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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Colonel Kurtz in our midst

While browsing around to see if I could find any recollections and general info on connections between Whittington Barracks and Hopwas woods  I came across a shocking revelation.

For added effect, I’ve written the shocking revelation further down the page so you’ll scroll down in anticipation

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Whittington barracks one of the oldest in the country was witness to what time magazine dubbed as ” the most shocking army scandal of World War II. It was all down to Colonel Killian who ran the US  10th Reinforcement Depot at Lichfield including Whittington Barracks. By what I’ve seen so far he sounded like an almost Colonel Kurtz type character.

the horror…the horror, Colonel Kurtz in Apocapypse now. Would he have been at home in Hopwas woods?

It turns out that Whittington Barracks during it’s occupation by the US army depot in WWII was a feared place to be by US troops. Colonel Kilian seemed  to specialize and relish in ‘punishing’ soldiers with the blanket excuse of desertion in the face of the enemy.This included not getting to the barracks before 22:00(from Paul Generuex’s account). So far nothing out of the ordinary, just  another severe army commander. By the looks of it though, those punishment verged on the sadistic side and gave Whittington barracks a notorious reputation among US troops.

The accused: Colonel Kilian with other officials at Whittington barracks, photo taken from Staffordshire pastrack(click on image to go to link)

The base was used to rehabilitate US soldiers after injuries and get them fit for combat duties. Colonel Kilian interpreted this as making the place a worse place alternative to serving in combat. Conditions were so harsh that the US army newspaper Stars and Stripes characterized the barracks “as a concentration camp run by Americans for American soldiers. That may be a bit extreme but it gives an idea of the reputation and fame the barracks must have had.  I’ve pasted an extract from the Times magazine describing some of the punishments, it makes for a grim read.

 “Men had been beaten there with fists and rifle butts till they were unconscious, then revived and ordered to clean up their own blood. Prisoners who complained of hunger were gorged with three meals at a time, then dosed with castor oil. Hours of calisthenics, of standing “nose and toes” to a guardhouse wall were routine punishments. Purple Heart veterans were deliberately jabbed in their old wounds. There was even a ghastly, sardonic slogan among Lichfield guards: “Shoot a prisoner and be made a sergeant.”
From Times magazine


It’s pretty shocking stuff but it appears substantiated by other accounts of US soldiers so it’s on rock solid ground. You’ve got this from US veteran Irvin M Herowitz who was told “to keep your nose clean when you get there” in reference to beatings and then there’s the veteran’s Paul L. Genereux’s personal story of time at the Notorious barracks.

Then there’s the fact that Colonel Kilian was court martialed in Germany for what happened, the court-martial turned out to be little more than a slap on the wrist but it looks like the famous case seared itself onto US wartime memories on the other side of the pond. For example just type in Lichfield Kilian into google and see what turns up. Sorry Lichfield but at least in the annals of US military history the name is synonymous with cruelty and sadistic colonels. Just take a look at the book below:

Bet you’ve never seen the word Lichfield look so threatening! Click on the book cover to go to a description of the book Lichfield: The U.S army on trial.

Then there’s an article  from themagazine series After the Battle on the barracks. I’m going to try and get my hands on this, it’s such an intriguing ‘international’  and unexpected story and right in the midst of the Tamworth/Lichfield area . As this is part of the Pastorm Tamworth project this is an ‘open post’ It’s a post under development and may go onto form part of the final book, depends on what’s found. As part of this I’ll be adding, modifying and subtracting as I hopefully get more information on this story. So the case is still open. ‘Innocent until proven guilty”

An interesting feature of all this is its coverage on the other side of the pond contrasted with the silence on the dark episode back here. At least I haven’t been able to find out anything so far. Is there anything on the story in the Whittington barracks museum?

Despite being on ‘local ‘ soil the whole thing is a very American affair so that  might explain its silence over here to a point. The trouble making side of me though can’t help thinking that the reason might lie in  that it sits a little uncomfortably with the whole official historical discourse of World War II  in the area. However much we want it to be, history is seldom black and white  and I think we owe it to the soldiers who suffered that cruel  regime in the local area to give them more exposure.

What’s missing from the history books is often as revealing what’s in there.

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Heritaged Out

This is the last in a series  taking a step back from heritage and past related themes which has mainly consisted of a lack of posts and an entry on a pond.

This feeling of being what I call ‘heritaged out’ has arisen from numerous factors

1) Getting this whole Pastorm event adventure in Tamworth together and trying to work out ways of getting people involved.

1) Heritage is fashionable. It has been for a number of years but is now everywhere, take a look at the television schedule,everyother television program has something to do with heritage, eg. national treasures,ancient murders, Who do you  think you are,  antiques programmes. Heritage is now part of marketing, products are sold on their oldness and genuineness. Products are sold on the stories they tell.

In Tamworth itself with the Staffordshire hoard coming to town, the place has gone Anglo Saxon mad. From festivals, books, everyone wants a piece of some Anglo Saxon action. My natural and infantile reaction to all this is to react against it. The same thing happened with my dinosaur fixation when Jurassic Park came out and everyone went dinomad. I was about 10 then, hopefully I’ve learnt to take things differently now!

What could happen as with all fashionable things, is that a backlash could  begin, it’s a world of boom and bust after all. Maybe the next riots will be gangs of metal detectors looking for objects to destroy in rage. Country house and local church destruction. paintbombing of  Antique fairs. Even I’m not convinced but for an amusing take on what could happen, take a look at hobby mans video, metal desecrating, genius!

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A tribute to a pond

With the whole Pastorm site, I’ve pretty much left Tamworth timehikes abandoned, the idea is to use Pastorm on Timehikes and vica versa. That’s easier said than done though.

Anyway I’m all heritaged out at the moment,so this post is taking a break from the past, sort of anyway. In fact I dislike the word heritage, it conjures up images of cream teas, country houses, and general stuffiness, there’s a place for that but can be limiting. I’m not talking about rebranding but just don’t like it. There’s a good attack and take on the word heritage in article here.

As I’m getting HISTerical with all this past business, and if I’m not careful I’m going to PAST out, I’m going to share images of a favourite place to relax of mine : the garden pond.

Despite being a tiny pond no more than 150 cm long, it’s a place to lose yourself. It’s full of life, amphibian(17 frogs, 2 toads, 20 newts and counting) insects(1 pond skater) and receives visits from wasps busily collecting water to build their paper mache nests(can actually hear the rasping noise, when they’re collecting wood) birds, and all sorts of winged life.  Exploring ponds is associated with childhood, it doesn’t have to be though, resist the social pressure to stock it with koi with a fountain and surrounded by wood chippings. Listen to the child inside you!

I highly recommend a natural pond, they are a celebration of life, isn’t it in ponds where it all begun! I know people usually stock them with fish but why not leave it as it is and watch life gradually flock to it. It’s a lot more interesting seeing what  arrives and you’re also helping out the local wildlife. Ponds in the countryside as I’ve noticed are becoming more and more scarce.

Below are some photos of the ponds I’d like to share. No it’s not the Mississippi swamp, it’s Tamworth!

their favourite corner

frog and snail

Looking for the swamp thing

view from a camera attached to a newt

the three amigos

You ain’t seen me, right

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Bullrings in Tamworth

In an effort to adjust back to life in Blighty I’ve looked for similarities between life in Valencia, Spain and Tamworth, UK to little success. I’ve had to delve into the history books again to see if I could find anything similar and woe betold, there was a(sort of) bull ring in Tamworth just like back in Valencia close to my old home.

arrow pointing in direction of my old home, just out of range of the smell of bullshit, no pun intended

Bull baiting was a popular pastime in English town life from the middle ages up until the late 18th century(even later in the West Midlands) and Tamworth was no exception. It consisted basically of tying the bull to a stake in a central square and setting dogs on the animal, pretty unsavoury stuff but in its time it was actually unlawful  to slaughter the bull before being baited. Apparently it gave the bull meat more taste and the fines would have probably been a source of income for local authorities.

bull baiting scene above

This can all be testified in Tamworth, where Charles Ferrers in his resourceful Tamworth  book tells us that the book rolls of the town show us that persons had been fined for killing the animals before being  baited.He goes on to say that the ring (probably at most consisting of railings which together with stake and rope were regularly mended) was at the junction of Bolebridge street with  Coleshill and George Street with the last bull baits happening in the 17th century . George Street he later states  was actually called Bullstake street in reference to the stake used to tie the bull, before being renamed George Street in the 19th century. In looking for more details on the bull baiting I got all excited when I came across the book the history of signboards where it stated that bullrunning was practiced in Tamworth and Stamford. Yes just like the famous Pamplona bull running. This was a double discovery as bull running in England was a new one for me and that it had happened at Tamworth!!! Alas it was too good to be true, the book had mistaken Tutbury with Tamworth where a bull run was indeed practiced. Still the fact that bull running existed in England in towns like nearby Tutbury and Stamford is a great novelty fact to bring up in the conversation or maybe to think about when running like a demon down the slippery streets of Pamplona, Spain.

Getting all misty eyed and nostalgic about Valencia I went to look at the site of the old  bull ring in Tamworth, with the resulting furtively taken photo below:

Incredibly and by accident the bull ring echoed through into the present in the form of the circular brick flooring and the metal posting nearby in the modern day crossroads. Ok maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s true if you’re  looking for coincidences you’ll find them sooner or later. Whatever though enough of mundane explanations for me it opened up the thought that ancient sites maybe could echo through to the present day through modern architectural accidents. Almost like an unconscious effort on the part of the building developers to pay tribute to old places. Former sites bending the will of modern building developments to produce phantom echos of the past. Ok there’s the idea now more proof in the Tamworth Timehikes area of what I’m thinking about:

Well how about Copes drive written about in this previous post.It’s highly botched pot holed surface with  pebbles showing through isn’t the result of an impasse between local authorities and residents, no  it’s because it’s ancientness is shining through the cracks, being  one of the oldest routes in the Leyfields housing estate.

Below in an attempt to photograph the slight dip in the ground by a house next to the ladybank, Tamworth with the river in front of it. This dip just happens to roughly correspond to the Anglo Saxon ditch surrounding the town(see previous post). Coincidence, or an echo from the past?

Anymore examples out there?

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Which witch´s woods

Hopwas Woods always draws me back, it’s the wild mysterious part of the Tamworth area. As Henry David Thoreau said in Walden ” Our village life would stagnate were it not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”

People in industrial estates produce objects whereas people in Hopwas produces myths and news stories. Hopwas legend estate! A couple of months back Hopwas was back in the local Tamworth Herald news. The front page  stories ran for a couple of weeks on evidence unearthed for occult activities found in the form of engraved copper tablets and Egyptian style statues.

The first reaction from the scientific, rational community  is usually one of dismissing it out of hand, sometimes angrily,calling them  wild stories, children’s pranks to sell newspapers. Another reaction is to ridicule and belittle the stories and people with the resulting bitchiness on both sides.  Take a look at the heated exchange on the Tamworth Herald article comments page for example. I think though it´s more interesting than that.

Hopwas Hayes as one of the most ancient woodlands in the area together with being on a prominent hill is a prime area for goings on. It´s literally an island of wildness surrounded by thousands if not hundreds of thousands people  in largely urban space and productive agricultural land. Woodlands did once play an important economic role in the landscape, they provided fuel, building material, charcoal, hunting areas. Now it´s  an anomaly, what the hell is it? where does it fit in the modern world, even the army don´t use it anymore?? A place for walking the dog or is more than that
? It´s a non productive space, there´s no museums, woodland trust initiatives, it´s truly a wild place. Maybe even an affront, insult or even frightening unproductive space to some people, but to others could be  the ideal place to  act out  different non-conventional part of their lives from new age beliefs to tree hugging!

Myth becomes reality becomes Myth

My effort to describe the full circle story of the occult and Hopwas below:

prominent point, ancient  woods, thought of as source of energy = pagan practitioners attracted and start performing  in woods =  witches are caught by local police =  local media frenzy = gets lodged in local conciousness= mysterious wood becomes more mysterious = attracts, pagan practitioners, kids messing about, stories, ravers, writers = some people as result may  avoid scary wood = current day news story, occult objects are found, firm solid ´archaeological type´evidence is found, Staffordshire hoard style.

The process has produced the situation today, a  highly charged place full of rumours, attracting and likely to attract certain people from far and wide.

This is all good

This is not a bad thing though this means the wood has become a fascinating place full of meaning  for an increasing number of people. Stories of the occult are extremely attractive they help sell a lot of books, films and as the Tamworth Herald has found out, newspapers. They also help though enquiring minds, people want to find out more. People want to know more about this mysterious place, they´ll add stories to the place.  Also there will be people who want to debunk these mysteries by trying to proving them wrong and providing the evidence for the  history of Hopwas, thus getting to know the history of Hopwas better. People like me will try to use the interest in the strange happenings in Hopwas as a launchpad for my discoveries and encourage exploration of the area. Others like the West Midlands Ghost club have their own research agenda and will keep adding mystery to the place. Witches and non-witches alike will keep dancing.

This is all good, this means Hopwas woods becomes alive with enquiry, exploration for all sorts of people with different approaches and views.  This is not something to be scared of there´s enough for everyone,  what we should be scared of is the places being ignored. By being ignored it could be condemned, the Woodhouse was a victim of being ignored and looked what happened to it.By being ignored, by not being talked about, and leaving it in the hands of a few, the council, English Heritage, Tarmac, whoever, a lot has been lost over the years and a singular view of history encouraged; all country houses, castles and churches!

Adding more to the witches brew

i) Egyptian occult objects in the Hopwas area, whatever,  Tamworth´s used to them. 19th and early 20th century philanthropist Tamworth resident Reverend William Macgregor(nice link and research here) was also a highly respected Egyptologist, he also had one of the most important collections of Egyptian collections in the United Kingdom. He had the collection quartered in his residence at Bolehall Manor, Tamworth with solid rumours that there are Egyptian mummies buried beneath the Palace cinema, now Mcdonalds(this together with Rev William Macgregor warrants a post or blog of it´s own) !  Tutmania right there in  Tamworth! Here´s a video of some strange Egyptian goings on from the great Sun Ra in a place in a forest space somewhere

ii. Mysterious ephermeral cottage in Hopwas woods.

This bit of historic map detective work on my part could add to that whole Blair witch theme going on in the woods, I´m justing putting out the material evidence, do with it what you will. Use it in novels, campfire stories,……

1924 Ordnance survey map showing the cottage and grounds next to the canal

Between around 1920 and 1940, the Woodman´s cottage appears on ordnance maps. It´s close to the canal and bridge  and adjacent to a well trodden raised path parallel to the canal. After WWII it disappears, from maps and from any record, woooooooooooooooooo. (cue me wandering off in white blanket)

The cottage appears to have some type of enclosed land, haven´t inspected it in person, but on this Lidar image of Hopwas you can clearly make out the cleft out piece of land on the hillside where the cottage probably once  stood, is there any more evidence on the ground? what´s the story behind this place?

Lidar image of Hopwas and canal, with cleft out piece of between path and canal

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Tamworth Timehikes souvenirs

I´m giving Tamworth timehikes it´s very own souvenir section, which gives me a chance to show  my artistic dabblings or ideas on tamworth timehike themes, tongue in cheek style or not.

Here´s the first installment for the  Tamworth Timehikes souvenir shop:

Archaeological  framed section

Archaeologists use vertical cross sections to  understand the stratigraphy and interpret the development of the studied area over time.

archaeologists preparing your own section picture

Why not have your own slice of stratigraphy from your own backgarden, frame it and put it on your wall. Tell the story of the land beneath you with the help of some dirt on a wall. Archaeologists with time on their hands could fill in the details, do a bit of research yourself or simply make it up. Usually the procedure is to use a mixture of all of these.

The above section is taken from a rubbish photo I took of an earth bank bordering a stream next to the river Anker. I´ve labelled it with possible stories of events related with the section mostly made up, getting older the further down on the section,  all wrapped up in a fetching gold frame, you get the gist.

Above is a better looking section from a real archaeology excavation. You can create your own section by cutting a section in your garden, slicing it and putting it between two glass/plastic  frames label it and hey presto  ready to put on the wall( I haven´t worked out the practical details yet)

The frame is optional, here I´ve gone for a rococo style frame.

Licencia de Creative Commons

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Found this very Victorian account of Tamworth on googlebooks called Town and Castle, by Charles Ferrers, from 1845(Click on the title to follow the link) It has a wealth of detail in where it mixes detailed history, personal accounts of discovery, local hearsay and Victorian morals/judgement. For example just love the bit in the extract below where he reprimands the builder who ´had neither the curiosity were it led to, or the courtesy to inform any person who would have explored it

You can just sense his disappointment! The extract is about the discovery of evidence for that ancient elusive subterranean passage linking the castle and church(see earlier post). That builder made sure he maintained and added to the mystery until now!

The crypt

Mr Ferrers in Town and Castle goes on to state that it´s believed that this passageway communicated with the church through the east end of the crypt. The 14th century crypt beneath the church of St Editha´s still exists but first to Ferrers account of the crypt from where the suitably gloomy sketch of the crypt is taken from.

I love the account of the crypt, see it here. It´s full of exhaustive detail with added  mock victorian gothic and romantic era atmosphere. Just read this extract  from the account

Lost to the living -surrounded by the relics of the countless dead, the horrors of whose prison-house were feebly revealed by the dim light of a solitary candle,-listening to the distant and almost stifled sound of a muffled bell – for there was a funeral in the church above- we seem to have intruded into the abode of the king of terrors

This is the same place that until recently would have rang with the sound of ´would you like more milk with that dear´ Ferrers darkly vivid account was aided by the fact as the sketch demonstrates it was receptacle of the all the bones disinterred by digging new graves in the churchyard, a sort of charnel house. By the account it sounds like the crypt was piled high with bones, and his account of removing the stacked bones to look for the mysterious subterranean passageway gives you an idea of the scale of the state of the place.

In an earlier post about tales from Hopwas. It´s mentioned in Dyotts diary that the murder victim found in the early 19th century in Hopwas quarry  was laid to rest in this same place, what a place!

As you can see from the photo taken over this summer the crypt has recently been used as a cafeteria with no bones in sight! Last year I entered the cafeteria with my girlfriend and were treated with curiosity and kindness by the staff . I remember thinking this is an amazing place for a cafeteria. My mind started whirling with the possibilities, dub nights, music lovers bar, projections on the 14th century walls, and then I came back to earth and remembered we´re in Tamworth and it´s below a working church but just if….

When the above photo was taken it had closed, and might stay as a relic of late 20th century market town cafeteria life. It closed for…wait for it…health and safety reasons to do with the steps leading down. They are perhaps the easiest steps to walk down I´ve ever seen, and without encasing the place with rubber can´t see how you could make it safer.

Abe and Ernst braving the steps to the crypt

Anyway there was no problem with us going down to have a look and the crypt is definitley worth a look! It´s a very well-preserved 14th century rib vaulted crypt built from rag stone, so typical of the few medieval structures in the area.  It´s a candidate with it´s age, past use, and gothic beauty as the best underground space in the Tamworth timehikes area, although true it´s the only one I´ve seen and contenders are welcome.

What gives it the edge though is a large well conserved 14th century painted inscription on one of the walls. As you can see from the photo below a 20th century exclamation mark has been added in the form of I think a serviette holder!

My latin is well non-existent so I left it´s translation alone until a few days ago where the power of the internet for macro-local discoveries was fully demonstrated. Town and Castle online contains a sketch of the painting with a full translation. Thankyou Charles Ferrers. Here´s the sketch and translation below.

O lord of wealth(and power)

Thou shalt not live for evermore;

Do well whilst life thou hast

If thou would´st live when death is past

Mercy Jesus Christ

Merry Christmas and  happy New Year(I added this bit)

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