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


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. 



“I May Not Get There With You”: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Part One)

Look above the western entrance to Westminster Abbey on Broad Sanctuary and you’ll see the ‘Ten Christian Martyrs‘; a group of small statues depicting noted 20th century figures who were killed for their beliefs.

The Ten Christian Martyrs, Westminster Abbey

Amongst those represented (5th from left) is the Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the renowned American civil rights leader who was murdered 50 years ago this April.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Dr King had visited London in December 1964 (whilst en-rotue to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize; the youngest recipient at that time) where he gave a sermon to approximately 4,000 people from the pulpit of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Martin Luther King at St Paul’s Cathedral, 1964

During his brief stay Dr King also arranged a meet-up at the Hilton, Park Lane with people who’d recently migrated to the UK from areas such as the West Indies and Pakistan.

It was also in London that James Earl Ray– the man convicted of Dr King’s murder- would be finally apprehended….

To read the full story, please head to my second website; The Crime Compendium.


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…