Your col­lec­tion of news, English hu­mour, cu­riosi­ties and un­ex­pected sto­ries.

This England - - Contents -


The heat­wave may have caused a few gar­den plant ca­su­al­ties, but down at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Som­er­set, it’s un­earthed a long-hid­den se­cret.

As the days length­ened, the sun blazed, the tem­per­a­tures soared and the grass turned from green to beige straw, the gar­den at the Bishop’s Palace started to re­veal a crazy series of geo­met­ric pat­terns. These were soon matched to John Carter’s 1790s Map of Wells, and so at­trib­uted to a wa­ter fea­ture in the form of Dutch-style canals, thought to have been laid out in the 17th cen­tury.

These gar­dens were likely re­designed in the 1820s by Bishop Law, who is said to have pre­ferred the Pic­turesque style, pop­u­lar in Vic­to­rian times.

As Jonathan Sawyer, who works at the Palace, says: “We know that peo­ple were drawn to the Wells pools in our gar­dens as far back as the Bronze Age, so it is so ex­cit­ing when new sto­ries emerge in ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances like this hot, dry spell. The gar­den­ers may not en­joy it, but it all adds to our un­der­stand­ing of this beau­ti­ful site!”


Let us say you want to sleep in­side an iconic sym­bol of Lon­don. Buck­ing­ham Palace and the other royal res­i­dences may be out, but a bet­ter al­ter­na­tive might be to spend the night in a con­verted 1960s Lon­don dou­ble-decker bus parked at South Causey Inn in County Durham.

Philip Mosier and wife Su­san are ready to wel­come guests af­ter con­vert­ing and re­fur­bish­ing the bus into the ul­ti­mate high-end ex­pe­ri­ence.

There’s a queen-sized bed (how fit­ting!), red vel­vet in­te­rior, shower, bath­room, Wi-fi and tele­vi­sion, as well as many of the bus’s orig­i­nal fea­tures and quirky twists, too – the en­trance to the bus is an imi­ta­tion of the door to num­ber 10!

Just the ticket, we say! Thanks to John Greeves for bring­ing this to our at­ten­tion.


A metal sculp­ture of a rook hold­ing on to a book with its claws has been un­veiled in the river­side town of Fowey, in Corn­wall.

Look­ing across to the for­mer home of au­thor Daphne du Mau­rier, it stands by the lifeboat moor­ing at Ber­rill’s Yard. It was com­mis­sioned from fa­ther and son met­al­work­ers Gary and Thomas Thrus­sell, who are based on nearby Bod­min Moor. Their metal in­sect sculp­tures are a well-known fea­ture at the Eden Project a few miles away at Bodelva.

The sculp­ture was un­veiled by Kit Brown­ing, the au­thor’s son, who lives at her for­mer home at Fer­ry­side, just across the river.

The sculp­ture has been nick­named “Daphne’s Crow” or “The Rook With A Book” by res­i­dents. It is a ref­er­ence to du Mau­rier’s novel “The Birds”, which was fa­mously made into a film by Al­fred Hitch­cock in the 1960s.


What do Wal­nut the whip­pet, Smudge the cat and Flora the “Dog Doc­tor” all have in com­mon? And no, you’re not wait­ing for a punch-line.

Ap­par­ently, these an­i­mals are the first to be recog­nised with a green “pet plaque” on their own­ers’ houses for out­stand­ing ser­vices to so­ci­ety. The scheme, launched by pet-sit­ting busi­ness Trusted Hous­esit­ters, has so far seen just over 20 plaques placed on homes all over the UK in the style of the English Her­itage blue plaque scheme.

Each plaque gives a brief de­scrip­tion of the an­i­mal’s achieve­ment (in the case of Smudge, he saved a young boy from bul­lies), and even fea­tures ears to set these new plaques apart from any oth­ers.

By all ac­counts, the scheme was born out of re­search by the brand that re­vealed we value our pets as much, if not more, than friends or fam­ily – a third of peo­ple ad­mit­ted they would rather spend time with their pet than their friends (though we’re pretty sure that doesn’t in­clude the fam­ily gold­fish).

No, we’re not ex­pect­ing English Her­itage to roll over just yet, but here’s to some se­ri­ous paw ap­pre­ci­a­tion!


It seems West Mid­lands Po­lice went one fright too far when they at­tempted to at­tract thrill-seek­ers this Hal­loween.

Boast­ing a “ghost-hunt­ing evening” at the Steel­house Lane cells in Birm­ing­ham (which date back to 1891 and are owned by the West Mid­lands Po­lice), they added “These cells were oc­cu­pied by none other than . . . Fred West.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the Tele­graph, lo­cal res­i­dents ex­pressed dis­may at the stunt, ac­cus­ing po­lice of “glo­ri­fy­ing killers”, and, some­what spook­ily, the ref­er­ence dis­ap­peared from the event’s pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial sharpish.

Ghost­busters can still pay good money to be locked in the cells overnight in com­plete dark­ness, af­ter first hear­ing sto­ries of the build­ing’s dark past – the cells were also oc­cu­pied by the orig­i­nal Peaky Blin­ders, a no­to­ri­ous crime gang dur­ing World War I – and must also bring “their own sleep­ing bags and pil­lows, plus a camp­ing mat or in­flat­able mattress”.

At £75 you may say it’s not just the lo­ca­tion that’s crim­i­nal. But then the Ghost Hunt­ing Mis­sion is all for a good cause, rais­ing money for mod­ern slav­ery char­ity Hope For Jus­tice.


There is a leg­end that, should the ravens leave the Tower of Lon­don, it’ll crum­ble to dust and the king­dom will fall. To mit­i­gate this, the Tower is launch­ing a raven breed­ing pro­gramme, hav­ing se­cured plan­ning per­mis­sion from Tower Ham­lets Coun­cil to build an aviary in the moat next to the Salt Tower.

Al­though the Tower cur­rently has its full com­ple­ment of six ravens plus a spare, you can never be too care­ful. The breed­ing pro­gramme will be over­seen by Raven­mas­ter Chris Skaife (whose work is the sub­ject of a new book by Harpercollins) and will find a way of over­com­ing the dif­fi­culty of sourc­ing new ravens.

It was Win­ston Churchill who or­dered that the flock be re­turned to six af­ter num­bers fell to just one af­ter the war, but in re­cent years it has be­come in­creas­ing dif­fi­cult to re­place the ravens if they go AWOL.


Af­ter a sum­mer of train de­lays and gen­eral mal­con­tent with the state of Eng­land’s rail­ways, it’s grat­i­fy­ing to hear of one form of rail travel buck­ing the trend. Yes, steam is hav­ing a mo­ment and we couldn’t be more chuffed.

Not only is the splen­didly re­stored 7029 Clun Cas­tle steam train be­ing coaxed out of re­tire­ment to ferry com­muters around the Mid­lands – well, from Strat­ford-upon-avon to Birm­ing­ham – but the Glouces­ter­shire to War­wick­shire rail­way has good news to re­port, too. Some 72,000 pas­sen­gers used the ser­vice last year, up a whop­ping 52 per cent on the year be­fore.

Peo­ple, it seems, can’t get enough of steam. Colin Fewell, the vol­un­teer com­mer­cial di­rec­tor, says: “Our rail­way now goes through more than four­teen miles of glo­ri­ous land­scape from Chel­tenham to ar­guably the most de­light­ful of Cotswold vil­lages, Broad­way. Busi­nesses in Broad­way are telling us that they have no­ticed an in­crease in the num­ber of vis­i­tors to the vil­lage since the sta­tion opened once again, fifty-eight years af­ter it was closed by Bri­tish Rail­ways.”

And un­like other rail­ways which seem prone to strikes by their work­ers, the Glouces­ter­shire to War­wick­shire is run by 950 cheery vol­un­teers.

Its en­thu­si­asts, who are be­hind the re­vival of Clun Cas­tle – 750, to be pre­cise – have funded Vin­tage Trains Ltd and have big plans to run reg­u­lar steam trains around the coun­try. We can’t wait!


Apos­tro­phe stick­lers ev­ery­where can breathe a sigh of re­lief as Land’s End has con­firmed it is now of­fi­cially Land’s End. Yes, that’s right – not Lands End or Lands’ End, but Land’s End.

Coun­cil­lors at Corn­wall’s most south-west­erly point unan­i­mously ap­proved the cor­rect plac­ing of the apos­tro­phe af­ter seek­ing ad­vice from his­to­rian and ar­chae­ol­o­gist Craig Weather­hill, who has writ­ten a book about Cor­nish place names.

It is not the first time apos­tro­phes have been hotly de­bated in coun­cil cham­bers. Af­ter Cam­bridge City Coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to axe the apos­tro­phe from its new street names, there was such an out­cry – in­clud­ing guer­rilla punc­tu­a­tors al­ter­ing street signs with black marker pens – that the de­ci­sion was re­v­ersed.


A book landed on our desks full of gems gath­ered by Suf­folk doc­tor Philip Rhys Evans, who com­piled a news­let­ter of “won­ders and ab­sur­di­ties” ev­ery year to send to his friends and fam­ily.

This book is a com­pi­la­tion of his last six­teen news­let­ters and one of our favourite en­tries is this let­ter from HMRC to one re­sent­ful re­cip­i­ent of a tax de­mand: Dear Mr Ad­di­son, I am writ­ing to you to ex­press our thanks for your more than prompt re­ply to our lat­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and also to an­swer some of the points you raise. I will ad­dress them, as ever, in or­der.

Firstly, I must take is­sue with your de­scrip­tion of our last as a “beg­ging let­ter”. It might per­haps more prop­erly be re­ferred to as a “tax de­mand”. This is how we at the In­land Rev­enue have al­ways, for rea­sons of ac­cu­racy, tra­di­tion­ally re­ferred to such doc­u­ments.

Se­condly, your frus­tra­tion at our adding to the “end­less stream of cra­pu­lent whin­ing and pan­han­dling that vom­its daily through the let­ter­box on to the door­mat” has been noted.

How­ever, whilst I have nat­u­rally not seen the other letters to which you re­fer, I would cau­tiously sug­gest that their be­ing from “pau­per coun­cils, Lom­bardy bank­ing houses and puis­sant gas­mon­ger­ers” might in­di­cate that your de­ci­sion to “file them next to the toi­let in case of emer­gen­cies” is at best a lit­tle ill-ad­vised.

In com­mon with my own or­gan­i­sa­tion, it is un­likely that the senders of these letters do see you as a “lack­wit bump­kin” or, come to that, a “sod­ding char­ity”.

More likely they see you as a cit­i­zen of Great Bri­tain, with a re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­trib­ute to the up­keep of the na­tion as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your as­ser­tion that the taxes you pay “go to shore up the canker-blighted, top­pling folly that is the pub­lic ser­vices”, a mo­ment’s rudi­men­tary cal­cu­la­tion ought to dis­abuse you of the no­tion that the gov­ern­ment in any way ex­pects you to “stump up for the whole damned party” your­self.

The es­ti­mates you pro­vided for the Chan­cel­lor’s dis­burse­ment of the funds levied by tax­a­tion, while colour­ful, are in fair­ness a lit­tle off the mark ...

A cou­ple of tech­ni­cal points aris­ing from di­rect queries: the rea­son why we don’t sim­ply write “Mug­gins” on the en­ve­lope has to do with the va­garies of the postal sys­tem.

You can rest as­sured that “suck­ing the very mar­rows of those with noth­ing else to give” has never been con­sid­ered as a prac­tice, be­cause even if the Per­sonal Al­lowance does not ren­der it ir­rel­e­vant, the sheer med­i­cal lo­gis­tics in­volved would make it fi­nan­cially un­vi­able. I trust this has helped. In the mean­time, whilst I would not in any way wish to in­flu­ence your de­ci­sion one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to “give the whole foul jam­boree up and go and live in In­dia”, you would still owe us the money. Please for­ward it by Fri­day.

Yours sin­cerely H. J. Lee, Cus­tomer Re­la­tions

John Julius Nor­wich in­cluded this in his 2012 Christ­mas Cracker, with this ex­pla­na­tion: “The fol­low­ing let­ter from the In­land Rev­enue, passed on to me by Mark Ten­nant, was pub­lished in the Guardian, which had pre­vi­ously asked them for spe­cial per­mis­sion to print it.”

Ex­tract from A Coun­try Doc­tor’s Com­mon­place Book: Won­ders & Ab­sur­di­ties by Philip Rhys Evans. Now avail­able to buy from Slightly Foxed, RRP £14, www.foxedquar­

South Lawn with ar­chae­o­log­i­cal fea­tures, Bishop’s Palace, Wells.

Philip and Su­san Mosier’s high-end, con­verted 1960s bus at South Causey Inn.

The in­te­rior of the bus is much more lux­u­ri­ous than your av­er­age dou­ble-decker.

The “Rook With A Book” sculp­ture in Fowey, Corn­wall.

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