“Being a Time Traveller”

“Being a Time Traveller”

John Sparry

Report of Meeting of 9th September 2015

It was quite fitting, given the theme of John’s talk about Time Travel, that when Mike Perkin’s stood on stage to welcome Society members and visitors to the meeting that just 2 hours earlier Queen Elizabeth II had become the longest serving monarch in British History (63 years or, more precisely, 23,226 days, 16 hours and approximately 30 minutes - surpassing the reign of her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria) - an amazing and unlikely to be surpassed landmark in our history.

John, with his expansive imagination and knowledge of history, confessed to being somewhat hypnotised by the concept of time travel, mentioning Albert Einstien's Theory of Relativity, and quipping that “time does go more slowly when you spend it with relatives” (courtesy of Ken Dodd). In espousing the possibilities of Time Travel he referred to the views of many great philosophers such as HG Wells and Albert Einstein, contemplating if you could travel forwards so far in time to see the “sun go out” or paradoxically whether you could be your own father or indeed if you went back and killed your grandfather how that would stack up in ‘reality’. A further example given was that of going back in time to make a financial investment knowing it would make a huge fortune in time. John shared two claims to fame: having played the drums for Dr Who (John Pertwee) at Thatcher’s Venue and also knowing the cousin of Melvyn Bragg through him plastering his ceiling - these, he claimed (with tongue in cheek), qualified him to speak with some authority.

John gave a ‘pre-flight safety briefing’ before beginning the journey, drawing attention to ensure that you pack water, bleach and that good all-rounder cleaning product Vim, these being essential to combat flu epidemics, The Black Death and to safeguard one’s general health. Oh yes, you also need a snazzy hat!

So, off we set with seat belts fastened and imaginations set to ‘on’, travelling back to re-visit events through the centuries, referencing records of those that had personally witnessed historic events, many of which had connections back to Amblecote and its immediate environs.

We started in 1331 with insight from writings of a student who was travelling from Oxford to Durham. In those days bread was 4 old pence; beer 2 pence; wine 1½ pence. It was important to find good beer (it still is actually) because water in the 1300s was not in the best condition for drinking / bathing and in Dudley the water had especially bad reports and a cholera epidemic was rife - so don’t drink bad water, try beer instead! This was a time when a bed for the night would cost 2 pence but make sure you wash your legs before getting in due to fleas and bed bugs being inclusive.

In Himley (known in 1238 as Hemley), Henry III with a large retinue of men was heading towards Bobbington, a big sheep centre at the time, on his way to Bridgnorth. He repeated this journey in 1245 and 1256. He was accompanied by his wife, Eleanor of Provence, described by John as a “cheerful spender”. She inspired the words to the famous nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down …” as she had entitlement to the fees for using the bridge which, at the time, had 20 arches with the supporting pillars enclosing cellars to the houses on top of it.

Detail of Old London Bridge on the 1632 oil painting "View of London Bridge" by Claude de Jongh

Henry II also travelled to Bridgnorth in 1162 with Thomas à Beckett, Roman Catholic archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170; murdered following his opposition to Henry II's attempts to control the clergy.

Next we travel forwards to 1440, imagining the time travel machine to be a horse carriage driving through Lincolnshire, another major sheep centre, as Philip and Jane Haley. They were in Stourbridge too and started a chantry which taught the children of the workers. The original school was founded on 21 May 1430 and was subsequently known as the Chantry School of Holy Trinity. Ultimately a royal charter was granted to the school for establishment of a boy’s grammar school on 17 June 1552 by King Edward VI. Because of the charter the school could use its land ownership for its own benefit. John then went on to outline a family connection - Ambrose Sparry being headmaster of King Edward’s in the 1640’s. John Doddeley (Dudley) attended the school at the age of 14-15 and became Duke of Northumberland, conning his way into the ownership of Dudley Castle. John then went on to talk about the extraordinary life of Cardinal Reginald Pole who was born in Stourton Castle and whose life ended with execution along with thousands of others as Catholicism took over the country.

Reginald Pole                                                          John Dudley               
          Cardinal, Archbishop of Canterbury,                           1st Duke of Northumberland                     
      Primate of All England                                              1504- 22 August 1553             

Coming forwards again to 1502 we arrive in Ludlow at a time when young Prince Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragón. On April 23rd his funeral took place at Worcester Cathedral. The processional cortege had to endure cruel April weather, travelling down muddy lanes. Arthur's body, which had previously been embalmed, sprinkled with holy water and sheltered with a canopy, was carried out of Ludlow Castle and into St Laurence’s Church in Ludlow (very much worth a visit insists John) by various noblemen and gentlemen. On 25 April, Arthur's body was taken to Worcester Cathedral via the River Severn, in a "special wagon upholstered in black and drawn by six horses, also caprisoned in black”. Local folk thought that it was the end of royalty, what with hooded men, flaming torches and the vile weather. As was customary, Catherine did not attend the funeral. The Earl of Surrey acted as chief mourner. At the end of the ceremony, Sir William Uvedale, Sir Richard Croft and Arthur's household ushers broke their staves of office and threw them into the Prince's grave.

John then mused momentarily whilst in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth, the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York that raged across England in the latter half of the 15th century. The battle was won by the Lancastrians, their leader Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, by his victory became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty. His opponent, Richard III, the last King of the House of York, was killed in the battle. Historians consider Bosworth Field to mark the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, making it a defining moment of English and Welsh history. John thought that Salopian sickness (perhaps a strong form of flu or possibly a disease transmitted by mosquitos) weakened Richard’s army. Certainly records indicate that Richard was said “to have spent an uneasy night prior to the battle, the king was disturbed by ghoulish nightmares and looked gaunt and pale on rising”. Shakespeare depicts him as being haunted by the souls of his victims. Perhaps he was suffering delirium from his illness and consequently the course of history may have been changed by bites from small flies! It’s a theory, a personal one, but a theory that might be true - we’ll never know.

Himley has clearly seen a lot of important history pass through it on what is now known as the A449. Charles I came in 1645 with a force of men, recruited from Kidderminster & Dudley, passing through from Pensnett. They camped at Himley and then travelled further to take part in the Battle of Naseby at which they were defeated. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in January 1649 after a period of imprisonment on the Isle of Wight. At the end of the trial the 59 Commissioners (judges) found Charles I guilty of high treason, as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy". His beheading took place on a scaffold in front of the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall on 30 January 1649 for which the executioner was ironically paid with 20 pieces of silver and only lived for a year before dying.

Continuing with the Himley association John then produced a 6lb cannonball which had been given to him. It needed 4lb of gunpowder to fire it at a speed of around 700 feet per second. The ball did not explode but created massive damage to anything including people that were in the firing line, working a bit like a mini bouncing bomb. The cannon was named after an Asian falcon, the Saker.

Charles II, the “Merry Monarch”, traversed a route through Hagley, Himley, Wombourne and Boscobel (beautiful woodland) and actually stayed in a property on the corner of Kinver Street and the A491 main road approaching Wordsley. This was just after the Battle of Worcester, which took place on 3 September 1651 and was the final battle of the English Civil War. Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians defeated the Royalist, predominantly Scottish, forces of King Charles II. The 16,000 Royalist forces, of whom the vast majority were from Scottish regiments were overwhelmed by the 28,000 strong "New Model Army" of Cromwell. But it didn’t end there for the Scot’s for they left a legacy in Worcester - the Guildhall where they had camped required to be deodorized with resin and pitch! Following an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Severn near Madeley, Shropshire the Royalists were forced to retrace their steps and Charles took refuge at Boscobel, where he was met by Colonel William Careless, whose brother rented land from the Giffards at Broom Hall, Brewood. Careless and the King spent all day hiding in a nearby oak tree (which became known as The Royal Oak), from where he could see the patrols searching for him. Later Charles spent the night hiding in one of Boscobel’s Priest holes. He was moved from Boscobel to Moseley Old Hall, another Catholic redoubt near Wolverhampton, and ultimately escaped the region posing as the servant of Jane Lane of Bentley, whose family were also landowners at Broom Hall and at the Hyde in Brewood. So history and that journey is still reflected in many a public house name and also a further oak sapling was planted in 2001 by Prince Charles; it was grown from one of the Son's acorns and is thus a grandson of the Royal Oak. Saplings, certified as grown from the tree's acorns are actually available from the English Heritage shop at Boscobel House - go and make history!

Of course one of the most famous or instantly recollected historical events with a link to Himley is the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, the plotters passing through Stourbridge and as they learned of the plot's discovery, trying to enlist support along the way from London. Several of the plotters made a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House; in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Guy Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (each of the condemned, said Sir Edward Coke the Attorney General, would be drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. He was to be "put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". His genitals would be cut off and burnt before his eyes, and his bowels and heart then removed. Then he would be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of his body displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air"). Not a good way to go!

The Gunpowder Plotters of 1605

So, as we came to the end of what had been an informative and entertaining evening John briefly returned to himself in 1963, selling clocks to a man named Bob Cole to earn his living. He related a few amusing tales about Bob’s dog Bobby, and Bob’s reaction to a perceived small tip he was given (6d !) for carrying a heavy safe to a lady’s waiting car. Copies of John’s book are still available from his bookshop in Wall Heath, so pop along and he will be pleased to see you - you might even get a discount if you mention you are a member of Amblecote History Society! ( but make sure your subs have been paid first - Ed. )

John Sparry, Contemplating Time in 1963.

Mike Perkins gave a vote of thanks to John for his fascinating and thought provoking talk and the audience endorsed that through rapturous applause. Thank you John.

Lance Cartwright, Amblecote History Society, PR & Communications Officer.


Meeting Reports

to contact us

© amblecote history society 2015