Trafalgar Sqare is famous for the man perched high above it on the column, but I recently discovered another man hidden underneath the square who hardly anybody knows about and he is just as interesting to me.
I have no doubt that if you were to climb up Nelson’s Column, the great Naval Commander would have impressive stories to tell of Great Sea Battles.
If you descend into the crypt of St Martin in the Fields, the celebrated Road Sweeper who resides down there has his stories too.
Yet as one who was born in a workhouse and died in a workhouse, Henry Croft’s tales would be of another timbre to those of Horatio Nelson.
Henry Croft stands in the furthest, most obscure, corner far away from the busy cafeteria, the giftshop, the bookshop, the brass rubbing centre and the art gallery, and I expect he is grateful for the peace and quiet.
Of diminutive stature at just five feet, he stands patiently with an implacable expression waiting for eternity, the way that you or I might wait for a bus.
Only since since 2002, when his life-size marble statue was removed to St Martin in the Fields from St Pancras Cemetery after being vandalised several times and whitewashed to conceal the damage.
Born in Somers Town Workhouse in 1861 and raised there after the death of his father who was a musician, it seems Henry inherited his parent’s showmanship, decorating his suit with pearl buttons while working as a Road Sweeper from the age of fifteen.
Father of twelve children and painfully aware of the insecurities of life, Henry launched his own personal system of social welfare by drawing attention with his ostentatious outfit and collecting money for charities including Public Hospitals and Temperance Societies.
As self-appointed ‘Pearlie King of Somers Town,’ Henry sewed seven different pearly outfits for himself and many suits for others too, so that by 1911 there were twenty-eight Pearly King and Queens spread across all the Metropolitan Boroughs of London.
Image: At Henry Croft’s funeral in St Pancras Cemetery in 1930
It is claimed Henry was awarded in excess of two thousand medals for his charitable work and his funeral cortege in 1930 was over half a mile long with more than four hundred pearlies in attendance.
Situated in Ararat, Victoria, construction of the goal commenced in 1859 and the facility was opened in 1861.
In 1887 it was converted for use as a maximum security psychiatric ward for the criminally insane.
The original building was intended to be a Victorian goldfields prison, based on the Pentonville concept, by the Public Works Department.
On 10 October 1861 the gaol was opened, with a total of 21 prisoners incarcerated.
The first Governor was Samuel Walker (previously the Governor of Portland Gaol). In 1864 the gaol housed 40 prisoners and in 1867 John Gray became the gaol’s second Governor, a position he held for ten years.
On the 15 August 1870 the first execution was conducted at the gaol, when Andrew Vere was hung for the murder of Amos Cheale in January 1869.
The second execution at the gaol was held on 25 September 1883, when Robert Francis Burns was hung for the murder of Michael Quinlivan.
In 1877 Henry Pinniger was appointed as the gaol’s third Governor.
On 6 June 1884 the gaol held its third execution, with Henry Morgan being hung for the murder of Margaret Nolan in November 1883. I
n 1884 George Fiddimont became the gaol’s fourth Governor, he died of a heart attack at the goal on 14 September 1886.
In the aftermath of the Victorian gold rush the gaol was no longer required and in December 1886 the gaol building was proclaimed as the ‘J Ward’, part of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum.
J Ward is now a museum open to the public. Other notes about J Ward include the amazing art work done by prisoners on the walls out side in their open area, the way this place makes you still imagine it being operated, and the thought to detail is amazing.
J ward was not only occupied by the criminally insane but also the insane who had not committed any crimes.
In 18th Century Lurgan, Ireland, Dr. John McCall’s wife Margorie fell ill with fever and died shortly thereafter.
Since he was a doctor and therefore rich, Margorie naturally had an expensive gold wedding ring – but at her death, neither John nor any other mourner was able to remove it from her swollen finger.
Due to fear that her fever would spread, Margorie was hastily buried in Shankill Cemetery, and news of the doctor’s dead wife spread throughout neighborhood.
Soon, some grave-robbers got busy digging up Margorie’s coffin. When they pried open the lid, they were delighted to find that yes, the valuable ring was still on her finger. Try as they might, they couldn’t pull off the ring, so they agreed to saw off the whole finger.
As the sharp blade cut into her skin, Margorie came back to life, sat bolt upright, and shrieked like a tween with Bieber Fever. A miracle if there ever was one!
When the startled corpse-desecrating thieves fled, Margorie was left alone to climb out of her grave like a creep and wander home.
Across town, her widower Dr. John was boozing with some relatives, sorrowful at the loss of his wife but also pumped about his new-found bachelorhood.
When he heard a gentle rapping, rapping on his chamber door, he opened it to find his dead wife, extra creepy and all wraithlike in her burial robes and bloody from the ol’ saw-to-the-finger ordeal.
The shock was too much for the doctor. He instantly dropped dead on the floor and was buried in the grave Marjorie had just vacated.
Before our indulgent misuse of technology made us a tad brutish and unsophisticated in our relationships with each other, men and women once had a form of ritual quaintly called “courtship” where a chivalrous young man was expected to woo a demure young woman with subtly, attention, kindness, and flowers.
Such actions were supposed to signal his honourable intentions, trustworthiness, and his reliability to furnish his intended with all that she might require. (Oh, how many poor women fell into a life of drudgery because of that? I wonder.)
Of course, these young men would also have their needs but they could only hint at these through the saving grace of innuendo and saucy humor, which made it possible to say one thing and mean something entirely different!
On 15 March 15, 1892, the young Jesse W. Reno, one of five children of the Civil War hero (who, just for the record, our Biggest Little City is named after), patented his moving stairs or inclined elevator as he called it.
With a rather inauspicious curtain opener, Reno created a novelty ride at the Old Iron Pier in Coney Island, N.Y., a moving platform if you will, that elevated passengers on a conveyor belt at a 25 degree angle to another level from which they now had to walk down.
You had to hold on tight with this design because the steps were also inclined at a 25 degree angle causing many people to stand sideways, one foot higher than the other.
Although a little hard on the feet, Reno used his profits from that venture to begin a small production facility, eventually founding the Reno Electric Stairways and Conveyors company in 1902.
Reviewing his patent today (470,918), it seems to have most of the things we take for granted in an escalator.
The moving belt was made of sections of cast iron and had grooves cut into it to comb people off of the steps at the end, preventing them from getting caught as the belt turned around a large end roller below the floor level.
It also incorporated a moving handrail to which passengers could grab onto for “… the feeling of security and comfort as they move along.” A great invention for its time but one other people were working on as well.
Jesse W. Reno.
In 1896, Chicago engineer Charles Seeberger came up with an idea for a spiral type escalator that also used a moving belt. His design was novel in that it had separations that rode in grooves on the upwards helix to the next floor.
About the same time George Wheeler of New York invented a flat step escalator and received patent 617,788 for his design. This one allowed people to stand upright comfortably as they moved between floors.
All of this people-moving business was newsworthy and eventually attracted the attention of the Otis Elevator company — a leader in the enterprise of transporting people vertically from one floor to another.
By 1899, Seeberger bought out Wheeler’s patent, probably realizing it was an improvement over his own, and coined the name “escalator” from the word “scala,” which is Latin for steps and the word “elevator.”
He was hired by Otis as a design engineer. Sensing escalators might intrude on their elevators, the Yonkers, N.Y., business invested heavily in its design and produced the first commercial one in direct competition with Reno’s company in 1899.
Within a short time the new Otis wooden escalator — with Seeberger’s help — won first prize at the Paris 1900 Exposition. Seeberger eventually sold his patents to Otis in 1910 and the next year Reno followed suit.
According to Otis history, “In the 1920s, Otis engineers, led by David Lindquist, combined and improved the Jesse Reno and Charles Seeberger escalator designs, and created the cleated, level steps of the modern escalator in use today.”
Over the years, Otis dominated the escalator business but lost the product’s trademark.
The word escalator lost its proprietary status and its capital “e” in 1950 when the U.S. Patent Office ruled the word “escalator” had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways.
Just like Kleenex and Jell-O, the word was used so much it became part of our vocabulary.
Joseph Leslie Theodore (Squizzy) Taylor (1888-1927) criminal, was born on 29 June 1888 at Brighton, Victoria, son of Benjamin Isaiah Taylor, coachmaker, and his wife Rosina, née Jones, both Victorian born.
The family moved to Richmond and Leslie tried to make a career as a jockey on the inner city pony circuit where he came to the notice of the police. At 18 he was convicted of assault.
Between 1913 and 1916 Taylor was linked to several more violent crimes including the murder and robbery of Arthur Trotter, a commercial traveller, the burglary of the Melbourne Trades Hall, in which a police constable was killed, and the murder of William Patrick Haines, a driver who refused to participate in the hold-up of a bank manager at Bulleen.
Taylor was tried for the murder of Haines and found not guilty. Although rarely convicted after 1917, Taylor remained a key figure in an increasingly violent and wealthy underworld.
His income came from armed robbery, prostitution, the sale of illegal liquor and drugs, as well as from race-fixing and protection rackets.
With Paddy Boardman, he conducted an efficient and lucrative business in rigging juries.
Squizzy is the bloke on the crutches.
Disputes between rival racketeers resulted in the ‘Fitzroy vendetta’ of 1919 in which several men were shot. Taylor was among the principal figures in these gangland shootings. Charged under warrant in 1921 with theft from a city bond store, he eluded the police for twelve months but gave himself up in 1922.
He was acquitted. In 1923 the bank-manager Thomas Berriman was robbed and murdered at Glenferrie railway station. Angus Murray and Richard Buckley were charged with the murder. Taylor faced charges of aiding and abetting the crime, and of assisting Murray’s escape from Pentridge prison.
On both counts he again escaped conviction. He was eventually found guilty of harbouring Murray and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
Taylor had married Irene Lorna Kelly at the manse of St James’s Congregational Church, Fitzroy, on 19 May 1920. On 6 May 1924 they were divorced. On 27 May again at St James’s he married Ida Muriel Pender, the woman with whom he had shared much of his adult life. I
n 1923 they had co-starred in a film about Taylor’s life, Riding to Win; banned by the Victorian censor, it was released in Brisbane in 1925 as Bound to Win.
On his release from prison Taylor continued thieving, but concentrated his efforts on race-tracks. Involved in selling cocaine, he came into conflict with several Sydney gangsters.
He was wounded in a gunfight with one of them, John ‘Snowy’ Cutmore, at a house in Barkly Street, Carlton, and died in St Vincent’s Hospital, Fitzroy, on 27 October 1927. Survived by his wife and by a daughter of his first marriage, Taylor was buried with Anglican rites in Brighton cemetery.
‘Squizzy’ was a colourful figure in the drinking and gambling clubs of Fitzroy, Richmond and Carlton.
A dapper little man who dressed loudly, he strutted through the courts, race-courses and theatres.
While hiding from the police, he wrote letters and verse to the press. Yet he had few redeeming qualities.
Taylor won lasting notoriety by imitating the style of American bootleggers; he never matched their influence or immunity from the law, and at the time of his death could no longer command fear or loyalty from the underworld.