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Mural artist Richard Wilson working on his giant mural to celebrate Leicester City winning the 2015/16 Premier League title.
 
© Copyright Mat Fascione and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

 

Yesterday my dream died.”

Last Thursday brought the news that many people were expecting but probably just as many hoped would never come. Leicester City Football Club sacked Claudio Ranieri, the manager that helped them win the Premier League title last season and took them to the Champion’s League.

 

I don’t think there is anyone that expected Leicester to repeat their success this season, but it’s fair to say they’ve not been doing very well. In football, when teams fail to produce good results with alarming regularity it’s only a matter of time until the manager gets sacked. I’m not going to discuss whether this is right or wrong – everyone has an opinion.

 

All I want to say is that Leicester will be a poorer place without Claudio. He was a true gent who loved us just us much as we loved him; a man who would shake the hand of every person present, from journalist to cameraman, at press conferences, and the manager who rewarded his players with pizza for a clean sheet.

 

I told them, if you keep a clean sheet, I’ll buy pizza for everybody. I think they’re waiting for me to offer a hot dog too.”

He bought the players bells for Christmas as a reminder not to slip up in training.

 

From the beginning when something was wrong I’ve been saying: ‘Dilly-ding, dilly-dong, wake up, wake up!’ So on Christmas Day I bought for all the players and all the staff a little bell. It was just a joke.”

His interesting use of English was an endless joy. He described Jamie Vardy thus:

 

This is not a footballer. This is a fantastic horse.”

He was the Italian who introduced the Leicester supporters to opera by bringing Andrea Bocelli to the King Power Stadium to sing Nessun Dorma in celebration of the Premiership win. The fans, always extremely vocal, were still chanting, so Claudio held his hand up in the universal sign for “keep it down a bit, guys” and they did.

 

And so we say a very sad goodbye to a man who captured the imagination of a whole city. He made our dreams come true and in return we took him into our hearts and loved him for it. If his gentlemanliness was ever in doubt this is the statement he released after being sacked:

 

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions, all I dreamt of was staying with Leicester City, the club I love, for always.

Sadly this was not to be. I wish to thank my wife Rosanna and all my family for their never-ending support during my time at Leicester.

My thanks go to Paolo and Andrea, who accompanied me on this wonderful journey. To Steve Kutner [Ranieri’s agent] and Franco Granello [his Italian agent] for bringing me the opportunity to become a champion.

Mostly I have to thank Leicester City Football Club. The adventure was amazing and will live with me forever.

Thank you to all the journalists and the media who came with us and enjoyed reporting on the greatest story in football.

My heartfelt thanks to everybody at the club, all the players, the staff, everybody who was there and was part of what we achieved. But mostly to the supporters. You took me into your hearts from day one and loved me. I love you too.

No-one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget. It’s been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

Claudio Ranieri

 

I still hope …


I’ve been absent from this blog for rather a long time. I last wrote back in May when Leicester was celebrating an unprecedented sporting success and everyone round here was bubbling over with joy and excitement. Since then a lot has changed.

 

I should have written about my trips to the theatre over the summer and believe me, there was a part of me that so wanted to tell you all about the stunning A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe, a side-splittingly hilarious production of The Rover at the RSC (which I’m seeing again in January) and a brilliant version of The Importance of Being Earnest at Leicester’s Curve, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to write anything so trivial in an enthused manner.

 

In June, I tried to write a blog post about why I was, despite everything, still proud to be British. And while I am very proud and always will be, the events of the summer have left my pride a little dented.

 

I went to see Doctor Strange at the cinema a few weeks ago and thought about writing a post asking “Where are our Super Heroes?” But, that didn’t seem quite serious enough.

 

Christmas is almost upon us once again, hurtling towards me like a freight train with promises of an appearance in the school panto, a children’s Christmas party and a trip to see Cinderella where I expect to be deafened by hundreds of screaming kids. And that’s just work!

 

The onset of the festive season reminds me that on 23rd December last year I wrote a small blog about hope. I still have hope. Because there has to be hope, even in the face of things I never believed would happen. I don’t particularly want to be political here but to quote the song I quoted back in December “How can things be better left unsaid?”

 

My Twitter bio states, amongst other things, that I am a “believer in multiculturalism, feminism and sharing our beautiful world.” I don’t know anyone close to me that doesn’t also believe in those things. And yet here we are living in a country that has become increasingly isolationist, where racial hatred incidences are on the increase, and where people would rather see child refugees die than reach out and help them. And that is bad enough, but then you look further afield and see the marching feet of fascism slowly creeping across the western world and I have to ask, “Have we learnt nothing?”

 

Fascism – extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practices.
Synonyms: authoritarianism, totalitarianism, dictatorship, despotism, autocracy, absolute rule, nazism, rightism, militarism, nationalism, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, chauvinism, jingoism, isolationism, neo-fascism, neo-Nazism, corporativism, corporatism, hitlerism, francoism, falangism.”

Oxford English Dictionary

My great-grandfather was a Labour Party pioneer. He was a member of the party from 1898 (the Labour Party as we recognise it today was founded in 1900) until his death in 1960. He was a Regional Labour Party Organiser, Election Agent and founder and editor of The Labour Organiser – “The only Labour Journal devoted to Organisation, Electioneering and Business Matters”. He is widely quoted in books about the party, most recently in The Collins Review into Labour Party Reform in 2014. He was asked by fellow Labour Party member Oswald Mosley (who had formerly been a member of the Conservative Party) to join the British Union of Fascists (BUF), which Mosley founded and whose supporters were known as “blackshirts”. My great-grandfather refused. I can’t help wondering what he’d make of politics today and the rise, once again, of political opinions we should all find abhorrent.

 

There’s been a lot of talk about accepting that people have voted against what I believe in and that we should all just “suck it and see”. I cannot do that. I cannot agree to accept the rise of hatred and intolerance. I cannot agree to accept that we should not care for our fellow man whatever their colour, religion, nationality or sexuality.

 

This world in which we live is a precious thing. All life on earth is precious. And so I still hope … and I hope I’m not the only one.


 

Two weeks ago we had a blizzard in Leicester, hail storms and lots of rain. Yesterday the city was sizzling in the long-awaited heat of a late spring and early summer. But it wasn’t just the May sunshine that was raising temperatures in the heart of the East Midlands, our local football team, the Blues, the Foxes, Leicester City, was going to be presented with the Premier League trophy after the evening’s match against Everton at their home ground, the King Power stadium.

 

In some cities the presenting of a big football trophy is not that remarkable. Some football clubs in this country have won trophies more times than I can be bothered to research. For many, it is an almost inevitable conclusion to the football season.

 

I don’t claim to be a football fan; however, I am a huge supporter of my home town and will always root for its sporting teams whenever the opportunity arises. Leicester City supporters are used to disappointment – I’ve only ever been to see them play three times and they lost each time – so it will have been no surprise that at the beginning of this season there seemed little hope of glory.

 

Despite a late resurgence in form at the end of last season and somewhat surprisingly avoiding relegation, Leicester City started this season as rank outsiders. The bookmakers were offering odds of 5000-1 that they would go on to win the league such was the lack of expectation. You could get the same or better odds if you wanted to bet on Elvis being found alive this year!

 

There are many theories about how a team made up of rejects, has-beens and complete unknowns led by a manager, Claudio Ranieri, who had never won a major title, came to win the most coveted trophy in English football for the first time in their 132-year history. The more sensible of these theories talk about incredible teamwork, camaraderie and work ethic coupled with time to relax and the promise of pizza for a clean sheet. Some suggest that Buddhist monks have had some influence through prayer – the club is owned by the Thai businessman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, founder and CEO of King Power Duty Free. The more romantic like to think that Leicester’s success may have something to do with the reinterment of Richard III. As outlandish as it may seem it is true that the team’s fortune took a turn for the better after the city excelled itself and reburied the much maligned King with dignity and honour.

 

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With the events surrounding the discovery of Richard III and his subsequent reinterment, Leicester showed the world what its inhabitants have known for much longer: we are warm and welcoming; we are tolerant, truly multi-cultural and cosmopolitan; and most of all we are fiercely proud. In a world that is increasingly intolerant and bigoted, Leicester stands out as an example of how to do it right. With this global recognition came a new-found self-confidence and we all know what a boost self-confidence can be.

 

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Leicester City’s meteoric rise to the top of the Premier League is not the only sporting success we have to boast about this year. Mark Selby, the Jester from Leicester, won his second  World Snooker Championship; Leicester Riders became British Basketball League Champions, BBL trophy winners and play today in the hope of winning the BBL play-off final and claiming the treble; Leicester City Women won Women’s Premier League Midlands Division One title – football again – with a 100% record; and Leicester Tigers are in the Premiership Rugby Union play-offs hoping for an 11th English title, having finished in the top four for a 12th successive season! Our cricket team has had less success but even they won their first County Championship game in almost three years just a couple of months after the reinterment of Richard III.

 

As I wandered around the city yesterday afternoon there was the beginnings of a carnival atmosphere. There were blue shirts everywhere, people were blowing horns and carrying Leicester City flags, and random groups of people wearing football shirts kept suddenly bursting into football chants. There are banners hanging from the streetlights on the high street depicting all the Leicester City players, in the depths of Marks and Spencer hangs a Leicester City flag, and they are selling blue sausages in the market. As I made my way back to the car, supporters were starting to fill out the city’s pubs, spilling out onto the streets and raising their voices in song. I turned a corner, away from the drinking establishments and wandered down towards the restaurants. A big blue light installation has taken pride of place in St Peter’s Square and surrounding it are all the usual restaurant chains associated with a cosmopolitan city, many with tables outside continental-style. They all looked pretty full and while the atmosphere was a little more sedate than elsewhere there were still blue shirts everywhere.

 
This little gem is a hip hop track written by local musicians. If you can make out the lyrics they are full of little Leicester-isms, local references and just so much stuff that makes me smile from ear to ear. “We ‘soar’ like the river that flows through the city” is just one such example.

 

 

I love my city. I love its optimism, I love its pride and most of all I love its people. They come from all cultures, all ethnicities, all backgrounds but together we are all Leicesterians, all “chisits“. I could not be more proud of Leicester City Football Club. I could not be more proud of Leicester. We have shown the world that with grit and determination, a fearless attitude, more than a little hope and maybe the support of the last Plantagenet King it is possible to achieve your dreams.

 

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Dear reader …


Dear reader

 

It seems most appropriate to write this as a letter as I want to tell you about a wonderful evening I recently spent in London at Letters Live.

 

If you don’t already know, Letters Live is an event where some of the best known names from the world of stage, screen, music and elsewhere come together to read letters written by people from all walks of life. Some funny, some sad, some quite ridiculous and some deeply serious.

 

I should point out to you, dear reader, that until each reader and letter was announced I had no idea who I would hear or who they would read. Imagine my delight when Benedict Cumberbatch walked onto the stage. How completely marvellous that he should read Mark Twain whilst doing an impression of another actor’s impression of Twain. Twain’s voice was never recorded for posterity but the impression by a contemporary and neighbour was. This actor, coincidentally, was also the first to ever play Sherlock Holmes! It’s a small world these consulting detectives inhabit isn’t it?

 

I wish you could have been there but as you did not have that pleasure let me tell you a little of what you missed:

 

Louise Brealey and Benedict Cumberbatch reading love letters from the Dear Bessie series. Brealey fluffing a line and exchanging amused glances with her co-star who, when it was his turn, started reading the wrong letter. They laughed with the audience and it didn’t matter one bit.

 

 

The ridiculously attractive Oscar Isaac reading a letter from a wholly unimpressed Alec Guinness complaining about Star Wars and his part as Obi Wan Kenobi. A more fitting reader of such a letter would be hard to contemplate.

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Geoffrey Palmer reading a letter written by Evelyn Waugh to his wife on the occasion of a tree being blown up. We cried with laughter.

 

 

Listening to the lovely Sophie Hunter read a letter written by Helen Keller describing her utter joy at being able to “hear” an orchestral symphony. The letter can be read in full here: My heart almost stood still.

 

And simply surreal moments like listening to Cumberbatch read Marcel Proust’s letter about his terrible masturbation habit and inability to screw; all the more surreal for the fact that Cumberbatch was being watched by his wife. The letter can be read here: My dear little grandfather.

 

Dear reader, I’m sure you know that events such as these are made all the more special by the knowledge that the performers are having as good a time as the audience. We were sat directly opposite the stage entrance. Watching the performers watching and supporting each other, peeping through the curtain, hugging each other, sitting happily on the floor together – shoulder to shoulder (Mr and Mrs C), enjoying every moment just as much as we were made this special night even more so.

 

I don’t like just to list things (I was once told off for writing a thank you letter that simply listed all the things I’d had for Christmas when I was a child); however, I feel it would be doing the other performers a disservice not to give them some credit. They were all equally wonderful.

 

Performing were the following (in order of appearance): Nitin Sawhney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Louise Brealey, Sophie Hunter, Simon McBurney, Hanif Kureishi, Sarah Snook, Geoffrey Palmer, David Nicholls, Jeremy Paxman, Oscar Isaac and Emiliana Torrini.

 

There was truly beautiful music from Nitin Sawhney and Emiliana Torrini which complemented the letter reading perfectly. I wish I could list all the letters that were read too, but I suspect one list in this letter is quite enough. You could peruse the Letters Live Twitter account if you were truly interested.

 

The last letter read was an unfinished one. It was written by Robert Falcon Scott and read by Benedict Cumberbatch. There was barely a dry eye in the house when it ended without the traditional letter ending and everyone realised why. You can read it and see the actual letter here: To: My Widow.

 

In the audience with us were Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue, who we saw stopping to sign autographs and take selfies on the way out. We didn’t join the small queue; they weren’t working and we had trains to catch.

 

To top it all off the event took place at the Freemason’s Hall; a simply stunning Art Deco building that has to be seen to be believed.

 

Stained glass in Freemason’s Hall. My photo.

A stunning ceiling in Freemason’s Hall. My photo.

Stained glass in Freemason’s Hall. My photo.

 

A night of surprises, inspiration and emotion. I wish I could have been at every Letters Live night as one just simply wasn’t enough. And as I mentioned before, I just wish you could have been there.
 
Most sincerely yours,

 

Kathryn


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past.”

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 30.

When I moved house a year ago one box mysteriously went missing. The removal company packed absolutely everything; I packed none of it. Nothing was left behind in the flat I vacated – I know because I cleaned it afterwards. There was nothing left in the removal company’s lorry either according to the person I spoke to on the phone. Nevertheless several months after moving I discovered a few things were missing. Initially I thought perhaps I’d mislaid them somewhere, then as I missed more things I began to realise exactly what I’d lost. I still don’t know everything that’s gone. Every so often I remember something else I’ve not seen.

 

The main thing I’ve lost is a box labelled “memorabilia” containing theatre programmes, tickets, flyers, souvenirs and various other bits and pieces I’ve collected over the years. I also lost a stack of theatre programmes that weren’t in the box.

 

I was devastated when I realised quite what I’d lost as those programmes missing include the only two signed ones I had: Much Ado About Nothing, signed by David Tennant and Catherine Tate, and The Crucible, signed by Richard Armitage.

 

Now I have wonderful friends and one of those lovely friends was kind enough to gift me the programme she had signed by Mr A when she was standing with me in the queue outside the stage door at The Old Vic. She had another signed programme she won in a competition so was happy to let me have the other one. Everything else is lost forever.

 

Of course none of the things I’ve lost are worth anything but every little scrap of paper was a memory, something to be cherished.

 

As this year ends I’ve decided to do something positive about all those distant and not so distant memories. I’ve been blessed by the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen so I’ve started to put together a record.

 

It seems that even without my box of memories I have quite a talent for recalling things from as far back as when I was just 8 years old. The internet is a wonderful thing and it has enabled me to realise exactly how lucky I have been.

 

Aged just 8 years old I saw Alfred Molina (Chocolat, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Spider-man 2) on stage in a production of Oklahoma. When I was 12 I saw the definitive production of Me and My Girl before it transferred to the West End. It starred Robert Lindsay (Citizen Smith and My Family) and a largely unknown Emma Thompson. Two years later my parents took me to see High Society starring Trevor Eve (known for Waking the Dead, also Alice Eve’s father), Stephen Rea (The Crying Game and The Honourable Woman) and none other than Natasha Richardson of the Redgrave acting dynasty, sadly no longer with us.

 

Alfred Molina at the première for An Education, October 2009. Photographer: Justin Hoch. Source.

 

In my first year at university I had the privilege of attending the events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Coventry Blitz which included a performance by the wonderful Vera Lynn.

 

Thanks to the internet I found a wonderful review of the Blur concert I went to at Morecambe Dome in 1995. The best friend of my then boyfriend got us tickets through the record company and we got to see them at the height of the Britpop era in a tiny venue where we were close enough for me to see the crystalline blue of Damon Albarn’s eyes. I fell completely and utterly in love with him at that concert and to be honest, that’s never really changed.

 

Damon Albarn – Gorillaz – Roskilde Festival 2010. Source.

 

As part of my research I found set lists from all the Robbie Williams concerts I’ve been to – all three of them. I’ve been able to confirm that I did indeed see Jonathan Ollivier (who tragically died earlier this year) dance as part of Matthew Bourne’s company on two separate occasions, a fact I’d been unsure of without a programme to consult. And, I’ve established that everyone loved the U2 concert I went to at the City of Manchester stadium except me – we had really bad seats and couldn’t hear anything!

 

Jonathan Ollivier as The Swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.

 

Not everything is on the internet or easy to find. I did manage to work out the name of a play I saw in Coventry thanks to trawling through photos of actresses who appeared in Brookside to get a name and knowing that the play included full frontal male nudity. It was called Dead Funny – I don’t recall that it was.

 

I’ve typed everything into a chronological list including set lists, cast lists and anything else that seems important and so far it runs to 11 pages. I want to handwrite it all into a nice notebook and keep it updated but until I’m sure I’ve included everything I don’t want to start. I think this may take some time.

 
The important thing I’ve realised is that my memories are not as lost as I had first thought. There are things that I’ve lost that I can never replace no matter how much I might wish I could; however, all this research has brought to light things I might never have remembered or never actually knew in the first place. I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and have seen some wonderful things. I had thought it was just in recent years I’d started seeing “Hollywood” actors on stage when in reality I saw some of them before they had even dreamt of reaching such heady heights and in many ways, that’s even better!

 

Here’s to the New Year and all the new memories it’s going to create.

 

Happy New Year to you all.

Hope


It’s that time of year again when everyone eats too much, drinks too much, exchanges presents, gathers around the television to watch mindless rubbish and, if they’re really lucky, spends time with loved ones. I will, of course, be doing at least some of these things and I genuinely hope you are too.

 

But, in a world where so many wish to spread hatred and fear, where someone can say “an armed society is a polite society” and have other people agree, where people fleeing for their lives and for the lives of their children are referred to as cockroaches and treated without humanity, what I hope for most is that there actually is some hope for all of us.

 

And I just hope I’m not the only one.

 

 

I hope that the world stops raining
Stops turning its back on the young
See nobody here is blameless
I hope that we can fix all that we’ve done
I really hope Martin can’t see this
I hope that we still have a dream
I’m hoping that change isn’t hopeless
I’m hoping to start it with me
I just hope I’m not the only one
Yeah I just hope I’m not the only one

I hope we start seeing forever
Instead of what we can gain in a day
I hope we start seeing each other
Cause don’t we all bleed the same?
I really hope someone can hear me
That a child doesn’t bear the weight of a gun
Hope I find the voice within me to scream at the top of my lungs
I just hope I’m not the only one
Yeah I just hope I’m not the only one

Louder, I cannot hear you
How can things be better left unsaid?
Call me, call me a dreamer
But it seems that dreams are all that we’ve got left

I hope that we still have a heartbeat
I hope we don’t turn to stone
At night when you turn the lights off
I hope you don’t cry alone
I hope we stop taking for granted
All of the land and all of the sea
I’m taking a chance on loving
I hope that you take it with me

I just hope I’m not the only one
I just hope I’m not the only one
I just hope I’m not the only one

Hope – Emeli Sandé

 

Every Christmas I make a charitable donation. This year I’m supporting Save the Children, in particular their Syria Crisis Appeal. If you wish to make a donation too, you can do so here:

Save the Children – Syria Crisis Appeal

 

Sending you all lots of love and wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, hopeful and peaceful New Year.

 


Phoebe was born in 1834 in Colchester. The date of her birth is unknown, as is that of her christening, if there ever was one. She went on to have one of the most interesting lives of any of my ancestors. Reading between the lines and there are many lines, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was a life beset by scandal and maybe it was. One thing is certain, it was a hard life, but oh the stories she could have told!

 

Phoebe was the 3rd child, one of six, of George Henry Gusterson and his wife Susan. George was an army man, at least for a short while. His first child was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia – now Canada – and his second at Chatham Army Barracks in Kent. Although I have no details of his service, it seems likely that he left the army around 1830 and the family settled in Colchester, the place of his birth.

 

They lived around North Hill in Colchester. For at least some of the time they most likely lived in a dwelling behind the houses and businesses on North Hill – a house or rooms off a courtyard which was no doubt cramped and perhaps a little squalid. George worked as a labourer. Over time he had various jobs which included working at the local iron foundry and as a bricklayer.

 

At the age of seventeen, Phoebe was working as a housemaid to a butcher and his family. She was listed on the 1851 census as being resident at the butcher’s house so it was a live-in position. At this time, her parents only had three children still living at home easing the burden on the household.

 

Phoebe’s adventures began in November 1854 when she married a Thomas Barrell. He was a soldier, a private in the infantry and fourteen years her senior. At the time of their marriage, his place of residence was recorded as the Wagon and Horses Inn. I have no idea if he was local although that seems unlikely; I can find no trace of him.

 

In June 1856 Phoebe’s father was in court on a serious charge (those of you who have read my previous family history blogs will know that my ancestors are quite familiar with court proceedings). He was charged with having “ill-treated his wife” and having “threatened to murder her”.  The story was helpfully recounted in the The Essex Standard at the time:

Colchester Town Hall. Monday, June 9. Before the Mayor and S. G. Cooke. Esq. George Henry Gusterson was brought up on a warrant, charged with having ill-treated his wife on Friday evening last and threatened to murder her. – It appeared that he had been for about two years out of employment, during which time he was mainly supported by the unremitting labour of his wife. Several times he has threatened to murder her, and on Thursday night his conduct was such that she was compelled to leave her home. On Friday night she returned to the house for some things, when the defendant received her with the greatest apparent affection; but after she had entered the house he fastened the door, and declared with an oath that he would murder her. Hearing her screams her son attempted to break open the door, upon which defendant struck her several times with a screw-driver, and she became insensible. – The Bench asked if he was in the habit of getting drunk; but the complainant (who seemed to feel keenly being driven to the necessity of appealing to the law for protection) begged not to be pressed to answer the question. – Defendant subjected his wife to a lengthy cross-examination, and endeavoured to show that he was the most ill-used of husbands; that he, not his wife, ought to be the complainant; and that notwithstanding the greatest provocation he always behaved kindly to his wife. – The Bench, however, considered the case proved, and ordered defendant to enter into his own recognizances in £20 to keep the peace for six months, and to find one surety in £10.”

The son who tried to break down the door was only twelve years old at the time! As it happens, George was unable to find surety and was committed to prison for six months. Six months!! That seems an unduly lenient sentence for threatening to murder someone.

 

Amazingly enough, in September of the same year he was back in court, this time to be discharged on the request of his long-suffering wife:

COLCHESTER TOWN HALL. – SEPT. 11. Before the Mayor and J. Chaplin, Esq. Mr. Abell applied on behalf of Mrs. Gusterson for the discharge of her husband, George Henry Gusterton [sic], who, it will be remembered, was committed to prison on the 9th June last, in default of finding surety for his good behaviour to his wife for six months. Having given a solemn promise to behave better to her for the future, his wife wished him to be set at liberty. – The Bench having acceded to this request, the prisoner was brought up into the Court and addressed by the Mayor, who said at the earnest request of his wife the Bench had consented to his liberation. He had much to thank his wife for, especially after the treatment she had received at his hands, and he hoped he would properly appreciate it. Whatever he did, let him shun drink; it was drink that had brought him to his present position. It had been to him a curse, and would continue so, unless he endeavoured in the most determined manner to free himself from it. – Gusterson thanked the Bench for their kindness, and having entered into his own recognizances for his future behaviour, left the Court with his wife.”

Maybe encouraged by the misdemeanours of her father Phoebe embarked on something quite remarkable. With her husband, Thomas, now presumably dead, most likely in the Crimea (sadly something I cannot ascertain), she married again.

 

In 1854, Britain had declared war on Russia following Russian incursions into the Crimea. Struggling to recruit sufficient soldiers at home the British fell back on the time-honoured tradition of hiring foreign recruits. The majority came from the German states, eager for action, many deserting their own army. Known as the British German Legion or Anglo-German Legion, the mercenaries saw little or no action as the war ended. Many were still being trained and Britain was contractually obliged to pay them their dues. In 1856, around 10,000 legionnaires were billeted at Barrack field in Colchester Garrison. Having committed the treasonous act of swearing an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria they faced difficulties with repatriation and the British Government decided to resettle some of them, in the Cape Colony in South Africa, known then as British Kaffraria, to help protect the Eastern Cape Frontier. They wanted married men so they gave the men permission to marry any woman who was willing to join him on the adventure. In the end, less than 2,500 men volunteered for resettlement and the number of married soldiers that arrived in the Cape was far fewer than that, less than 400, and the colony struggled from the very start, not helped by the lies and exaggerations they were told about the settlement in order to make the idea seem more appealing.

 

One of Colchester’s oldest photos, taken in 1856, of the British German Legion’s encampment by the Garrison Church in Colchester. Source: Essex County Standard.

 

On 16 November 1856 Phoebe married a Carl Formhals on board the depot ship HMS Britannia in a mass wedding with a number of other couples. Her younger sister Sarah also married a German, Heinrich Langefeldt, her marriage taking place in the Garrison Church on 19 October 1856.

 

Carl was actually Prussian, from a town called Arnsberg. He was 5’4”, blonde and a butcher by trade. He enlisted in the British German Legion in November 1855 aged just 21.

 

Phoebe and Carl sailed for South Africa on 19 November 1856 and arrived in the Cape on 28 February 1857. They took a circuitous route, chasing trade winds across the Atlantic, then turning south down the coast of Brazil before crossing to the Cape. Three months on board a ship must have felt like an eternity.

 

On arriving in South Africa, after camping in a tented village overlooking the mouth of the Buffalo River close to the hamlet of East London, they were moved to Fort Murray, a three-day march away. The women and children rode on ox wagons with the baggage while the soldiers walked. Of course, by this time the legionnaires realised that British Kaffraria was not what they’d been promised. It was nothing like Germany – it was hot, there was a lack of proper roads and the forts were not stone castles but earthen constructions. When they arrived in Fort Murray they once again had to make do with tents. During these early days, and later on, many died from dysentery.

 

The legion was broken up into three regiments and after two months they left Fort Murray to settle into various villages. Sarah and her husband settled in Stutterheim where he was granted land and it is possible that this is also where Phoebe and Carl settled but there is no record.

 

There seemed to be some confusion about how the men should be ordered. Were they soldiers who were becoming settlers or were they settlers who had been soldiers? Apart from the weekly parade they were left to their own devices and did very little. There was dissent, money was a problem, soldiers starting deserting. Many seemed uninterested in constructing permanent homes. There were relatively few married men and no prospect of any women for the unmarried ones and therein lay the main problem.

 

The soldiers received full pay for a year; a whole 11 months longer than originally promised thanks to lies fed back to Britain by those in charge about uprisings and threatened wars. After that the soldiers were reduced to half-pay which made their lives unsustainable. By way of a solution to this and to help rid the colony of those soldiers who were uninterested in settling and thus causing problems, they were offered the opportunity to volunteer to serve in India where a “mutiny” had occurred. Around 45% of the settlers volunteered and by August 1858 they had left. Those who stayed were once again able to receive full pay. Further German immigrants were brought over and the colony started to flourish.

 

Phoebe and Carl stayed in South Africa as did her sister, Sarah, and her husband. Phoebe had two children, Charles in 1859 and Bertha in 1860. Carl purchased his discharge from the legion on 31 August 1859.

 

In 1861 Phoebe Formhals was back in Colchester, England, with her two children in tow, living with her mother and two siblings. The census lists her as married but her husband is not there. There is no record of when, how or why Phoebe returned to England. What happened to Carl is a secret that Phoebe may very well have taken to her grave.

 

Phoebe’s father was living elsewhere with a woman listed as “housekeeper”. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t; however, I doubt she was his housekeeper if this was her profession. In his daughter’s absence he had been in court again, this time on the charge of obtaining charitable contributions under false pretences. For this he served two months of hard labour. He died in 1865 in the workhouse. A sorry end to a sorry tale.

 

From the time she arrived back in England and until she married for a third and final time, Phoebe worked as a tailoress. On the 1871 census she reverted to her first married name, Barrell, and was calling herself a widow. Was she a widow? Who knows. She may have wished to distance herself from the German surname since anti-German sentiment began to make an appearance in Britain in the 1870s following the Prussian victory in the Franco-Prussian war.

 

On 1 Jun 1873 Phoebe married Joseph Slade, another soldier. He had served in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and quite possibly the Crimea, and was living in the Colchester Garrison. The marriage certificate records Phoebe as Phoebe Barrell, widow. It makes no mention of her previous husband.

 

When Phoebe’s children married they both named their father as Charles Barrell, Charles being the anglicised form of Carl. On Charles’ marriage certificate his father’s profession was recorded as being a publican, which he most definitely was not, and on Bertha’s, it was correctly recorded as soldier.

 

Phoebe and Joseph remained together until her death in 1898. They had a child, William, in 1880, no doubt rather unexpectedly given Phoebe’s age (45-46). On the 1881 census Joseph is listed as an army pensioner so had at some point in the intervening years left the army. Another ten years passed and Joseph was working as a labourer at Colchester Garrison which afforded them accommodation within the barracks; however, Phoebe is sadly noted as being paralysed – to what degree it doesn’t say. She died on 22 May 1898 aged 64. Her death certificate lists the causes of death as rheumatoid arthritis and debility plus something that is frustratingly illegible. It says she had suffered from arthritis for 18 years and debility for two. Given the adventures she had and the hardships she must have faced, 64 seems like a good age.

 

So for all intents and purposes Carl Formhals never existed, or at least that’s the impression Phoebe seems to have been hoping to give. The German surname was erased from the collective family memory and, although we knew her children were born in South Africa, the mass wedding was just a rumour. It was only when I started delving into her past that we found out the truth. But what is the truth? What happened to Carl? Did he return to Germany? There is no record of him remaining in South Africa but that means very little. A man with the same name, birth year and birthplace married in Germany in 1861 but the name isn’t uncommon enough for me to make any assumptions and I don’t have access to any other records to be able to delve further. Did Phoebe commit bigamy?

 

Phoebe and Carl’s daughter, Bertha (pictured below), was my great x 2 grandmother. When she was eligible to receive an old age pension from the government she experienced some difficulty proving her age because she had no proof of her birth. There was no official recording of births and such-like in the Cape Colony.

 

The rather wonderful looking Bertha Mary Ann Hunwicke (née Formhals but known as Barrell). Family archive.

 

So, a tiny part of me is German, or more accurately, Prussian. Whatever the reasons for Phoebe and Carl parting ways I am very proud to call them my ancestors. I think they were brave and adventurous, especially Phoebe. Imagine the stories she could tell.

 

The story of the Eastern Cape’s German Settlers can be found here:

http://www.eastlondon-labyrinth.com/germans/index.jsp

 


 

As an aside it is interesting to note that Phoebe’s elder brother, also George Henry Gusterson, seems to have been of the same ilk as his father. On 11 November 1856, five days before Phoebe married Carl Formhals, her brother was in court on charges of ill-using his wife. He had used a familiar threat: murder.

COLCHESTER TOWN HALL. – Nov. 6. Before Mayor and S. G. Cooke. Esq. MATRIMONIAL DISAGREEMENT. – George Henry Gusterson, jun., was summoned for ill-using his wife. – Mr Abell for defendant. Complainant stated that she had been married to defendant four or five years, and about two months ago he left her in London after selling off the furniture, and she did not know where he was till a week afterwards, when, on his promising to behave better to her, she came to Colchester and lived with him. On Friday last he struck her in the face with his fist, and threatened to murder her. On Monday last, when she returned from the Court, after applying for a summons, he repeated his threatening language. – A neighbour, Mrs Brooker, a respectable woman, spoke to hearing defendant make use of threatening language towards his wife on various occasions. Mr Abell, for defendant, called Eliza Hardwick, who stated that she had heard complainant speak to her husband about another woman, when defendant replied that he would knock her head through the wall. She had heard complainant tell her child not to love her father. – In answer to a question by the Clerk to the Magistrates, this witness admitted that she had been brought into the station-house off the pavement when intoxicated. – The Mayor asked complainant if there was any prospect of their living peaceably together after this? – Complainant. No, Sir: this is the fourth time he has treated me thus, and I wish to be separated from him. – Mr Cooke. We cannot do anything of that kind: our business is, if possible, to set man and wife together. – The Mayor, We might sit here all day if we were to separate married people who wished to part. – The Bench then required defendant to find two sureties in £10 each to keep the peace towards his wife; and the required sureties being forthcoming defendant was discharged.”

George Henry Gusterson, jun. disappears from all records after this and his wife is living in London with her daughter by 1861 and is recorded as a widow. Again, was she? Who knows.

 

 

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