian one. This was the creation of architect Frank Matcham, who died 200 years ago today. He was responsible for the building of over 90 theatres in the UK and involved in the refurbishment of 80 more. Matcham also worked on pubs, grand halls, hotels and a shopping arcade in Leeds.

Irina at the Coliseum, 2019
Irina at the Coliseum, 2019

Matcham did not have an academic education in architecture, but rather learnt his trade through practice, starting when he became apprenticed to an architect at the age of 14. At 21 he moved to London to join the architectural practice of J.T. Robinson, which specialised in theatres (who was also a surveyor to the Lord Chamberlain) – Matcham later married his daughter and took over the business.

Frank Matcham by Langfier (Wikipedia)
Frank Matcham by Langfier (Wikipedia)

In the early days of the 20th century you will find Matcham theatres all over the country – Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, all the way down south, to Cardiff and Brighton.

Belfast, Grand Opera House 2019
Belfast, Grand Opera House 2019

Matcham approached the design of a theatre from a practical point of view, his theatres were built quickly and to budget, even on difficult sites, without compromising the overall effect and attention to detail. No two theatres are the same, but they all create a special feeling of magic for the theatre goers. Matcham found a way to replace columns supporting the upper galleries with cantilevers, to minimise the number of seats with an obstructive view of the stage. But it is the interior design that captivates you – when you enter the auditorium, you are enveloped in a special aura of a mystifying make belief of the theatre world, creating by an imaginative free style mixture of Renaissance, Tudor, Louis XIV, Italianate, Rococco, Classical and Baroque, including Anglo-Indian motifs, naval and military insignia. He developed own special fibrous plaster, which made it easier for his imagination to run wild.

Matcham’s Northern masterpiece – the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool (1899)

The Victorian era was the heyday of music hall, which broadened the appeal of theatre going for the general public. Often the safety standards left much to be desired, – some 91 major fires were reported in the British Isles in theatres in the period 1870-1900, involving great loss of life. Working along the lines of new safety and sanitary legislation introduced at that time, Matcham was in the forefront of creating a safe and enjoyable theatre for everyone, improving not only fire safety, but also ventilation, acoustics and stage design.

Only about 26 of his creations survive today, with some theatres having been transformed into bingo halls, nightclubs and cinemas.

His first project was the Elephant and Castle theatre in London in 1878. By the end of his working career he built or refurbished over 20 theatres in London alone, out of which only 7 survive today.

London (Hammersmith), Lyric Opera House, reconstructed 1979 within new structure

London (Richmond), Richmond Theatre (1899)

London (Westminster), London Hippodrome (1900)

London (Hackney), Hackney Empire (1901)

Hackney Empire 2015
Hackney Empire 2015

London (Newham), Stratford Theatre Royal (1902)

London (Hammersmith), Shepherd’s Bush Empire (1903)

London (Westminster), London Coliseum (1904)

Coliseum 2019
Coliseum 2019

London (Westminster), London Palladium (new theatre behind Lewis’s Corinthian facade) (1910)

Frank Matcham died on 17th May 1920 in Essex and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Interesting fact – Frank’s brother Charles Matcham moved to America, where he worked for the Bell Telephone Company. He was involved in the building  of first telephone exchanges in Europe and the introduction of the telephone to St. Petersburg and Riga where he personally installed Alexander II of Russia’s phone system.

 

Sources

http://www.frankmatchamsociety.org.uk/about/frank-matcham-1854-1920/

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/frank-matcham/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Matcham

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/may/13/velvet-wonderlands-the-plush-pleasure-palaces-of-frank-matchless-matcham

http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Matcham.htm

http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/funerary/210.html

Coronation

The Girl I Left Behind Me (Brighton Camp)

Sorry, this entry is only available in Russian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

What is the song about?

The Girl I Left Behind Me (Brighton Camp) is sung by a soldier going to war, who remembers the beautiful girl whom he left back home, hoping to return to her soon.

The Girl I Left Behind Me, by Eastman Johnson, early 1870s
The Girl I Left Behind Me, by Eastman Johnson, early 1870s

 

Where did it start?

As with many folk songs, no one knows for sure. Some date the song to the times of Queen Elizabeth I (17th century), when it was played when soldiers or a naval ship left for war.

William Chappell, a music researcher and writer (of music publishers Chappell and Co. fame) and the first person who seriously studied traditional English tunes, in 1859 dated the song to 1758, when there were military encampments on the coast of the English Channel. This was during the Seven Years War, when the French planned an invasion of Britain, which never materialised.

The first printed mention The Girl I Left Behind is from Ireland, in a serial song collection The Charms of Melody, printed in Dublin in 1791. The earliest known version of the melody was printed about 1810 in Hime’s Pocket Book for the German Flute or Violin (Dublin).

The Girl I Left Behind Me travels around the world

In the 19th century this tune had some different Irish and English language lyrics in Ireland, including one called An Spailpín Fánach (The Rambling Labourer).

Early American settlers mention a song called Brighton Camp, but it might have had a different tune.

During the Napoleonic wars (1812), when America quarrelled with England once again, after the Wars of Independence, the song became popular in the US army as a marching tune – it is easy to play on the fife, a staple instrument of military bands.

During American Civil War both sides popularised the song with their own adapted lyrics, one version inspired by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

In the early stages of WWI, the British army used an obscene version of this song which ran in part:

Kaiser Bill is feeling ill,
the Crown Prince has gone barmy,
We don’t give a f*** for old von Kluck
And all his bleedin’ army

The Girl I Left Behind Me Lives On

The song found its way into the modern culture, too, from Bug’s Bunny (A Wild Hare), where he plays it on a carrot for a fife, and Popeye cartoon Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, to films about American civil war, Westerns and the Indian War, as well as TV series Hornblower and Sharpe’s Company. It features in the 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade and 1970s film Waterloo.

There are over 50 recordings of the song by various artists, including being referenced by Glenn Miller’s arrangement of American Patrol, popularised during World War II. Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).

The site sessions.org mentions 15 settings of the tune, as well as numerous name variations and the fact that it was added to 226 tunebooks.

The tune is popular with Morris dancers, often referred to as Brighton Camp, (Polka step in Morris dance, or as a 2/2 country dance tune). It was collected from musicians of the Cotswolds villages, where it was part of the popular music traditions.

The Lyrics:

I’m lonesome since I crossed the hill,
And o’er the moorland sedgy
Such heavy thoughts my heart do fill,
Since parting with my Betsey
I seek for one as fair and gay,
But find none to remind me
How sweet the hours I passed away,
With the girl I left behind me.

O ne’er shall I foget the night,
the stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv’ry light
when first she vowed to love me
But now I’m bound to Brighton camp
kind heaven then pray guide me
And send me safely back again,
to the girl I left behind me

Her golden hair in ringlets fair,
her eyes like diamonds shining
Her slender waist, her heavenly face,
that leaves my heart still pining
Ye gods above oh hear my prayer
to my beauteous fair to find me
And send me safely back again,
to the girl I left behind me

The bee shall honey taste no more,
the dove become a ranger
The falling waters cease to roar,
ere I shall seek to change her
The vows we made to heav’n above
shall ever cheer and bind me
In constancy to her I love,
the girl I left behind me.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_I_Left_Behind

https://thesession.org/tunes/5418

http://www.folktunefinder.com/tunes/3380

http://www.contemplator.com/england/girl.html

https://www.acousticmusicarchive.com/the-girl-i-left-behind-me-brighton-camp-chords-lyrics

https://tunearch.org/wiki/Girl_I_Left_Behind_Me_(1)_(The)

 

Coronation

VE Day, 8 May 2020

Sorry, this entry is only available in Russian. For the sake of viewer convenience, the content is shown below in the alternative language. You may click the link to switch the active language.

Today we hang out the Union Jack, dress up and sing patriotic songs – it VE Day! Unlike Russia, which celebrates Victory Day on 9th May, here it is commemorated on the 8th. It was on this day 75 years ago that Winston Churchill officially announced on the radio that Germany surrendered and the war came to an end in Europe. In preparation for festivities the government moved the bank holiday from 1 May to the 8th, but the grand celebrations never happened – we are all in lockdown… So, the country celebrates at home online. At 11 we watched the TV broadcast of the silent ceremony lead by Prince Charles and Camilla laying commemorative wreaths, followed by flypast over London by the Royal Air Force, looking forward to the Queen’s address later on today. In the evening the whole country will join in singing We’ll Meet Again by Dame Vera Lynn, which became a symbol of the nation’s spirit in war time, and also now, reflecting the mood the difficult times we live in.

VE Day
VE Day
Coronation

The Paul McCartney Rose

We have a Paul McCartney in our garden – it’s the lovely rose created by French rose breeder Alain Meilland in 1988. It was paid for and named by EMI, the record company that issued all Beatles records in the 1960s. This was EMI’s 50th birthday present to Sir Paul a few years later.

Paul McCartney Rose
Paul McCartney Rose

The McCartney Rose (also called  MEIzeli and Sweet Lady) received 8 medals and awards at international rose competitions – fully deserved, as this is the strongest, tallest, hardiest and most fragrant one of all the roses in our garden. The bush grows to 1.5 m high and is covered with abundant sweet-scented blooms from March until late into the winter (with temperatures here rarely going below zero).

Paul McCartney Rose Bush
Paul McCartney Rose Bush

It is a hybrid tea rose, producing one flower with a high centre per stem, which opens up into a luxurious flower up to 7 inches across, with up to 40 petals in it. It is not afraid of diseases or greenfly.

Paul McCartney Rose Bud
Paul McCartney Rose Bud

It’s not a surprise, then, that it is the flower of choice for Beatles fans, and even Sir Paul grows it in this East Sussex estate in the south of England!

Paul McCartney Rose and Lilia (2019)
Paul McCartney Rose and Lilia (2019)

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Rosa_%27The_McCartney_Rose%27

https://www.gq.com/story/the-untold-stories-of-paul-mccartney

Coronation

May Day

With the sun shining brightly, today is the day to welcome the summer!

People have been celebrating this since the Roman times. Floralia, a Roman festival lasting a week around this time, celebrated Flora, the goddess of flowers and fruit, with theatrical performances, spectacles, throwing beans and seeds and hares and goats running around.

Floralia by Hobbe_Smith (1898)
Floralia by Hobbe_Smith (1898) (commons.wikimedia.org)

Later on, the Catholic Church selected 1st May to observe the May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowning her head with flowers. This is also a feast day of St Joseph, Mary’s carpenter husband and surrogate father of Jesus. The church also appointed the 1st May as the feast of St. Philip and St. James, but still could not suppress the pagan jollities associated with this by country folk.

The celts celebrated Beltane (“lucky or bright fire”) on the evening of 30th April. If your cow jumps over the fire on that day, its milk will be protected from the fairies! People had been leaping over the fire until the early 19th century, celebrating Beltane. Many May Day folk traditions grew around this day, still celebrated as a festival of new life and fertility in Europe and America. Maypole is a tall post decorated with flowers and greenery at the top. It was erected on the village green as a focal point of May Day festivities. The tallest one in Yorkshire is said to be 30 metres high. People hold ribbons coming off it and dance around, forming intricate patterns – the real skill is dancing the other way round, unwinding it in the correct order!

Dancing around the Maypole
Dancing around the Maypole Young Miscellany English Folk Dance Group

A May Day parade is often headed by the May Queen – a girl dressed in white and adorned with flowers. From 16th century onwards people would make garlands decorated with leaves and flowers, to be carried during a parade and for dancing at the festivities.

Chimney sweeps went even further. They would create a leaf decoration so big, that it concealed a man inside it, – it became known as Jack in the Green, who often headed the parade and inspired merriment and mischief. Jack in the Green, representing the Green Man, a symbol of fertility, echoing back to the times when our ancestors worshipped trees.

Jack In The Green in Hastings
Jack In The Green in Hastings

The tradition died during the late Victorian times, but was renewed in 1983, and now Hastings Jack in the Green Festival is an annual celebration of English folk traditions and dancing. It starts with Morris dancers welcoming the dawn at 5am on 1st of May, followed by a weekend of Morris dancing around the town, parties and concerts and culminating with the parade of Jack in the Green, his colourful attendants and all the Morris dancers, – as seen in our film!

Young Miscellany At Hastings 2017-19

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltane

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_Day

https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/May-Day-Celebrations/

https://media.efdss.org/resourcebank/docs/RB094BritishFolkCustomsMay.pdf

https://www.hastingsjitg.co.uk/

Bay windows remaining from the mansion

Haughmond Abbey

Haughmond Abbey
Haughmond Abbey

Today, it is only me, sheep and cows at Haughmond Abbey. However, in Medieval times this was a flourishing house of Augustian monks. It started life as a small religious community in the thick forests between the Upper Severn and the Roden rivers.

Haughmond Abbey
The abbey stood on the slopes of Haughmond Hill, affording beautiful views into the valley below it

From the early 12th century it was under the patronage of wealthy local families, including a Norman nobleman William Fitzalan, who later became Earl of Arundel. The abbey enjoyed the good life of a medieval monastery until Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1539.

The monastic buildings were arranged around a cloister (a covered walk). The elaborately carved arches are all that remains of it.

Remains of a cloister arch
Remains of a cloister arch

Built around 1180, the refectory (dining hall) was on two levels, with the upper one used for eating in, and the lower one for storage.

The wall of refectory
The wall of refectory

Refectory

Picture of the refectory from the interpretation board

The chapter house was where the monks met in the morning and listened to a reading of a chapter from the rule book of the monastery. The font comes from the destroyed church.

Chapter House

In the 14th century the Abbot moved into new comfortable lodgings, which included a big hall to entertain himself and important guests in.

Remains of Abbot's lodgings
Remains of Abbot’s lodgings

The church is likely to be destroyed at the time, but the rest of the complex passed into the ownership of the Barker family, who turned it into a mansion.

Bay windows remaining from the mansion
Bay windows remaining from the mansion

This was destroyed during the Civil Was in the 17th century. The remains were a farm, later becoming a park of a picturesque landscaped park. It is now looked after by English Heritage, – free to visit (free car park, but no toilets!)

Haughmond Abbey

Sources –

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/haughmond-abbey/

https://www.shropshiretourism.co.uk/abbeys-priories-and-churches/haughmond-abbey.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haughmond_Abbey

Coronation

Battle of Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury Battlefield
Shrewsbury Battlefield

A famous savage battle took place on these picturesque fields on 21 July 1403, – the Battle of Shrewsbury. The leaders of the rival armies were King Henry IV and Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland.

The Percys were an influential family of Northumberland nobles, who had supported Henry Bolingbroke, as he was known before he became king, in him deposing King Richard II and taking over the crown, and later in Henry’s conflicts with the Welsh and the Scots. Henry IV’s promise of land and favours for the Percys did not materialise, and the disgruntled nobles raised an army in revolt, headed by Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy.

Henry Hotspur
The statue of Hotspur at Alnwick (where he was born) – from English Monarchs website

Henry Percy was the eldest son of the Earl of Northumberland. By 1403 he was already a distinguished military commander, with experience of leading troops in England and abroad. He enrolled some Cheshire arches, who were knows as longbow specialists and an expert fighting force, and headed towards the Welsh borders, to meet his uncle, Thomas Percy, Earl of Westmorland, an expert military commander.

Henry IV
King Henry IV (from the National Portrait Gallery)

Meanwhile Henry IV, unaware of the Percy’s revolt, was marching his army towards Scotland, hoping for the support of this powerful family in the north of England. On 12 of July he found out about the real state of affairs and turned to meet the rebel army. By 20th July both parties reached Shrewsbury and camped on the opposite sides of the River Severn a short distance from the town.

The Severn at Shrewsbury
The Severn at Shrewsbury

King Henry’s army of around 14,000 was bigger than the Percys’, but he was prepared to negotiate the terms. The Percys refused, and the battled commenced a couple of hours before dusk, with King Henry raising his sword.

The battle site was a field of peas at the time, which probably did not make it easy for the armies to get through!

Battlefield
Battlefield, July 2019

This was the first time that the longbow was used on English soil by two English rivals against each other, and the bloodiness of the battle confirmed how effective this weapon was, with 5,000 casualties.

A Longbowman
A longbowman – from the Battlefield 1403 exhibition display

Among the commanders of the king’s side was his 16 year old son, Prince Henry – future King Henry V. He was hit by an arrow, which pierced his face. John Bradmore, the doctor who treated him left a detailed account of how he used specially made instruments sanitised with rose honey to remove the arrowhead stuck in Prince Henry’s facial bones. He survived and had a big scar on his face for the rest of his life.

Recreation at the Battlefield 1403 museum
Recreation at the Battlefield 1403 museum

Shakespeare put the Battle of Shrewsbury as the culmination of the play Henry IV Part 1,  the conflict of Prince Henry (Shakespeare called him Prince Hal) and Hotspur taking centre stage. Shakespeare made them the same age (in reality Hotspur was about 20 years older), and in the play it is Prince Hal who kills Hotspur. In reality, it is not known who shot the arrow which finished Hotspur off, when he lifted the visor of his helmet to get a better view of the battle. His death signalled the defeat of this side and the end of the battle.

His family buried him in Whitchurch in Shropshire, but when rumours spread that he was still alive, King Henry IV ordered him to be disinterred and his salted body displayed in Shrewsbury in the marketplace pillory, later quartered and sent to various places in England, including London, with the head displayed in York, implanted on the north gate, looking towards his own lands.

Shrewsbury Market Square, July 2019
Shrewsbury Market Square, July 2019

Hotspur’s legacy lives even beyond Shakespeare – the name Tottenham Hotspur Football Club pays homage to this warrior, whose descendants owned land at Tottenham Marshes, near the site of their first grounds.

His uncle Thomas Percy and some other noble leaders of the rebellion were hanged, drawn and quartered in Shrewsbury on 23 July, with Thomas Percy’s head making it as far as London Bridge!

Soon after the battle a church was built near the battlefield, by order of Henry IV and funded by him, for a college of priests to pray for the souls of the dead on both sides.

St. Mary Magdalene's, Shrewsbury
St. Mary Magdalene’s, Shrewsbury
Statue of Henry IV above the East Window
Statue of Henry IV above the East Window

The battle took places on the eve of St.Mary Magdalene’s saints day, so the church is dedicated to her.

St.Mary Magdalene's, Shrewsbury
St.Mary Magdalene’s, Shrewsbury

The church became derelict by the 18th century, but was restored in the Victorian times, now boasting an amazing Victorian tiled floor. The hammerbeam roof dates from the Victorian period too. It displays the shields of knights who fought in the battle.

Interior of St.Mary Magdalene's Church
Interior of St.Mary Magdalene’s Church, with magnificent hammerbeam roof and the splendid Victorian tiled floor
Remains of a previous medieval building
Remains of a previous medieval building

The church is not operation, but the building is looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust and can be visited for free by obtaining the key from the Battlefield 1403 visitor centre at the farm shop. The Battlefield 1403 complex, entitled ‘Farm Shop, Butchery ad Café’, also features a small exhibition on the battle and the weaponry used.

The walk through the fields takes several routes (not signposted or labelled), which takes one to a car part on the opposite side and back, and present a great and relaxing site on fine summer day.

Sources –

http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/medieval/battleview.asp?BattleFieldId=39

https://www.battlefield1403.com/

Museum display materials

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Shrewsbury

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/plantagenet_45.html

Coronation

Mummers’ Play

We were very lucky yesterday to see a performance by Croxley Mummers. A Mummers’ play is a long standing English tradition of amateur  actors performing short plays, often associated with Morris dancing, at festivals, events, pubs or even people’s homes.

St. George and the Dragon

Traditionally there are two opponents having a fight, and the doctor character revives the fallen opponent by way of a magic potion.

St George play

Mummers’ plays are usually tied up with traditional celebrations, like Christmas, Easter or Halloween. Our event fell between St.George’s Day and May Day, so it was fitting that the play featured St.George. In the case of our Mummers,  St.George slew not only the dragon, but also a Turkish Knight and a giant!

Mummers Play

In early German the word ‘mummer’ meant a ‘disguised person’, and our mummers featured striking costumes and masks, the Dragon even spotting a bit of fairy lights after having been revived!

Through the ages mummers were mostly men, but now women take part as well, and we had ‘the Queen of Sheba’ rewarding St.George with her ‘favours’.

mummers play

The earliest references to mummers plays come from mid 18th century. Folk traditions grow and change with the times, and mummers  are no exception. The rhyming couplets verse included the references to Trump and Brexit, and very skilfully it was done, too!

St. Albans Mummers

https://www.facebook.com/pg/thecroxleymummers/about/?ref=page_internal

 

Coronation

Admiral Benbow

As Lilia and I wondered around the Shrewsbury museum, we heard a song playing from a little room adjacent to a passageway, and went to investigate.

This is the song, shown on a screen there, with the story of the Admiral Benbow song on the walls –

Lilia instantly remembered that Admiral Benbow was the name of the fictional inn, featured at the start of R.L.Stevenson’s Treasure Island,  although it was situated on the Penzance coast, rather a long way from land-locked Shrewsbury.

The real Admiral Benbow pub - in Shrewsbury
The real Admiral Benbow pub – in Shrewsbury

It turns out, Admiral Benbow was a native of Shrewsbury, and quite a character.

The grounds of Old St.Chad's Church in Shrewsbury, where Benbow's ancestors are buried
The grounds of Old St.Chad’s Church in Shrewsbury, where Benbow’s ancestors are buried

Born in 1653 in Shrewsbury, John Benbow joined the navy at 25. This was a great time to be at sea – with Britain ‘ruling the waves’, both with merchant navy and the military fleet.

Admiral John Benbow
Admiral John Benbow by Godfrey Kneller (in collection of the National Maritime Museum)

Captain Benbow commanded several ships in the  Nine Years War against France (end of 17c), and fought the French in the West Indies during the War of the Spanish Succession (beginning of 18c), as well as fighting against pirates and serving in the merchant navy. By 1701 he became an admiral.

Benbow comes across as an outspoken and brave character, and his exploits at sea earned him public notoriety. It was his last action that cemented his reputation and put his name on a few pub signs across England.

 In 1702 he commanded several ships that fought the French off the coast of South America. Three captains refused to follow his orders to pursue enemy ships, while Benbow continued to command the battle, despite his leg being fractured by a shot. When the fleet returned to England, Benbow had the captains arrested and court-martialled.

He lived long enough to see them punished, but died soon afterwards, likely from the infection of his leg wound. Admiral Benbow is buried in Jamaica, but there’s a monument to him in St.Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury, paid for by public subscription, commemorating  “a skillful and daring seaman whose heroic exploits long rendered him the boast of the British Navy and still point him out as the Nelson of his times.”

And, of course, a pub or two, and the song.

Come all you seamen bold
and draw near, and draw near,
Come all you seamen bold and draw near.
It’s of an Admiral’s fame,
O brave Benbow was his name,
How he fought all on the main,
you shall hear, you shall hear.

Brave Benbow he set sail
For to fight, for to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail for to fight.
Brave Benbow he set sail
with a fine and pleasant gale
But his captains they turn’d tail
in a fright, in a fright.

Says Kirby unto Wade:
We will run, we will run
Says Kirby unto Wade, we will run.
For I value no disgrace,
nor the losing of my place,
But the enemy I won’t face,
nor his guns, nor his guns.

The Ruby and Benbow
fought the French, fought the french
The Ruby and Benbow fought the French.
They fought them up and down,
till the blood came trickling down,
Till the blood came trickling down
where they lay, where they lay.

Brave Benbow lost his legs
by chain shot, by chain shot
Brave Benbow lost his legs by chain shot.
Brave Benbow lost his legs,
And all on his stumps he begs,
Fight on my English lads,
‘Tis our lot, ’tis our lot.

The surgeon dress’d his wounds,
Cries Benbow, cries Benbow
The surgeon dress’d his wounds, cries Benbow.
Let a cradle now in haste,
on the quarterdeck be placed
That the enemy I may face
‘Til I die, ‘Til I die.

Ralph Vaughn Williams used this song as part of his arrangement of sea shanties for the English Folk Song Suite.

One of Benbow’s sons, also called John, followed his father in the navy, briefly serving with him, and then sailing with a merchant ship, when he was captured on Madagascar and later on wrote one of the first descriptions of this island.

Wikipedia gives us an interesting ‘Russian Connection’ –

Benbow signed a three-year lease on Sayes Court in June 1696, a house belonging to diarist John Evelyn. Six months later, Evelyn wrote to a friend complaining, “I have let my house to Captain Benbow, and have the mortification of seeing everyday much of my former labours and expenses there impairing for want of a more polite tenant.”[55] In January 1698, Tsar Peter of Russia arrived in London to study British shipbuilding and seamanship. He and his entourage were provided with Sayes Court to reside in during their stay by William III. The Russians spent three months in London before leaving to tour the country. Benbow promptly asked for reparations from the Treasury, in order to be able to reimburse Evelyn and recover his own losses. He complained that the Russians had caused considerable damage to his house, with “much of the furniture broke, lost or destroyed”.Christopher Wren was instructed to survey the property and declared it “entirely ruined”. Benbow lost “twenty fine paintings” and “several fine draughts and other designs relating to the Sea” from his personal property. The Treasury eventually allowed payment of £350 9s. 6d. in compensation