Tag Archives: London History

Lord Camelford: Gentleman Thug (Part Two)

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


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. 


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. 


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)


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


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


Waterloo Trivia (Waterloo Station: Part 7)

As Britain’s largest railway station it is not surprising that Waterloo has developed an interesting catalogue of trivia and curiosities over the years.

Here’s a selection…

Panorama of Waterloo station's concourse

Panorama of Waterloo station’s concourse (please click to enlarge)

Meet me under the clock…
Waterloo's main clock

Waterloo’s main clock

Manufactured by Gents of Leicester and hanging high over the main concourse, Waterloo’s huge four-sided clock has been a popular meeting point for Londoners (especially those on a romantic rendezvous) since the early 1920s.

Clock over the concourse

Hanging high… Waterloo’s main clock

Although not mentioned directly, it is perhaps safe to assume that The Kinks had the clock in mind when writing their 1967 hit, Waterloo Sunset… which includes the lyric, “Terry meets Julie, Waterloo station every Friday night.”

Please click below to listen to this quintessential London song…

Waterloo’s clock played an important part in the much loved BBC comedy, Only Fools and Horses.

'Only Fools and Horses', Christmas 1988

‘Only Fools and Horses’, Christmas 1988

In the feature length episode, Dates first broadcast on Christmas day 1988, it is beneath the Waterloo clock that esteemed Londoner, Del Boy first meets his future wife, Raquel (although Del was worried about the rendezvous point at first- “the last girl I met at Waterloo station got mugged on the escalator”!)

Please click below for the clip:

Waterloo News Cinema

For 36 years Waterloo Station boasted its very own cinema.

Waterloo News Cinema pictured in 1934 (image: Cinema Treasures)

Waterloo News Cinema pictured in 1934 (image: Cinema Treasures)

Opened in the summer of 1934, the cinema stood opposite platform 1 and was originally run by ‘Capitol and Provincial News Theatres’ who also operated a similar venue at Victoria.

As the company’s name suggests, the station based cinemas were devoted to screening news reels. Here, commuters eager to catch up on current events could pop in daily between 9am and 11pm to mull over the looped bulletins.

Waterloo Cinema auditorium, 1934 (image: Cinema Treasures)

Waterloo Cinema auditorium, 1934 (image: Cinema Treasures)

Cartoons were also included on the bill; these being the days when classic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry ruled the silver screen!

Mickey Mouse... a regular sight at Waterloo during the 1930s and 40s

Mickey Mouse… a regular sight at Waterloo during the 1930s and 40s

By the 1960s news-reels were in demise thanks to the growth of television.

Consequently, Waterloo’s cinema was rebranded the ‘Classic Cinema Waterloo’ and switched to screening double bills of vintage Hollywood flicks.

A screenshot from cheap 1973 flick, 'Horror Hospital'- Waterloo's old cinema can be glimpsed in the background...

A screenshot from the 1973 budget movie, ‘Horror Hospital’- Waterloo’s old cinema can be seen in the background…

The cinema screened its final show (an Alfred Hitchcock double bill) on 14th March 1970 and then lay empty before being sadly demolished in 1988.

However, some of the picture house’s art-deco curves can still be spotted outside the station on the junction of Approach Road and Cab Road.

Remnants of the old cinema today (on the junction of Approach Road and Cab Road)

Remnants of the old cinema today (on the corner of Approach Road and Cab Road)


Footage of the cinema, as it appeared in the 1940s, can be viewed later in this post.

Waterloo Celebs

During its news reel days, Waterloo’s cinema would’ve screened plenty of topical reels that were filmed within the station itself- with stories of celebrities, newly arrived from the USA via boat-train, proving especially popular.

A good example is Charlie Chaplin’s return to London via Waterloo in 1952… please click below to view:

Plenty of other celebrities have been snapped at Waterloo too as the gallery below demonstrates…

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A robber reformed…

Between the 1970s and 1990s, Waterloo was the place to go if you wished to meet a somewhat shadier type of celeb…in this case, a chap called Ronald Christopher Edwards; aka Buster Edwards… one of the rogues involved in 1963’s infamous Great Train Robbery.

Buster Edwards (image: BBC)

Buster Edwards (image: BBC)

Born in Lambeth in 1931, Buster grew up close to Waterloo Station.

Unfortunately, he fell into a life of crime, his crooked career famously culminating in the robbery of the Glasgow to Euston Royal Mail train in August 1963.

Scene of the crime.... a Royal Mail carriage which was at the centre of the 1963 heist (image: Associated Press)

Scene of the crime….a Royal Mail carriage which was at the centre of the 1963 theft (image: Associated Press)

Following the heist, Buster fled to Mexico with his family but soon found himself homesick and strapped for cash.

He negotiated his return back to the UK but the plan didn’t work out as he’d hoped and the train robber found himself sent down for a 15 year stretch.

When Buster was granted early release in 1975 he decided to go straight- by establishing a flower stall outside Waterloo station, close to the junction of Waterloo Road and Mepham Street.

The site of Buster's former flower stall

The site of Buster’s former flower stall

In 1988 Edwards’ story was immortalised in the film, ‘Buster’ starring Phil Collins in the lead role and Julie Walters as his long suffering wife.

Buster Poster


The final scene of the film showing Buster as a reformed florist was shot on the Southbank, a short distance from Waterloo station (please click below to watch).

Despite the gentle nature of the film, the real life Buster Edwards was heading for tragedy as he grew older.

A severe alcoholic, he sunk into depression and, on the 28th November 1994, aged 63, Buster committed suicide by hanging himself from a  girder in a garage on Greet Street, a short distance from his Waterloo flower stall.

Buster Edwards with his Waterloo flower stall (image: ITV)

Buster Edwards with his Waterloo flower stall (image: ITV)

Waterloo on Film

Waterloo station has appeared on film many times. Here are a few examples…

London Terminus (1944)

Made towards the end of WWII, this 15 minute documentary follows a young couple as they head for Waterloo’s news cinema, where they settle down to catch a film about the workings of the station.

Rush Hour (1970)

A quirky short made by British Transport films to showcase Waterloo’s chaotic nature.

Harry’s Game (1982)

In the opening scene to this dark drama, IRA hit-man Billy Downes (played by Derek Thompson) – exits Waterloo station and heads for the tube as he embarks upon his mission to assassinate a Cabinet minister…

West End Girls (1985)

Part of the music video to the Pet Shop Boys’ classic synth hit, ‘West End Girls’ was filmed in and around Waterloo station.

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

In this typical Hollywood scene action, Jason Bourne (played by Matt Damon), helps whistle-blowing Guardian journalist, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine) evade the CIA’s prying eyes through Waterloo’s rush hour…

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007)

In the opening sequence to romantic comedy, Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, legendary Indian actor, Amitabh Bachchan (referenced to western audiences in Slumdog Millionaire) brings the dazzle of Bollywood to Waterloo’s concourse!

The Last Days of Steam

Waterloo was one of the last major terminals to operate steam-hauled services, with the powerful coal driven engines chugging in and out of the station right up until 1967.

A steam engine at Waterloo, 1967

A steam engine at Waterloo, 1967

Footage of steam trains in and around Waterloo during their very last days can be viewed below; a sight which is rather surreal when modern office blocks such as the Millbank Tower can be glimpsed in the background…


Crystal Palace Park (Part Two)

(To read the first part of this history on Crystal Palace Park, please click here.)

The destruction of the original Crystal Palace, 1936.

The destruction of the original Crystal Palace, 1936.

Although the vast Crystal Palace building was destroyed by fire in 1936, there is still plenty more to discover about the south London park in which it stood.  

A Victorian Jurassic Park

Head to the lake in the park’s south-eastern corner and you’ll find the ‘Dinosaur Park; the most direct link with the original Crystal Palace pleasure gardens.

Crystal Palace dinosaurs

When they were unveiled in 1854 the collection of dinosaur models were a ground breaking attraction. A contemporary guide book to the Crystal Palace informed visitors that:

Long ages ago and probably before the birth of man, the earth was inhabited by living animals, differing in size and form from those now existing… whose bones, and sometimes even entire skeletons, are found buried in the earth, on the surface of which they once crawled; and it is from the study and comparison of these fossil remains that the vast bodies which the visitor sees before him have been constructed with a truthful certainty that admits of no dispute.”

The Dinosaur Park, as depicted in an 1854 guide book.

The Dinosaur Park, as depicted in an 1854 guide book.

Despite this assertion, today’s palaeontologists generally agree that the Victorian representations are rather inaccurate.

Crystal Palace Dinosaur

However, considering that their original creators- Benjamin Waterhouse and Richard Owen (founder of the Natural History Museum and the scientist who coined the word ‘dinosaur’ in the first place)- were the first to ever attempt such depictions of these long dead creatures, I think it’s fair to say that these faults can be forgiven.

Crystal Palace Dinosaurs 8

The dinosaur models were very sturdily built; the main materials being brick and iron. They were pricey too, costing over £13,500 (approximately £800,000 in today’s money).

Inside the dino workshop, early 1850s (image: Wikipedia).

Inside the dino workshop, early 1850s (image: Wikipedia).

To celebrate their creation, a dinner party was famously hosted inside the Iguanodon model on New Year’s Eve, 1853. So ample was the beast that 20 diners were able to squeeze into his hollow innards.

The famous dino dinner, 1853.

The famous dino dinner, 1853.

As the twentieth century wore on the dinosaurs fell into a rather sorry state and by the 1950s they had become entangled with weeds.

Thankfully, following a £4 million sprucing up and the protection of a Grade 1 listing, they are now in excellent condition, proudly on show for new generations of dinosaur-mad youngsters to enjoy.


Getting Lost

Another popular outdoor attraction dating from the original gardens is the Crystal Palace maze which first opened in 1870.

As with other areas of the park, the maze fell into shameful neglect during the twentieth century, becoming fiercely overgrown and off limits to budding adventurers.

In 2008, the maze was saved by the valiant effort of the girl guides, who put their gardening skills to practice, tidying up the leafy labyrinth and making it worthy of exploration once more- it is now one of the largest mazes in the UK.

Bird's eye view of Crystal Palace maze (image: Google).

Bird’s eye view of Crystal Palace maze (image: Google).

The girl-guides themselves have an important link with Crystal Palace Park- in 1909, upon seeing a Scout rally at the park, a group of girls decided that they should have access to a similar organisation. Sir Robert Bayden Powell agreed to the request and, within one year, 6,000 girls had joined the new movement.

Crystal Concerts

In the early 1960s the Crystal Palace Bowl was established in the park’s northern area; a popular, open-air music stage from which artists could perform to up to 22,000 spectators.

Classic music and opera were the venue’s staples and in 1971 the first Crystal Palace Garden Party was hosted; a summer festival featuring some of the era’s most celebrated pop acts.

The Garden Parties continued until the early 1980s and during their time acts including Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Elton John, The Beach Boys, Procol Harum, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Deep Purple, Madness, Curtis Mayfield and many more graced the south London venue.

In June 1980, legendary reggae musician Bob Marley took to the stage. By this point, Bob was beginning to succumb to cancer and his Crystal Palace gig would be the last time he ever appeared in the capital. He died the following year, aged just 36. 

Bob Marley performing at Crystal Palace Park, June 7th 1980 (image copyright Tankfield, via ukrockfestivals.com).

Bob Marley performing at Crystal Palace Park, June 7th 1980 (image copyright Tankfield, via ukrockfestivals.com).

Sport at Crystal Palace

Alongside the gardens, exhibitions, dinosaurs and concerts, Crystal Palace Park has also enjoyed a long association with sport.

In 1861, just a few years after the relocation of the glass exhibition hall, a football stadium was erected in the southern end of the park. This became home to Crystal Palace Football Club; an amateur side formed by groundkeepers who had originally worked at the Crystal Palace during its Hyde Park/Great Exhibition days.

Crystal Palace Park stadium, 1905 (image: Wikipedia).

Crystal Palace Park stadium, 1905 (image: Wikipedia).

In 1905, the stadium’s owners decided that the ground was worthy of a professional club, so an entirely new team was formed; although the original name was maintained. In 1915, the new Crystal Palace F.C had to vacate the stadium as it was taken over for war duties. They now of course play at nearby Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace F.C's crest- which incorporates symbols alluding to the original Great Exhibition building.

Crystal Palace F.C’s crest- which incorporates symbols alluding to the original Great Exhibition building.

As well as being home to the local side, Crystal Palace Park’s stadium also hosted the F.A cup final between 1895 and 1914. The ground was capable of holding large crowds- the biggest being in 1913 when Aston Villa’s clash with Sunderland pulled in over 120,000 fans.

The F.A cup final, 1901 (image: Wikipedia).

The F.A cup final, 1901 (image: Wikipedia).

Rugby matches took place at Crystal Palace’s stadium too- it was here, in December 1905, that the first ever international Rugby Union match between England and New Zealand was held (New Zealand won 15-0 it pains me to say!)

England V New Zealand (image: Wikipedia).

England V New Zealand, 1905 (image: Wikipedia).

For a time, cricket could also be enjoyed here with Crystal Palace forming its own team in 1898- masterminded by none other than W.G Grace.

W.G Grace, who tired his very best to get a cricket team up and running for Crystal Palace (image: Wikipedia).

W.G Grace, who tired his very best to get a cricket team up and running for Crystal Palace (image: Wikipedia).

Unfortunately, the team struggled to take off and the sound of willow on wood at Crystal Palace Park ceased after just ten years.


Far more successful was the introduction of Speedway which took over the stadium in 1928. This remained a popular fixture until 1940, when WWII brought the proceedings to an abrupt halt.

A 1920s Crystal Palace Speedway program (image: Mullocks auctions).

A 1920s Crystal Palace Speedway program (image: Mullocks auctions).


Today, the site is occupied by the modern Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium which opened in 1964 and is capable of seating up to 24,000 people.

Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium (image: Google).

Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium (image: Google).

The stadium is accompanied by another 1960s building; the National Sports Centre which provides facilities for both indoor and outdoor sport.

Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (image: Geograph).

Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (image: Geograph).

The Crystal Palace sports complex was first envisioned in the 1950s by Sir Gerald Barry; the man responsible for directing the Festival of Britain. As such, the indoor centre shares a number of architectural similarities with the Southbank’s Royal Festival Hall.

Together, the Athletics Stadium and National Sports Centre have proved popular with locals and professional athletes alike and many a British Olympian has trained at Crystal Palace over the decades.

Motor Racing

Although it may not seem apparent now, Crystal Palace Park was for many years home to a major motor-race track.

When it first opened in May 1927 the track was designed for motor bikes. Being one of the earliest examples of such a venue, the circuit was at first fairly basic; made from tightly-packed gravel with tarmac appearing only on the bends.

In 1928, whilst flying from Gravesend to Hanworth, a certain Mr R.H Henderson was most grateful for the Crystal Palace track when the craft he was piloting began to experience difficulties. He carried out an emergency landing on the circuit and skidding to a halt less than two yards before a set of iron railings. After carrying out repairs, Mr Henderson was then able to use the racetrack to get his plane back into the sky!


In July 1936, the first London Grand Prix was staged at the Crystal Palace Circuit. The event was broadcast by the BBC, making the race the first ever example of televised motor racing. In the same year, the track was extended to two miles and made all-tarmac.

A 1969 map of Crystal Palace race-track.

A 1969 map of Crystal Palace race-track.

Over the years, legends such as Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham demonstrated their breakneck skills at Crystal Palace. A short film depicting cars roaring around the track in 1964 can be viewed below:

As the power of racing cars increased however it soon became apparent that the Crystal Palace racetrack was no longer suitable for the sport. The last meeting was held in September 1972.

Although closed for many years, parts of the track are still clearly visible; much of it having been converted to service roads and footpaths.

Remains of the track's start line, located beside the National Sports Centre (image: Google).

Bridge over the race track’s original start line, located beside the National Sports Centre (image: Google).

In 1969, the Crystal Palace racetrack featured in the classic, British comedy, The Italian Job with the audacious crooks testing out their mini-driving skills on the circuit. It was also in the park that the infamous “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off” scene was shot! (Click below to view).

Apparently, the film crew over-estimated the amount of explosives required… leading to a spate of windows being shattered nearby!

Broadcasting to London

Today, the park’s most prominent feature is the Crystal Palace Transmitter which soars over the western perimeter and has been a well-known London landmark since 1956.

Crystal Palace Transmission Tower.

Crystal Palace Transmission Tower.

The mast stands on the site of the old Crystal Palace’s aquarium with the main control centre sunk underground.

The transmitter's control bunker, 1957 (image: The Times).

The transmitter’s control bunker, 1957 (image: The Times).

Construction of the tower was a major engineering feat with workers on the project labouring under some pretty precarious conditions.

Much of this work was captured in a documentary (shot in experimental colour) called The Phoenix Tower (a reference to the tower rising from the site of the old Crystal Palace which had been consumed by flames).

A short clip from the film (which was later used on the fledgling BBC2 as a test sequence when main programming was off air), can be viewed below:

Even today, workers on the Crystal Palace Transmitter have to have a real head for heights…

Crystal Palace Tower Workers

Crystal Palace lift


Unsurprisingly, when it was first opened the mast was dubbed ‘London’s Eiffel Tower‘.

Despite its elegant appearance, the tower was designed to be rock-solid- its strength being tested in the 1950s by the firing of five rockets which were launched from the tower’s top and exerted a thrust of two and a half tons… the mast didn’t budge an inch. 

Crystal Palace Tower

Standing at an impressive 718 ft., the transmitter is visible from many parts of London and is currently responsible for broadcasting television and radio across the capital and surrounding counties; an audience which comprises of approximately 12 million people.

Crystal Palace Museum

If you’re keen to find out more about the history of Crystal Palace, a small museum dedicated to the original exhibition hall can be found on Anerley Hill, a short walk from Crystal Palace station.

Crystal Palace Museum (image: Google).

Crystal Palace Museum (image: Google).

Housed in a late Victorian building, the museum contains a number of original documents and artefacts. For more information, please click here.

Dinosaur mural at Crystal Palace Park's cafe.

Dinosaur mural at Crystal Palace Park’s cafe.