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Category Archives: The Cruel Capital

Lord Camelford: Gentleman Thug (Part Two)

(This is Part Two of Lord Camelford’s story. For Part One, please click here)

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Despite a notorious incident in which he’d assaulted his former captain, George Vancouver on Mayfair’s Conduit Street, Thomas Pitt the 2nd Baron of Camelford was permitted to remain in the navy.

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford in his late 20s

Quickly rising through the ranks, he was made commander of HMS Favourite aged just 22- a controversial choice given it bypassed Camelford’s senior, Charles Peterson. 

Although Peterson himself was soon granted command of HMS Perdrix a bitter rivalry festered between the two.

This came to a head when both ships were docked in Antigua and Camelford gave an order to Peterson who, claiming it was not conducive to his own vessel, refused to obey. 

Antigua in the early 19th century

This resulted in a tense standoff, during which Camelford asked, “Do you still persist in not obeying my orders?” To which Peterson replied, “Yes my lord. I do persist.

With that, Camelford stepped forward and shot Peterson dead at point-blank range.

Despite this cold-blooded killing, Camelford was acquitted. 

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When he returned to London in autumn 1798 Lord Camelford conjured up a plot in which he planned to personally assassinate the nation’s arch enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte in his early 20s

Packing a brace of pistols, a dagger and a “Letter of introduction to the French” Lord Camelford caught a night coach to Dover where he chartered a boat, comically claiming he had a collection of fine watches and fabrics he intended to sell to potential French bargain hunters. 

Dover as it appeared in Lord Camelford’s time

As Britain was at war with France during this period any attempt to cross the Channel was punishable by death.

Fully aware of this, the boat’s skipper instead took Camelford straight to the authorities who, once again, set the Lord free, this time claiming “His only motive had been to render a service to his country.

Nevertheless, Camelford was disgusted and quit the navy in protest. 

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Now a man of leisure, Lord Camelford once again took to menacing the people of London.

In May 1799 he was one of “Several gentleman intoxicated with liquor” who instigated a riot at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

During the brawl, boxes, doors and windows were splintered and smashed and Camelford punched and kicked a man down a flight of stairs.

As a result, he had to cough up £500 in damages- about £22,000 in today’s money. 

Interior of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 1804 (image: British History.ac.uk)

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Around this time Camelford also employed a servant; a black American named Bill Richmond. 

Bill Richmond

Bill had been born a slave on Staten Island, New York but made it to England in 1777 where he rose to become a celebrated bareknuckle fighter. 

A known boxing fan, it’s believed Camelford encouraged Bill to teach him some moves and the two men attended a number of prize-fights together.

Bill and Lord Camelford could also be seen frequenting London’s many taverns- apparently, the pugilistic peer’s favourite ruse was to stir up drunken trouble so he could delight in watching Bill knock people spark out. 

Bill Richmond in his boxing days

Bill Richmond would later go on to own a pub named the Horse and Dolphin near Leicester Square and became close friends with fellow boxer and publican, Tom Cribb.

Indeed it was in Tom’s pub on Panton Street that Bill spent his final evening before passing away at the age of 66. 

Tom Cribb’s pub today, Panton Street

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In January 1802 Britain and France announced peace with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens (a declaration which would soon transpire to be short-lived). 

A contemporary cartoon satirising the Treaty of Amiens

Properties across London were lit in celebration but Camelford’s residence on the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane remained resolutely dark; no doubt due to his cynicism and the fact he’d been prevented from having a crack at bumping off Napoleon.

Consequently a mob gathered outside and began breaking Camelford’s windows in protest at his lack of participation in the festivities.

Unperturbed, Lord Camelford armed himself with a club and stepped outside to tackle the crowd, beating them back single-handed until they were subdued. 

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In March 1804 Camelford became embroiled in a spat over a woman with his former friend, Captain Best. 

After a charged meeting at a coffee house on Oxford Street, Camelford refused to withdraw insulting comments that he’d made.

Only one course of action therefore was left to the two rogues: a duel which was to be held in the grounds of Holland House.

Camelford knew his old pal was a far better shot- but backing down would mean cowardice and that was not an option.

Holland House as it appeared in the late 19th century- the building was largely destroyed during WWII

When the two turned to fire, Camelford missed but Best’s bullet found its mark, puncturing his foe’s lung. The bullet also destroyed part of Camelford’s spine, paralysing him.

With the score settled, Captain Best rushed to his old friend and tried to comfort him.

As the pair gripped hands, Lord Camelford assured the victor, “You have killed me, but I freely forgive you. 

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Camelford spent the next three days in agony, during which time he managed to compose his will. In it, he stated that his impending death was his own fault; lost “In a contest of my own seeking” and that nobody was to take proceedings against his antagonist.

On March 10th 1804 Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Lord of Camelford finally succumbed to his injuries. He was 29 years old and had no heir, meaning the Camelford peerage died with him. 

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Following his death, Lord Camelford’s body was embalmed and placed in a crypt beneath St Anne’s Church in Soho. 

The modern day entrance to St Anne’s Church, Soho on Dean Street

This was intended to be a temporary measure: in his will, Lord Camelford had stated his desire to be buried on the shores of Lake St. Pierre in Switzerland- a place that had been dear to him since childhood- and his body was to lay in St Anne’s only until transport to The Continent could be arranged.

However, whilst stored in the crypt the corpse inexplicably vanished 

To this day, the fate and current whereabouts of the thuggish Lord’s body remains a complete mystery. 

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Lord Camelford: Gentleman Thug (Part One)

They say “Money doesn’t buy class.

This was certainly true of Thomas Pit, the 2nd Baron of Camelford; an obnoxious figure from the late 18th century who by all accounts was a thug, a bully and, as those at the time described him, a “desperate bruiser. 

Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford

Pitt was born in Cornwall in 1775. His father, also called Thomas, owned property on Hanover Square and was a career politician who eventually gained a peerage to the House of Lords. 

The young Pitt was educated at Charterhouse School (which was then located close to Smithfield Market but has since moved to Surrey) but he soon grew bored of education and, against his father’s wishes, decided instead to pursue a career in the Royal Navy.

Aged just 16, Pitt signed up to join the crew of the HMS Discovery which had been tasked with exploring America’s Pacific coast. 

HMS Victory by Mark Mysers (from Blue World Web Museum)

During the long voyage Pitt proved to be quite a handful.

As well as smashing a delicate navigational device he also slept on duty, dabbled in illicit trade and pursued amorous liaisons with native islanders; activities which were strictly forbidden. 

For these misdemeanours the ship’s Captain, George Vancouver (after who the Canadian city is named), had Pitt flogged and was eventually forced to have him placed in irons.

Although harsh, such punishments were not unusual at the time and what appeared to infuriate Pitt most was the fact he was made to sit shackled alongside his more ‘common’ shipmates. 

A portrait by an unknown artist of a figure believed to be Captain George Vancouver (image: Wikipedia)

Unable to cope with such ruthless authority, Pitt was discharged whilst docked in Hawaii and had no other choice but to find his own way home.

Whilst away, his father died meaning the peerage was passed on; an inheritance which ensured the young tearaway was officially a Lord by the time he finally made it back to London. 

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In 1795 Captain Vancouver also returned to London. His expedition had been utterly gruelling- out of 153 men, only 6 had made it back.

Vancouver settled in Petersham, south-west London where he hoped to enjoy the view from Richmond Hill and pursue the quiet life: a simple desire which was soon blighted when Thomas Pitt discovered his old commander was back in town. 

The view from Richmond Hill (Google Street View)

Hellbent on revenge, the newly made Lord sent a letter to his former tormentor which was packed with insults and challenged him to a duel; a bout which he hoped would “Give him satisfaction for his injuries.

When Vancouver refused, Pitt vowed to track him down in person, finally succeeding in September 1796 when he cornered his nemesis on Conduit Street (which branches off of Regent Street )and administered a ferocious beating with a cane.

The attack, which became popular gossip in London after being satirised in a cartoon, left an already weakened Vancouver in very poor health and he passed away soon after.

Pitt however faced no repercussions, largely due to his privileged connections. 

‘The Caning on Conduit Street’: A satirical view of Lord Camelford’s attack on Captain Vancouver.

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Following this encounter, Pitt continued to exude a violent nature which struck fear in many Londoners.

He was especially fond of roaming the streets in search of potential crooks and troublemakers to rough up; a pastime known as ‘Boxing the Watch’.

In one incident he battered a tollgate keeper black and blue after claiming to have been given counterfeit pennies in change- a trifling sum for a man of such wealth. 

Pitt’s fearsome reputation was further bolstered by his dog, ‘Trusty’; a bull-terrier brutalised into becoming a champion fighting dog.

During his career, Trusty endured 104 bouts and remained unbeaten. Pitt later gifted his prized pet to ‘Fighting Jim Belcher’; the celebrated bare-knuckle boxer, explaining that “The only unconquered man was the only fit master for the only unconquered dog.”

Fortunately, it appears Trusty received kinder treatment from Jim and was able to live out his days in the Jolly Brewers, a former Wardour Street pub taken over by the boxer in his retirement. 

Portrait of Jim Belcher (by Benjamin Marshall), the boxer to who Lord Camelford gifted his dog ‘Trusty’- who can be seen in the background (image: Tate Gallery)

For Thomas Pitt, the 2nd Baron of Camelford however there would be a great deal more violence, controversy and murder to follow…

To be continued…

Two Minutes to Midnight

Since 1947, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have maintained the ‘Domesday Clock’; a symbolic timepiece whose minute hand is tweaked back and forth in the moments before midnight as a visual metaphor for illustrating how close they believe the world is to a civilisation ending catastrophe; primarily nuclear war.

The Domesday Clock (image: abc news)

On the 25th January 2018 the clock was moved forward to stand at just two minutes to midnight; the closest it’s been since 1953 when both the USA and then USSR acquired the hydrogen bomb.

Two Minutes to Midnight… (image: Bulletin of Atomic Scientists)

According to The Bulletin, the reason for this recent, alarming advance is due to the complete failure of world leaders to address current threats to humanity; something no doubt inflamed by the crisis on the Korean Peninsula and U.S President, Donald Trump’s penchant for bragging about America’s nuclear arsenal.

Tensions have also been strained further in recent weeks with Hawaii and Japan suffering false missile alerts.

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In the early 1980s when the globe was still gripped by the Cold War, the Domesday Clock also stood perilously close to midnight, nudging 11.57pm in 1984.

Around this time, the BBC produced several documentaries looking at the potential consequences of nuclear war which, despite looking decidedly dated to today’s audiences, now seem as relevant ever in the current climate.

The first was a Panorama documentary entitled ‘If the Bomb Drops‘, which aired in March 1980 and was presented by a young Jeremy Paxman who took to the streets of Shepherds Bush to ask people what they’d do in the event of hearing sirens sound the Four Minute Warning; the famous time in which it was estimated the public would be warned of an incoming nuclear attack.

The no-nonsense cockneys interviewed by Paxman summed up the futility of preparing for such an event (please click below to view):

Later in the documentary Paxman takes to to the air in a helicopter to describe the impact a 1 megaton nuclear device would have if detonated high above the Houses of Parliament (please click below to view)…

‘If the Bomb Drops’ also featured a terrifying sneak-peak of the government’s ‘Protect and Survive’ public information films.

Produced by the now defunct Richard Taylor Cartoons -who were once based on Great Portland Street and are perhaps better known for creating the far more charming ‘Crystal Tipps and Alistair‘ these films were top secret at the time and Panorama achieved quite a coup in obtaining them.

In the event of an international crisis that looked set to trigger a war, it was intended that the UK’s TV stations would go off air and be replaced by the BBC’s Wartime Broadcasting Service– on which these short films, of which there are 20, would be played on a continual loop.

Although Paxman rather chillingly predicts that these films “Won’t be seen again until nuclear war is imminent”, they are all now available on Youtube and unsurprisingly make very unsettling viewing.

Particularly eerie is the jarred, electronic jingle which concludes each segment; a product of the former BBC Radiophonic Workshop who were based at the Maida Vale Studios on Delaware Road and are best known for creating the theme tune to Dr Who

BBC Maida Vale Studios (image: Google Streetview)

Considering this link with the Time Lord, it may come as no surprise to hear that the attack warning itself (which was intended to alert the British public had a nuclear launch been detected in the 1970s/80s) is rumoured to have featured flashing lights and ‘Dalek‘ sounds. This chilling recording remains unseen to this day.

To view the entire catalogue of the Protect and Survive films- which includes advice on how to recognise warnings, how to construct a shelter and even how to dispose of the dead- please click below….

 

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It didn’t take the BBC long to put out another documentary presenting the dire consequences of nuclear war.

In the summer of 1982, the science strand, QED broadcast ‘A Guide to Armageddon’ which, narrated in the stern tones of Ludovic Kennedy, speculated on what fate would befall London if a nuclear warhead was detonated 1 mile above St Paul’s Cathedral.

According to the documentary, this would involve:

The vaporisation of St Paul’s mighty gold cross:

The annihilation of priceless artworks:

Cabs and double deckers set ablaze:

The combustion of homes as far aways as Battersea:

The charring of meat in Lidgates Butchers, Holland Park (used by QED as a grim metaphor for the impact on human flesh):

The total destruction of buildings under pulverising blast-waves:

A tidal wave of deadly flying glass (demonstrated here on the skin of an unfortunate pumpkin):

And some pretty scary fashion choices!

Modelled here by Joy and Eric, a Finsbury Park couple who attempted to build various nuclear shelters for the documentary.

Joking aside, ‘A Guide to Armageddon’ is very scary stuff- particularly the doom-laden end sequence in which famous London locations are depicted as ruins in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

To watch the entire episode of this QED documentary, please click below:

‘A Guide to Armageddon’ was produced by Essex born Mick Jackson who, shortly after, drew upon the experience to direct the 1984 drama, ‘Threads’ which was written by Barry Hines (author of ‘A Kestrel for a Knave’ which had been adapted as the heart-breaking 1969 film, ‘Kes’) and portrayed the consequences of a nuclear war as experienced by the people of Sheffield.

Threads is arguably one of the most disturbing dramas ever broadcast by the BBC and can be viewed here in its entirety- although please be aware, viewer discretion is highly advised.

Here’s hoping the Domesday Clock ticks back soon…

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