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Tag Archives: London

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 Kitchener: The King of Calypso

70 years ago today, on June 22nd 1948, The Empire Windrush docked in the Essex Port of Tilbury. 

The Empire Windrush

On board were several hundred immigrants from the West Indies- many of whom were former RAF servicemen who’d served in WWII- who were bound for London in the hope of securing decent employment. 

One of the men onboard The Windrush was 26 year old Trinidadian Aldwin Roberts, a calypso singer better known by his stage name, ‘Lord Kitchener’.

Lord Kitchener: The King of Calypso

During the long voyage from Jamaica to Britain, Lord Kitchener penned a song entitled ‘London is the Place for Me’ which he famously performed A cappella for a Pathe News film crew whilst preparing to disembark at Tilbury. 

The full newsreel (which opens with a story featuring Ingrid Bergman with Alfred Hitchcock) can be viewed below, with Lord Kitchener appearing at the 2 minute mark:

A fuller studio version of Lord Kitchener’s song, which became an anthem for the Windrush Generation can be heard below: 

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Love is the Answer: A Tribute to Rik Mayall

Four years ago this June, the world lost Richard Michael Mayall- better known by his stage name, Rik Mayall. 

Rik Mayall (image: ITV)

Rik was born in Harlow, Essex in March 1958 and moved with his family to the West Midlands when he three years old. Both of Rik’s parents were drama teachers so it’s no surprise he caught the acting bug early on. 

Whilst at the University of Manchester in the late 1970s Rik met fellow student, Ade Edmondson and the two formed a life-long comedic partnership. 

Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson in their ‘Young Ones’ personas, early 1980s

Before long Rik and Ade were performing as a duo- dubbed ‘20th Century Coyote’- at the Comedy Store; a pioneering venue for the new-wave of alternative comedy acts burgeoning at the time.

Opened in 1979, The Comedy Store was situated above a seedy strip-joint on Soho’s Dean Street but can now be found on Oxendon Street near Leicester Square). 

The Comedy Store today (image: Wikipedia)

As well as stand-up, Rik had a cameo in the 1981 cult classic, An American Werewolf in London where he can be spotted as one the creepy locals in the sinister Slaughtered Lamb pub, indulging in a game of chess alongside the equally wonderful and much missed Brian Glover.

Please click below to view.

In the same year, Rik also had a far more serious- not to mention very underrated- role in Wolcott a crime drama which was revolutionary for the time in that it centred on a black detective (played by George William Harris) tasked with bringing order to London’s East End. 

In the series, Rik played a racist police officer; a far cry from the comedic roles for which he would become better known and a performance that demonstrated the true depth of his acting ability.

A brief clip depicting Rik in this unexpected role can be seen below: 

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In November 1982 The Young Ones burst onto screens. 

Set in a grotty student house, this surreal and gloriously anarchic comedy stared Rik as the deluded, self-confessed ‘People’s Poet’ alongside the alarmingly destructive Vivian (Ade Edmonson), Neil the Hippy (Nigel Planer) and Mike the Cool Person (Christopher Ryan). 

The Young Ones (image: Mayall Online)

The digs in which the gang lived were located in an unspecified London suburb.

However, although the pilot episode- ‘Demolition’- was indeed filmed in north London, the following 11 episodes were shot in the Bishopston area of Bristol. 

The Young Ones made Rik Mayall a household name and he went on to star in a host of other shows including Blackadder, The New Statesmen and Bottom. 

Rik Mayall in ‘Blackadder’ as the outrageous Lord Flashheart.

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Rik died of a heart attack at his home in Barnes, south-west London on June 9th 2014. 

He was 56 years old. 

Following his sudden passing, 7,000 fans petitioned to have a bench and plaque in his honour placed on Hammersmith Broadway; the location where, in the early 1990s, Rik and Ade filmed the opening credits for Bottom which can be viewed below:

The words honouring Rik are bombastically tongue in cheek; a style with which he would’ve whole-heartedly approved. 

Rik Mayall’s bench and plaque, Hammersmith Broadway

The final line however, “Love Is The Answer” is a reference to a funny, yet moving speech which Rik delivered to the University of Exeter in 2008 upon receiving an honorary doctorate.

In the speech, which can be viewed in full below, Rik imparted his ‘five mantras’- his personal rules for living a happy and fulfilling life- as a gift to the the large audience of young graduates. 

Rik’s speech is well worth a listen (it’s even introduced by the legendary Floella Benjamin!) and is bound to put a smile on your face- although please be advised some of the language is a little blue! 

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Rest in peace, Rik.