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Two of my posts last week — here and here — discussed the role of British women in the Great War.

Today’s post concludes the series, which will be included on my Recipes/Health/History page.

Much of the information in this series is from Kate Adie’s Women of World War One, based on her book Fighting on the Home Front, and was shown on BBC2 on August 13, 2014.

Smokes for Soldiers

ww1 A fag afrter a Fight postcardCigarettes — ‘fags’ in the vernacular — were seen to be as important a ration for soldiers as food and medicine.

Lady Denman, so instrumental in furthering Britain’s Women’s Institutes and a suffragette, initiated one of the funds for Lord Kitchener’s programme called Smokes for Soldiers.

Some cigarette cards, which accompanied the packs, showed soldiers in rare moments of quiet contemplation. Those pictured here are from Tony Allen’s fascinating page, Cigarettes & Tobacco and WWI Soldiers.

ww1 Bamforth smokes song card set of three

Carrera’s Black Cat cigarettes had a series of women on their cards. These depicted ladies working in war effort occupations, among them mechanics, coal workers and game keepers. The backs of the cards had brief descriptions of their duties. These made the troops aware that women were doing their part in what was probably seen as being an unheard of and fascinating way. Adie said that the cards proved to be very popular.

Food production

As yesterday’s post on the Women’s Institutes showed, ensuring Britons had enough food was paramount.

The government had statistics showing that farmers’ wives were the most likely ‘to go insane’. Indeed, the WI was able to help them to get out and about, if only to their meetings.

Women working in agriculture now had a new-found purpose, ensuring they could alleviate food shortages.

A further effort was made with the government’s introduction of the Women’s Land Army. Twenty-three thousand young volunteers were sent around the country to till the land, pick fruit, milk cows and take on other responsibilities. Farmers objected that the women were wearing trousers. The government assured them that the workers were feminine and ladylike.

The Women’s Land Army also participated in the same activities during the Second World War, spearheaded by the aforementioned Lady Denman who was their honorary head, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Shipbuilding and dock work

Another controversial workplace for women were docks and shipyards.

Not surprisingly, male workers were concerned that low wages for inexperienced women would push their own pay packets downward. Unions ensured that any work arrangements were to be for the duration of the war only.

Women worked at several shipyards, including A&P in Tyne and Wear. The work that men previously did was divided up among women which made the pay and employment conditions more acceptable to long-standing male employees.


The Voluntary Aid Detachment was comprised of upper and upper middle class women volunteers who cared for soldiers returning from the Front. Downton Abbey explored this.

The late Lady Jane Grey was interviewed in 1986 and said that as a young Voluntary Aid Detachment member she watched a doctor extract a bullet from a wounded soldier.

Nurses were concerned that the volunteers might not be able to care for the soldiers properly and that their recovery might be compromised as a result. However, with the number of injured men returning, they grudgingly agreed that the volunteers were needed.

Where doctors were concerned, only a few hundred women were physicians at the beginning of the war. They treated only women and children.

Some medical school professors refused to have women in their classes. Kate Adie said that, where women were taught, no professor showed them diagrams of the male anatomy.

In Edinburgh, the pioneering doctor Elsie Inglis established the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, a suffragette-sponsored medical team that provided all-women units to treat the Allied wounded. They had sent teams to France, Serbia and Russia. When Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps, saying the Committee could offer their services, a representative from the War Office responded:

My good lady, go home and sit still.

Instead, the French government took Inglis up on her offer. She and her physicians went to Serbia under their aegis.

Two other suffragette physicians, Dr Flora Murray (left) and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson (right) had better luck inLouisa Anderson.jpg establishing the Endell Street Military Hospital in Covent Garden, London. Perhaps this is because Murray was Emmeline Pankhurst’s personal physician. Alternatively, it might be because the hospital was in London and not overseas. In any event, Endell Street opened in May 1915 and stayed open until August 1919.

The hospital, staffed entirely by women, treated 24,000 men and carried out 7,000 operations. A convoy of ambulances arrived every night with soldiers requiring triage and emergency treatment. One who was treated there said:

This hospital is a triumph for women.

The Great War showed everyone — from soldiers to the general public to the War Office — that women could indeed practise medicine every bit as well as men.

In 1917, both women were made CBEs — Commanders of the British Empire. Today, a home for the elderly, Dudley Court, has replaced the hospital in Endell Street. It, too, has a medical centre, but no doubt staffed by men and women.

The vote

By 1917, there was little women could not do — except vote.

In parliamentary debates, Winston Churchill, who was then a young MP, said that women’s interests were adequately represented by either their husbands or male family members.

However, with most men still fighting in Europe and elections looming, Prime Minister Lloyd George and MPs debated the subject again. On February 6, 1918, they approved the Representation of the People Act by an overwhelming majority: 385 – 55.

It was thought that had the measure not been approved, suffragette demonstrations and violence could continue and perhaps escalate. MPs feared that the Bolshevik revolution might drift to the UK.

The new act did not enfranchise every woman, although it did respond directly to what the suffragettes wanted. (Suffragists, on the other hand, wanted universal suffrage for all men and women.) This act granted the vote to all women over 30 who either owned property or who were married to a registered voter. Many women were still unable to vote, including former suffragettes and those who were working in the war effort.

In some ways, the act did more for men. Prior to that, many were also unable to vote, including the troops in the trenches. Afterward:

All males over 21 gained the vote in the constituency where they were resident. Males who had turned 19 during service in connection with the First World War could also vote even if they were under 21, although there was some confusion over whether they could do so after being discharged from service. The Representation of the People Act 1920 clarified this in the affirmative, albeit after the 1918 general election.

It should be noted that some men — e.g. those affiliated with universities and property owners who had two homes — had a plural vote. In the case of university affiliation, they could vote in both the consituency where they were studying and in their home one. A property owner could vote where he lived and also where he owned property. This was abolished in 1948 in another Representation of the People Act.

Universal women’s suffrage was granted in the 1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, which gave all women over 21 the right to vote. The suffragists’ cause was finally won.

Post-war women’s work

After the war ended, women employed outside the home feared for the future.

Men returning home from the war expected and got their jobs back.

Six thousand munitionettes marched on Parliament for the right to continued employment. However, the government sent the message that women should now return home to be good wives, mothers and homemakers. The government said their efforts were greatly appreciated, but that time had now ended.

The level of women working outside the home soon returned to pre-war numbers. Mary Macarthur, the women’s union leader, was disgusted. She died of cancer in 1921.

The Church

In matters ecclesiastical, the controversial pacifist Maude Royden, who became assistant preacher at the nonconformist City Temple (United Reformed Church) in 1917, was the first woman to preach from a Church of England pulpit. That event took place in 1921 at St Botolph’s Church in London.

In 1929, she started the official campaign for women’s ordination. In 1931, she was the first woman to earn a Doctor of Divinity degree. By then, she had already completed preaching tours around the world.


Although the suffragettes and women working in the war effort were not all saints, they were highly capable at a crucial time in history.

What the Great War demonstrated was women’s worth in the working — perhaps, especially, a man’s — world.

It would be difficult to put women back in their box afterwards.

It is also worth remembering that it also became necessary for women to earn a living. No other generation of women in recent history lost more fiancés and husbands than that one. Thousands of widows and spinsters needed to work to support themselves and their children. They had to man up.

And finally …

You can see IBT‘s collection of Getty photos (mustn’t copy!) of women — mostly British, some French — working in factories and as policewomen during the Great War. It’s a fascinating mix of posters and photographs.

Yesterday’s post began a series on British women working outside the home during the Great War.

You might wish to read it, if you have not already done so, for general background on their status.

Much of the information in this series is from Kate Adie’s Women of World War One, based on her book Fighting on the Home Front, and was shown on BBC2 on August 13, 2014.

Munitionettes – ‘canary women’

By 1915, women all over Britain were involved in some way in the war effort.

Those who had worked ‘in service’ — as domestic help — often found work in munitions factories. They were sometimes referred to as munitionettes.

Britain had a shortage of artillery shells, which came to light in the Shell Crisis scandal. Prime Minister Herbert Asquith appointed David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions. According to Kate Adie, Lloyd George saw a place for women in munitions factories. From behind the scenes he helped Emmeline Pankhurst to organise a demonstration of women asking to help in this regard. On the day, he appeared afterwards to speak to the women. Shortly thereafter, work on artillery shells increased rapidly, with the ladies’ help.

Working with explosives was dangerous. Death was always a possibility. The Rotherwas Munitions Factory in Hereford had a number of huts, each with thick concrete-reinforced walls. In case one hut exploded, the others would remain standing. The documentary showed us that, even today, slender tapers of TNT are still carefully bundled together and tied by hand.

Other hazards of munitions factory work included reactions to the powder: swollen faces, skin rashes and, worst of all, yellow skin. It was impossible not to breathe it in, to wash it off or to expel it. In fact, when these women walked into towns or villages to run errands, people were amazed to see their yellow skin and clothes. As such, they became known as ‘canary women’.

Adie interviewed Gladys Sangster, who was born in 1917. Her mother worked in a munitions factory. She had inhaled so much powder whilst working that Gladys was born yellow.

That said, the munitionettes felt as if they had been ‘let out of the cage’. They were outside of the home — theirs or someone else’s. They were earning their own salaries, which, by the end of the war, was three times that of what they had been earning as domestic servants. Furthermore, they were forming their own friendships with other women and enjoying their independence.

However, the spectre of death was as much over their heads as it was for the men fighting in Flanders.

The Germans had targeted British munitions factories. The end of a 12-hour shift did not mean the end of danger for these woman who were frequently evacuated, day and night.


Association and league football was eventually suspended during the Great War. Too many men were serving in Europe.

Factory women and those working elsewhere for the war effort started organising their own games locally, even though then, as now, football was considered to be harmful to female reproductive organs.

The government was keen to ensure women workers got plenty of food to keep them healthy. The Great War saw the creation of works canteens for this purpose. Women were delighted to eat a balanced meal at least once a day. For many, meat was a luxury, so they welcomed a regular portion of it with potatoes and vegetables.

The government was also eager to ensure the women got plenty of fresh air in their free time. Football was one way to keep the women active and refreshed. Cities and towns began organising female football teams. Sometimes, women played men. The men had to have their hands tied behind their backs so as not to have an unfair advantage. Male goalkeepers were allowed to have one hand free.

Bella Reay was a top goal scorer during the Great War. She scored well over 100 goals in one season. Adie spoke with her granddaughter who showed her Reay’s gold medal given to her after the Munition Girls Final.

Ladies football continued after the war until 1921, when the Football Association banned it, saying it was too dangerous.

Female police, toughness and night life

The Great War gave birth to the girls’ night out.

The general public were shocked to see groups of working women invading the previously male-dominated pubs in the evenings. It was immoral. Ladies didn’t do that sort of thing.

Furthermore, people commented on the toughness of the women. It’s not surprising, but I do wonder how it manifested itself later on through their children, especially daughters, and in their grandchildren.

Margaret Damer Dawson sought to resolve this moral panic. She was the step-daughter of Thomas de Grey, the 6th Baron Walsingham. She was very much involved with good causes concerning women, children and animals. During the early part of the war, she and Nina Boyle patrolled the streets of London helping Belgian women refugees who were in danger of becoming prostitutes. Boyle led a team of women volunteers. Dawson was her assistant. The group was known as Women Police Volunteers and operated by government permission. It gradually expanded its scope outside of London.

In 1915, Boyle left the Women Police Volunteers over a disagreement over an incident involving women workers in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Boyle did not wish to have curfews for adult women. Dawson did. This set the tone for the next few years, with Dawson’s new Women’s Police Service. The posts were unpaid and strictly volunteer.

Incidentally, policemen told their top brass that they had no desire to work alongside ‘copperettes’. Therefore, the male officers had their patrols and the women theirs.

The Women’s Police Service focussed on children in trouble and female factory workers. The women factory workers resented the women constables’ attempts to ‘keep them in line’.

However, at work, where there were male employees, conflict sometimes broke out between the sexes. Dawson’s constables were called into a few establishments for daily patrols and to quell any disputes between male and female employees. Adie says that a ‘class system’ of hierarchy was set up so that females deferred to their male superiors with no arguments.

Although this all sounds rather orderly and righteous, after the war ended, the government rejected requests from Dawson’s Women’s Police Service to join the newly-created teams of women constables, who were paid for their work. The government termed the volunteers ‘sour, middle-aged fanatics’.

Dawson, quite possibly, never recovered from the rejection. She died of a heart attack in 1920.

Next: More causes, more work — including medicine

It is difficult to detach developments on Britain’s home front during the Great War from women’s liberation.

With so many young men in the trenches, someone had to continue the work they were doing before conscription.

In 1914, the home front opened up. Women would never be the same again. The ensuing four years would demonstrate that women could be as active and as productive as men.

Last year — on August 13, 2014 — veteran BBC reporter Kate Adie made a one-hour documentary on this extraordinary period in history. It is called Kate Adie’s Women of World War One, based on her book Fighting on the Home Front, and was shown on BBC2. What follows is a summary of the programme, eye-opening in many respects.

Women’s status

At the beginning of the 20th century, women were few and far between in work outside the home. It was unimaginable that they would be doctors or lawyers. A woman had men to represent and serve her in all aspects of life.

Many men took Paul’s verses from 1 Corinthians 14 and applied them not only to public worship but also private life:

33 for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

Of course, most Britons — men and women — were scandalised by women who dared to speak out, protest and put their lives in danger: the suffragettes, led by Emmeline Pankhurst.

It should be remembered that Pankhurst and her supporters wanted women votes only for a segment of the population. They did not want all women to vote, only those who were educated or who were property owners. Suffragists, on the other hand, wanted universal suffrage.

The home front opens

In August 1914, Pankhurst faced a dilemma. Would she and the suffragettes support the war effort — siding with the government they protested against — or pursue their campaign?

Pankhurst decided to suspend the campaign. She renamed their journal The Suffragette to Britannia with the slogan:

For king, for country, for freedom.

Meanwhile, the government needed thousands of men to enlist in the military. They created a campaign aimed at women, who, as moral arbiters, would encourage — shame, perhaps — their sons, brothers, sweethearts and husbands into uniform.

The popular music hall star Vesta Tilley decided to dress as a soldier as part of her act and sing a song encouraging sign-up. This was a shocking development, because women did not dress like men — ever. A tie? Trousers? Hair shoved under a cap and hidden? Unthinkable. It went against the biblical order of men’s and women’s roles. When Tilley premiered the new song at a Royal Command Performance, Queen Mary and many other women lowered their heads. They could not bear to look at her.

Yet, the press picked up on Tilley’s new act and, before long, everyone knew about it. Her audiences cheered. She continued dressing as a soldier and singing her war effort song.

By September 2014, 200,000 men had enlisted. Not all of the numbers were thanks to Tilley. Announcements in what we call the small ads in the back of newspapers also helped. Poster campaigns aimed at women as well as men were also influential.

Women from the aristocracy and landed gentry led the way in getting involved. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry — FANY — was formed as was the Women’s Volunteer Reserve. Both groups had uniforms — jackets and skirts — but those in the Women’s Volunteer Reserve had to purchase their own. At a cost of £2 per uniform, it was a sum that only middle class women could afford.

Some of those women became ambulance drivers.

Women from the lower social classes volunteered to cook and clean.

The two Marys

Mary in tiara and gown wearing a choker necklace and a string of pearlsQueen Mary (left) started a needlework guild to encourage British women to knit warm clothes and accessories for the troops. These items included dressing gowns, pyjamas and hot water bottle covers.

The few women who were working in the textile and weaving industry objected.BCLM-Mary Macarthur 6b.jpg They belonged to the National Union of Women Workers, which safeguarded their employment and salaries. Mary Macarthur (right) headed the union and campaigned for equality in the workplace. She publicly objected to Queen Mary’s needlework guild as a threat to the union members.

Queen Mary wasted no time in summoning Macarthur to the palace. They had a long conversation. Both Marys were said to have ‘got on famously’ by the end of the meeting. They were both women of strong character and determination. Queen Mary asked Macarthur for more information on the plight of poor women forced to work. It wasn’t long before Queen Mary began visiting charities and hospitals for the poor. The press dubbed her the Charitable Bulldozer.

Tomorrow: women at work

Whilst the Great War raged on in 1915, on the home front, Britain’s first Women’s Institute was founded in Anglesey, Wales, in an attempt to keep families better fed.

Inspired by Canada

Our Women’s Institutes (WI) took their inspiration and organisational structure from Canada, where Adelaide Hoodless had founded that nation’s WI in 1897 as a way for wives of Farmers Institute members to share domestic science skills and foster friendship. By 1905, Ontario alone had 130 WI branches.

A Canadian lady and enthusiastic WI member, Madge Watt, moved to Wales in 1913. Two years later, she met John Nugent Harris. Harris was Secretary of the AOS — Agricultural Organisations Society. The Development Commission, a government body, funded the AOS, the purpose of which was to create farmers’ co-operatives for wartime food production.

Watt told Harris about the WI in Canada. Harris, aware that the AOS needed more people, asked her to establish the WI in Britain. Watt’s first meeting took place in Anglesey in September 2015. However, despite her enthusiasm and persuasion beforehand, only a handful of women attended. Those who were reluctant to take part felt uncomfortable being around others of different social classes.

The Great War years

Before long, however, Watt’s organisational and persuasive skills attracted more women. At the time, it was unusual for women to leave the house other than to run errands. Housework, cooking and tending a garden or part of the farm took up most of the day. Those who attended Watt’s meetings enjoyed the friendships they were forming with other housewives. One woman told another and a movement was born: one that not only helped the individual, but also the nation at a time when food was essential.

By the end of 2015, Wales had several chapters of the WI — and Watt had already branched out into England, where the organisation was established in Dorset, Sussex and Kent. Watt had taken the WI from one coast to another — Wales to Kent — within three months!

In October 2016, the WI chapters were so numerous that the AOS set up a subcommittee to oversee them. The AOS appointed Lady Gertrude Denman as head of this subcommittee. In September 2017, the Treasury decided that funding for the the growing WI movement should be transferred from the AOS to the Women’s Branch of the Food Production Department of the Board of Agriculture (which also organised the Women’s Land Army). At that point, Lady Denman, not wishing for the WIs to come under government control, was able to negotiate an agreement with the Board of Agriculture whereby the Board would fund the establishment of new chapters which would then become self-financing via members’ dues.

On October 16, 1917, delegates from 137 WI chapters and Lady Denman set up a central committee of management and created a constitution as well as set of rules. She was elected to head the WI.

The WI stipulated from the beginning that it was not to be politically or religiously aligned. That meant — and still means — that every woman can join. The objectives are to:

a) Study home economics; b) Provide a centre for educational and social intercourse and for all local activities; c) Encourage home and local industries; d) Develop co-operative enterprises; e) Stimulate interest in the agriculture industry.

A Scottish WI was established in 1917, known as the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute. Catherine Blair had a harder time there than Madge Watt in Wales. Women in East Lothian (outside Edinburgh) only met up with other ladies once a year at the local fête.

Although home economics has always been central to the WI, other topics discussed at early meetings varied by region. In England and Wales, lessons and tips on resoling boots from old tyres were popular. In Scotland, women were more interested in learning how to butcher pig’s carcasses.

During the Great War, the WI helped to bring new methods of food conservation to British housewives. Incredible as it might seem, conserving fruit at home was virtually unknown in 1916. The WI was able to get new American sterilising equipment shipped across the Atlantic. All 199 chapters expressed an interest in receiving and giving lessons on this new preserving technique.

The WI promoted the notion of foraging, although that was not what it was called then. Women understood the value of fruits growing in the wild and how they could be used for food. Some of this produce was conserved in the new American style. Other fruits were made into jam.

If there is one thing Britons identify the WI with is jam making. The WI demonstrated how to increase the yield of jam:

… for those women who had access to a ‘copper’, the quantities that could be made were enormous. Mrs Dunstan, writing in the WI’s own magazine, Home and Country in July 1919, recalled ‘We could make nearly one hundred pounds of jam in it at a time, and as the fire would burn anything such as rubbish, peels etc. our fuel bill for making six and a half tons of jam was less than two pounds.’


War time also brought out the best of women’s craftwork skills and ability to ‘make do and mend’.

In the summer of 1917, the WI opened a crafts stall at the National Economy Exhibition in Hyde Park, London. The public saw how experienced and creative members were in making rugs, toys, baskets as well as fur and leather accessories.

Today, the WI is Britain’s largest voluntary women’s organisation with 212,000 members in 6,600 local groups. Men are also welcome to attend. Although the focus is very much on domestic science, a number of chapters are also career-oriented, as many members work outside the home.

Centenary banquet

On October 10, 2015, a centenary banquet at the Drapers’ Hall in London was held to honour the WI.

Chefs, some of them Michelin-starred, competed to prepare winning dishes for the four-course meal. The competition was shown from start to finish on the BBC’s Great British Menu, which started in August with weekly regional heats around the country.

We watched every episode. What surprised us is that so many of the chefs attempted to reproduce WI recipes. Time and time again, the chefs judging their efforts warned them about trying to do something the WI members are all expert at — jams, cakes and bread! Friday’s episodes, which determined a regional winner, were judged by three other notables in the food world — as well as a WI member.

This is an indicative comment from one of the WI judges when it came time to select the chefs cooking at the banquet:

… guest judge Mary Quinn turned up and said that the WI has no time for drizzles or smears.

If I had been competing, I would have taken more of a classic approach and prepare dishes outside of the WI’s purview, rather than cheap cuts of meat and Scotch eggs. It was a banquet, not Sunday lunch. Yet, on the day, every dish looked breathtaking! The WI members and supporters attending loved every bite.

Best wishes to the WI for their continuing work in promoting British produce, especially dairy, as well as their campaigns for wildlife, particularly bees.

Remembrance Sunday, commemorated at the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall, is always a moving experience, even if we watch it at home on BBC1.

This year, on November 8, 2015, 10,500 old soldiers, women’s auxiliaries, nurses, many others who served the United Kingdom in conflict and their families participated in the march-past.

One wreath-bearer was 100 years old. Another was 89, the youngest in his band of brothers from the Second World War. Yet another was blind. Those who could walk did so in military fashion. Those who were in wheelchairs sat up straight. Many of these men are elderly, some in great pain, no doubt. Yet, just as they did on the battlefield or on ship, they gave not a thought for themselves. They came to remember.

The array of berets, caps, medals, uniforms and wreaths is an incredible sight to behold. They really bring home a sense of history, heritage and shared memory that all these men and women have. Some make a weekend out of it, getting together with friends in the days beforehand to share a meal and remember their fallen comrades as well as the happier times.

The BBC’s Sophie Raworth interviewed a number of the veterans. One said that, during the two-minute silence, a flood of emotional memories raced through his mind: recalling friends who were killed, his relief at being liberated from a German POW camp in 1945 and the incredible joy he felt arriving home that year to embrace his family, whom he thought he’d never see again.

Others said that the two-minute silence completely enveloped Whitehall, seemingly unimaginable with the thousands of spectators lining the march-past route between the Cenotaph and Horse Guards Parade. It was solemn and sad. Yet, afterward, the veterans did as they always do, remember the good times, even in battle. Their comradeship, good humour and dignity are incredible things to see. We have been blessed to have their determination, integrity and courage. That goes doubly for those these 10,500 men and women travelled from far and wide — including Africa — to remember: those who gave their todays that we might have a tomorrow.

Like millions of other Britons, I wear my poppy with gratitude and reflection for those who died for our freedom.

May we never forget the sacrifices those brave men and women made on our behalf.

May we observe two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day, November 11 — Armistice Day — when the Great War came to an end. It had horrors no one could have contemplated. It was to be the war that ended all wars. And yet, the Second World War followed only two decades later.

In closing, if you have not seen a Remembrance Sunday ceremony, these two YouTube videos will give you a better idea of the sheer scale and ceremony involved.

The first is from 2014 and shows the beginning of the wreath laying, with the Queen placing the first at the foot of the Cenotaph:

The second shows the march-past — from 2011 — which follows the wreaths laid by the Queen, members of the Royal Family, politicians and Commonwealth dignitaries:

As we are on the subject of Downton Abbey and as Armistice Day is commemorated on November 11, it is worthwhile looking at how the Great War was the last nail in the coffin for the English country estate.

Today’s younger Britons as well as foreign tourists might think that the great estates were always few in number. However, that would be a false assumption to make.

We have this impression because these homes and gardens are open to the public. Therefore, we ‘know’ what we can visit.

One lesser-known benefit of Downton Abbey was a renewed research into the decline of the English country estate. Several books have been written since the series has been running. Among them are John Martin Robinson’s Felling the Ancient Oaks and Pamela Horn’s Country House Society: The private lives of England’s upper class after the First World War.

A number of online and offline articles have also addressed the subject.

19th century struggles

The Daily Beast discussed Robinson’s Felling the Ancient Oaks in 2012. We discover that many estates, based on agriculture, livestock and tenant farmers were already suffering in the early 19th century.

George Eliot wrote about the state of the estate in her 1832 novel, Felix Holt, the Radical (emphases mine):

the fortune that was getting larger in the imagination of constituents was shrinking a little in the imagination of its owner. It was hardly more than a hundred and fifty thousand; and there were not only the heavy mortgages to be paid off, but also a large amount of capital was needed in order to repair the farm-buildings all over the estate, to carry out extensive draining, and make allowances to incoming tenants, which might remove the difficulty of newly letting the farms in a time of agricultural depression. The farms actually tenanted were held by men who had begged hard to succeed their fathers in getting a little poorer every year, on land which was also getting poorer, where the highest rate of increase was in the arrears of rent.

The reason for the decrease in income, the article says, was because of new innovations in food production overseas. This gave rise to cheap imports from as far away as the United States.

In 1894, the Liberal Party were in government. They instituted estate duty, a tax still with us to this day.

As with all taxes, it steadily increased. It hit large estates particularly hard. Heirs had to sell their land in parcels to make pay the duty and ends meet after a parent’s death. Estate duty, The Daily Beast explains:

proved frequently an expense that estates could not afford, and propelled increasing sales of land in a market where fewer and fewer buyers were prepared to purchase en bloc. Lots were inevitably broken up, and a large number of these properties were lost.


The examples detailed in Felling the Ancient Oaks almost invariably entail the loss of the main house, but make clear that the estate was more than this—not merely the home but also “gardens, parkland, farms, and woods with an attendant village or cottages, and a church with family tombs.”

These were vast landholdings. Some family land dated from the time of the Norman Conquest. Other estates were built on old abbeys destroyed in Henry VIII’s time. Later redistributions also occurred.

Even some of the estates open today which stretch as far as the eye can see are smaller than they were originally. The families have had to sell of large parcels to outside concerns, for example, British Rail (as was, for new railway lines), huge amusement parks, hoteliers or home developers.

Downton’s story explained

Owners of large estates devoted their lives to running them. Of course, not all were responsible farmers and landlords, but those who were, such as Lord Grantham and his son-in-law Matthew Crawley, had a great emotional and intellectual investment in responsible farming and associated tenancy.

The Tax Foundation has an excellent analysis of what happened at Downton. By 1922, Lady Cora’s own money was part of the estate and would be passed on. It was no longer hers. Lord Grantham had already regrettably lost money to a Ponzi scheme. Salaries were rising at a time when land revenues were decreasing.

Matthew came to the rescue and bailed out the estate. He and Lord Grantham signed a contract to co-own the estate.

When Matthew died in the car accident, his half of estate tax came due. (Lord Grantham’s half would come due upon his demise.) At that time:

by the period of Season 3 and 4 we’re operating under the Finance Act 1919. Rates were on a sliding scale up to 40 percent on estates exceeding £2 million, with only a tiny £100 exemption (about $8,000 today). Exemptions for amounts given to spouses or charity didn’t come about until 1974, so the full tax is due.

The Tax Foundation directs readers to Sam Brunson’s site which estimates what might have been due:

We discover that Matthew didn’t have a formal will. Without such a will, apparently the estate would pass to George.[fn1] Before Matthew took his trip to Scotland, though, he drafted a letter to Mary. In that letter, he tells Mary that he intends to write a will when he returns from Scotland, and he intends for her to be his sole heir. Although the letter was not a will, he had it witnessed by two clients and, with its testamentary intent, the family’s attorney says it will function as a will.

How sensible, right? Maybe not. At dinner, after the letter/will is read, Lord Grantham says:

“I’m not sure how sensible it is. If the letter is valid, the estate will have to pay death duties twice before it reaches little George.”

So what would the death duties on Downton Abbey have been? It depends on the value of the estate. Movoto estimates that it would have been worth $34.7 million in 1920 (which is roughly the right time period). If, in 1920, one pound were worth about $3.50, the estate would have been worth nearly £10 million. At that value, the estate would have been subject to a marginal tax rate of 40%. Matthew’s estate would have owed taxes of nearly £4 million.

Furthermore, despite Matthew’s laudable idealism, pragmatism is an essential part of estate planning:

If he had left it to his son, it would have only faced one level of 40% Estate Duty. But now it goes through the tax system twice, first when he leaves it to Mary, then again when Mary leaves it to George. By failing to plan, the family may ultimately have to pay somewhere around £8 million, rather than the £4 million it would owe had the estate passed straight to George.[fn4]

That said, in the end:

apparently, Mary gets half of the estate. I don’t know what happens to the other half. If it goes to George, that half will only face one level of taxation.

The situation could have been avoided had Matthew taken financial advice early in his marriage and then made a will.

20th century developments

In 1999 —  before Downton AbbeyThe Guardian had an informative article on the sale of great estates in the 20th century.

Patrick Collinson went back to the archives of Country Life magazine — which, incidentally, would have been a staple at Downton — to research the situation in 1900. The first edition published that year featured 13 properties offered by estate agents Knight, Frank and Rutley. Today, the firm is known as Knight Frank. Of those 13, today only one still exists, although it is now an adult residential college. The others had been sold over the century to house developers, hoteliers and golf course developers.

But, as Collinson notes, even in 1900, the estate agents were already advertising Avon Castle in Ringwood, Hampshire, as prime land for houses. And that is exactly what happened. The main house was demolished. Executive homes with swimming pools now occupy the site. Interestingly, in 1999, Knight Frank sold one of these homes for £600,000.

Country Life readers had no idea at the turn of the century how dramatically their lives — and estates — would change. Articles from the 1900 editions focussed on the Boer War and tenant farmers’ housing.

The rest of the century, as we see in Downton Abbey, and continuing in subsequent decades, offered no relief:

The first world war, death duties, the 1930s depression, second world war requisitioning and higher taxes under the first Labour government of 1945-1951 combined to destroy many of the big turn-of-the-century estates. ‘The staff needed to run these huge places were no longer available after 1918, and in the inter-war depression years many of the great houses ran on a shoestring,’ says a spokesman for FPD Savills. After the second world war many gave up the ghost and in remote areas houses were simply demolished.

Dr Pamela Horn’s aforementioned book, which The Telegraph reviewed in February 2015 gave more examples:

In 1918 Sir Francis Ashley-Corbett sold his entire 4,500-acre Everleigh Manor house and estate, in Wiltshire. The previous year Lord Pembroke had sold one of his estates in the same county, and went on to dispose of 8,400 acres of the Wilton estate, also in Wiltshire, with many of his tenant farmers taking the opportunity to buy their holdings.

Horn’s book, The Telegraph says, explains landowners’ mixed fortune during the Great War:

The relative hardship experienced by Britain’s aristocracy during that period began during the First World War itself when conscription led to shortages in the domestic labour needed to maintain their large stately homes.

There were also growing shortages of food and fuel, although the landed gentry were able to grow fruit and vegetables, and raise poultry and livestock on their country estates, unlike the mass of the population.

However, their tenant farmers still had to be paid. Times were difficult and resources, including money, had to be carefully managed.

The Tax Foundation tells us that, in 1923, Highclere Castle — where Downton Abbey was filmed — was nearly crippled by estate tax which was due when the 5th Earl of Carnarvon died:

£500,000 (about $40 million today) in death duties … suggesting an estate valuation of about £1.5 million (about $120 million today). One-third is a pretty hefty tax bite, and led to the dismantling of many English estates as they sold land and possessions to pay the tax bill. Countess Carnarvon held a huge auction of art and jewelry in 1926 to raise enough to keep the house and land intact.

Later, fortunes continued to decline for many. Although we think of 1929’s Wall Street Crash as an American event, The Telegraph says it had repercussions on this side of the pond, too:

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 had a dramatic impact on those members of the aristocracy who had invested heavily in the stock market, in the hope of maintaining their privileged lifestyle following the war.

Sir Arthur and Lady Sybil Colefax lost their life savings – she reinvented herself as a fashionable interior designer in partnership with Peggy Ward, the Countess Munster – while the wealthy heiress Mabelle Wichfeld, who had once employed a retinue of 80 servants at Blair Castle, in Perthshire, was so short of cash on her death in 1933 that her funeral at Savoy Chapel, next to London’s Savoy Hotel, was paid for by friends.

The Daily Beast states that some landowners sold their estates to the military. Chicksands in Bedfordshire served as a hospital during the Great War. Later, the Royal Air Force built a joint RAF and US Air Force base on the estate.


Whilst many, including the BBC — in a recent documentary on the upstairs-downstairs scene of the early 20th century (BBC4, October 2015) — deride the wealthy for having more money and land than they needed, they, too, had family and emotional hardship to cope with.

Everyone’s misfortune is relative.

I have scheduled this post, for reasons stated below, to appear before the final regular episode of Downton Abbey, which airs tonight in the UK.

This sixth and final series will be shown in the US (PBS) starting on January 3, 2016.

As most of my readers are American, I would be grateful if anyone commenting from the British Isles could avoid spoilers. Thank you in advance!

Setting expectations

Not surprisingly, before series six started, a number of newspaper articles appeared.

Michele Dockery, who plays Lady Mary, told InStyle why the series is ending in 1925:

I think, collectively, everyone felt this was the right time. And I think if we had kept going, we’d have gone into maybe, possibly the [G]eneral [S]trike and then onwards. And then you’re into the 30s. And then it becomes kind of Gosford Park territory. And then there’s a whole other kind of shift, a new era, a new decade. So then, when can you stop?

Whilst there is plenty of scope for a sequel series, or perhaps a film — possibly set in the 1950s when many estates were on their knees — Dockery said of the possibility of reprising her role:

… I think the show is an ensemble, so there has to be a collective decision in that, I think. I don’t think you could just grab two characters and create a movie. I think it has to be the show. So, we’ll see.

Executive Producer Gareth Neame told The Guardian that ITV wanted the series to continue. So did PBS, according to Masterpiece chief Rebecca Eaton. Carnival and Masterpiece had mooted the idea of seven series, however, discussions with the cast revealed that six and a final Christmas special (timed for the British) would be the limit.

Neame hinted at a satisfying conclusion, despite the new postwar era with its melancholic undertones.

The genius and writer behind the show — Sir Julian Fellowes — is now working on a series which takes place in early 20th century New York. The Gilded Age centres around the robber barons. Neame is collaborating on it with him.

Jim Carter, who plays Mr Carson, told The Telegraph that the final series and concluding special bring viewers down gently:

It’s just life changing. And none of the maids want to live in (the house), they want to live in the village, so they can see their boyfriends. They want to work in shops. Nobody wants to work in service any more. That way of life – we’re saying goodbye to it. And this series is slowly and effectively – very effectively, the Christmas special is a heartbreaker of an episode. Not because of tragedy, but because you’re saying goodbye to a way of life, and these characters that people have grown very fond of.

Just as scriptwriters and directors can build viewers up for the next episode or series, they can also prepare one for The End. Series six effectively does this, as Carter/Carson says.

Sir Julian Fellowes

In 2012, prior to the third series aired in the US, Vanity Fair featured an interview with Sir Julian Fellowes.

Fellowes, some would say, is a late bloomer. He worked for years as a character actor and novelist prior to writing scripts in the 1990s. Most screenwriters have not only a hard time breaking into the industry but also staying in it. Since film began, directors — Alfred Hitchcock, to name but one — have been notorious for chopping and changing scriptwriters.

Fortunately for Fellowes, he happened to meet Ileen Maisel over 20 years ago. Maisel had just opened the Paramount Pictures office in London. She envisaged developing John Fowles’s Daniel Martin into a movie and was impressed by Fellowes’s knowledge of the novel.

When that project did not come to fruition, Maisel introduced Fellowes to actor/director-producer Bob Balaban. (I remember when a young Balaban played character roles in 1960s US sitcoms. I’m getting old!) Balaban and Maisel wanted to involve Fellowes in another project, a film adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds.

That, too, foundered, but an impressed Balaban introduced Fellowes to none other than Robert Altman. The meeting took place on the cusp of the 21st century. The film was Gosford Park. Neither Balaban nor Altman knew much about country houses, hence Fellowes’s presence:

“So I got Julian in a room with Robert,” Balaban said, “and Julian starts talking, and he knows everything that happens in a British house of that kind. Both Bob and I were floored.” On the wrong side of 50, at least in industry terms, Fellowes had won his first screenwriting job, with one of the best directors in the history of the medium.

“I am that rare person who owes everything to one guy, and that guy is Bob Altman,” Fellowes said. “He fought the studio to keep me on, and he never once said, ‘This is my 18th film and I’m a world-famous director. Who the Sam Hill are you?’ It was just two overweight men talking and occasionally arguing.”

That the toking, anarchy-fostering maverick auteur worked so harmoniously and fruitfully with the necktied monarchist is a testament to the character of both men.

Fellowes knows of what he spoke then — and now. Members of his family are listed in Burke’s Landed Gentry (not to be confused with Burke’s Peerage). Julian’s birth was similarly listed. His father, Peregrine, was a civil engineer and diplomat. He worked for Shell Oil and the Foreign Office.

Peregrine had a difficult upbringing. His father died in 1915 in the Great War. His mother became interested in dating, so Peregrine was left to be cared for by maiden aunts, one of whom was the inspiration for Lady Violet:

The eldest of them, Isie, is the model for Maggie Smith’s dowager characters in both Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.

“Aunt Isie had this sort of acerbic wit, yet she was kind,” Fellowes said. “Lots of those lines Maggie has, like ‘Bought marmalade! Oh dear, I call that very feeble,’ and ‘What is a weekend?’—they came straight from her.”

Fellowes is not terribly different in some respects. When Vanity Fair‘s interviewer David Kamp took coffee with him, Kamp held the bowl of the cup rather than the handle:

Don’t think he didn’t clock this, the slightest Violet-ish wince of “Oh, dear” in his eyes.

When the two were at Ealing Studios in west London, where many of the interior scenes were filmed, Kamp saw how historically accurate Fellowes was:

“Liz,” he said, addressing Liz Trubridge, one of the show’s producers, “we’ve got to get the glasses of water off the table. They’re having tea. They wouldn’t have water there. A glass of water is a modern thing.” The water glasses were removed, and the scene, now more period-authentic, resumed shooting.

Whilst politically he is Conservative, Fellowes intelligently embraces the present and honours tradition. That blend of perspectives has helped him to propel Downton Abbey to an iconic status among television series of the early 21st century.

It is interesting that Fellowes’s favourite television programme is Coronation Street, Britain’s longest running televised soap opera which takes place in a working class area of Northern England. Four actors from Corrie, as we call it, are or were in Downton. They are Anna (Joanne Froggatt), Lady Violet’s maid Denker (Sue Johnston), Thomas (Rob James-Collier) and O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran).

My predictions

I debated whether to make my predictions public.

On the one hand, I could be wrong. However, it would not be the first time.

On the other, if I were correct, I would have been annoyed not to publish them beforehand!

So, here goes.

Please note that I have not seen the ITV1 trailer (coming attractions) for the final episode nor have I read spoilers, which are everywhere at the moment.

I predict that by the end of the concluding special (Christmas here, 2016 in the US):

1/ Lady Mary will remarry. Her husband will be someone she — and we — have known for a very long time. Her husband is someone who knows her. She can trust and confide in him. He will be a good father to young George. Mary and he also can run the estate in tandem and in full agreement with each other. In other words, Tom.

2/ Lady Edith will meet with or hear from Michael Gregson (ably played by Charles Edwards), the father of her child, Marigold. He will turn out not to have been killed by the Nazis. He will reveal — or someone else will — that he was in hiding all these years, perhaps working as a spy. We will either see them get engaged or be left with the understanding that they will be soon.

3/ We will either see or be left with the impression that Anna delivered a healthy first child, much to Bates‘s delight.

4/ We will discover that Baxter is Thomas’s mother and that Thomas knows who is father is. We will understand how and why Thomas bears a grudge against both.

The Thomas Question

What will happen to the odious Thomas? He has made many of the nicer servants’ lives a misery over the years, especially when O’Brien worked there.

Given that homosexuality was, at the time, illegal and considered as the height of moral depravity, it is no mystery that Carson, in particular, views him with disdain.

I doubt he will be made head butler at Downton.

But what is the point of the character? We can but wonder why he has not yet met with either a Damascene conversion or dramatic death.

It will be hard for him to shake his dodgy reputation.

Isolated, lonely, angry, he could commit or attempt suicide — also illegal at the time.

I don’t have an answer other than to link his future — or demise — with Baxter in some way.

Final memory

Along with countless millions of others around the world, I shall miss Downton Abbey greatly.

Even the title sequence was endearing — absolutely perfect:

Sincere thanks to Julian Fellowes, Rebecca Eaton, Masterpiece, Carnival Productions as well as all the many actors, actresses and crew members who made several Sunday nights a year sheer televisual pleasure!

October 31 is widely celebrated in North America.

Hallowe’en has not managed to recuperate its roots in Europe, despite efforts by marketers and the media to encourage trick-or-treating.

In England, at least, households not wishing to participate keep their hallway and front door lights off. Generally speaking, trick-or-treaters respect this gesture and stay away.

Although I run the risk of over-simplifying the origins of Hallowe’en — All Hallows Eve/Evening, hence the traditional contraction — I may expand on it next year at this time. My pagan readers are welcome to contribute in the comments, which will stay open for a fortnight.


During the Middle Ages, a tradition called mumming developed whereby a group of people dressed up, went door-to-door or to a venue such as a pub to perform a short skit or play. They did this at various times through the year.

So far, historians have only been able to find scripts from plays which date back to the 18th century, when mumming reached its peak. It continued through the 19th century, at least in the British Isles, then faded out.

The scarcity of written records makes it difficult for researchers to pinpoint the exact origin of mumming. Wikipedia says:

Early scholars of folk drama, influenced by James Frazer‘s The Golden Bough, tended to view these plays as debased versions of a pre-Christian fertility ritual, but some modern researchers discount this view preferring a late mediaeval origin (for which there is no evidence either).[3]

That said:

Mummers and “guisers” (performers in disguise) can be traced back at least to the Middle Ages, though when the term “mummer” appears in medieval manuscripts it is rarely clear what sort of performance was involved. In 1296, for example, the festivities for Christmas and for the marriage of Edward I’s daughter included “fiddlers and minstrels” along with “mummers of the court”.[2] At one time, in the royal courts, special allegorical plays were written for the mummers each year — for instance at the court of Edward III, as shown in a 14th-century manuscript, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.[citation needed]

In any event — apart from mumming — the Middle Ages also saw the rise of souling, the practice of poor children and adults going door-to-door offering to pray or sing a Psalm for the dead in return for a soul cake. This took place on Hallowmas, which had pagan origins (emphases mine below):

The custom of trick-or-treating at Halloween may come from the belief that supernatural beings, or the souls of the dead, roamed the earth at this time and needed to be appeased.

It may have originated in a Celtic festival, held on 31 October–1 November, to mark the beginning of winter. It was Samhain in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and Calan Gaeaf in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. The festival is believed to have pre-Christian roots. The Church made the date All Saints’ Day in the 9th century. Among Celtic-speaking peoples, it was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or fairies (the Aos Sí), and the souls of the dead, came into our world and were appeased with offerings of food and drink. Similar beliefs and customs were found in other parts of Europe.

It is suggested that trick-or-treating evolved from a tradition whereby people impersonated the spirits, or the souls of the dead, and received offerings on their behalf. S. V. Peddle suggests they “personify the old spirits of the winter, who demanded reward in exchange for good fortune”.[2] Impersonating these spirits or souls was also believed to protect oneself from them.[3]

At least as far back as the 15th century, there had been a custom of sharing soul cakes at Hallowmas.[4] People would visit houses and take soul cakes, either as representatives of the dead, or in return for praying for their souls.[5] It was known as “souling” and was recorded in parts of Britain, Flanders, southern Germany and Austria.[6] Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of “puling [whimpering or whining] like a beggar at Hallowmas.”[7] The wearing of costumes, or “guising”, at Hallowmas, had been recorded in Scotland in the 16th century[8] and was later recorded in other parts of Britain and Ireland.[9]

The Soul — Souling — Cake

The Semper Eadem blog, which concerns all things Elizabethan, has a recipe for souling cakes, for those who are interested in making these for friends or family.

The recipe post explains:

A Soul Cake (or Souling Cake) is a small round cake, like a biscuit, which is traditionally made for All Souls’ Day (the 2nd November, the day after All Saint’s Day) to celebrate the dead

Traditionally each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern day Trick or Treating, which now falls on Halloween (two days before All Souls’ Day). The tradition of ‘souling’ and giving out Soul Cakes on All Souls’ Day originated in Britain and Ireland hundreds of years ago, from giving out bread on All Souls’ Day during the devout Middle Ages …

Soul cakes and breads were often made by drawing a cross shape into the dough before baking, signifying their purpose as Alms for the dead.

The recipe given is one from the Victorian era when many ingredients that were very expensive in the Middle Ages became more widely available. However, when the tradition first started:

Indeed, any spice at this time, sugar included, would have been a prized commodity that primarily only the wealthy could afford. To go from door to door, praying for the souls of the departed in return for these sweet treats, would have been viewed by generations of poor children as quite a good trade-off.

The Reformation

The Reformation is synonymous with the printing press. Even if one could not read, one could at least go to church to hear the Bible read in one’s own language, rendering it comprehensible for many.

As a result, where Protestantism took root, the government and Reformers frowned upon earlier syncretic practices. In England:

Henry VIII changed the perceptions of the kingdom forever when he broke from Rome. A guiding force in his reformation of the Catholic Church was the destruction of what he and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell scorned as “superstition.” Saints’ statues were removed; murals telling mystical stories were painted over; shrines were pillaged; the number of feast days was sharply reduced so that more work could be done during the growing season. “The Protestant reformers rejected the magical powers and supernatural sanctions which had been so plentifully invoked by the medieval church,” writes Keith Thomas. The story in The Crown is told from the perspective of a young Catholic novice who struggles to cope with these radical changes.

Yet somehow Halloween, the day before All Saints’ Day, survived the government’s anti-superstition movement, to grow and survive long after the Tudors were followed by the Stuarts

Recent practice

Trick-or-treating still exists in parts of the British Isles and elsewhere in Europe. Ancient traditions live on, even if they are not widespread.


An Irishwoman, Bernadette, wrote on a 2009 Telegraph blog that, where she lives, October 31 is a religious rather than secular celebration:

Round here, all the kids dress up as saints, have their mates round, run riot, prize for the best re-enactment of the life story of the saint you’ve come as, Mass, Adoration, pizzas….. which takes us nicely into All Saints Day. Come on — who celebrates Hallowee’en anymore as ghosts witches and ghoulies ? It’s so passé, dear. Keep up. Catholics have moved on a bit recently.


Scotland has the practice of guising — disguising.

I have only seen it once, around Guy Fawkes’ (Bonfire) Night (November 5), when I was approached on Princes Street in Edinburgh one evening by a little girl and her mother. The little girl was in ancient dress, held out a small bag and said:

Penny for the guy.

I gave her a couple of copper coins, she thanked me nicely and we all went on our way.

Another Telegraph reader, johnofcroy, shared his childhood memories:

As a boy growing up in Scotland we used to dress up at Halloween as “guisers”, carry a hollowed out turnip and call on the neighbours when, in exchange for a song or dance, we would be given some sweets. This was in the sixties when American trick or treat culture was totally unknown to us. So although there may be no English tradition of guising at Halloween there most certainly was a long Scottish tradition.

Northern England

An English reader, crownarmourer, recalled going around with his friends carrying a moggy — a jack o’lantern:

and asking for cash not candy for years in my home village in the North East of England.

Miserable Southerners may not have any old customs but we did and still do …

Hans Castorp wrote:

… The distant origins of ‘trick or treat’ came from these islands, probably the Celtic fringes where the autumnal feast, clearly pagan, was Beltane, much condemned by Scottish divines. (It looks like it was originally a pagan autumn equinox which was transferred to the eve of All Saints Day after Christianisation. Anyone got detail on this?)

The remnants of this in the non-Celtic north of England (Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumbria etc) is ‘Mischief Night’ which involves acts of hooliganism by teenagers against unpopular neighbours. Again, a threat against neighbours as with ‘T or T’ but a rather more serious one and police are or were often invoked to deal with it

Parts of the American Midwest

This I did not know. It appears as if guising is alive and well in pockets of the Midwest.

From Wikipedia:

Children of the St. Louis, Missouri area are expected to perform a joke, usually a simple Halloween-themed pun or riddle, before receiving any candy; this “trick” earns the “treat”.[52] Children in Des Moines, Iowa also tell jokes or otherwise perform before receiving their treat.


From the same Wikipedia link:

In Portugal children go from house to house in All Saints day and All Souls Day, carrying pumpkin carved lanterns called coca,[57] asking every one they see for Pão-por-Deus singing rhymes where they remind people why they are begging, saying “…It is for me and for you, and to give to the deceased who are dead and buried[…]”[58] or “[…]It is to share with your deceased […]”[59] If a door is not open or the children don’t get anything, they end their singing saying “[…]In this house smells like lard, here must live someone deceased”.

Pão-por-Deus translates as ‘Bread of God’. Records of this tradition go back to the 15th century.

In the nearby Azores:

the bread given to the children takes the shape of the top of a skull.[60]

After the ‘begging’ is complete:

the Magusto [feast for the dead] and big bonfires are lit with the “firewood of the souls”. The young people play around smothering their faces with the ashes. The ritual begging for the deceased used to take place all over the year as in several regions the dead, those who were dear, were expected to arrive and take part in the major celebrations like Christmas and a plate with food or a seat at the table was always left for them.[62]

Politically incorrect

In closing, a group of leftists have criticised American Hallowe’en celebrations as being politically incorrect. They allege the costumes (e.g. cowboys and Indians) reopen old historic wounds. A brief, sometimes entertaining, video has just appeared on YouTube criticising those who want to do away with Hallowe’en for reasons of ‘offence’:


I was amazed to find out about all the ancient and modern commemorations for the dead which take place all over the world, and not always around the end of October and the beginning of November.

Next year, I intend to write a piece on Day of the Dead, which became popular in the US after I left. It is a newish tradition celebrated by St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. A church should not be taking part in a syncretic tradition, even if their altar to the dead is in a nearby tent.

Earlier this year I met someone who works for a ‘tobacco addiction group’.

That’s not a group of smokers getting together for high tea, rather the opposite.

This person works in Oxford in an organisation which is part of or affiliated with the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences in the Medical Sciences Division.

I asked her why she was working there, and she responded by saying what a strange question that was. She then replied, ‘I want to help people’.

I said that was a strange response, considering how many smokers have been hindered rather than helped by the likes of her and everyone else in Tobacco Control.

Before I get into detail, my British readers will be wondering if this woman has ever met Debs Arnott from ASH. No, she hasn’t but has ‘heard of her’.

This woman really does live in a bubble along with the rest of her colleagues not only in Oxford but around the world. She said:

  • Smokers were free to smoke — no one was stopping them;
  • She did not feel that enough smokers knew tobacco and nicotine were harmful;
  • She has not seen the graphic made-up or otherwise falsified (e.g. neck tumour) photos on cigarette packets: ‘Why would I look at those?’;
  • She did not know about the meme — see cigarette packets — that male fertility and libido are supposedly harmed by tobacco; never mind that when smoking was at its peak we had the Baby Boom;
  • She did not know that rented accommodation in the UK is nearly all non-smoking and has been for nearly 15 years;
  • She is happy that all UK hotel rooms are non-smoking;
  • She doubted whether much-touted smoking-cessation prescription drugs caused suicide or depression;
  • She is delighted with the 2007 smoking ban in England;
  • She thinks smokers are clogging up the NHS;
  • She supports the introduction of plain packaging;
  • My better half and I were seen as being okay to smoke because we are ‘educated’ and ‘understand the risks involved’.

We discussed everything point by point. Please interpret ‘discussed’ loosely, as outside of what I’ve just written in bullet points, she had very little to say. I did most of the talking and told her frankly yet politely how wrong she and her ilk were:

  • It’s difficult to smoke anywhere now in the UK unless you own your own home; even then, you hardly dare to smoke outdoors unless you are 100% sure your neighbours are okay with it (think of the children!);
  • London’s powers that be have suggested that the capital’s public parks be ‘smoke free’; renters thinking of stepping out for a crafty gasper will have many fewer places to go if a local law eventually goes through;
  • I asked her if she had considered the employment discrimination against smokers — she hadn’t;
  • I asked her if it was right for an aged old soldier to have to stand outside a private club to have a smoke — she hadn’t thought about it but agreed I had a point;
  • I asked if she had thought about all the lost friendships and vanished camaraderie the smoking ban brought, especially to the elderly — she hadn’t;
  • We are sick and tired of being constantly portrayed as selfish, inconsiderate, morally derelict, stinky, generally disagreeable and that people we meet are surprised to discover we smoke — as was she;
  • I explained that the shocking cigarette packet photos are fake and told her that lungs inside a dead smoker are pink;
  • I told her that most smokers will never get lung cancer, die grisly deaths in hospital and that a fair number of us are on track to see to see our 100th birthday.

I didn’t go on to ask if she favoured dope smoking or hard drugs over cigarettes. There’s a simple reason for that; she couldn’t — or wouldn’t — respond much beyond saying, ‘No, that’s not true’ and ‘Mmm’. She was remarkably tight-lipped.

Overall, she seemed really stunned to be confronted by — gasp — a smoker.

There were a few more things which bear elaboration.

Considering that smokers pay so much in sin tax, I told her that we resented paying her and Tobacco Control’s salaries only to be endlessly harassed and preyed upon — audibly (televisual nagging), emotionally and financially.

She told me I was wrong: how could my better half and I possibly pay her salary when the government contributed to it. I asked her how the government gets its money. She said nothing. This woman went to one of the world’s top universities and does not understand that simple point? Perhaps she does now.

I said that if she really wanted to help people, she really should go into another line of work. I asked her once again, ‘Why smoking?’ All she could say was, ‘I really want to help people.’

At that point, I gave up.

This was a social occasion at a top London venue, incidentally. We were near the main refreshments table. When I turned around, the catering staff had been listening intently. For a moment, it seemed as if they were going to burst into applause.

I said what I had to say. It has been bubbling up for nearly 20 years.

And now, it’s off my chest and my bucket list! Happy days!

Yesterday, I read a BBC report on the stabbing of Cologne’s mayoral candidate Henriette Reker.

The independent candidate, age 58, was stabbed in the neck. Her condition is said to be ‘stable’ but she is still under close observation. The three people with her sustained minor injuries.

I read the article three times and was puzzled. Perhaps enlightened readers can tell me what I am missing. A 44-year old German suspect living in Cologne was arrested. This sentence gave me the most trouble:

The attacker told police he stabbed Ms Reker “because of anti-foreigner motives,” senior police investigator Norbert Wagner said.

Whose anti-foreigner motives were those?

I looked at the photo in the article. The acronym for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party is on the umbrella on the table: CDU. The CDU are accepting and helping to integrate the flux of refugees arriving in Germany. Furthermore:

Ms Reker has been the head of Cologne’s social affairs and integration department since 2010.

Today, I read a report about the attack in Le Monde. The mayoral election went ahead as scheduled. Reker is the mayor-elect of Cologne with 52.64% of the vote. Doctors now say that she will be able to assume her mayoral functions. Congratulations to her. May she recover quickly and manage the city wisely.

Regarding the suspect, Le Monde had this helpful explanation:

Her attacker, a 44-year-old German man close to the extreme right in the 1990s, was considered penally responsible for his acts on Sunday. The suspect told investigators that he ‘committed this act with a racial motivation’, police said.

Thank you. The picture is now clearer.

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